One things which many people don’t seem to understand about human history is quite how long it is. Or how incredibly short modern history is compared to Prehistory.

For example, the first archaic humans arrived in Britain 800,000 years ago. These humanoids were not Homo Sapiens, but they were tool using bipeds like ourselves. The first Homo Sapiens reached Britain 40,000 years ago. Only 0.25% of British history is ‘historic’ or ‘modern’ history, 99.75% is Prehistoric, or ‘Caveman’, history.

In many other countries an even larger percentage of history would be Prehistoric.

Humans spent millions of years evolving into hunter gatherers, and hundreds of thousands of years being ‘primitive’ hunter gatherer people. Modern humans are a mere grain of sand in the hourglass of time.

Which explains a great deal about the nature of modern humans. Especially when it comes to antisocial, self-destructive (or even simply annoying) behaviour.

The thing about Prehistory is that it was not recorded, and no doubt it contains many secrets and mysteries yet to be discovered, but archaeology gives us a fairly good idea of the lives of Prehistoric people. They were tribal hunter gatherers, who lives were often brutal. They often lived in hostile climates, alongside huge animals.

In short, the point is, that we modern humans are designed to hunt mammoths and fight off saber-tooth tigers.

Those instincts remain… even in a pacifist, vegan office worker...

However civilised we might think ourselves, however repressed our instincts may be, our bodies and minds were designed to survive the Prehistoric world.

The simplest and most extreme example would be the sheer level of aggression necessary to survive in prehistory… to hunt large animals and defend oneself against predators and tribal rivalry…. which is completely unacceptable in the modern world (during peacetime). This instinct and ability towards aggression is now either repressed (in which case it leads to self destructive or passive aggressive behaviour) or expressed in sport hunting, gang warfare, rioting or domestic abuse (to name but a few).

The instinct which once kept us alive now destroys us.

The untested and unsatisfied will to survive often becomes reduced to crushing boredom or an urge towards self destructive drama.

The instinct towards tribalism is also still dominant. It can be expressed as loyalty towards a sports team, gang or corporation. To sing a football anthem is to roar the song of the tribe. Without a sense of ‘belonging to a tribe’, people suffer from social isolation or the depression of loneliness.

In modern life, a great deal of behaviour which seems antisocial or illogical would have been logical in a prehistoric tribe. For example, for women to gossip about a man’s sex life would once have protected the health and future generations of the tribe.

There are many other small examples. Kleptomania , or an addiction to shopping, would once have been an urge to gather the materials needed to survive. Insomniacs and ‘night owls’ would once have been of great value for guarding the tribe and hunting at night. The need to produce fire (the most valuable tool of Prehistory) becomes pyromania.

Sexuality is a massive and complex issue, but at this point it seems self explanatory. In a hostile environment, without modern medicine, humans needed to constantly reproduce- now we do not..

The point of this essay is not to justify brutal behaviour or downplay mental illness. It is written rather in the hope that understanding a problem is the first step towards curing it. Also, it is in the belief that it is better to accept, and make use of, your instincts than to repress them.



Writer, poet, teacher

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store