Some prehistoric humans were cave dwellers, but most were not. (See Homo and Human evolution.) Such early cave dwellers, and other prehistoric peoples, are also called cave men (the term also has other meanings). Despite the name, only a small portion of humanity has ever dwelt in caves: caves are rare across most of the world; most caves are dark, cold, and damp; other cave inhabitants, such as bears and cave bears, cave lions, and cave hyenas, also have made caves inhospitable for people.
The Grotte du Vallonnet, a cave in the French Riviera, was used by people approximately one million years ago. Although stone tools and the remains of eaten animals have been found in the cave, there is no indication that people dwelt in it.
Since about 750,000 years ago, the Zhoukoudian cave system, in Beijing, China, has been inhabited by various species of human being, including Peking Man (Homo erectus pekinensis) and modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens).
Starting about 170,000 years ago, some Homo sapiens lived in some cave systems in what is now South Africa, such as Pinnacle Point and Diepkloof Rock Shelter. Caves were the ideal place to shelter from the midday sun in the equatorial regions. The stable temperatures of caves provided a cool habitat in summers and a warm, dry shelter in the winter.
Approximately 100,000 years ago, some Neanderthal humans dwelt in caves in Europe and western Asia. Caves there also were inhabited by some Cro-Magnons from about 35,000 years ago until approximately 8,000 BC. Both species built shelters, including tents, at the mouths of caves and used the caves’ dark interiors for ceremonies. The Cro-Magnon people also made representational paintings on cave walls.
Especially during war and other times of strife, relatively small groups of people have lived temporarily in caves, where they have hidden or otherwise sought refuge. They also have used caves for clandestine and other special purposes while living elsewhere. Perhaps fleeing the violence of Ancient Romans, people left the Dead Sea Scrolls in eleven caves near Qumran, in what is now Israel; the documents remained undisturbed there for approximately 2,000 years, until their discovery in the 1940s and 1950s. The DeSoto Caverns, in what became Alabama, in the United States were a burial ground for local Amerindians; the same caves became a violent speakeasy in the 1920s. The Caves of St. Louis may have been a hiding-place along the Underground Railroad. From about 1000 to about 1300, some Pueblo people lived in villages that they built beneath cliffs in what is now the Southwestern United States.
Caves at Sacromonte, near Granada, Spain, are home to about 3,000 Gitano people, whose dwellings range from single rooms to caves of nearly 200 rooms, along with churches, schools, and stores in the caves.
At least 30,000,000 people in China live in cave homes, called yaodongs; because they are warm in the winter and cool in the summer, some people find caves more desirable than concrete homes in the city.
- Butzer, Karl W. "Cave dwellers", The World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p. 245. World Book, Inc.: Chicago, 1983. (When this citation is being added to this Wikipedia article, it applies to the entire paragraph.)
- "In African Cave, Signs of an Ancient Paint Factory", The New York Times, October 13, 2011.
- Demick, Barbara. "In China, millions make themselves at home in caves". latimes.com. Retrieved 2012-03-20.