We know that early examples of humans and closely related species existed, and we have come to know these primitive people as cavemen. But how important was cave dwelling to our ancestors?
We will probably never have a definitive answer to this question, they left no official historical records, just a few cave paintings and scattered artefacts. Some of the humanlike or prehumen species that are thought to have lived in caves include Homo antecessor, Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthals), Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis. The general consensus among scientists, is that caves were actually very rarely served as permanent shelters by such species. They may have provided seasonal shelters or maybe even temporary camp sites for nomadic groups that moved from place to place as they followed the herds of animals they hunted for food, but were rarely used for permanent shelter and often not used at all.
Early humans, Homo sapiens, are also thought to have lived in caves, but only when it was necessary for them to do so. As Homo sapiens lived as hunter gatherers, they did not create permanent settlements as they were constantly traveling. The Homo sapiens had several ways of building shelters for themselves, such as stretching animal hides over bones, building rough wooden lean-tos or creating earthen mounds. If they came across a cave that was suitable for shelter, Homo sapiens would use it. However, although there are millions of caves across the globe, it is actually quite rare to find a one that is suitable to live in or use as shelter. Cave entrances can be inaccessible, some may be too dark with a lack of natural light and some can be compact, running out of breathable air after a short period of time.
There has been evidence that Neanderthals had several main camps which were usually caves in locations that were full of animals to hunt meaning hunters would be able to find food without travelling too far. The caves suited the Neanderthals as they travelled in small groups, for few caves would be able to support a larger population. There has also been evidence that early humans and Neanderthals lived in the same cave at the same time and even shared resources with each other.
Looking at how humanlike and pre-human species lived during these times the evidence suggests that cave dwelling was not a huge factor to the survival of these primitive people. However this is impossible to say for certain until more evidence is found, and we haven’t even come close to finding and exploring all the caves that the species inhabited in their time.