Ancient Nomadic Societies

Before there were settled civilizations, there were nomadic societies. Before there were temples and houses, there were people living in tents, earth-mound structures, and caves. People traveled about freely as weather and terrain permitted.

Nomadic societies existed around the world and likely made a series of artifacts designed to make life better—physically, functionally, and spiritually. But what were their furnishings like? How did furniture help members of ancient nomadic societies in daily life?

Nomads can be categorized into three groups:

1. Hunting and gathering nomads (e. g., the African Pygmies, Cheyenne and Navajo Indians, Australian Aborigines, and indigenous people of Southeast Asia would have followed this way of life). These nomads moved from place to place to hunt animals and gather wild plants.

2. Pastoral nomads (e. g., the Bedouin of Arabia and northern Africa, the Fulani of Niger in western Africa, and the Hopi of the North American Southwest). These nomads traveled to find water and pasture lands for their herds.

3. Nomadic craft workers and merchants (e. g., the Lohar blacksmiths of India and the Gypsy traders of Eastern Europe). These nomads traveled seasonally to provide services.

Most nomads traveled in groups called tribes, clans, or bands. People ate, gathered socially, squatted to sit, and slept on the ground in tents, huts, and caves. Activities often occurred around a central fire.

Nomadic peoples had natural hide containers, which may have been one of the first indispensable articles of furniture for the storage of possessions. They also had wooden furnishings, textile rugs, and hammocks used for sleeping. Furniture had to be portable, easily dismantled, and light enough to carry long distances.

Prehistoric World Settlements

Under the conditions that existed in primitive civilizations, people needed a constant water supply and reasonable climatic conditions for settlements to root. It was not only in Mesopotamia and the Nile Valley that people were settling down to agriculture and the


Figure 10.2 Map of the ancient world. Map courtesy of Corky Binggeli, Interior Design: A Survey (John Wiley & Sons, 2007).


formation of settlements in the millennia between 6000 and 3000 BCE (Figure 10.2). Along the upper Tigris River, the Assyrians were founding cities. In the valleys of Asia Minor and on the Mediterranean shores and islands, small communities developed into civilizations. Archaeological discoveries in southeastern Europe dating back 5,700 years include depic­tions of people (women) seated on devices that resemble chairs. Parallel developments were occurring simultaneously in regions of India, China, and the Americas.

As settled societies developed an infrastructure to produce functional possessions such as textiles, storage containers, and fundamental furniture pieces, inevitably trading developed.