ⓘ Palaeolithic. The Palaeolithic, refers to the prehistoric period when stone tools were made by humans. They are found in the Great Rift Valley of Africa from ab ..


ⓘ Palaeolithic

The Palaeolithic, refers to the prehistoric period when stone tools were made by humans. They are found in the Great Rift Valley of Africa from about 3.3 million years ago. They were probably made by Australopithecines. They are found in Europe somewhat later, from about 1 mya. The Palaeolithic is by far the longest period of humanitys time, about 99% of human history. The geological period which corresponds to the Palaeolithic is the Pleistocene.

Stone tools were not only made by our own species, Homo sapiens. They were made by all previous members of the genus, starting with relatively crude tools made by Homo habilis and Homo erectus. In Europe, the large-brained Neanderthal Man Homo neanderthalensis made tools of high quality, and was in turn outshone by the many tools made by our own species. These tools are the first cultural products which have survived.

The Palaeolithic dates from about 2.6 million years ago and ended around 15.000 BC with the Mesolithic in Western Europe, and with the Epipaleolithic in warmer climates such as Africa. The Palaeolithic age began when hominids early humans started to use stones as tools for bashing, cutting and scraping. The age ended when humans began to make small, fine tools Mesolithic and finally when humans began to plant crops and have other types of agriculture Neolithic. In some areas, such as Western Europe, the way that people lived was affected by the Ice age. The move towards agriculture started in the Middle East.

During the Palaeolithic Age humans grouped together in small bands. They lived by gathering plants and hunting wild animals. As well as using stone tools, they used tools of wood and bone. They probably also used leather and vegetable fibers but these have not lasted from that time.


1.1. Cultures Oldowan

The Oldowan is the archaeological term used to refer to the stone tool industry that was used by hominids during the earliest Palaeolithic period. For a long time it was thought that the Oldowan was the earliest stone tool industry in prehistory, from 2.6 million years ago up until 1.7 million years ago. It was followed by the more sophisticated Acheulean industry. Oldowan tools were therefore the earliest tools in human history, and mark the beginning of the archaeological record. The term "Oldowan" is taken from the site of Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, where the first Oldowan tools were discovered by the archaeologist Louis Leakey in the 1930s. Now it is realised that stone tools were used much earlier 3.3 million years ago and that was definitely before the genus Homo had evolved.

It is not known for sure which species actually created and used Oldowan tools. It reached its peak with early species of Homo such as H. habilis and H. ergaster. Early Homo erectus appears to inherit Oldowan technology and refines it into the Acheulean industry beginning 1.7 million years ago. Oldowan tools are sometimes called pebble tools, so named because the blanks chosen for their production already resemble, in pebble form, the final product. Oldowan tools are sometimes subdivided into types, such as chopper, scrapers and pounders, as these seem to be their main uses.


1.2. Cultures Acheulean

Acheulean is the industry of stone tool manufacture by early humans of the Lower Palaeolithic era in Africa and much of West Asia and Europe. Acheulean tools are typically found with Homo erectus remains. They are first developed out of the more primitive Oldowan technology some 1.8 million years ago, by Homo habilis.

It was the dominant technology for most of human history. More than a million years ago Acheulean tool users left Africa to colonize Eurasia. Then, later, Acheulean tools occur at the same time as the more sophisticated Mousterian. The Acheulean was not a neatly defined period, but a tool-making technique which flourished especially well in early prehistory. Acheulean was a basic method for making stone tools which was shared across much of the Old World.


1.3. Cultures Clactonian

The Clactonian is an industry of European flint tool manufacture that dates to the early part of the interglacial period 400.000 years ago. Clactonian tools were made by Homo erectus rather than modern humans. Early, crude flint tools from other regions using similar methods are called either Clactonian or core & flake technology.

The Clactonian is named after finds made at Clacton-on-Sea in the English county of Essex in 1911. The artefacts found there included flint chopping tools, flint flakes and the tip of a worked wooden shaft along with the remains of a giant elephant and hippopotamus. Further examples of the tools have been found at sites in Swanscombe, Kent, and Barnham in Suffolk; similar industries have been identified across Northern Europe.

The Clactonian industry involved striking thick, irregular flakes from a core of flint, which was then employed as a chopper. The flakes would have been used as crude knives or scrapers. Unlike the Oldowan tools from which Clactonian ones derived, some were notched implying that they were attached to a handle or shaft.

The Clactonian industry may have co-existed with the Acheulean industry which used handaxes. However, in 2004 there was an excavation of a butchered Pleistocene elephant near Dartford, Kent. Archaeologists recovered numerous Clactonian flint tools, but no handaxes. Since handaxes would be more useful than choppers to dismember an elephant carcass, this is evidence of the Clactonian being a separate industry. Flint of sufficient quality was available in the area, so probably the people who carved up the elephant did not have the knowledge to make handaxes.


1.4. Cultures Mousterian

The Mousterian is an industry of stone tools associated with Neanderthal Man, Homo neanderthalensis. It dates from about 300.000 years to about 30.000 years ago. There are up to thirty types of tools in the Mousterian as contrasted with about six in the Acheulean.

The Mousterian was named after the type site of Le Moustier, a rock shelter in the Dordogne region of France. Similar flintwork has been found all over unglaciated Europe and also the Near East and North Africa. Handaxes, long blades and points typify the industry. Overall, the items are more perfectly finished than any previous work. The method used to get the blades and flakes is called the Levallois technique. It is a prepared-core technique: the core is worked on so that a long, fine blade can be struck off. For this quality of work, a soft hammer made of something like deer antler is necessary, rather than a stone hammer. The extra brain size of the Neanderthals is probably relevant to these advances.

The cultures which follow the Mousterian are all cultures of modern humans, Homo sapiens. It is characteristic of our species to produce many more tools, all specialised for particular tasks. There are at least 100 types of tools in the Upper Palaeolithic compared to a maximum of 30 tools in the Mousterian.


2. Chronology of Palaeolithic and following periods

The Palaeolithic is sometimes divided into three somewhat overlapping periods which mark technological and cultural advances in different human communities:

  • Palaeolithic
  • Upper Palaeolithic c 45.000 or 40.000–10.000 years ago.
  • Lower Palaeolithic c 2.6 or 2.5 million years ago–100.000 years ago
  • Middle Palaeolithic c 300.000–30.000 years ago

After the Palaeolithic follows the Mesolithic and Neolithic eras, which marks the end of Stone Age. The Bronze Age and the Iron Age come right after the Stone Age.


2.1. Chronology of Palaeolithic and following periods Venus figurines

Possibly among the earliest traces of art are Venus figurines. These are figurines very small statues of women, mostly pregnant with visible breasts. The figurines were found in areas of Western Europe to Siberia. Most are between 20.000 and 30.000 years old. Two figurines have been found that are much older: the Venus of Tan-Tan, dated to 300.000 to 500.000 years ago was found in Morocco. The Venus of Berekhat Ram was found on the Golan Heights. It has been dated to 200.000 to 300.000 years ago. It may be the one of the earliest things that show the human form.

Different kinds of stone, bones and ivory were used to make the figurines. Some are also made of clay which was then burned in a fire. This is one of the earliest known traces of the use of ceramics.

Today it is not known what the figurines meant to the people who made them. There are two basic theories:

  • They may be representations of human fertility, or they may have been made to help it.
  • They may represent fertility goddesses.

Scientists have excluded that these figurines were linked to the fertility of fields, because agriculture had not been discovered at the time the figurines were made.

The two figurines that are older may have mostly formed by natural processes. The Venus of Tan-Tan was covered with a substance that could have been some kind of paint. The substance contained traces of iron and manganese. The figurine of Berekhat Ram shows traces that someone worked on it with a tool. A study done in 1997 states that these traces could not have been left by nature alone.


2.2. Chronology of Palaeolithic and following periods Cave paintings

Cave paintings are paintings that were made on the walls or roofs of caves. Many cave paintings belong to the Palaeolothic Age, and date from about 15.000 to 30.000 years ago. Among the most famous are those in the caves of Altamira in Spain and Lascaux in France. p545 There are about 350 caves in Europe where cave paintings have been found. Usually, animals have been painted, like aurochs, bisons or horses. Why these paintings were done is not known. They are not simply decorations of places where people lived. The caves they were found in usually do not show signs that someone lived in them.

One of the oldest caves is that of Chauvet in France. Paintings in the cave fall into two groups. One has been dated to around 30.000 to 33.000 years ago, the other to 26.000 or 27.000 years ago. p546 The oldest known cave paintings, based on radiocarbon dating of "black from drawings, from torch marks and from the floors". As of 1999, the dates of 31 samples from the cave have been reported. The oldest paintings have been dated from 32.900±490 years ago.

Some archaeologists have questioned the dating. Zuchner believe the two groups date from 23.000–24.000, and 10.000–18.000 years ago. Pettitt and Bahn believe the dating is inconsistent. They say the people at that periods of time painted things differently. They also do not know where the charcoal used to paint some things is from, and how big the painted area is.

People from the Palaeolithic era drew well. They knew about perspective, and they knew of different ways to draw things. They also were able to observe the behaviour of animals they painted. Some of the paintings show how the painted animals behaved. The paintings may have been important for rituals.


3.1. Diet and nutrition In general

Paleolithic hunting and gathering people ate leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts and insects, meat, fish, and shellfish. As there is little direct evidence, it is almost impossible to determine the relative proportions of plant and animal foods. There is a modern diet called paleolithic diet, but it has few things in common with the paleolitic diet of the time. Even the claim that most humans of a given period shared the same diet is problematic. The Paleolithic was an extended period of time. During that time, there were many technological advances, many of which had impact on human dietary structure. For example, humans probably did not possess the control of fire until the Middle Paleolithic, or tools necessary to engage in extensive fishing. On the other hand, both these technologies are generally agreed to have been widely available to humans by the end of the Paleolithic consequently, allowing humans in some regions of the planet to rely heavily on fishing and hunting. In addition, the Paleolithic involved a substantial geographical expansion of human populations. During the Lower Paleolithic, ancestors of modern humans are thought to have been constrained to Africa east of the Great Rift Valley. During the Middle and Upper Paleolithic, humans greatly expanded their area of settlement, reaching ecosystems as diverse as New Guinea and Alaska. The also needed to adapt their diets to the local resources that were available.

Anthropologists have different opinions about the proportions of plant and animal foods consumed. Just as with still existing hunters and gatherers, there were many varied "diets" - in different groups -of fruit and vegetables. The relative proportions of plant and animal foods in the diets of Paleolithic people often varied between regions; in colder regions, more meat was necessary. These regions were not populated by anatomically modern humans until 30.000-50.000 BP. It is generally agreed that many modern hunting and fishing tools, such as fish hooks, nets, bows, and poisons, were not introduced until the Upper Palaeolithic and possibly even Neolithic. The only hunting tools widely available to humans during any significant part of the Paleolithic period were hand-held spears and harpoons. Theres evidence of Paleolithic people killing and eating seals and elands as far as 100.000 years BP. On the other hand, buffalo bones found in African caves from the same period are typically of very young or very old individuals, and theres no evidence that pigs, elephants or rhinos were hunted by humans at the time.


3.2. Diet and nutrition Developments

Another view is that until the Upper Paleolithic, humans were frugivores fruit eaters who supplemented their meals with carrion, eggs, and small prey such as baby birds and mussels. Only on rare occasions did they manage to kill and consume big game such as antelopes. This view is supported by studies of higher apes, particularly chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are the closest to humans genetically. They share more than 96% of their DNA code with humans, and their digestive tract is functionally very similar. Chimpanzees are primarily frugivores, but they could and would consume and digest animal flesh, given the opportunity. In general, their actual diet in the wild is about 95% plant-based, with the remaining 5% filled with insects, eggs, and baby animals. In some ecosystems, however, chimpanzees are predatory, forming parties to hunt monkeys. Some comparative studies of human and higher primate digestive tracts do suggest that humans have evolved to obtain greater amounts of calories from sources such as animal foods, allowing them to shrink the size of the gastrointestinal tract relative to body mass and to increase the brain mass instead.

Paleolithic peoples suffered less famine and malnutrition than the Neolithic farming tribes that followed them. This was partly because Paleolithic hunter-gatherers accessed to a wider variety natural foods, which allowed them a more nutritious diet and a decreased risk of famine. Many of the famines experienced by Neolithic and some modern farmers were caused or amplified by their dependence on a small number of crops. It is thought that wild foods can have a significantly different nutritional profile than cultivated foods. The greater amount of meat obtained by hunting big game animals in Paleolithic diets than Neolithic diets may have also allowed Paleolithic hunter-gatherers to enjoy a more nutritious diet than Neolithic agriculturalists. It has been argued that the shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture resulted in an increasing focus on a limited variety of foods, with meat likely taking a back seat to plants. It is also unlikely that Paleolithic hunter-gatherers were affected by modern diseases of affluence such as Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and cerebrovascular disease, because they ate mostly lean meats and plants and frequently engaged in intense physical activity, and because the average lifespan was shorter than the age of common-onset of these conditions.

Large-seeded legumes were part of the human diet long before the Neolithic agricultural revolution, as evident from archaeobotanical finds from the Mousterian layers of Kebara Cave, in Israel. There is evidence suggesting that Paleolithic societies were gathering wild cereals for food use at least as early as 30.000 years ago. However, seeds, such as grains and beans, were rarely eaten and never in large quantities on a daily basis. Recent archeological evidence also indicates that winemaking may have originated in the Paleolithic, when early humans drank the juice of naturally fermented wild grapes from animal-skin pouches. Paleolithic humans consumed animal organ meats, including the livers, kidneys and brains. Upper Paleolithic cultures appear to have had significant knowledge about plants and herbs and may have, albeit very rarely, practiced rudimentary forms of horticulture. In particular, bananas and tubers may have been cultivated as early as 25.000 BP in southeast Asia. Late Upper Paleolithic societies also appear to have occasionally practiced pastoralism and animal husbandry, presumably for dietary reasons. For instance, some European late Upper Paleolithic cultures domesticated and raised reindeer, presumably for their meat or milk, as early as 14.000 BP. Humans also probably consumed hallucinogenic plants during the Paleolithic period. The Australian Aborigines have been consuming a variety of native animal and plant foods, called bushfood, for an estimated 60.000 years, since the Middle Paleolithic.

People during the Middle Paleolithic, such as the Neanderthals and Middle Paleolithic Homo sapiens in Africa, began to catch shellfish for food as revealed by shellfish cooking in Neanderthal sites in Italy about 110.000 years ago and Middle Paleolithic Homo sapiens sites at Pinnacle Point, in Africa around 164.000 BP. Although fishing only became common during the Upper Paleolithic, fish have been part of human diets long before the dawn of the Upper Paleolithic and have certainly been consumed by humans since at least the Middle Paleolithic. For example, the Middle Paleolithic Homo sapiens in the region now occupied by the Democratic Republic of the Congo hunted large 6-foot 1.8 m-long catfish with specialized barbed fishing points as early as 90.000 years ago. The invention of fishing allowed some Upper Paleolithic and later hunter-gatherer societies to become sedentary or semi-nomadic, which altered their social structures. Example societies are the Lepenski Vir as well as some contemporary hunter-gatherers such as the Tlingit. In some instances at least the Tlingit they developed social stratification, slavery and complex social structures such as chiefdoms.

Anthropologists such as Tim White suggest that cannibalism was common in human societies prior to the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic, based on the large amount of" butchered human" bones found in Neanderthal and other Lower/Middle Paleolithic sites. Cannibalism in the Lower and Middle Paleolithic may have occurred because of food shortages. However, it may have been for religious reasons, and would coincide with the development of religious practices thought to have occurred during the Upper Paleolithic. Nonetheless, it remains possible that Paleolithic societies never practiced cannibalism, and that the damage to recovered human bones was either the result of ritual post-mortem bone cleaning or predation by carnivores such as saber tooth cats, lions and hyenas.


4. Other sources

  • Christopher Boehm 1999. "Hierarchy in the forest: the evolution of egalitarian behavior" page 198 Harvard University Press.
  • Bahn, Paul 1996. The atlas of world archeology. The Brown Reference Group PLC.
  • Leften Stavros Stavrianos 1991. A global history from prehistory to the present. New Jersey, USA: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-357005-3

5. Other websites

  • Map of Earth during the late Upper Paleolithic, by Christopher Scotese
  • Human Evolution, Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2007 Archived 2008-02-28 at the Wayback Machine © 1997-2007 Microsoft Corporation. Contributed by Richard B. Potts.
  • Stone Age, Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2007 Archived 2009-08-20 at the Wayback Machine © 1997-2007 Microsoft Corporation. Contributed by Kathy Schick and Nicholas Toth.
  • Early voices: the leap to language, by Nicolas Wade
  • Middle and Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers the emergence of modern humans: the Mesolithic
  • The Upper Palaeolithic Upper Paleolithic or Late Stone Age is the third and last part of the Palaeolithic period. It lasted from about 40, 000 to 10
  • After the neolithic period came the Bronze Age. Neolithic Revolution Palaeolithic Mesolithic Neolithic Stone Tools and Artifacts - World Museum of Man Brutal
  • between the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods of the Stone Age. In the Palaeolithic people were pure hunter - gatherers. In the Neolithic they were farmers
  • machines, but is used for a wider range of objects, processes and ideas. Palaeolithic hand axes were one of the first tools used. Simple modern mechanisms
  • tools are among the earliest known man - made artifacts, dating from the Palaeolithic period of human history. A beach composed chiefly of surface pebbles
  • million years ago - first humans 2.5 million years ago Start of Lower Palaeolithic age, during which a type of early pre - human called Australopithecus lived
  • Africa from another branch of the genus. Human evolution Human timeline Palaeolithic International Commission on Stratigraphy ICS ICS geologic time scale
  • new stone Pottery was invented during the Neolithic Stone Age. The Palaeolithic is a prehistoric era distinguished by the development of stone tools
  • changes in thinking that early humans went through. Human evolution Palaeolithic Introduction to human evolution National Museum of Natural History
  • Encyclopedia, pp. 447. Denoon, Donald et al. 2001 Multicultural Japan: Palaeolithic to Postmodern, p. 107. Tōyō Bunko. 1935 Memoirs of the Research Department