Monday, 27 January 2014

Stone Age

Stone Age, period of human technological development characterized by the use of stone as the principal raw material for tools. In a given geographic region, the Stone Age normally predated the invention or spread of metalworking technology. Human groups in different parts of the world began using stone tools at different times and abandoned stone for metal tools at different times. Broadly speaking, however, the Stone Age began roughly 2.5 million years ago, ended in some parts of the world 5,000 years ago, and ended in other regions much more recently. Today only a few isolated human populations rely largely on stone for their technologies, and that reliance is rapidly vanishing with the introduction of tools from the modern industrialized world.
Human ancestors living before the Stone Age likely used objects as tools, a behavior that scientists find today among chimpanzees. Wild chimpanzees in Africa exhibit a range of tool-using behaviors. For example, they use bent twigs to fish for termites, chewed wads of leaves to soak up liquid, and branches and stones as hammers, anvils, missiles, or clubs. However, when prehistoric humans began to make stone tools they became dramatically distinct from the rest of the animal world. Although other animals may use stone objects as simple tools, the intentional modification of stone into tools, as well as using tools to make other tools, appear to be behaviors unique to humans. This stone toolmaking and tool-using behavior became central to the way early humans adapted to their environment and almost certainly had a profound effect on human evolution.
Archaeologists believe the Stone Age began about 2.5 million years ago because that marks the age of the earliest stone tool remnants ever discovered. The earliest recognizable stone artifacts mark the beginnings of the archaeological record—that is, the sum total of material remnants of ancient human activities. As recently as 5,000 years ago all human societies on the face of the earth were essentially still living in the Stone Age. Therefore, over 99.8 percent of humans’ time as toolmakers—from 2.5 million years ago to 5,000 years ago—took place during the Stone Age. During the Stone Age our ancestors went through many different stages of biological and cultural evolution. It was long after our lineage became anatomically modern that we began to experiment with new innovations such as metallurgy, heralding the end of the Stone Age.
The term Stone Age has been used since the early 1800s as a designation for an earlier, prehistoric stage of human culture, one in which stone rather than metal tools were used. By the early 1800s various archaeological sites had been found in Europe that contained mysterious items from evidently earlier, prehistoric times. Christian Thomsen, curator of the National Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark, developed a classification scheme to organize the museum’s growing collections into three successive technological stages in the human past: Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age. This three-age classification was quickly adopted and spread not only among museums in Europe but also among excavators, who were able to identify Stone Age remnants that were found below Bronze Age remnants, which were in turn found below Iron Age remnants as they dug down through layers of deposits at their sites. The fact that Stone Age remnants were found at the bottom layers indicated that they were the oldest.
A General Concepts
The study of the Stone Age falls under the fields of anthropology, which is the study of human life and culture from the origins of human life up to the present, and archaeology, which is the study of the material remains of humans and human ancestors. Archaeologists seek out, explore, and study archaeological sites, locations around the world where historic or prehistoric people left behind traces of their activities. Archaeologists use the data collected to make theories about how human ancestors lived.
Archaeologists normally use the term artifact to refer to objects that have been modified by human action, either intentionally or unintentionally. The term tool is used to refer to something that has been used by a human or a human ancestor for some purpose and may be modified or not. For instance, a thrown rock is a tool, even if it was not modified. It is usually difficult to demonstrate that a particular stone artifact was used as a tool prehistorically, so in practice, archaeologists prefer to use the term artifact instead, especially in relation to the earlier stages of the Stone Age. Unused debris or waste from the manufacture of stone tools is also considered artifactual.
Stone artifacts are of great importance to archaeologists who study prehistoric humans, because they can yield a wide range of information about ancient peoples and their activities. Stone artifacts are, in fact, often the principal archaeological remnants that persist after the passage of time and as such can give important clues as to the presence or absence of ancient human populations in any given region or environment. Careful analysis of Stone Age sites can yield crucial information regarding the technology of prehistoric toolmakers, which in turn gives anthropologists insight into the levels of cognitive (thinking) ability at different stages of human evolution.
A1 Human Evolution
Before the Stone Age, early human ancestors—called hominids—had already become bipedal, meaning that they walked upright on two legs. At the dawn of the Stone Age, there were two types of hominids: those who belonged to genus Homo and those who belonged to genus Australopithecus (called australopithecines). Over the course of the Stone Age, both evolved into new and different species. Early Homos evolved into forms such as Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis (also called Neandertals), and, finally, Homo sapiens—modern humans (see Human Evolution).
A2 Geologic Epochs of the Stone Age
During the Stone Age, Earth experienced the most recent in a succession of ice ages, in which glaciers and sea ice covered a large portion of Earth’s surface. The most recent ice age period lasted from 1.8 million to 11,500 years ago, a period of glacial and warmer interglacial stages that is known as the Pleistocene Epoch. The Holocene Epoch began at the end of the ice age 11,500 years ago and continues to the present. See Geologic Time.
B Stone Age Toolmaking Technology
Early hominids made stone artifacts either by smashing rocks between a hammer and anvil (known as the bipolar technique) to produce usable pieces or by a more controlled process termed flaking, in which stone chips were fractured away from a larger rock by striking it with a hammer of stone or other hard material. Later, especially during the last 10,000 years, other techniques of producing stone artifacts—including pecking, grinding, sawing, and boring—became more common. The best rocks for flaking tended to be hard, fine-grained, or amorphous (having no crystal structure) rocks, including lava, obsidian, ignimbrite, flint, chert, quartz, silicified limestone, quartzite, and indurated shale. Ground stone tools could be made on a wider range of raw material types, including coarser grained rock such as granite.
Flaking produces several different types of stone artifacts, which archaeologists look for at prehistoric sites. The parent pieces of rock from which chips have been detached are called cores, and the chips that have been removed from cores are called flakes. A flake that has had yet smaller flakes removed from one or more edges in order to sharpen or shape it is known as a retouched piece. The stone used to knock flakes from cores is called a hammerstone or a percussor. Other flaking artifacts include fragments and chunks, most of which are broken cores and flakes.
The terms culture and industry both refer to a system of technology (toolmaking technique, for example) shared by different Stone Age sites of the same broad time period. Experts now prefer to use the term industry instead of culture to refer to these shared Stone Age systems.
Archaeologists have divided the Stone Age into different stages, each characterized by different types of tools or tool-manufacturing techniques. The stages also imply broad time frames and are perceived as stages of human cultural development. The most widely used designations for the successive stages are Paleolithic (Old Stone Age), Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age), and Neolithic (New Stone Age). British naturalist Sir John Lubbock in 1865 defined the Paleolithic stage as the period in which stone tools were chipped or flaked. He defined the Neolithic as the stage in which ground and polished stone axes became prevalent. These two stages also were associated with different economic and subsistence strategies: Paleolithic peoples were hunter-gatherers while Neolithic peoples were farmers. Archaeologists subsequently identified a separate stage of stone tool working in Eurasia and Africa between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic, called the Mesolithic. This period is characterized by the creation of microliths, small, geometric-shaped stone artifacts that were attached to wood, antler, or bone to form implements such as arrows, spears, or scythes. Microliths began appearing between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago at the end of the Pleistocene Ice Age.
The Paleolithic/Mesolithic/Neolithic division system was first applied only to sites in Europe, but is now widely used (with some modification) to refer to prehistoric human development in much of Asia, Africa, and Australasia. Different terminology is often used to describe the cultural-historical chronology of the Americas, which humans did not reach until some point between 20,000 and 12,000 years ago. However, there is a general similarity in the transition from flaked stone tools associated with prehistoric hunter-gatherers to both flaked and ground stone tools associated with the rise of early farming communities. The period in the Americas up to the end of the Pleistocene Ice Age about 10,000 years ago, when most humans were hunter-gatherers, is called Paleo-Indian and the subsequent, postglacial period is known as Archaic.
A Paleolithic
Archaeologists subdivide the Paleolithic into the Lower Paleolithic (the earliest phase), Middle Paleolithic, and Upper Paleolithic (the later phase), based upon the presence or absence of certain classes of stone artifacts.
A1 Lower Paleolithic
The Lower Paleolithic dates from approximately 2.5 million years ago until about 200,000 years ago. It includes the earliest record of human toolmaking and documents much of the evolutionary history of the genus Homo from its origins in Africa to its spread into Eurasia. Two successive toolmaking industries characterize the Lower Paleolithic: the Oldowan and the Acheulean.
A1a Oldowan Industry
The Oldowan industry was named by British Kenyan anthropologists Louis Leakey and Mary Leakey for early archaeological sites found at Olduvai Gorge in northern Tanzania. It is also sometimes referred to as the chopper-core or pebble-tool industry. Simple stone artifacts made from small stones or blocks of stone characterize the Oldowan industry. Mary Leakey classified Oldowan artifacts as either heavy-duty tools or light-duty tools. In this classification, heavy-duty tools include core types such as choppers, discoids, polyhedrons, and heavy-duty scrapers. Many of these cores may have been produced to generate sharp-edged flakes, but some could have been used for chopping or scraping activities as well. Light-duty tools include retouched forms such as smaller scrapers, awls (sharp, pointed tools for punching holes in animal hides or wood), and burins (chisel-like flint tools used for engraving and cutting). Oldowan techniques of manufacture included hard-hammer percussion, or detaching flakes from cores with a stone hammer; the anvil technique, striking a core on a stationary anvil to detach flakes; and bipolar technique, detaching flakes by placing the core between an anvil and the hammerstone.
Early humans probably also made tools from a wide range of materials other than stone. For example, they probably used wood for simple digging sticks, spears, clubs, or probes, and they probably used shell, hide, bark, or horn to fashion containers. Unfortunately, organic materials such as these do not normally survive from earlier Stone Age times, so archaeologists can only speculate about whether such tools were used.
Two of the oldest Oldowan sites are in Ethiopia: Gona (occupied 2.5 million years ago) and Omo (2.3 million years ago). Other well-studied Oldowan sites include Lokalalei (2.3 million years ago) and Koobi Fora (1.9 million to 1.4 million years ago), in Kenya; Olduvai Gorge (1.9 million to 1.2 million years ago), in Tanzania; Ain Hanech (perhaps 1.7 million years ago), in Algeria; and the cave deposits at Sterkfontein and Swartkrans (estimated to be from 2.0 million to 1.5 million years ago), in South Africa.
Hominids that were contemporary with Oldowan sites include two major lineages. One is the robust australopithecines (so called because their cheek teeth were larger than those of other australopithecines). These robust australopithecines—such as Australopithecus aethiopicus and Australopithecus boisei in East Africa, and Australopithecus robustus in South Africa—were bipedal and had small brains, large jaws, and large molars. The other lineage is made up of bipedal, larger-brained, and smaller-toothed early members of the genus Homo, such as Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, and early Homo erectus. The oldest fossils of Homo erectus (sometimes called Homo ergaster) found in Africa date back to about 1.85 million years ago. This species is characterized by an even larger brain and smaller teeth than earlier hominids and by a larger body size. (In 1984 anthropologists in Kenya found a nearly complete skeleton of an adolescent Homo erectus who would have been 1.8 m (6 ft) tall as an adult.)
Experts do not know for certain which of these species was responsible for individual Oldowan sites. All of these species may have made and used Oldowan-style stone tools to varying degrees. However, anthropologists have long suspected that the larger-brained and smaller-toothed Homo was probably a more habitual toolmaker. It is likely that Homo erectus was responsible for many of the Oldowan sites more recent than 1.85 million years ago. In any case, by 1 million years ago, all of these species except Homo erectus had gone extinct, so researchers can be certain that at least the Homo lineage was involved in using and making stone tools. Homo erectus appears to have moved out of Africa and into Eurasia sometime before 1 million years ago, although some anthropologists think this geographic spread of hominids may have occurred nearly 2 million years ago.
The everyday life of Oldowan hominids is largely a matter of archaeological conjecture. Most sites in East Africa are found near lakes or along streams, suggesting that they preferred to live near water sources. Studies of rock sources suggest that Oldowan hominids sometimes transported stone several kilometers to the sites where stone artifacts are found. Well-preserved sites often have collections of stone artifacts and fragmented fossil animal bones associated together, often in dense concentrations of several thousand specimens. Scholars disagree regarding the nature of these sites. Some archaeologists interpret them as camps, home bases, or central foraging places, similar to those formed by modern hunter-gatherers during their daily activities. Others think that such sites represent scavenging stations where hominids were primarily involved in processing and consuming animal carcasses. Still others view these accumulations as stone caches where hominids collected stone in areas where such raw materials did not occur naturally.
Fossil remains from some Oldowan sites suggest that Oldowan hominids used stone tools to process meat and marrow from animal carcasses, some weighing several hundred pounds. Although some archaeologists have argued that large game hunting may have occurred in the Oldowan, many Oldowan specialists believe these early Stone Age hominids likely obtained most of their meat from large animals primarily through scavenging. The early hominids may have hunted smaller animals opportunistically, however. Modern experiments have shown that sharp Oldowan flakes are especially useful for the processing of animal carcasses—for example, skinning, dismembering, and defleshing. The bulk of early hominid diet likely consisted of a variety of plant foods, such as berries, fruits, nuts, leaves, flowers, roots, and tubers, but there is little archaeological record of such perishable foodstuffs.
A1b Acheulean Industry
The term Acheulean was first used by 19th-century French archaeologist Gabriel de Mortillet to refer to remnants of a prehistoric industry found near the town of Saint-Acheul in northern France. The distinguishing feature of this site is an abundance of stone hand axes, tools more sophisticated than those found at Oldowan sites. The term Acheulean is now used to refer to hand axe industries in Africa, the Near East, Europe, and Asia dating from 1.5 million years ago to 200,000 years ago and spanning human evolution from Homo erectus to early archaic Homo sapiens.
The characteristic Acheulean hand axe is a large, pointed or oval-shaped form. These hand axes were often made by striking a blank (a rough chunk of rock) from a larger stone and then shaping the blank by carefully removing flakes around its perimeter. Usually, both sides, or faces, of the blank were flaked, a process called bifacial flaking. Later Acheulean hand axes may have been produced by the soft-hammer technique, in which a softer hammer of stone, bone, or antler produced thinner, more carefully shaped forms. Other associated forms include cleavers, bifacial artifacts with a sharp, guillotine-like bit at one end; and thick, pointed artifacts known as picks. Simpler, typical Oldowan artifacts are usually also found at Acheulean sites, as well as a range of retouched flake tools such as scrapers. Experiments have demonstrated that Acheulean hand axes and cleavers are excellent tools for heavy-duty butchery activities, such as severing animal limbs. Some archaeologists, however, believe they may have served other functions, or perhaps were general, all-purpose tools.
Acheulean tools did not entirely replace Oldowan tools. Archaeologists have discovered numerous sites where Oldowan tools were used throughout the Acheulean time period, sometimes in the same geographic region as Acheulean industries. Interestingly, the Acheulean seems to be especially restricted to Africa, Europe, and western Asia, with few sites in East Asia of stone industries with typical Acheulean hand axes and cleavers during the Lower Paleolithic. Most of the industries found in East Asia tend to be simpler, Oldowan-like technologies that can be seen at sites at Nihewan and the cave of Zhoukoudian in northern China.
Well-studied Acheulean sites include those at Olduvai Gorge and Isimila, in Tanzania; Olorgesailie, in Kenya; Konso Gardula and Melka Kunture, in Ethiopia; Kalambo Falls, in Zambia; Montagu Cave, in South Africa; Tabun and Gesher Benot Ya'aqov, in Israel; Abbeville and Saint-Acheul, in France; Swanscombe and Boxgrove, in England; and Torralba and Ambrona, in Spain.
Most anthropologists think that Acheulean populations of Homo erectus and early Homo sapiens were probably more efficient hunters than Oldowan hominids. Recently discovered wooden spears from about 400,000 years ago at Schöningen, Germany, as well as a 300,000-year-old wooden spear tip from Clacton, England, suggest that the hominids who made these implements may have hunted game extensively.
Experts disagree as to whether Acheulean hominids and their contemporaries harnessed the use of fire. Archaeologists have found evidence such as apparent burnt bone and stone, discolored sediment, and the presence of charcoal or ash at a number of sites, including Cave of Hearths, in South Africa; Zhoukoudian, in China; and Terra Amata, in France. Discrete fireplaces (hearths), however, appear to be quite rare. Similarly, there is only questionable evidence of huts or other architectural features.
A2 Middle Paleolithic
The Middle Paleolithic extends from around 200,000 years ago until about 30,000 years ago. It is also called the Mousterian Industry in Europe, the Near East, and North Africa and called the Middle Stone Age in sub-Saharan Africa.
A2a Innovations of the Middle Paleolithic
Toolmakers in the Middle Paleolithic used a range of retouched flake tools, especially side-scrapers, serrated scrapers, backed knives (blade tools with the nonblade side dulled to fit comfortably in the hand), and points. Experts believe these tools were used to work animal hides, to shape wood implements, and as projectile points. This period is also characterized by the use of specially prepared cores. Using the disc core method, a circular core could produce numerous flakes to serve as blanks for retouched tools. With the Levallois method (named after a suburb of Paris, France, where the first such artifacts were discovered), flakes of a predetermined shape were removed from specially prepared cores. This process resulted in oval-shaped flakes or large, triangular points, depending on the type of Levallois core. Levallois cores and flakes are first seen at some late Acheulean sites but become much more common in the Middle Paleolithic/Middle Stone Age.
Some regional variation can be seen among Middle Paleolithic industries. A North African variant known as Aterian produced tools and points characterized by tangs (stems projecting from the base of the tool or point, to allow the tool to be attached to a handle or shaft). In Eastern Europe, a variant called Szeletian produced two-sided, leaf-shaped points, a style not usually seen elsewhere until the Upper Paleolithic. In Central Africa, a variant called the Sangoan produced a range of heavy-duty picks and axes.
Middle Paleolithic/Middle Stone Age archaeological sites are often found in the deposits of caves and rock shelters. Well-studied caves include Pech de l'Aze, Combe Grenal, La Ferrassie, La Quina, and Combe Capelle, in France; Tabun, Kebara, Qafzeh, and Skhūl, in Israel; Shānidār, in Iraq; Haua Fteah, in Libya; and Klasies River Mouth, in South Africa. In East Asia, sites that are contemporary with the Middle Paleolithic often exhibit a simpler toolmaking technology, without as much standardization of the flake tool forms as in much of the rest of Eurasia and Africa.
A2b Middle Paleolithic Humans
Hominids associated with the Middle Paleolithic include Neandertals and other archaic Homo sapiens (Homo sapiens predating anatomically modern humans, who lived from about 200,000 to 35,000 years ago). In Europe, the Middle Paleolithic is associated with Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, or Neandertals, who lived from about 200,000 to 35,000 years ago. Neandertals were short, robust humans with fully modern cranial capacity. They had more jutting faces, more prominent brow ridges, thicker cranial bones, and larger nose cavities than modern humans. Skeletal remains show that Neandertals were very robust and muscular. Healed injuries to some skeletons suggest that Neandertals led stressful, rigorous lives. Famous Neandertal discoveries include Neander Valley, in Germany; La Chapelle-aux-Saints and La Ferrassie, in France; Krapina, in Croatia; Monte Circeo and Saccopastore, in Italy; Shānidār, in Iraq; and Tabun and Amud, in Israel. Fossils of archaic Homo sapiens from this time period have been found at sites such as Dali and Maba, in China and at Florisbad, in South Africa, and Ngaloba, in Tanzania. In addition, fossils that have been interpreted as early anatomically modern humans have been found at some Middle Paleolithic/Middle Stone Age sites in parts of Africa and the Near East, such as at Qafzeh and Skhūl, in Israel, and Klasies River Mouth, in South Africa.
Middle Paleolithic hominids appear to have been more successful hunters than their predecessors. Abundant animal remains suggest that these hominids ate many kinds of large mammals. It is unknown, however, how much of the meat consumed was obtained through hunting, as opposed to scavenging. Accumulations of remains at some sites show that a high percentage of the animals were of a common species and were adults in their prime, which some researchers suggest is an indication of efficient hunting behavior. Several sites in Europe that contain the carcass of one or more large animals are believed to be butchery sites, where early humans processed the spoils of kills. Some archaeologists have also argued that some Middle Paleolithic stone points were probably attached to spears, a new development in hunting technology. At Klasies River Mouth Cave in South Africa, archaeologists discovered a buffalo vertebra with a broken tip of what was probably a spearhead embedded in it, which could be evidence that the large mammal was hunted or trapped by hominids.
Middle Paleolithic hominids tend to show more behavioral complexity than their predecessors. For example, although the majority of the stone found at most Middle Paleolithic sites is local—its source within a few kilometers of a site—an increasing percentage is exotic stone, transported from its sources tens of kilometers away. Simple hearths at many Middle Paleolithic sites suggest habitual fire use and possible fire-making as well. Evidence of housing is still quite uncommon, but is present at some sites. For example, at Molodovo, Ukraine, a circle of mammoth bones has been interpreted as a hut structure. Microscopic studies of residues on Middle Paleolithic scraper tools suggest that they may have been used for woodworking and to work animal hides for use as clothing or in shelters.
Over the course of the Middle Paleolithic, hominids spread across much of Eurasia. The use of fire and clothing and the ability to build more substantial shelters may have helped them survive in cold regions, such as the central Asian steppe. By 40,000 years ago, near the end of the Middle Paleolithic, humans entered Australia, which apparently would have required traversing some distance of open ocean, probably in some form of craft. Some Middle Paleolithic sites have skeletal remains that are interpreted as simple burials. No representational art is known from this period, although occasional ornaments such as beads have been found at late Middle Paleolithic/Middle Stone Age sites.
Opinion is divided among anthropologists as to whether Neandertals and other archaic Homo sapiens had fully modern cognitive abilities, particularly the ability to recognize and communicate with symbols, a skill required to form modern languages. On one hand, the large cranial capacities of these populations might suggest modern human cognitive and behavioral capabilities. On the other hand, their technological development was very slow, and they left behind no trace of the use of symbols, such as representational cave paintings. Archaeologists have found much greater evidence of symbolism and cultural complexity during the Upper Paleolithic.
A3 Upper Paleolithic
The Upper Paleolithic extends from approximately 40,000 years ago until the end of the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago. This era is known as the Paleo-Indian period in the Americas, and as the Later Stone Age in sub-Saharan Africa, where it extended much longer, even to historical times in parts of the continent. In the Upper Paleolithic, standardized blade industries appear and become much more widespread than in previous times. The first of these industries to appear in the Near East and Europe is known as Aurignacian. Later Upper Paleolithic industries include the Perigordian, Solutrean, and Magdalenian. The Upper Paleolithic is usually characterized by specially prepared cores from which blades (flakes at least twice as long as they are wide) were struck off with a bone or antler punch. Upper Paleolithic humans also developed new forms of scrapers, backed knives, burins, and points. Beautifully made, two-sided, leaf-shaped points are also common in some Upper Paleolithic industries. Toward the end of the Upper Paleolithic, microliths (small, geometric-shaped blade segments) became increasingly common in many areas.
By the end of the Upper Paleolithic period and the end of the last ice age about 10,000 years ago, human populations had spread to every continent except Antarctica. Humans had effectively adapted to the northern latitudes of Eurasia and had dispersed into the American continents. The earliest well-documented occupation of the Americas appears to have been during the late ice age, about 12,000 to 10,000 years ago. The first recognized Paleo-Indian industry is known as Clovis, which was followed by Folsom. These industries produced delicately crafted, bifacial points that are fluted, meaning that the base of the point is thinned by removing a large flake from one or both sides. Fluted Clovis points have been found at mammoth kill sites, while Folsom points are associated with bison kills, mammoths being extinct by that time.
Famous Upper Paleolithic occupation sites include Laugerie Haute, La Madeleine, Abri Pataud, and Pincevent, in France; Castillo, Altamira, and El Juyo, in Spain; Dolní Věstonice, in the Czech Republic; Mezhirich, in Ukraine; Sungir and Kostenki, in Russia; Ksār Akil, in Lebanon; Kebara, in Israel; Zhoukoudian Upper Cave, in China; Haua Fteah, in Libya; and Taforalt, in Morocco. Well-known Later Stone Age sites in sub-Saharan Africa include Lukenya Hill, in Kenya; Kalemba, in Zambia; and Rose Cottage Cave, Wilton Cave, Nelson Bay Cave, and Boomplaas in South Africa. The most famous Paleo-Indian sites are those located in the United States near the eastern New Mexico towns of Clovis and Folsom, which gave the industries their names.
Human fossils associated with the Upper Paleolithic, Paleo-Indian, and Later Stone Age are almost always those of anatomically modern humans, or Homo sapiens sapiens. In the 19th century, Homo sapiens sapiens skeletal remains were found associated with early Upper Paleolithic artifacts at the rock shelter of Cro-Magnon in southern France. The term Cro-Magnon Man has thus sometimes been used to refer to anatomically modern humans in the context of the Upper Paleolithic. Not all humans were anatomically modern in this period, however. In the early stages of the Upper Paleolithic, the sites that make up the Chatelperronian industry appear to be associated with late Neandertals, possibly influenced by modern humans arriving with Aurignacian technology.
A3a Innovations of the Upper Paleolithic
During the Upper Paleolithic, tools of bone, antler, and ivory become common for the first time. These tools include points, barbed harpoons, spear throwers, awls, needles, and tools that have been interpreted as spear-shaft straighteners. The presence of eyed needles indicates the use of sewn clothing (presumably of hide and possibly early textiles) or hide coverings for tents or shelters. In some carvings from this period, human figures are depicted wearing hooded parkas or other vestments. Other technological innovations include lamps (in the form of hollowed out stones filled with flammable substances such as oil or animal fat) and probably the bow and arrow (small projectile points have been interpreted as arrowheads). Many Upper Paleolithic artifacts appear to be evidence of composite technology, in which multiple components were combined together to form one tool or process. For example, spear tips were attached with binding material to spear shafts, which were flung using spear throwers (sometimes called atlatls). A spear thrower usually took the form of a length of wood or bone with a handle on one end and a peg or socket at the other to hold the butt of a spear or dart. When swung overhand together, the spear thrower provided greater thrust on the spear.
Upper Paleolithic populations appear to have been competent hunter-gatherers. The use of mechanical devices such as spear throwers and, probably, bow and arrows allowed them to increase the velocity, penetrating force, and distance of projectiles. Many Upper Paleolithic sites contain large quantities of mammal bones, often with one species predominating, such as red deer, reindeer, or horse. It is believed that many of these Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers could effectively predict the timing and location of seasonal resources, such as reindeer migrations or salmon runs.
A3b Upper Paleolithic Culture
Many Upper Paleolithic sites feature elements that have been interpreted as evidence of housing. These are commonly patterns of bone or stone concentrations that seem to delineate hut or tent structures. At the sites of Étiolles and Pincevent, in France, the distribution of stone artifacts, animal bones, hearths, and postholes has been interpreted as evidence of clearly defined huts. At Mezhirich, in the Ukraine, and Kostenki, in Russia, hut structures were found made of stacked or aligned mammoth bones. Distinctive hearths, often lined or ringed with rocks, are much more common in the Upper Paleolithic than in earlier times.
Stone for tools was often obtained from more distant sources, sometimes in larger quantities than seen previously in the Stone Age. Occasionally, stone was traded or carried over several hundred kilometers. It seems likely, therefore, that trade and transport routes were more formalized than they had been in earlier times. The Upper Paleolithic also documents the trade of exotic materials—such as marine shells or semiprecious stones—for personal ornamentation as beads or on necklaces.
In the Upper Paleolithic, evidence of human burial is much more common. In addition, burials tend to be more elaborate than in Neandertal times, often associated with rich grave goods. For example, at Sungir, in Russia, three individuals were buried with ivory spears, pendants and necklaces of shells and animal teeth, and thousands of ivory beads that had apparently been sewn into their clothing.
A3c Upper Paleolithic Art
The earliest representational art—in the form of painting, sculpture, and engraving—dates back to approximately 32,000 years ago. Sites in Europe are famous for their artwork, but prehistoric Stone Age art has also been richly documented in Africa, Australia, and other parts of the world. Animals are common subjects of Upper Paleolithic art, and human figures and abstract elements such as lines, dots, chevrons, and other geometric designs are also found.
Early humans around the world used natural materials such as red and yellow ochre, manganese, and charcoal to create cave art. Among the hundreds of European sites with Upper Paleolithic cave paintings, some of the best known are Altamira, in Spain, and Lascaux and the more recently discovered (and archaeologically oldest) Chauvet, in France. Animals such as bison, wild cattle, horses, deer, mammoths, and woolly rhinoceroses are represented in European Upper Paleolithic cave art, with human figures relatively uncommon. Later Stone Age paintings of animals have been found at sites such as in Apollo 11 Cave, in Namibia; and stylized engravings and paintings of circles, animal tracks, and meandering patterns have been found in Australia’s Koonalda Cave and Early Man Shelter.
A number of small sculptures of human female forms (often called Venus figurines) have been found in numerous sites in Europe and Asia. Small, stylized ivory animal figures made more than 30,000 years ago were discovered in Vogelherd, Germany, and clay sculptures of bison were found in Le Tuc d’Audoubert, in the French Pyrenees. In addition, many utilitarian objects—such as spear throwers and batons—were superbly decorated with engravings, sculptures of animals, and other motifs.
The earliest known musical instruments also come from the Upper Paleolithic. Flutes made from long bones and whistles made from deer foot bones have been found at a number of sites. Some experts believe that Upper Paleolithic people may have used large bones or drums with skin heads as percussion instruments.
The archaeological record of the Upper Paleolithic shows a creative explosion of new technological, artistic, and symbolic innovations. There is little doubt that these populations were essentially modern in their biology and cognitive abilities and had fully developed language capabilities. There is a much greater degree of stylistic variation geographically (some archaeologists have suggested that this is evidence of the emergence of ethnicity) and a more rapid developmental pace during the Upper Paleolithic than in any previous archaeological period. Anthropologists hotly debate whether these new Upper Paleolithic patterns are due to biological transition or whether they are simply the products of accumulated cultural knowledge and complexity through time.
B Mesolithic
The Mesolithic (also known as the Epipaleolithic) extends from the end of the Pleistocene Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, until the period when farming became central to a peoples’ livelihood, which occurred at different times around the world. The term Mesolithic is generally applied to the period of post-Pleistocene hunting and gathering in Europe and, sometimes, parts of Africa and Asia. In the Americas, the post-glacial hunter-gatherer stage that predates the dominance of agriculture is usually called the Archaic. In the rest of the world, Mesolithic sites are usually characterized by microliths. Microlithic blade segments were commonly retouched into a range of shapes, including crescents, triangles, rectangles, trapezoids, and rhomboids, and thus the tools are often called geometric microliths. These forms often have multiple sharp edges. Many of these microliths probably served as elements of composite tools, such as barbed or blade-tipped spears or arrows, or wooden-handled knives. The microliths were likely inserted into shafts or handles of wood or antler and reinforced with some type of adhesive.
The end of the ice age brought fairly rapid environmental change in much of the world. With the warmer, post-glacial conditions of the Holocene Epoch, ice sheets retreated and sea levels rose, inundating coastal areas worldwide. Temperate forests spread in many parts of Europe and Asia. As these climatic and vegetative changes occurred, large herds of mammals, such as reindeer, were replaced by more solitary animals, such as red deer, roe deer, and wild pig. Cold-adapted animals, such as the reindeer, elk, and bison, retreated to the north, while others, such as the mammoth, giant deer, and woolly rhinoceros, went extinct. The rich artistic traditions of Upper Paleolithic Western Europe declined markedly after the end of the ice age. This may in part be because the changing environment made the availability of food and other resources less predictable, requiring populations to spend more time searching for resources, leaving less time to maintain the artistic traditions.
Well-studied Mesolithic/Archaic sites include Star Carr, in England; Mount Sandel, in Ireland; Skara Brae, in Britain’s Orkney Islands; Vedbæk, in Denmark; Lepenski Vir, in Serbia; Jericho, in the West Bank; Nittano, in Japan; Carrier Mills, in Illinois; and Gatecliff Rockshelter, in Nevada. In sub-Saharan Africa, many Later Stone Age sites of the Holocene Epoch could broadly be termed Mesolithic, due to their geometric microliths and bow and arrow technology.
During the Mesolithic, human populations in many areas began to exploit a much wider range of foodstuffs, a pattern of exploitation known as broad spectrum economy. Intensively exploited foods included wild cereals, seeds and nuts, fruits, small game, fish, shellfish, aquatic mammals and birds, tortoises, and invertebrates such as snails. Dogs were domesticated in this period, probably for use in hunting. Some Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, such as the Natufian of the Near East, appear to have lived in small settlements based on an economy involving gazelle hunting and the harvesting of wild cereals using sickles with flint blade segments inset in bone handles. In the Near East and North Africa, Mesolithic populations processed wild plant foods using grinding stones.
Other Mesolithic technological innovations include the adz and axe (woodworking tools consisting of flaked stone blades set in bored antler sleeves and fastened to wooden handles), fishing weirs and traps, fishhooks, the first preserved bows and arrows, baskets, textiles, sickles, dugout canoes and paddles, sledges, and early skis. The Jōmon culture of Japan produced pottery by 10,000 years ago, as did the Ertebølle culture of Scandinavia somewhat later.
The development of broad spectrum economies in the post-glacial Mesolithic/Archaic period laid the foundations for the domestication of plants and animals, which in turn led to the rise of farming communities in some parts of the world. This development marked the beginning of the Neolithic.
C Neolithic
Farming originated at different times in different places—as early as about 9,000 years ago in some parts of the world. In some regions, farming arose through indigenous developments, and in others it spread from other areas. Most archaeologists believe that the development of farming in the Neolithic was one of the most important and revolutionary innovations in the history of the human species. It allowed more permanent settlements, much larger and denser populations, the accumulation of surpluses and wealth, the development of more profound status and rank differences within populations, and the rise of specialized crafts.
Neolithic toolmaking generally shows a great deal of technological continuity with the Mesolithic. Neolithic industries often include blade and bladelet (small blade) technologies, sometimes with microliths, and a wide range of retouched tools, including endscrapers (narrower scrapers for working hides), backed blades or bladelets (some of which were set into handles and used as sickles), and a wide range of projectile points. In addition, ground and polished axes and adzes—which would have been used for forest clearance to plant crops, as well as for woodworking activities—are characteristic of the Neolithic. Such tools, although labor-intensive to manufacture, tended to last a long time without requiring resharpening and consequently were highly prized by these early farmers. Large-scale trade networks of axes and stone are documented in the Neolithic, with artifacts sometimes found hundreds of miles from their sources. Other technological developments in the Neolithic include grinding stones, such as mortars and pestles, for the processing of cereal foods, the widespread use of pottery for surplus food storage and cooking, the construction of granaries for storage of grains, the use of domesticated plant fibers for textiles, and weaving technology.
C1 The Rise of Farming
Archaeologists have a number of theories to explain why humans began farming. The reasons probably differed somewhat from one region to another. Some theories maintain that population pressure or changes in environment may have forced humans to find new economic strategies, which led to farming. Another theory maintains that a population of humans may have lived in a region where it was relatively easy to domesticate wild plants and animals, making the development of agriculture essentially a historical accident. Still another theory proposes that the rise of farming may have been a function of social change, as individuals began to use agriculture as a means to acquire wealth in the form of food surpluses.
Different plant crops were cultivated in different places, depending on what wild plants grew naturally and how well they responded to cultivation. In the Near East, important crops included wheat, barley, rye, legumes, walnuts, pistachios, grapes, and olives. In China, millet and rice predominated. In Africa, millet, sorghum, African rice, and yams were commonly grown. Rice, plantains, bananas, coconuts, and yams were important in Southeast Asia. Finally, in the Americas, corn, squash, beans, potatoes, peppers, sunflowers, amaranths, and goosefoots were commonly grown.
Domesticated animals also varied from one region to another according, again, to availability and their potential to be domesticated. In Eurasia, Neolithic people domesticated dogs, sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, chickens, ducks, and water buffalo. In the Americas, domesticated animals included dogs, turkeys, llamas, alpacas, and guinea pigs. In Africa, the primary domesticated animals—cattle, sheep, and goats—probably spread from the Near East.
Well-studied early farming sites in Eurasia include Jericho, in the West Bank; Ain Ghazal, in Jordan; Ali Kosh, in Iran; Mehrgarh, in Pakistan; Banpocun (Pan-p’o-ts’un), in China; and Spirit Cave, in Thailand. Important African sites include Adrar Bous in Niger, Iwo Eleru in Nigeria, and Hyrax Hill and Lukenya Hill in Kenya. In the Americas, sites showing early plant domestication include Guila Naquitz, in Mexico, and Guitarrero Cave, in Peru.
Larger Neolithic settlements show a wide variety of new architectural developments. For instance, in the Near East, conical beehive-shaped houses or rambling, connected apartment-style housing were often constructed with mud bricks. In Eastern Europe, houses were made with wattle and daub (interwoven twigs plastered with clay) walls, and, in later times, longhouses were constructed with massive timbers. In China, some settlements contain semisubterranean houses dug into clay, with evidence of walls and roofs made out of thatch or other materials and supported by poles.
C2 Neolithic Social Change
The domestication of plants and animals led to profound social change during the Neolithic. Surpluses of food, such as stored grain or herds of livestock, could become commodities of wealth for some individuals, leading to social differentiation within farming communities. Trade of raw materials and manufactured products between different areas increased markedly during the Neolithic, and many foreign or exotic goods appear to have developed special symbolic value or status. Some Neolithic graves contain rich stores of goods or exotic materials, revealing differentiations in terms of wealth, rank, or power.
In certain areas, notably parts of the Near East and Western Europe, Neolithic peoples erected massive ceremonial complexes, efforts that would have required extensive, dedicated work forces. Large earthworks and megalithic (“giant stone”) monuments from the Neolithic (including the Avebury stone circle and the earliest stages of Stonehenge, in England, and the monuments of Carnac, in France), suggest more highly organized political structures and more complex social organization than among most hunter-gatherer populations. In the Americas, sites such as the mounds of Cahokia, in Illinois, also indicate a more complex, organized political and social order. The technological innovations and economic basis established and spread by Neolithic communities ultimately set the stage for the development of complex societies and civilizations around the world.
Humans produced metal tools and ornaments from beaten copper as early as 12,000 years ago in some parts of the world. By about 6,000 years ago, early experiments in metallurgy, particularly extracting metals from copper ore (smelting), were being conducted in some parts of Eurasia, notably in Eastern Europe and the Near East. By 5,000 years ago, copper and tin ores were being smelted and alloyed in some regions, marking the dawn of the Bronze Age. Casting of bronze tools—such as axes, knives, swords, spearheads, and arrowheads—became increasingly common over time. At first, copper and bronze tools were rare and stone tools were still very common, but as time went on, metal tools gradually replaced stone as the principal raw material for edged tools and weapons.
In Eurasia and parts of Africa, the rise of metallurgical societies appears to coincide with the rise of the earliest state societies and civilizations, such as ancient Egypt, Sumer, Minoan Culture, Mycenae, and China. In the Americas, parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Australia, and the Pacific Islands, societies continued to use stone and other nonmetal materials as the principal raw materials for tools up to the time of European contact, starting in the 15th century ad. Although, technically, populations in these areas could have been said to be Stone Age groups, many had become agricultural societies and had formed flourishing civilizations.
Stone technology enjoyed a brief resurgence within iron-using societies with the advent of flintlock firearms, beginning in the 17th century. Carefully shaped flints—reminiscent of the geometric microliths of the Mesolithic and early Neolithic—were struck against steel to create a spark to ignite the firearm. By the end of the 20th century few human groups had a traditional stone technology, although a few groups on the island of New Guinea still relied on the use of stone adzes. Tools of metal, plastic, and other materials had replaced stone technologies virtually everywhere.

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