The Stone Age was the prehistoric period after the Ice Age that spanned from about 2,500,000 B.C. to 3,000 B.C. The early Stone Age cultures that appeared before the Neolithic period in 5.000 B.C. make up over 99 percent of human technological history, according to Nicholas Toth and Kathy Schick in a 2007 article for the “Handbook of Paleoanthropology.” Archaeologists believe that this period is the time when early human cultures first appeared and started making tools.
Early Paleolithic: Oldowans and Acheuleans
Distinct human cultures emerged between 2,500,000 and 200,000 B.C. While archeologists don’t know much about this era, the predominant human species was Homo habilis and Homo erectus, who dispersed out of Africa and into Eurasia, according to professor Nancy White. The men of early cultures were hunters and the women were gatherers who also watched the children. Oldowan and Acheulean sites are found in Africa, Asia and Europe. The Oldowans made simple stone tools, such as hammers and knives, and are thought to have lived in social groups that hunted and gathered. Archaeologists believe they lived in places like Tanzania, Ethiopia, Iran, Pakistan, Israel, Georgia, Russia, Spain, France and Italy about 2.5 million years ago. This society was separated from the Acheuleans, who existed about 1.6 million years ago in places like India, Egypt, Libya, Russia, England, Germany, India and Syria. Acheuleans made complex tools like picks and hand axes. Archaeologists believe that they were a more artistic culture because of the drawings found on artifacts, like the Venus of Berekhat Ram. They also believe that the Acheulans lived in caves and tent-like structures and had a hierarchical society that eventually lived in groups of immediate family members called “bands.”
Middle Paleolithic Age
Early modern humans and Neanderthals emerged during the Middle Paleolithic age. Their cultures existed in areas like Croatia, Israel, Democratic Republic of Congo, the Atlas Mountains and Gibraltar from 200,000 to 50,000 BC. The tools that the cultures in the era produced were more complex and the use of fire was more widespread. Boehm writes that the bands during this time were nomadic and had between 20 and 100 members. During this era, societies began to settle in permanent locations and farm. A 2003 article on the National Geographic website states that the early humans participated in inter-band and long-distance trade for raw materials. The early humans of the time took care of their elderly members, and created art, including beads, bracelets and bone carvings. The cultures functioned as separate societies where individuals remained loyal to their respective bands.
Upper Paleolithic Age
The early humans of the Upper, or Late, Paleolithic Era had distinct cultures throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia and northern Europe, including the Franco-Cantabrian regions of France and Spain. They existed between 50,000 and 10,000 B.C. They created art, musical instruments, sculptures, engravings, fishing gear and advanced tools. Each culture produced distinct types of tools and artifacts. Archeologists believe that modern humans, Homo sapiens, emerged during this era and that the Neanderthals began to die out, particularly in Europe. Archeologists cannot agree on whether there was a formal leadership or a division of labor among the different early societies, but suspect that they functioned as separate societies because of low population densities. Some of the cultures of this period include the Aurignacian, Shugnou, Kebaran, Zarzian and Mashubian, according to the "Encyclopedia of Human Evolution and Prehistory." Archaeologists differentiate the cultures by the types of weapons used and evidence of food sources and artifacts found at sites.
The Mesolithic, or Middle, Age, lasted from 10,000 to 3,000 B.C., during which distinct cultural groups lived in Serbia, Germany, Scandinavia, England, Estonia, Greece, the Netherlands and Russia. During this time, humans continued to develop tools, formed larger settlements, domesticated animals and developed agricultural methods. These cultures practiced social and ceremonial exchanges, such as burials. While some cultures advanced in farming, architecture and herding, others remained hunters and foragers. Norway's Kosma culture was made up of fishers and seal hunters who created wooden boats. The Swiderian culture existed through the Paleolithic and early Mesolithic ages. They were a distinctive culture that lived on the sand dunes that retreating glaciers left in Poland, Lithuania and parts of countries spanning from Belgium to central Russia. The Swiderians created their own tools and hunted animals found in the tundra, like reindeer.
- Springer.com: Overview of Paleolithic Archeology
- Touro Institute: Introduction to Archeology
- Christopher Boehm; Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior
- National Geographic: When Did ‘Modern’ Behavior Emerge in Humans?
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Middle and Later Pleistocene Hominins in Africa and Southwest Asia
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Evolution of Lethal Intergroup Violence
- International World History Project: The Stone Age
- ScienceMag.org: 2000 Years of Parallel Societies in Stone Age Central Europe
- Valley News: Stone Age Societies Lived Side by Side, Kept Their Distance
- Huffington Post: Woolly Mammoths Killed Off By Climate Change, Habitat Shifts & Hunting, Scientists Say
- Museum of Anthropology: Oldowan and Acheulean Stone Tools
- Origins Net: Near Eastern -- North African Acheulian Figurine Symbolizing Traditon
- Science Direct: From Africa to Eurasia — Early Dispersals
- Essential Humanities: The Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages
- New York Times: Neanderthals’ Last Stand is Traced
- New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology: Encyclopedia of Human Evolution and Prehistory
- Norse Knights: Early History
- Lithuanian Institute of History: Seiderian Culture in Lithuania
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images