Physical Anthropology

An Overview of Prehistoric Europe

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Human prehistory in Europe is commonly believed to begin with the creation of stone tools by at least three species of human beings during the lower Palaeolithic period, approximately a million years ago. These tools gradually grew more sophisticated, until by the beginning of the true Stone Age, during the middle Palaeolithic period 200,000 years ago, Neanderthal man had evolved distinctive cutting and toothed tools known as Mousterian technologies. It was not until only 40,000 years ago, during the late Palaeolithic period, that Cro Magnon man, the direct ancestor of modern Homo sapiens, began to displace the previously dominant Neanderthal, leaving his mark in vivid pieces of art hidden in deep caves in what is now Spain and France.

Starting around 9,000 BCE, the Neolithic period saw the beginnings of animal husbandry, as well as agricultural cultivation and basic crafts such as pottery. Increasing human specialisation and consequent societal stratification allowed larger human settlements to come into existence: and trade between those settlements began. Toward the end of the Neolithic period native copper came into use, beaten into useful tools and personal decoration. It is commonly understood to end with the beginning of the Bronze Age, around 1,800 BCE, when the twin techniques of smelting metals and weaving cloth were first developed.

The Iron Age, also sometimes known as the Classical period, marks the beginning of reliably recorded history in Europe. It roughly parallels the height of classical Greece through the beginnings of the Roman Empire. Large cities were being built and sustained, empires were being forged on the backbone of conquest and trade, and for the first time humans sought rational understanding of the world and their place within it.

With the fall of Troy, over a million years of European prehistory had come to an end.

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