Physical Anthropology

Introduction to the Mesolithic



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With such an emphasis on dates, most history classes will have difficulty pinning down the actual start or end of the Mesolithic Era or the middle stone age. Much of the difficulty lies in geography with settlements of humanity in Ireland and Scotland reaching specific tool advancements and living habits at differing times from those clans that were in the east or other areas of Europe. Most sources agree, however, that the beginning of this period is marked by the climactic and geographical changes associated with the retreat of the glaciers.

For the date lovers, a narrow period between 8,000 B.C. and 4,000 B.C. is widely recognized for the Northern European, Scotland and Ireland Settlements. Other sources broaden this range from about 15,000 B.C to 2,500 B.C to include human advancements and nomadic activity in the Middle East and areas where glacial retreat began earlier.

It is important to remember that the Mesolithic is identified by environment, tool development, settlement habits and available food sources. The glaciers are retreating; in some cases, so quickly that sea levels rise and cover old hunting grounds within a single generation. The nomadic hunter-gatherers of this era have begun to hunt smaller game because the large animals of the recent ice age are disappearing. They are fashioning smaller and sharper blades (microliths) made of flint and other stone that flakes easily. While the bow and arrow may be present in their groups, it is possible that this is evidence of the more advanced cultures of the Neolithic Period. It is certain that sharpened antlers, hand axes and hafted axes are present in the midst of these people.

They are travelers, but traveling has become wearisome. Their traditional lands are disappearing and the food sources are changing so the people seek places along the coastlines where fish, shellfish, nuts and berries are abundant. Oysters, limpets, trout, hazelnuts and wild fruit have become the desired diet with small deer, boar, and elk the staple meat. Mesolithic man has not yet become a farmer and the nomadic life is still deep within him. He lives in a hut made of sticks and hide, using his spear or crude nets to catch fish and down larger game. Meals are cooked on an open fire pit and the remains of the meals shells, bones, etc are often tossed into a remote pit that has become the object of many archaeologists' interest.

Soon, Mesolithic man will be gone. The Neolithic cultures are spreading quickly and seem to be more stable in their ability to provide food. And well it should be that way. They have become a settled people, developing farms to grow food and keep animals. They have learned from Mesolithic man that the dog is a welcome and helpful companion. Their weapons are more advanced. For now, Mesolithic man will survive, huddled on the shore of the rising waters, content to fish and hunt the new game, watching as the trees begin to once again take over the glacially stripped land, but his time is waning almost as soon as he has appeared.

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