The Stone Age is seen as the longest epic of human pre-history.It can be divided into 3 separate time periods which are defined by the level of knowledge that prehistoric man had reached in the shaping and use of tools.
The terms of understanding and the time frames constantly shift as archaeologists continuously improve our understanding of the culture and way of life of our early ancestors.
PALEOLITHIC : Old Stone Age:
The lower Paleolithic period dating as far back as 2.5 million years, marks the beginning of the first recognizable human signs of tool usage. During this time the earliest tool recorded is the simple stone chopper used by Australopithecus, the closest link that can be found to our human ancestors. Tools from this period mark the development of the hunter gatherer and are very crude implements made out of stone such as flint. The most typical tool is the hand axe. The species, Homo erectus is introduced.
The middle Paleolithic period which roughly begun 750,00 to 500,000 years BC and lasted until the end of the last ice age about 8,500, introduces us to a more sophisticated tool use. Evidence of this has been mostly uncovered in Europe and to a smaller extent in N Africa, Palestine, and Siberia. Here we can find evidence that indicates a knowledge of fire and the use of implements such as bone needles. A crude religion could have been practiced as there is an indication that the dead had their faces painted before burial. The species, Neanderthal Man is introduced.
The Upper Paleolithic period which approximately begun about 25,000 years ago shows an explosion in human growth and development. The Old World sees a rise and development of the cultures of the Aurignacian, Gravettian, Perigordian, Solutrean, and Magdalenian. Here we find the evidence of communal hunting, extensive fishing, and first real evidence of belief system of magic and the supernatural. The first manmade structures were produced, sewn clothing was worn and we now have sculpture and paintings. Personal ornaments were fashioned from such materials as bone and ivory. The harpoon and boat was developed and this period marked the culmination of Paleolithic art.
The species Cro-Magnon man and Grimaldi man is introduced.
MESOLITHIC: or middle Stone Age:
This marks the period of the last glaciers over 10,000 years ago. It represents the formation of communities and the domestication of animals and growth of crops. With the onset of their changing environment people of the Mesolithic cultures developed a more varied diet encompassing a wider variety of hunting, fishing, and food gathering techniques. With the retreat of the glaciers came the growth of forests and the deserts of N Africa which meant a disappearance of the large game of the ice age.
This period is greatly characterized by the much more delicate implement and an improvement on the hand axe with the introduction of the hafted axe and greater use of bone tools. The abundance of fish and molluscs gave rise to many fishing and hunting settlement along rivers and the shores of lakes. Pottery and the bow were introduced and historians are now starting to question whether this was due to contact with early Neolithic people.
NEOLITHIC: New Stone Age:
The term Neolithic is used mostly as a term for the cultural revolution that indicated a change from a food collecting to a food producing culture. Its exact date of commencement can be dated to between 7 and 9 thousand years ago. It is characterized by the existence of large villages which rely solely on their domesticated animals and the growth of their crops for existence.
We also find evidence of a more sophisticated type of pottery and weaving techniques. The earliest known development of Neolithic culture can be found in SW Asia between 8000 B.C. and 6000 B.C. The Natufian people developed sophisticated crop cultivation which included wheat, barley, and millett. They also raised an extensive collection of livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats and pigs.
By 2000 B.C. the Neolithic culture had spread through Europe, the Nile valley (Egypt), the Indus valley (India), and the Huang He valley (N China). By 1500 B.C., evidence of Neolithic communities relying on a staple diet of corn, beans, squash, and other plants has been found in Mexico and South America. From here came the development of the Inca and Aztec civilizations.
The ending of the Neolithic period heralded a change in the way that people produced food and essential tasks. Harvests were being produced at an unprecedented level and the resulting wealth that came of it was a factor in the rise of civilizations. Social structures became more complex and a new class was born those who did not have to work to support their basic needs.
First indications of this kind of wealth came from the Middle East. The climate and geography were factors as it depended on the type of crops that could be grown and the availability of animals for domestication. It is very hard to pinpoint exact human development at this time because each area on the globe developed at different rates.
Even in our own time there are Neolithic people still living in primitive jungles. One such culture is the Yanomano, a native American tribe living in the Amazonian Basin in both Venezuela and Brazil. They are believed to be the most primitive people in existence in the world. Declared by anthropologists as Neo-Indians with cultural characteristics that can be dated back to how people lived more than 8000 years ago. They know nothing about the wheel and the only metal they use has come from the outside. They have a basic numbering system that be simply described as one, two and more than two. They have a primitive belief system and hunt and gather food and live in supreme harmony with their environment.
Tribes such as these give us a window back into time and help us to understand how Mankind has developed the ability to change our world through the use of tools and how we used these tools in manipulating our environment. It has been the most fundamental thing in understanding how we finally developed what is termed as the human condition'. It explains how we became elevated as a race above the ordinary mammal and by studying the early development of Man, can help us to pinpoint how mankind effectively made use of adaptive strategy which shaped the human being in a physical, psychological and cultural way.