In Old World archaeology, the
Mesolithic (Greek: μέσος, mesos
"middle"; λίθος, lithos "stone") is the period between
Paleolithic and Neolithic, the three periods together forming the
Stone Age. The term "Epipaleolithic" is often used for areas outside
northern Europe, but was also the preferred synonym used by French
archaeologists until the 1960s.
The type of culture associated with the
Mesolithic varies between
areas, but it is associated with a decline in the group hunting of
large animals in favour of a broader hunter-gatherer way of life, and
the development of more sophisticated and typically smaller lithic
tools and weapons than the heavy chipped equivalents typical of the
Paleolithic. Depending on the region, some use of pottery and textiles
may be found in sites allocated to the Mesolithic, but generally
indications of agriculture are taken as marking transition into the
Neolithic. The more permanent settlements tend to be close to the sea
or inland waters offering a good supply of food; much of the
Mesolithic population was probably nomadic for all or most of the
Mesolithic societies are not seen as very complex, and burials
are fairly simple; grandiose burial mounds are another mark of the
Mesolithic has different time spans in different parts of Eurasia.
It was originally post-Pleistocene, pre-agricultural material in
northwest Europe about 10,000 to 5000 BCE, but material from the
Levant (about 20,000 to 9500 BCE) is also labelled Mesolithic.
The term is less used of areas further east, and not all beyond
1 Outside Europe and the Levant
2 Terminology –
Mesolithic or Epipaleolithic?
3 History of the concept
4.1 The Levant
4.3 Ceramic Mesolithic
6 List of
7 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
Outside Europe and the Levant
Neolithic have been found useful terms and
concepts in the archaeology of China, and can be mostly regarded as
Mesolithic was introduced later, mostly after
1945, and does not appear to be a necessary or useful term in the
context of China. Chinese sites that have been regarded as Mesolithic
are better considered as "Early Neolithic".
In the archaeology of India, the Mesolithic, dated roughly between
10,000 and 6,000 BCE, remains a concept in use.
In the archaeology of sub-Saharan Africa, Lower
replaced by "Early Stone Age", Middle
Paleolithic is replaced by
"Middle Stone Age" and Upper
Paleolithic by "Later Stone Age"
according to the terminology introduced by John Hilary Goodman and
Clarence van Riet Lowe of South Africa in the early 20th century.
Therefore, care must be taken in translating "Mesolithic" as "Middle
Stone Age", as the latter term has an unrelated technical meaning in
the context of African archaeology.
In the archaeology of the Americas, an Archaic or Meso-Indian period,
following the Lithic stage, somewhat equates to the Mesolithic.
Mesolithic or Epipaleolithic?
view • discuss • edit
Earliest stone tools
Earliest exit from Africa
Earliest fire use
Earliest in Europe
Axis scale: million years
Also see: Life timeline and Nature timeline
The term "Mesolithic" is in competition with another term,
"Epipaleolithic", which means the "final Upper
occurring at the end of the final glaciation which appear to merge
technologically into the Mesolithic".
In the archaeology of Northern Europe, for example for archaeological
sites in Great Britain, Germany, Scandinavia, Ukraine, and Russia, the
term "Mesolithic" is almost always used. In the archaeology of other
areas, the term "Epipaleolithic" may be preferred by most authors, or
there may be divergences between authors over which term to use or
what meaning to assign to each. In the New World, neither term is used
(except provisionally in the Arctic).
Some authors use the term "Epipaleolithic" for those cultures that are
late developments of hunter-gatherer traditions but not in transition
toward agriculture, reserving the term "Mesolithic" for those
cultures, like the Natufian culture, that are transitional between
hunter-gatherer and agricultural practices.
Other authors use the term
Mesolithic for a variety of Late
Paleolithic cultures subsequent to the end of the last glacial period
whether they are transitional towards agriculture or not.
History of the concept
The three -lithics are subdivisions of the
Stone Age in the three-age
system developed since classical times and given a modern
archaeological meaning by Christian Jürgensen Thomsen, a Danish
archaeologist, in the early 19th century. Subdivisions of "earlier"
and "later" were added to the
Stone Age by Thomsen and especially his
junior colleague and employee Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae. John
Lubbock kept these divisions in his work Pre-historic Times in 1865
and introduced the terms
Paleolithic ("Old Stone Age") and Neolithic
("New Stone Age") for them. He saw no need for an intermediate
When Hodder Westropp introduced the
Mesolithic in 1866, as a
technology intermediate between
Paleolithic and Neolithic, a storm of
controversy immediately arose around it. A British school led by John
Evans denied any need for an intermediate. The ages blended together
like the colors of a rainbow, he said. A European school led by Louis
Laurent Gabriel de Mortillet asserted that there was a gap between the
earlier and later. Edouard Piette claimed to have filled the gap with
his discovery of the
Knut Stjerna offered an
alternative in the Epipaleolithic, a continuation of the use of
Paleolithic technology. By the time of Vere Gordon Childe's work, The
Dawn of Europe (1947), which affirms the Mesolithic, sufficient data
had been collected to determine that the
Mesolithic was in fact
necessary and was indeed a transition and intermediary between the
Paleolithic and the Neolithic.
The start and end dates of the
Mesolithic vary by geographical region.
Childe's view prevails that the term generally covers the period
between the end of the
Paleolithic and the start of the Neolithic. The
times of these events vary greatly; moreover, the various Mesolithics
within the span might be as short as roughly a thousand years or as
long as roughly 15,000 years depending on the circumstances. If the
Mesolithic is more similar to the
Paleolithic it is called the
Paleolithic was an age of purely hunting and gathering while in
Neolithic domestication of plants and animals had occurred. Some
Mesolithic peoples continued with intensive hunting. Others were
practising the initial stages of domestication (see Khiamian).
The type of stone toolkit remains one of the most diagnostic features:
Mesolithic used a microlithic technology - composite devices
manufactured with Mode V chipped stone tools (microliths), while the
Paleolithic had utilized Modes I–IV. In some areas, however, such as
Ireland, parts of Portugal, the Isle of Man and the Tyrrhenian
Islands, a macrolithic technology was used in the Mesolithic. In
the Neolithic, the microlithic technology was replaced by a
macrolithic technology, with an increased use of polished stone tools
such as stone axes.
See also: Epipaleolithic
The first period, known as
Mesolithic 1 (Kebarian culture; from
20,000–18,000 BCE until 12,150 BCE), followed the
Aurignacian or Levantine Upper
Paleolithic periods throughout the
Levant. By the end of the Aurignacian, gradual changes took place in
stone industries. Small stone tools called microliths and retouched
bladelets can be found for the first time. The microliths of this
culture period differ greatly from the
Aurignacian artifacts. This
period is more properly called Epipaleolithic.
By 20,000–18,000 BCE the climate and environment had changed,
starting a period of transition. The
Levant became more arid and the
forest vegetation retreated, to be replaced by steppe. The cool and
dry period ended at the beginning of
Mesolithic 1. The
hunter-gatherers of the
Aurignacian would have had to modify their way
of living and their pattern of settlement to adapt to the changing
conditions. The crystallization of these new patterns resulted in
Mesolithic 1. New types of settlements and new stone industries
The inhabitants of a small
Mesolithic 1 site in the
Levant left little
more than their chipped stone tools behind. The industry was of small
tools made of bladelets struck off single-platform cores. Besides
bladelets, burins and end-scrapers were found. A few bone tools and
some ground stone have also been found. These so-called Mesolithic
sites of Asia are far less numerous than those of the
the archeological remains are very poor.
Main article: Natufian culture
The second period,
Mesolithic 2, is also called the Natufian culture.
The change from
Mesolithic 1 to
Natufian culture can be dated more
closely. The latest date from a
Mesolithic 1 site in the
12,150 BCE. The earliest date from a Natufian site is
11,140 BCE. This period is characterized by the
early rise of agriculture that would later emerge into the Neolithic
Radiocarbon dating places the
Natufian culture between 12,500
and 9500 BCE, just before the end of the Pleistocene. This
period is characterised by the beginning of agriculture. The
earliest known battle occurred during the
Mesolithic period at a site
Sudan known as Cemetery 117.
Natufian culture is commonly split into two subperiods: Early Natufian
(12,500–10,800 BCE) (Christopher Delage gives c.
13,000–11,500 BP uncalibrated, equivalent to c.
13,700–11,500 BCE) and Late Natufian
(10,800–9500 BCE). The Late Natufian most likely occurred in
tandem with the Younger Dryas.
Two skeletons of women aged between 25 and 35 years, dated between
6740 and 5680 BP, both of whom died a violent death. Found at Téviec,
France in 1938.
Mesolithic began with the
Holocene warm period around
11,660 BP and ended with the introduction of farming, the date of
which varied in each geographical region. Regions that experienced
greater environmental effects as the last glacial period ended have a
much more apparent
Mesolithic era, lasting millennia. In northern
Europe, for example, societies were able to live well on rich food
supplies from the marshlands created by the warmer climate. Such
conditions produced distinctive human behaviors that are preserved in
the material record, such as the
Such conditions also delayed the coming of the
Neolithic until as late
as 5000–4000 BCE in northern Europe.
There is some evidence for the beginning of construction at sites with
a ritual or astronomical significance, including Stonehenge, with a
short row of large post holes aligned east-west, and a possible "lunar
Warren Field in Scotland, with pits of post holes of
varying sizes, thought to reflect the lunar phases. Both are dated to
around 8,000 BCE.
As the "
Neolithic package" (including farming, herding, polished stone
axes, timber longhouses and pottery) spread into Europe, the
Mesolithic way of life was marginalized and eventually disappeared.
Mesolithic adaptations such as sedentism, population size and use of
plant foods are cited as evidence of the transition to
agriculture. In one sample from the Blätterhöhle in Hagen, it
seems that the descendants of
Mesolithic people maintained a foraging
lifestyle for more than 2000 years after the arrival of farming
societies in the area; such societies may be called
"Subneolithic". In north-Eastern Europe, the hunting and fishing
lifestyle continued into the
Medieval period in regions less suited to
In North-Eastern Europe, Siberia, and certain southern European and
North African sites, a "ceramic Mesolithic" can be distinguished
between 7000-3850 BCE. Russian archaeologists prefer to describe
such pottery-making cultures as Neolithic, even though farming is
absent. This pottery-making
Mesolithic culture can be found peripheral
to the sedentary
Neolithic cultures. It created a distinctive type of
pottery, with point or knob base and flared rims, manufactured by
methods not used by the
Neolithic farmers. Though each area of
Mesolithic ceramic developed an individual style, common features
suggest a single point of origin. The earliest
manifestation of this type of pottery may be in the region around Lake
Baikal in Siberia. It appears in the Elshan or Yelshanka or Samara
culture on the Volga in
Russia c. 7000 BCE, and from
there spread via the
Dnieper-Donets culture to the
Narva culture of
the Eastern Baltic. Spreading westward along the coastline it is found
Ertebølle culture of Denmark and Ellerbek of Northern Germany,
and the related
Swifterbant culture of the Low Countries.
Periodization: The Levant: 20,000 to 9500 BCE; Europe: 9660 to
5000 BCE; Elsewhere: 10,000 to 400 BCE
Balkan mesolithic cultures
Tunisia and Algeria
Baltics and Russia
Iron Gates culture
Neman culture, Belarus
Lithuania and Poland
Nøstvet and Lihult cultures
Western and Central Europe
Belgium and France
Lepenski Vir, Serbia: 7000 BCE
Star Carr, England: 8700 BCE
Pulli settlement, Estonia: 9000 BCE
Franchthi cave, Greece: 20,000–3000 BCE
Cramond, Scotland: 8500 BCE
Mount Sandel, Ireland: 7010 BCE
Howick house, England: 7000 BCE
Swifterbant culture, The Netherlands
Aveline's Hole, Somerset, England: 8000 BCE
Shigir Idol, Russia: 9500 BCE
Bhimbetka rock shelters, India
10th millennium BCE
9th millennium BCE
8th millennium BCE
7th millennium BCE
Archaic Period (Americas)
Stone Age art
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^ De Roevers, p.162-163
^ Anthony, D.W. (2007). "Pontic-Caspian
Mesolithic and Early Neolithic
societies at the time of the Black Sea Flood: a small audience and
small effects". In Yanko-Hombach, V.; Gilbert, A.A.; Panin, N.;
Dolukhanov, P. M. The Black Sea Flood Question: changes in coastline,
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^ Anthony, David W. (2010). The horse, the wheel, and language : how
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Dragoslav Srejovic Europe's First Monumental Sculpture: New
Discoveries at Lepenski Vir. (1972) ISBN 0-500-39009-6
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