Mesolithic
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The Mesolithic ( Greek: μέσος, ''mesos'' 'middle' + λίθος, ''lithos'' 'stone') or Middle Stone Age is the
Old World The "Old World" is a term for Afro-Eurasia that originated in Europe Europe is a large peninsula conventionally considered a continent in its own right because of its great physical size and the weight of its history and traditions. ...
archaeological period between the
Upper Paleolithic The Upper Paleolithic (or Upper Palaeolithic) is the third and last subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age The Stone Age was a broad prehistoric period during which stone was widely used to make tools with an edge, a point ...
and the
Neolithic The Neolithic period, or New Stone Age, is an Old World archaeological period and the final division of the Stone Age. It saw the Neolithic Revolution, a wide-ranging set of developments that appear to have arisen independently in several p ...
. The term Epipaleolithic is often used synonymously, especially for outside northern Europe, and for the corresponding period in the Levant and
Caucasus The Caucasus () or Caucasia (), is a region between the Black Sea The Black Sea is a marginal mediterranean sea of the Atlantic Ocean lying between Europe and Asia, east of the Balkans, south of the East European Plain, west of ...
. The Mesolithic has different time spans in different parts of
Eurasia Eurasia (, ) is the largest continent A continent is any of several large landmass A landmass, or land mass, is a large region or area of land. The term is often used to refer to lands surrounded by an ocean or sea, such a ...
. It refers to the final period of hunter-gatherer cultures in Europe and Western Asia, between the end of the Last Glacial Maximum and the
Neolithic Revolution The Neolithic Revolution, or the (First) Agricultural Revolution, was the wide-scale transition of many human cultures during the Neolithic The Neolithic period, or New Stone Age, is an Old World archaeological period and the final di ...
. In Europe it spans roughly 15,000 to 5,000  BP; in Southwest Asia (the Epipalaeolithic Near East) roughly 20,000 to 10,000  BP. The term is less used of areas farther east, and not at all beyond
Eurasia Eurasia (, ) is the largest continent A continent is any of several large landmass A landmass, or land mass, is a large region or area of land. The term is often used to refer to lands surrounded by an ocean or sea, such a ...
and
North Africa North Africa, or Northern Africa is a region encompassing the northern portion of the African continent. There is no singularly accepted scope for the region, and it is sometimes defined as stretching from the Atlantic shores of Mauritania in ...
. 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 Pottery is the process and the products of forming vessels and other objects with clay and other ceramic materials, which are fired at high temperatures to give them a hard and durable form. Major types include earthenware, stoneware and ...
and
textiles Textile is an umbrella term that includes various fiber-based materials, including fibers, yarns, filaments, threads, different fabric Textile is an umbrella term that includes various fiber-based materials, including fibers ...
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. Mesolithic societies are not seen as very complex, and burials are fairly simple; in contrast, grandiose burial mounds are a mark of the Neolithic.


Terminology

The terms "Paleolithic" and "Neolithic" were introduced by John Lubbock in his work ''Pre-historic Times'' in 1865. The additional "Mesolithic" category was added as an intermediate category by Hodder Westropp in 1866. Westropp's suggestion was immediately controversial. 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 Gabriel de Mortillet asserted that there was a gap between the earlier and later. Edouard Piette claimed to have filled the gap with his naming of the Azilian Culture. Knut Stjerna offered an alternative in the "Epipaleolithic", suggesting a final phase of the Paleolithic rather than an intermediate age in its own right inserted between the Paleolithic and Neolithic. By the time of
Vere Gordon Childe Vere Gordon Childe (14 April 189219 October 1957) was an Australian archaeologist Archaeology or archeology is the scientific study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. The archaeological record con ...
's work, ''The Dawn of Europe'' (1947), which affirms the Mesolithic, sufficient data had been collected to determine that a transitional period between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic was indeed a useful concept. However, the terms "Mesolithic" and "Epipalaeolitic" remain in competition, with varying conventions of usage. 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). "Epipaleolithic" is sometimes also used alongside "Mesolithic" for the final end of the Upper Paleolithic immediately followed by the Mesolithic. As "Mesolithic" suggests an intermediate period, followed by the Neolithic, some authors prefer the term "Epipaleolithic" for hunter-gatherer cultures who are not succeeded by agricultural traditions, reserving "Mesolithic" for cultures who are clearly succeeded by the Neolithic Revolution, such as the Natufian culture. Other authors use "Mesolithic" as a generic term for hunter-gatherer cultures after the Last Glacial Maximum, whether they are transitional towards agriculture or not. In addition, terminology appears to differ between archaeological sub-disciplines, with "Mesolithic" being widely used in European archaeology, while "Epipalaeolithic" is more common in Near Eastern archaeology.


Europe

The Balkan Mesolithic begins around 15,000 years ago. In Western Europe, the Early Mesolithic, or Azilian, begins about 14,000 years ago, in the Franco-Cantabrian region of northern
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and Southern France. In other parts of Europe, the Mesolithic begins by 11,500 years ago (the beginning of the
Holocene The Holocene ( ) is the current geological epoch. It began approximately 11,650 cal years Before Present (), after the Last Glacial Period, which concluded with the Holocene glacial retreat. The Holocene and the preceding Pleistocene toge ...
), and it ends with the introduction of farming, depending on the region between c. 8,500 and 5,500 years ago. 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 Maglemosian and Azilian cultures. Such conditions also delayed the coming of the Neolithic until some 5,500 BP in northern Europe. The type of stone toolkit remains one of the most diagnostic features: the Mesolithic used a microlithic technology – composite devices manufactured with Mode V chipped
stone tool A stone tool is, in the most general sense, any tool made either partially or entirely out of stone. Although stone tool-dependent societies and cultures still exist today, most stone tools are associated with prehistoric (particularly Stone Ag ...
s ( 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. There is some evidence for the beginning of construction at sites with a ritual or astronomical significance, including
Stonehenge Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire Wiltshire (; abbreviated Wilts) is a historic and ceremonial Ceremonial counties of England, county in South West England with an area of . It is landlocked and bo ...
, with a short row of large post holes aligned east–west, and a possible "lunar calendar" at Warren Field in Scotland, with pits of post holes of varying sizes, thought to reflect the
lunar phase Concerning the lunar month of ~29.53 days as viewed from Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbor life. While large volumes of water can be found throughout the Solar System, ...
s. Both are dated to before c. 9,000 BP (the 8th millennium BC). An ancient chewed gum made from the pitch of birch bark revealed that a woman enjoyed a meal of hazelnuts and duck about 5,700 years ago in southern Denmark. Mesolithic people influenced Europe's forests by bringing favored plants like hazel with them. As the "
Neolithic The Neolithic period, or New Stone Age, is an Old World archaeological period and the final division of the Stone Age. It saw the Neolithic Revolution, a wide-ranging set of developments that appear to have arisen independently in several p ...
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. Other Mesolithic communities rejected the Neolithic package likely as a result of ideological reluctance, different worldviews and an active rejection of the sedentary-farming lifestyle. 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". For hunter-gatherer communities, long-term close contact and integration in existing farming communities facilitated the adoption of a farming lifestyle. The integration of these hunter-gatherer in farming communities was made possible by their socially open character towards new members. In north-Eastern Europe, the hunting and fishing lifestyle continued into the
Medieval In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period lasted approximately from the late 5th to the late 15th centuries, similar to the post-classical period of global history. It began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire ...
period in regions less suited to agriculture, and in
Scandinavia Scandinavia; Sámi languages: /. ( ) is a subregion in Northern Europe, with strong historical, cultural, and linguistic ties between its constituent peoples. In English usage, ''Scandinavia'' most commonly refers to Denmark ) , son ...
no Mesolithic period may be accepted, with the locally preferred "Older Stone Age" moving into the "Younger Stone Age".


Art

Compared to the preceding Upper Paleolithic and the following Neolithic, there is rather less surviving art from the Mesolithic. The Rock art of the Iberian Mediterranean Basin, which probably spreads across from the Upper Paleolithic, is a widespread phenomenon, much less well known than the cave-paintings of the Upper Paleolithic, with which it makes an interesting contrast. The sites are now mostly cliff faces in the open air, and the subjects are now mostly human rather than animal, with large groups of small figures; there are 45 figures at Roca dels Moros. Clothing is shown, and scenes of dancing, fighting, hunting and food-gathering. The figures are much smaller than the animals of Paleolithic art, and depicted much more schematically, though often in energetic poses. A few small engraved pendants with suspension holes and simple engraved designs are known, some from northern Europe in
amber Amber is fossilized tree resin that has been appreciated for its color and natural beauty since Neolithic times. Much valued from antiquity to the present as a gemstone A gemstone (also called a fine gem, jewel, precious stone, or sem ...
, and one from Star Carr in Britain in
shale Shale is a fine-grained, clastic sedimentary rock Sedimentary rocks are types of rock that are formed by the accumulation or deposition of mineral or organic particles at Earth's surface, followed by cementation. Sedimentation is the ...
. The Elk's Head of Huittinen is a rare Mesolithic animal carving in soapstone from
Finland Finland ( fi, Suomi ; sv, Finland ), officially the Republic of Finland (; ), is a Nordic country in Northern Europe. It shares land borders with Sweden Sweden, formally the Kingdom of Sweden,The United Nations Group of Exper ...
. The rock art in the Urals appears to show similar changes after the Paleolithic, and the wooden Shigir Idol is a rare survival of what may well have been a very common material for sculpture. It is a plank of
larch Larches are deciduous conifers in the genus ''Larix'', of the family Pinaceae (subfamily Laricoideae). Growing from tall, they are native to much of the cooler temperate northern hemisphere, on lowlands in the north and high on mountains f ...
carved with geometric motifs, but topped with a human head. Now in fragments, it would apparently have been over 5 metres tall when made. The Ain Sakhri figurine from Palestine is a Natufian carving in
calcite Calcite is a carbonate mineral and the most stable polymorph of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). It is a very common mineral, particularly as a component of limestone Limestone ( calcium carbonate ) is a type of carbonate sedimentary rock wh ...
. File:Lovers 9000BC british museum.jpg, The '' Ain Sakhri lovers''; c. 9000 BCE (late Epipalaeolithic Near East);
calcite Calcite is a carbonate mineral and the most stable polymorph of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). It is a very common mineral, particularly as a component of limestone Limestone ( calcium carbonate ) is a type of carbonate sedimentary rock wh ...
; height: 10.2 cm, width: 6.3 cm; from Ain Sakhri (near
Bethlehem Bethlehem (; ar, بيت لحم ; he, בֵּית לֶחֶם '' '') is a city in the central West Bank, Palestine, about south of Jerusalem Jerusalem (; he, יְרוּשָׁלַיִם ; ar, القُدس ) (combining the Biblical ...
, Palestine);
British Museum The British Museum is a public museum dedicated to human history, art and culture located in the Bloomsbury area of London. Its permanent collection of eight million works is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence. It docu ...
(London) File:Star Carr Engraved Pendant.gif, Animated image showing the sequence of engravings on a pendant excavated from the Mesolithic archaeological site of Star Carr in 2015 File:064 Pintures de la cova dels Moros, exposició al Museu de Gavà.JPG, Roca dels Moros, Spain, ''The Dance of Cogul'', tracing by Henri Breuil


Ceramic Mesolithic

In North-Eastern
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,
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, and certain southern European and
North Africa North Africa, or Northern Africa is a region encompassing the northern portion of the African continent. There is no singularly accepted scope for the region, and it is sometimes defined as stretching from the Atlantic shores of Mauritania in ...
n sites, a "ceramic Mesolithic" can be distinguished between c. 9,000 to 5,850 BP. 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
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in Siberia. It appears in the Elshan or Yelshanka or
Samara culture The Samara culture was an Eneolithic (Copper Age) culture Culture () is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior, institutions, and norms found in human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most abundant and widesp ...
on the
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in Russia 9,000 years ago, 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 in the Ertebølle culture of
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and Ellerbek of Northern Germany, and the related Swifterbant culture of the Low Countries. A 2012 publication in the ''
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'' journal, announced that the earliest pottery yet known anywhere in the world was found in Xianrendong cave in China, dating by radiocarbon to between 20,000 and 19,000 years before present, at the end of the Last Glacial Period. The carbon 14 datation was established by carefully dating surrounding sediments. Many of the pottery fragments had scorch marks, suggesting that the pottery was used for cooking. These early pottery containers were made well before the invention of agriculture (dated to 10,000 to 8,000 BC), by mobile foragers who hunted and gathered their food during the Late Glacial Maximum.


Cultures


"Mesolithic" outside of Western Eurasia

While Paleolithic and Neolithic have been found useful terms and concepts in the archaeology of China, and can be mostly regarded as happily naturalized, 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 12,000 and 8,000 BP, remains a concept in use.Sailendra Nath Sen
''Ancient Indian History and Civilization''
p. 23, 1999, New Age International,
In the archaeology of the Americas, an Archaic or Meso-Indian period, following the Lithic stage, somewhat equates to the Mesolithic.


See also

* Caucasian Hunter-Gatherer * History of archery#Prehistory * List of Stone Age art * Mammoth extinction * Eastern Hunter-Gatherer * Scandinavian Hunter-Gatherer * Western Hunter-Gatherer * Younger Dryas


References


External links

* {{Authority control Holocene