Pliocene (before Homo )
(c. 3.3 Ma – 300 ka )
Oldowan (2.6–1.7 Ma)
Riwat (1.9–0.045 Ma)
Madrasian Culture (1.5 Ma)
Soanian (0.5–0.13 Ma)
Acheulean (1.8–0.1 Ma)
Clactonian (0.3–0.2 Ma)
(300–45 ka )
Mousterian (150–40 ka)
Micoquien (130–70 ka)
Aterian (82 ka)
(50–10 ka )
* Baradostian (36 ka)
Châtelperronian (45–40 ka)
Aurignacian (43–26 ka)
Gravettian (33–24 ka)
Solutrean (22–17 ka)
Epigravettian (20-10 ka)
Magdalenian (17–12 ka)
* Hamburg (14–11 ka)
* Federmesser (14–13 ka)
* Ahrensburg (12–11 ka)
* Swiderian (11–8 ka)
The PALEOLITHIC (or "Palaeolithic")/ˌpæliːəˈlɪθᵻk/ age is a
prehistoric period of human history distinguished by the development
of the most primitive stone tools and covers roughly 95% of human
technological prehistory . It extends from the earliest known use of
stone tools, probably by
Homo habilis initially, 2.6 million years
ago, to the end of the
Pleistocene around 10,000 BP .
Paleolithic era is followed by the
Mesolithic . The date of the
Mesolithic boundary may vary by locality as much as
several thousand years.
Paleolithic period, humans grouped together in small
societies such as bands , and subsisted by gathering plants and
fishing, hunting or scavenging wild animals. The
characterized by the use of knapped stone tools , although at the time
humans also used wood and bone tools. Other organic commodities were
adapted for use as tools, including leather and vegetable fibers ;
however, due to their nature, these have not been preserved to any
About 50,000 years ago, there was a marked increase in the diversity
of artifacts . For the first time in Africa, bone artifacts and the
first art appear in the archaeological record. The first evidence of
human fishing is also noted, from artifacts in places such as Blombos
South Africa . Firstly among the artifacts of Africa,
archaeologists found they could differentiate and classify those of
less than 50,000 years into many different categories, such as
projectile points, engraving tools, knife blades, and drilling and
piercing tools. The new technology generated a population explosion of
modern humans which is believed to have led to the extinction of the
Humankind gradually evolved from early members of the genus Homo
—such as Homo habilis, who used simple stone tools—into fully
behaviorally and anatomically modern humans (
Homo sapiens sapiens )
Paleolithic era. During the end of the Paleolithic,
specifically the Middle and or Upper Paleolithic, humans began to
produce the earliest works of art and engage in religious and
spiritual behavior such as burial and ritual. The climate during the
Paleolithic consisted of a set of glacial and interglacial periods in
which the climate periodically fluctuated between warm and cool
temperatures. Archaeological and genetic data suggest that the source
Paleolithic humans survived in sparsely wooded areas
and dispersed through areas of high primary productivity while
avoiding dense forest cover.
By c. 50,000 – c. 40,000 BP, the first humans set foot in
Australia. By c. 45,000 BP, humans lived at 61°N latitude in
Europe. By c. 30,000 BP, Japan was reached, and by c. 27,000 BP
humans were present in
Siberia , above the
Arctic Circle . At the end
of the Upper Paleolithic, a group of humans crossed
quickly expanded throughout the Americas.
The term "Palaeolithic" was coined by archaeologist John Lubbock in
1865. It derives from Greek: παλαιός, palaios, "old"; and
λίθος, lithos, "stone", meaning "old age of the stone" or "Old
Stone Age ".
* 2 Paleogeography and climate
* 3 Human way of life
* 3.1 Distribution
* 3.2.1 Tools
* 3.2.2 Fire use
* 3.2.3 Rafts
* 3.2.4 Advanced tools
* 3.2.5 Other inventions
* 3.3 Social organization
* 3.4 Sculpture and painting
* 3.5 Music
Religion and beliefs
* 3.7 Diet and nutrition
* 4 See also
* 5 References
* 6 External links
Human evolution is the part of biological evolution concerning the
emergence of anatomically modern humans as a distinct species.
PALEOGEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Human timeline view • discuss • edit -10 — – -9 — –
-8 — – -7 — – -6 — – -5 — – -4 — – -3 — – -2
— – -1 — – 0 — Human-like
Australopithecus HOMO HABILIS HOMO ERECTUS
NEANDERTHAL HOMO SAPIENS ← Earlier apes
← Possibly bipedal ← Earliest bipedal ←
Earliest stone tools ← Earliest exit
from Africa ← Earliest fire use ← Earliest cooking
← Earliest clothes ← Modern humans
Axis scale : millions of years .
Also see: Life timeline and Nature timeline Main articles:
Pleistocene § Paleogeography and climate ,
Pliocene climate , and
Pliocene § Paleogeography This skull, of
Homo heidelbergensis ,
Lower Paleolithic predecessor to
Homo neanderthalensis and possibly
Homo sapiens , dates to sometime between 500,000 and 400,000 BP.
Paleolithic Period coincides almost exactly with the Pleistocene
epoch of geologic time, which lasted from 2.6 million years ago to
about 12,000 years ago. This epoch experienced important geographic
and climatic changes that affected human societies.
During the preceding
Pliocene , continents had continued to drift
from possibly as far as 250 km (160 mi ) from their present locations
to positions only 70 km (43 mi) from their current location. South
America became linked to
North America through the
Isthmus of Panama
Isthmus of Panama ,
bringing a nearly complete end to South America's distinctive
marsupial fauna. The formation of the isthmus had major consequences
on global temperatures, because warm equatorial ocean currents were
cut off, and the cold Arctic and Antarctic waters lowered temperatures
in the now-isolated Atlantic Ocean.
Central America formed during the
Pliocene to connect the
continents of North and South America, allowing fauna from these
continents to leave their native habitats and colonize new areas.
Africa's collision with Asia created the Mediterranean, cutting off
the remnants of the
Tethys Ocean . During the
Pleistocene , the modern
continents were essentially at their present positions; the tectonic
plates on which they sit have probably moved at most 100 km (62 mi)
from each other since the beginning of the period.
Climates during the
Pliocene became cooler and drier, and seasonal,
similar to modern climates. Ice sheets grew on
Antarctica . The
formation of an Arctic ice cap around 3 million years ago is signaled
by an abrupt shift in oxygen isotope ratios and ice-rafted cobbles in
the North Atlantic and North
Pacific ocean beds. Mid-latitude
glaciation probably began before the end of the epoch. The global
cooling that occurred during the
Pliocene may have spurred on the
disappearance of forests and the spread of grasslands and savannas .
Pleistocene climate was characterized by repeated glacial cycles
during which continental glaciers pushed to the 40th parallel in some
places. Four major glacial events have been identified, as well as
many minor intervening events. A major event is a general glacial
excursion, termed a "glacial". Glacials are separated by
"interglacials". During a glacial, the glacier experiences minor
advances and retreats. The minor excursion is a "stadial"; times
between stadials are "interstadials". Each glacial advance tied up
huge volumes of water in continental ice sheets 1,500–3,000 m
(4,900–9,800 ft ) deep, resulting in temporary sea level drops of
100 m (330 ft) or more over the entire surface of the Earth. During
interglacial times, such as at present, drowned coastlines were
common, mitigated by isostatic or other emergent motion of some
regions. Many great mammals such as woolly mammoths , woolly
rhinoceroses , and cave lions inhabited the mammoth steppe during the
The effects of glaciation were global.
Antarctica was ice-bound
Pleistocene and the preceding Pliocene. The
covered in the south by the Patagonian ice cap. There were glaciers in
New Zealand and
Tasmania . The now decaying glaciers of
Mount Kenya ,
Mount Kilimanjaro , and the
Ruwenzori Range in east and central Africa
were larger. Glaciers existed in the mountains of
Ethiopia and to the
west in the
Atlas mountains . In the northern hemisphere, many
glaciers fused into one. The
Cordilleran ice sheet
Cordilleran ice sheet covered the North
American northwest; the
Laurentide covered the east. The
Fenno-Scandian ice sheet covered northern Europe, including Great
Britain; the Alpine ice sheet covered the Alps. Scattered domes
Siberia and the Arctic shelf. The northern seas were
frozen. During the late
Upper Paleolithic (Latest Pleistocene)
c. 18,000 BP, the
Beringia land bridge between Asia and North
America was blocked by ice, which may have prevented early
Paleo-Indians such as the
Clovis culture from directly crossing
Beringia to reach the Americas.
Mark Lynas (through collected data), the Pleistocene's
overall climate could be characterized as a continuous
El Niño with
trade winds in the south Pacific weakening or heading east, warm air
Peru , warm water spreading from the west Pacific and the
Indian Ocean to the east Pacific, and other
El Niño markers.
Paleolithic is often held to finish at the end of the ice age
(the end of the
Pleistocene epoch), and Earth's climate became warmer.
This may have caused or contributed to the extinction of the
Pleistocene megafauna , although it is also possible that the late
Pleistocene extinctions were (at least in part) caused by other
factors such as disease and overhunting by humans. New research
suggests that the extinction of the woolly mammoth may have been
caused by the combined effect of climatic change and human hunting.
Scientists suggest that climate change during the end of the
Pleistocene caused the mammoths' habitat to shrink in size, resulting
in a drop in population. The small populations were then hunted out by
Paleolithic humans. The global warming that occurred during the end
Pleistocene and the beginning of the
Holocene may have made it
easier for humans to reach mammoth habitats that were previously
frozen and inaccessible. Small populations of wooly mammoths survived
on isolated Arctic islands, Saint Paul Island and
Wrangel Island ,
until c. 3700 BCE and c. 1700 BCE respectively. The Wrangel Island
population became extinct around the same time the island was settled
by prehistoric humans. There is no evidence of prehistoric human
presence on Saint Paul island (though early human settlements dating
as far back as 6500 BCE were found on the nearby
Aleutian Islands ).
Currently agreed upon classifications as
Tirreniense II y III
HUMAN WAY OF LIFE
An artist's rendering of a temporary wood house, based on
evidence found at Terra Amata (in
Nice, France ) and dated to the
Lower Paleolithic (c. 400,000 BP)
Nearly all of our knowledge of
Paleolithic human culture and way of
life comes from archaeology and ethnographic comparisons to modern
hunter-gatherer cultures such as the !Kung San who live similarly to
Paleolithic predecessors. The economy of a typical Paleolithic
society was a hunter-gatherer economy. Humans hunted wild animals for
meat and gathered food, firewood, and materials for their tools,
clothes, or shelters.
Human population density was very low, around only one person per
square mile. This was most likely due to low body fat, infanticide ,
women regularly engaging in intense endurance exercise, late weaning
of infants, and a nomadic lifestyle. Like contemporary
Paleolithic humans enjoyed an abundance of leisure
time unparalleled in both
Neolithic farming societies and modern
industrial societies. At the end of the Paleolithic, specifically
the Middle and or Upper Paleolithic, humans began to produce works of
art such as cave paintings , rock art and jewellery and began to
engage in religious behavior such as burial and ritual.
At the beginning of the Paleolithic, hominins were found primarily in
eastern Africa, east of the
Great Rift Valley . Most known hominin
fossils dating earlier than one million years before present are found
in this area, particularly in
Tanzania , and
By c. 2,000,000 – c. 1,500,000 BP, groups of hominins began
leaving Africa and settling southern Europe and Asia. Southern
Caucasus was occupied by c. 1,700,000 BP, and northern China was
reached by c. 1,660,000 BP. By the end of the Lower Paleolithic,
members of the hominin family were living in what is now China,
western Indonesia, and, in Europe, around the Mediterranean and as far
north as England, southern Germany, and Bulgaria. Their further
northward expansion may have been limited by the lack of control of
fire: studies of cave settlements in Europe indicate no regular use of
fire prior to c. 400,000 – c. 300,000 BP.
East Asian fossils from this period are typically placed in the genus
Homo erectus . Very little fossil evidence is available at known Lower
Paleolithic sites in Europe, but it is believed that hominins who
inhabited these sites were likewise Homo erectus. There is no evidence
of hominins in America, Australia, or almost anywhere in Oceania
during this time period.
Fates of these early colonists, and their relationships to modern
humans, are still subject to debate. According to current
archaeological and genetic models, there were at least two notable
expansion events subsequent to peopling of Eurasia c. 2,000,000 –
c. 1,500,000 BP. Around 500,000 BP a group of early humans,
Homo heidelbergensis , came to Europe from Africa
and eventually evolved into
Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthals ). In
the Middle Paleolithic, Neanderthals were present in the region now
occupied by Poland.
Homo erectus and
Homo neanderthalensis became extinct by the end
of the Paleolithic, having been replaced by a new wave of humans, the
Homo sapiens sapiens , which emerged in eastern
Africa c. 200,000 BP, left Africa around 50,000 BP, and expanded
throughout the planet. It is likely that multiple groups coexisted for
some time in certain locations. Neanderthals were still found in parts
of Eurasia c. 30,000 BP years, and engaged in a limited degree of
interbreeding with modern humans. Hominin fossils not belonging either
Homo neanderthalensis or to
Homo sapiens species, found in the
Altai Mountains and Indonesia, were radiocarbon dated to c. 30,000
– c. 40,000 BP and c. 17,000 BP respectively.
For the duration of the Paleolithic, human populations remained low,
especially outside the equatorial region. The entire population of
Europe between 16,000 and 11,000 BP likely averaged some 30,000
individuals, and between 40,000 and 16,000 BP, it was even lower at
Lower Paleolithic biface viewed from both its superior and
inferior surface Stone ball from a set of
Paleolithic humans made tools of stone, bone, and wood. The early
Australopithecus , were the first users of stone
tools. Excavations in Gona,
Ethiopia have produced thousands of
artifacts, and through radioisotopic dating and magnetostratigraphy ,
the sites can be firmly dated to 2.6 million years ago. Evidence shows
these early hominins intentionally selected raw materials with good
flaking qualities and chose appropriate sized stones for their needs
to produce sharp-edged tools for cutting.
Paleolithic stone tool industry, the
Oldowan , began
around 2.6 million years ago. It contained tools such as choppers,
burins , and stitching awls . It was completely replaced around
250,000 years ago by the more complex
Acheulean industry, which was
first conceived by
Homo ergaster around 1.8–1.65 million years ago.
Acheulean implements completely vanish from the archaeological
record around 100,000 years ago and were replaced by more complex
Middle Paleolithic tool kits such as the
Mousterian and the Aterian
Lower Paleolithic humans used a variety of stone tools, including
hand axes and choppers . Although they appear to have used hand axes
often, there is disagreement about their use. Interpretations range
from cutting and chopping tools, to digging implements, to flaking
cores, to the use in traps, and as a purely ritual significance,
perhaps in courting behavior .
William H. Calvin has suggested that
some hand axes could have served as "killer
Frisbees " meant to be
thrown at a herd of animals at a waterhole so as to stun one of them.
There are no indications of hafting , and some artifacts are far too
large for that. Thus, a thrown hand axe would not usually have
penetrated deeply enough to cause very serious injuries. Nevertheless,
it could have been an effective weapon for defense against predators.
Choppers and scrapers were likely used for skinning and butchering
scavenged animals and sharp-ended sticks were often obtained for
digging up edible roots. Presumably, early humans used wooden spears
as early as 5 million years ago to hunt small animals, much as their
relatives, chimpanzees , have been observed to do in
Senegal , Africa.
Lower Paleolithic humans constructed shelters, such as the possible
wood hut at Terra Amata .
Fire was used by the
Lower Paleolithic hominins
Homo erectus and Homo
ergaster as early as 300,000 to 1.5 million years ago and possibly
even earlier by the early
Lower Paleolithic (Oldowan) hominin Homo
habilis and/or by robust Australopithecines such as
However, the use of fire only became common in the societies of the
Stone Age and
Middle Paleolithic . Use of fire
reduced mortality rates and provided protection against predators.
Early hominins may have begun to cook their food as early as the Lower
Paleolithic (c. 1.9 million years ago) or at the latest in the early
Middle Paleolithic (c. 250,000 years ago). Some scientists have
hypothesized that hominins began cooking food to defrost frozen meat,
which would help ensure their survival in cold regions.
Homo erectus possibly invented rafts
(c. 840,000 – c. 800,000 BP) to travel over large bodies of
water, which may have allowed a group of
Homo erectus to reach the
Flores and evolve into the small hominin
Homo floresiensis .
However, this hypothesis is disputed within the anthropological
community. The possible use of rafts during the Lower Paleolithic
may indicate that
Lower Paleolithic hominins such as
Homo erectus were
more advanced than previously believed, and may have even spoken an
early form of modern language. Supplementary evidence from
Neanderthal and modern human sites located around the Mediterranean
Sea, such as Coa de sa Multa (c. 300,000 BP), has also indicated
that both Middle and
Upper Paleolithic humans used rafts to travel
over large bodies of water (i.e. the Mediterranean Sea) for the
purpose of colonizing other bodies of land.
By around 200,000 BP,
Middle Paleolithic stone tool manufacturing
spawned a tool making technique known as the prepared-core technique ,
that was more elaborate than previous
Acheulean techniques. This
technique increased efficiency by allowing the creation of more
controlled and consistent flakes . It allowed Middle Paleolithic
humans to create stone tipped spears , which were the earliest
composite tools, by hafting sharp, pointy stone flakes onto wooden
shafts. In addition to improving tool making methods, the Middle
Paleolithic also saw an improvement of the tools themselves that
allowed access to a wider variety and amount of food sources. For
example, microliths or small stone tools or points were invented
around 70,000–65,000 BP and were essential to the invention of bows
and spear throwers in the following
Upper Paleolithic period.
Harpoons were invented and used for the first time during the late
Middle Paleolithic (c. 90,000 BP); the invention of these devices
brought fish into the human diets, which provided a hedge against
starvation and a more abundant food supply. Thanks to their
technology and their advanced social structures,
such as the Neanderthals—who had a
Middle Paleolithic level of
technology—appear to have hunted large game just as well as Upper
Paleolithic modern humans. and the Neanderthals in particular may
have likewise hunted with projectile weapons. Nonetheless,
Neanderthal use of projectile weapons in hunting occurred very rarely
(or perhaps never) and the Neanderthals hunted large game animals
mostly by ambushing them and attacking them with mêlée weapons such
as thrusting spears rather than attacking them from a distance with
Upper Paleolithic , further inventions were made, such as
the net c. 22,000 or c. 29,000 BP) bolas , the spear thrower
(c. 30,000 BP), the bow and arrow (c. 25,000 or c. 30,000 BP)
and the oldest example of ceramic art, the Venus of Dolní Věstonice
(c. 29,000 – c. 25,000 BCE). Early dogs were domesticated,
sometime between 30,000 and 14,000 BP, presumably to aid in hunting.
However, the earliest instances of successful domestication of dogs
may be much more ancient than this. Evidence from canine
by Robert K. Wayne suggests that dogs may have been first domesticated
in the late
Middle Paleolithic around 100,000 BP or perhaps even
Archaeological evidence from the
Dordogne region of France
demonstrates that members of the European early Upper Paleolithic
culture known as the
Aurignacian used calendars (c. 30,000 BP). This
was a lunar calendar that was used to document the phases of the moon.
Genuine solar calendars did not appear until the following Neolithic
Upper Paleolithic cultures were probably able to time the
migration of game animals such as wild horses and deer. This ability
allowed humans to become efficient hunters and to exploit a wide
variety of game animals. Recent research indicates that the
Neanderthals timed their hunts and the migrations of game animals long
before the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic.
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Humans may have taken part in long-distance trade between bands
for rare commodities and raw materials (such as stone needed for
making tools) as early as 120,000 years ago in Middle Paleolithic.
The social organization of the earliest
Paleolithic ) societies remains largely unknown to scientists, though
Lower Paleolithic hominins such as
Homo habilis and
Homo erectus are
likely to have had more complex social structures than chimpanzee
societies. Late Oldowan/Early
Acheulean humans such as Homo
Homo erectus may have been the first people to invent central
campsites or home bases and incorporate them into their foraging and
hunting strategies like contemporary hunter-gatherers, possibly as
early as 1.7 million years ago; however, the earliest solid evidence
for the existence of home bases or central campsites (hearths and
shelters) among humans only dates back to 500,000 years ago.
Similarly, scientists disagree whether
Lower Paleolithic humans were
largely monogamous or polygynous . In particular, the Provisional
model suggests that bipedalism arose in pre-Paleolithic
australopithecine societies as an adaptation to monogamous lifestyles;
however, other researchers note that sexual dimorphism is more
Lower Paleolithic humans such as
Homo erectus than in
modern humans, who are less polygynous than other primates, which
Lower Paleolithic humans had a largely polygynous
lifestyle, because species that have the most pronounced sexual
dimorphism tend more likely to be polygynous.
Human societies from the
Paleolithic to the early
tribes lived without states and organized governments. For most of the
Lower Paleolithic, human societies were possibly more hierarchical
than their Middle and
Upper Paleolithic descendants, and probably were
not grouped into bands , though during the end of the Lower
Paleolithic, the latest populations of the hominin
Homo erectus may
have begun living in small-scale (possibly egalitarian) bands similar
to both Middle and
Upper Paleolithic societies and modern
Middle Paleolithic societies, unlike
Lower Paleolithic and early
Neolithic ones, consisted of bands that ranged from 20–30 or
25–100 members and were usually nomadic. These bands were formed
by several families. Bands sometimes joined together into larger
"macrobands" for activities such as acquiring mates and celebrations
or where resources were abundant. By the end of the
(c. 10,000 BP), people began to settle down into permanent
locations, and began to rely on agriculture for sustenance in many
locations. Much evidence exists that humans took part in long-distance
trade between bands for rare commodities (such as ochre , which was
often used for religious purposes such as ritual ) and raw materials,
as early as 120,000 years ago in Middle Paleolithic. Inter-band trade
may have appeared during the
Middle Paleolithic because trade between
bands would have helped ensure their survival by allowing them to
exchange resources and commodities such as raw materials during times
of relative scarcity (i.e. famine, drought). Like in modern
hunter-gatherer societies, individuals in
Paleolithic societies may
have been subordinate to the band as a whole. Both Neanderthals and
modern humans took care of the elderly members of their societies
during the Middle and Upper Paleolithic.
Some sources claim that most Middle and
Upper Paleolithic societies
were possibly fundamentally egalitarian and may have rarely or
never engaged in organized violence between groups (i.e. war).
Upper Paleolithic societies in resource-rich environments (such
as societies in
Sungir , in what is now Russia) may have had more
complex and hierarchical organization (such as tribes with a
pronounced hierarchy and a somewhat formal division of labor ) and may
have engaged in endemic warfare . Some argue that there was no
formal leadership during the Middle and Upper Paleolithic. Like
contemporary egalitarian hunter-gatherers such as the Mbuti pygmies,
societies may have made decisions by communal consensus decision
making rather than by appointing permanent rulers such as chiefs and
monarchs . Nor was there a formal division of labor during the
Paleolithic. Each member of the group was skilled at all tasks
essential to survival, regardless of individual abilities. Theories to
explain the apparent egalitarianism have arisen, notably the Marxist
concept of primitive communism . Christopher Boehm (1999) has
hypothesized that egalitarianism may have evolved in Paleolithic
societies because of a need to distribute resources such as food and
meat equally to avoid famine and ensure a stable food supply. Raymond
C. Kelly speculates that the relative peacefulness of Middle and Upper
Paleolithic societies resulted from a low population density,
cooperative relationships between groups such as reciprocal exchange
of commodities and collaboration on hunting expeditions, and because
the invention of projectile weapons such as throwing spears provided
less incentive for war, because they increased the damage done to the
attacker and decreased the relative amount of territory attackers
could gain. However, other sources claim that most
may have been larger, more complex, sedentary and warlike than most
contemporary hunter-gatherer societies, due to occupying more
resource-abundant areas than most modern hunter-gatherers who have
been pushed into more marginal habitats by agricultural societies.
Anthropologists have typically assumed that in
women were responsible for gathering wild plants and firewood, and men
were responsible for hunting and scavenging dead animals. However,
analogies to existent hunter-gatherer societies such as the Hadza
people and the Aboriginal Austrialians suggest that the sexual
division of labor in the
Paleolithic was relatively flexible. Men may
have participated in gathering plants, firewood and insects, and women
may have procured small game animals for consumption and assisted men
in driving herds of large game animals (such as woolly mammoths and
deer) off cliffs. Additionally, recent research by anthropologist
and archaeologist Steven Kuhn from the University of Arizona is argued
to support that this division of labor did not exist prior to the
Upper Paleolithic and was invented relatively recently in human
pre-history. Sexual division of labor may have been developed to
allow humans to acquire food and other resources more efficiently.
Possibly there was approximate parity between men and women during the
Middle and Upper Paleolithic, and that period may have been the most
gender-equal time in human history. Archaeological evidence from
art and funerary rituals indicates that a number of individual women
enjoyed seemingly high status in their communities, and it is likely
that both sexes participated in decision making. The earliest known
Paleolithic shaman (c. 30,000 BP) was female. Jared Diamond
suggests that the status of women declined with the adoption of
agriculture because women in farming societies typically have more
pregnancies and are expected to do more demanding work than women in
hunter-gatherer societies. Like most contemporary hunter-gatherer
Paleolithic and the
Mesolithic groups probably followed
mostly matrilineal and ambilineal descent patterns; patrilineal
descent patterns were probably rarer than in the following Neolithic
SCULPTURE AND PAINTING
Venus of Willendorf
Venus of Willendorf is one of the most famous Venus
Early examples of artistic expression, such as the Venus of Tan-Tan
and the patterns found on elephant bones from Bilzingsleben in
Thuringia , may have been produced by
Acheulean tool users such as
Homo erectus prior to the start of the
Middle Paleolithic period.
However, the earliest undisputed evidence of art during the
Paleolithic period comes from
Middle Paleolithic /Middle Stone Age
sites such as
Blombos Cave –
South Africa – in the form of
bracelets , beads , rock art , and ochre used as body paint and
perhaps in ritual. Undisputed evidence of art only becomes common in
Upper Paleolithic period.
Acheulean tool users, according to Robert G.
Bednarik, began to engage in symbolic behavior such as art around
850,000 BP. They decorated themselves with beads and collected exotic
stones for aesthetic, rather than utilitarian qualities. According to
him, traces of the pigment ochre from late
Lower Paleolithic Acheulean
archaeological sites suggests that
Acheulean societies, like later
Upper Paleolithic societies, collected and used ochre to create rock
art. Nevertheless, it is also possible that the ochre traces found at
Lower Paleolithic sites is naturally occurring.
Vincent W. Fallio interprets Lower and
Middle Paleolithic marking on
rocks at sites such as Bilzingsleben (such as zigzagging lines) as
accounts or representations of altered states of consciousness
though some other scholars interpret them as either simple doodling or
as the result of natural processes.
Upper Paleolithic humans produced works of art such as cave
paintings, Venus figurines, animal carvings, and rock paintings.
Upper Paleolithic art can be divided into two broad categories:
figurative art such as cave paintings that clearly depicts animals (or
more rarely humans); and nonfigurative, which consists of shapes and
Cave paintings have been interpreted in a number of ways by
modern archaeologists. The earliest explanation, by the prehistorian
Abbe Breuil , interpreted the paintings as a form of magic designed to
ensure a successful hunt. However, this hypothesis fails to explain
the existence of animals such as saber-toothed cats and lions , which
were not hunted for food, and the existence of half-human, half-animal
beings in cave paintings. The anthropologist
David Lewis-Williams has
Paleolithic cave paintings were indications of
shamanistic practices, because the paintings of half-human,
half-animal paintings and the remoteness of the caves are reminiscent
of modern hunter-gatherer shamanistic practices. Symbol-like images
are more common in
Paleolithic cave paintings than are depictions of
animals or humans, and unique symbolic patterns might have been
trademarks that represent different
Upper Paleolithic ethnic groups.
Venus figurines have evoked similar controversy. Archaeologists and
anthropologists have described the figurines as representations of
goddesses , pornographic imagery, apotropaic amulets used for
sympathetic magic, and even as self-portraits of women themselves.
R. Dale Guthrie has studied not only the most artistic and
publicized paintings, but also a variety of lower-quality art and
figurines, and he identifies a wide range of skill and ages among the
artists. He also points out that the main themes in the paintings and
other artifacts (powerful beasts, risky hunting scenes and the
over-sexual representation of women) are to be expected in the
fantasies of adolescent males during the Upper Paleolithic.
Bradshaw rock paintings
Bradshaw rock paintings found in the north-west Kimberley region of
Western Australia .
The"Venus" figurines have been theorized, not universally, as
representing a mother goddess ; the abundance of such female imagery
has inspired the theory that
Paleolithic (and later Neolithic)
societies centered their religion and societies around women.
Adherents of the theory include archaeologist
Marija Gimbutas and
Merlin Stone , the author of the 1976 book When God
Was a Woman . Other explanations for the purpose of the figurines
have been proposed, such as Catherine McCoid and LeRoy McDermott's
hypothesis that they were self-portraits of woman artists and R.Dale
Gutrie's hypothesis that served as "stone age pornography ".
The origins of music during the
Paleolithic are unknown. The earliest
forms of music probably did not use musical instruments other than the
human voice and/or natural objects such as rocks. This early music
would not have left an archaeological footprint. Music may have
developed from rhythmic sounds produced by daily chores, for example,
cracking open nuts with stones. Maintaining a rhythm while working may
have helped people to become more efficient at daily activities. An
alternative theory originally proposed by
Charles Darwin explains that
music may have begun as a hominin mating strategy. Bird and other
animal species produce music such as calls to attract mates. This
hypothesis is generally less accepted than the previous hypothesis,
but nonetheless provides a possible alternative. Another explanation
is that humans began to make music simply because it pleased them.
Upper Paleolithic (and possibly
Middle Paleolithic ) humans used
flute -like bone pipes as musical instruments, and music may have
played a large role in the religious lives of Upper Paleolithic
hunter-gatherers. As with modern hunter-gatherer societies, music may
have been used in ritual or to help induce trances . In particular, it
appears that animal skin drums may have been used in religious events
Upper Paleolithic shamans, as shown by the remains of drum-like
instruments from some
Upper Paleolithic graves of shamans and the
ethnographic record of contemporary hunter-gatherer shamanic and
RELIGION AND BELIEFS
Paleolithic religion Picture of a half-human,
half-animal being in a
Paleolithic cave painting in
Dordogne . France.
Archaeologists believe that cave paintings of half-human, half-animal
beings may be evidence for early shamanic practices during the
According to James B. Harrod humankind first developed religious and
spiritual beliefs during the
Middle Paleolithic or
Upper Paleolithic .
Controversial scholars of prehistoric religion and anthropology,
James Harrod and Vincent W. Fallio, have recently proposed that
religion and spirituality (and art) may have first arisen in
Paleolithic chimpanzees or Early
Lower Paleolithic (
societies. According to Fallio, the common ancestor of chimpanzees
and humans experienced altered states of consciousness and partook in
ritual, and ritual was used in their societies to strengthen social
bonding and group cohesion.
Middle Paleolithic humans' use of burials at sites such as
Croatia (c. 130,000 BP) and
Qafzeh , Israel (c. 100,000 BP) have
led some anthropologists and archaeologists, such as Philip Lieberman
, to believe that
Middle Paleolithic humans may have possessed a
belief in an afterlife and a "concern for the dead that transcends
daily life". Cut marks on
Neanderthal bones from various sites, such
as Combe-Grenal and Abri Moula in France, suggest that the
Neanderthals —like some contemporary human cultures—may have
practiced ritual defleshing for (presumably) religious reasons.
According to recent archaeological findings from Homo heidelbergensis
sites in Atapuerca , humans may have begun burying their dead much
earlier, during the late
Lower Paleolithic ; but this theory is widely
questioned in the scientific community.
Likewise, some scientists have proposed that Middle Paleolithic
societies such as
Neanderthal societies may also have practiced the
earliest form of totemism or animal worship , in addition to their
(presumably religious) burial of the dead. In particular, Emil
Bächler suggested (based on archaeological evidence from Middle
Paleolithic caves) that a bear cult was widespread among Middle
Paleolithic Neanderthals . A claim that evidence was found for Middle
Paleolithic animal worship c. 70,000 BCE originates from the Tsodilo
Hills in the African Kalahari desert has been denied by the original
investigators of the site. Animal cults in the following Upper
Paleolithic period, such as the bear cult, may have had their origins
in these hypothetical
Middle Paleolithic animal cults. Animal worship
Upper Paleolithic was intertwined with hunting rites. For
instance, archaeological evidence from art and bear remains reveals
that the bear cult apparently involved a type of sacrificial bear
ceremonialism, in which a bear was sliced with arrows , finished off
by a blast in the lungs , and ritualistically worshipped near a clay
bear statue covered by a bear fur with the skull and the body of the
bear buried separately. Barbara Ehrenreich controversially theorizes
that the sacrificial hunting rites of the
Upper Paleolithic (and by
Paleolithic cooperative big-game hunting) gave rise to war
or warlike raiding during the following
Epipaleolithic and Mesolithic
Upper Paleolithic period.
The existence of anthropomorphic images and half-human, half-animal
images in the
Upper Paleolithic period may further indicate that Upper
Paleolithic humans were the first people to believe in a pantheon of
gods or supernatural beings , though such images may instead indicate
shamanistic practices similar to those of contemporary tribal
societies. The earliest known undisputed burial of a shaman (and by
extension the earliest undisputed evidence of shamans and shamanic
practices) dates back to the early
Upper Paleolithic era (c. 30,000
BP) in what is now the
Czech Republic . However, during the early
Upper Paleolithic it was probably more common for all members of the
band to participate equally and fully in religious ceremonies, in
contrast to the religious traditions of later periods when religious
authorities and part-time ritual specialists such as shamans, priests
and medicine men were relatively common and integral to religious
life. Additionally, it is also possible that Upper Paleolithic
religions, like contemporary and historical animistic and polytheistic
religions, believed in the existence of a single creator deity in
addition to other supernatural beings such as animistic spirits.
Vincent W. Fallio writes that ancestor cults first emerged in complex
Upper Paleolithic societies. He argues that the elites of these
societies (like the elites of many more contemporary complex
hunter-gatherers such as the Tlingit ) may have used special rituals
and ancestor worship to solidify control over their societies, by
convincing their subjects that they possess a link to the spirit world
that also gives them control over the earthly realm. Secret societies
may have served a similar function in these complex quasi-theocratic
societies, by dividing the religious practices of these cultures into
the separate spheres of folk religion and elite religion .
Religion was possibly apotropaic; specifically, it may have involved
sympathetic magic . The
Venus figurines , which are abundant in the
Upper Paleolithic archaeological record, provide an example of
Paleolithic sympathetic magic, as they may have been used for
ensuring success in hunting and to bring about fertility of the land
and women. The
Venus figurines have sometimes been
explained as depictions of an earth goddess similar to Gaia , or as
representations of a goddess who is the ruler or mother of the
animals. James Harrod has described them as representative of female
(and male) shamanistic spiritual transformation processes.
DIET AND NUTRITION
People may have first fermented grapes in animal skin pouches to
create wine during the Paleolithic.
Paleolithic hunting and gathering people ate varying proportions of
vegetables (including tubers and roots), fruit, seeds (including nuts
and wild grass seeds) and insects, meat, fish, and shellfish.
However, there is little direct evidence of the relative proportions
of plant and animal foods. Although the term "paleolithic diet ",
without references to a specific timeframe or locale, is sometimes
used with an implication that most humans shared a certain diet during
the entire era, that is not entirely accurate. The
Paleolithic was an
extended period of time, during which multiple technological advances
were made, many of which had impact on human dietary structure. For
example, humans probably did not possess the control of fire until the
Middle Paleolithic, or tools necessary to engage in extensive fishing
. On the other hand, both these technologies are generally agreed to
have been widely available to humans by the end of the Paleolithic
(consequently, allowing humans in some regions of the planet to rely
heavily on fishing and hunting). In addition, the
a substantial geographical expansion of human populations. During the
Lower Paleolithic, ancestors of modern humans are thought to have been
constrained to Africa east of the
Great Rift Valley . During the
Middle and Upper Paleolithic, humans greatly expanded their area of
settlement, reaching ecosystems as diverse as
New Guinea and
and adapting their diets to whatever local resources were available.
Another view is that until the Upper Paleolithic, humans were
frugivores (fruit eaters) who supplemented their meals with carrion,
eggs, and small prey such as baby birds and mussels , and only on rare
occasions managed to kill and consume big game such as antelopes .
This view is supported by studies of higher apes, particularly
chimpanzees . Chimpanzees are the closest to humans genetically,
sharing more than 96% of their
DNA code with humans, and their
digestive tract is functionally very similar to that of humans.
Chimpanzees are primarily frugivores , but they could and would
consume and digest animal flesh, given the opportunity. In general,
their actual diet in the wild is about 95% plant-based , with the
remaining 5% filled with insects, eggs, and baby animals. In some
ecosystems, however, chimpanzees are predatory, forming parties to
hunt monkeys. Some comparative studies of human and higher primate
digestive tracts do suggest that humans have evolved to obtain greater
amounts of calories from sources such as animal foods, allowing them
to shrink the size of the gastrointestinal tract relative to body mass
and to increase the brain mass instead.
Anthropologists have diverse opinions about the proportions of plant
and animal foods consumed. Just as with still existing hunters and
gatherers, there were many varied "diets"—in different groups—and
also varying through this vast amount of time. Some paleolithic
hunter-gatherers consumed a significant amount of meat and possibly
obtained most of their food from hunting, while others are shown as a
primarily plant-based diet, Most, if not all, are believed to have
been opportunistic omnivores. One hypothesis is that carbohydrate
tubers (plant underground storage organs ) may have been eaten in high
amounts by pre-agricultural humans. It is thought that the
Paleolithic diet included as much as 1.65–1.9 kg (3.6–4.2 lb ) per
day of fruit and vegetables. The relative proportions of plant and
animal foods in the diets of
Paleolithic people often varied between
regions, with more meat being necessary in colder regions (which
weren't populated by anatomically modern humans until c. 30,000 –
c. 50,000 BP). It is generally agreed that many modern hunting and
fishing tools, such as fish hooks, nets, bows, and poisons, weren't
introduced until the
Upper Paleolithic and possibly even Neolithic.
The only hunting tools widely available to humans during any
significant part of the
Paleolithic period were hand-held spears and
harpoons. There's evidence of
Paleolithic people killing and eating
seals and elands as far as c. 100,000 BP. On the other hand, buffalo
bones found in African caves from the same period are typically of
very young or very old individuals, and there's no evidence that pigs,
elephants, or rhinos were hunted by humans at the time.
Paleolithic peoples suffered less famine and malnutrition than the
Neolithic farming tribes that followed them. This was partly because
Paleolithic hunter-gatherers accessed a wider variety natural foods,
which allowed them a more nutritious diet and a decreased risk of
famine. Many of the famines experienced by
Neolithic (and some
modern) farmers were caused or amplified by their dependence on a
small number of crops. It is thought that wild foods can have a
significantly different nutritional profile than cultivated foods.
The greater amount of meat obtained by hunting big game animals in
Paleolithic diets than
Neolithic diets may have also allowed
Paleolithic hunter-gatherers to enjoy a more nutritious diet than
Neolithic agriculturalists. It has been argued that the shift from
hunting and gathering to agriculture resulted in an increasing focus
on a limited variety of foods, with meat likely taking a back seat to
plants. It is also unlikely that
Paleolithic hunter-gatherers were
affected by modern diseases of affluence such as type 2 diabetes ,
coronary heart disease , and cerebrovascular disease , because they
ate mostly lean meats and plants and frequently engaged in intense
physical activity, and because the average lifespan was shorter than
the age of common onset of these conditions.
Large-seeded legumes were part of the human diet long before the
Neolithic Revolution , as evident from archaeobotanical finds from the
Mousterian layers of
Kebara Cave , in Israel. There is evidence
Paleolithic societies were gathering wild cereals for
food use at least as early as 30,000 years ago. However, seeds—such
as grains and beans—were rarely eaten and never in large quantities
on a daily basis. Recent archaeological evidence also indicates that
winemaking may have originated in the Paleolithic, when early humans
drank the juice of naturally fermented wild grapes from animal-skin
Paleolithic humans consumed animal organ meats, including
the livers , kidneys , and brains .
Upper Paleolithic cultures appear
to have had significant knowledge about plants and herbs and may have,
albeit very rarely, practiced rudimentary forms of horticulture . In
particular, bananas and tubers may have been cultivated as early as
25,000 BP in southeast Asia . Late
Upper Paleolithic societies also
appear to have occasionally practiced pastoralism and animal husbandry
, presumably for dietary reasons. For instance, some European late
Upper Paleolithic cultures domesticated and raised reindeer ,
presumably for their meat or milk, as early as 14,000 BP. Humans also
probably consumed hallucinogenic plants during the
Aboriginal Australians have been consuming a variety of native
animal and plant foods, called bushfood , for an estimated 60,000
years, since the
Middle Paleolithic . Large game animals such as
deer were an important source of protein in Middle and Upper
People during the Middle Paleolithic, such as the Neanderthals and
Homo sapiens in Africa, began to catch shellfish
for food as revealed by shellfish cooking in
Neanderthal sites in
Italy about 110,000 years ago and in
Middle Paleolithic Homo sapiens
Pinnacle Point , Africa around 164,000 BP. Although fishing
only became common during the
Upper Paleolithic , fish have been
part of human diets long before the dawn of the
Upper Paleolithic and
have certainly been consumed by humans since at least the Middle
Paleolithic. For example, the
Homo sapiens in the
region now occupied by the
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Democratic Republic of the Congo hunted
large 6 ft (1.8 m)-long catfish with specialized barbed fishing points
as early as 90,000 years ago. The invention of fishing allowed some
Upper Paleolithic and later hunter-gatherer societies to become
sedentary or semi-nomadic, which altered their social structures.
Example societies are the
Lepenski Vir as well as some contemporary
hunter-gatherers, such as the Tlingit . In some instances (at least
the Tlingit), they developed social stratification , slavery , and
complex social structures such as chiefdoms .
Anthropologists such as Tim White suggest that cannibalism was common
in human societies prior to the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic,
based on the large amount of “butchered human" bones found in
Neanderthal and other Lower/
Middle Paleolithic sites.
the Lower and
Middle Paleolithic may have occurred because of food
shortages. However, it may have been for religious reasons, and would
coincide with the development of religious practices thought to have
occurred during the Upper Paleolithic. Nonetheless, it remains
Paleolithic societies never practiced cannibalism, and
that the damage to recovered human bones was either the result of
excarnation or predation by carnivores such as saber-toothed cats ,
lions , and hyenas .
A modern-day diet known as the
Paleolithic diet exists, based on
restricting consumption to the foods presumed to be available to
anatomically modern humans prior to the advent of settled agriculture
Late Glacial Maximum
List of archaeological sites by continent and age#Palaeolithic
Origins of society
Settlement of the Americas
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Missing or empty title= (help )
* Human Timeline (Interactive) – Smithsonian , National Museum of
Natural History (August 2016).
* Donsmaps: a vast repository of
* Interactive Timeline Simile/Timemap index of Eurasian sites