Paleolithic (or Upper Palaeolithic, Late Stone Age) is the
third and last subdivision of the
Paleolithic or Old Stone Age. Very
broadly, it dates to between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago (the
beginning of the Holocene), roughly coinciding with the appearance of
behavioral modernity and before the advent of agriculture.
Anatomically modern humans
Anatomically modern humans (i.e. Homo sapiens) are believed to have
emerged around 200,000 years ago, although these lifestyles changed
very little from that of archaic humans of the Middle Paleolithic,
until about 50,000 years ago, when there was a marked increase in the
diversity of artefacts. This period coincides with the expansion of
modern humans throughout Eurasia, which contributed to the extinction
of the Neanderthals.
Paleolithic has the earliest known evidence of organized
settlements, in the form of campsites, some with storage pits.
Artistic work blossomed, with cave painting, petroglyphs, carvings and
engravings on bone or ivory. The first evidence of human fishing is
also noted, from artefacts in places such as
Blombos cave in South
Africa. More complex social groupings emerged, supported by more
varied and reliable food sources and specialized tool types. This
probably contributed to increasing group identification or
By 50,000–40,000 BP, the first humans set foot in Australia. By
45,000 BP, humans lived at 61° north latitude in Europe. By 30,000
Japan was reached, and by 27,000 BP humans were present in Siberia
above the Arctic Circle. At the end of the Upper Paleolithic, a group
of humans crossed the
Bering land bridge
Bering land bridge and quickly expanded
throughout North and South America.
1 Lifestyle and technology
2 Changes in climate and geography
3.1 50,000–40,000 BP
3.2 40,000–30,000 BP
3.3 30,000–20,000 BP
3.4 20,000–10,000 BP
5 See also
7 External links
Lifestyle and technology
Recent African origin of modern humans
Recent African origin of modern humans and Behavioral
Both Homo erectus and
Neanderthals used the same crude stone tools.
Archaeologist Richard G. Klein, who has worked extensively on ancient
stone tools, describes the stone tool kit of archaic hominids as
impossible to categorize. It was as if the
Neanderthals made stone
tools, and were not much concerned about their final forms. He argues
that almost everywhere, whether Asia, Africa or Europe, before 50,000
years ago all the stone tools are much alike and unsophisticated.
Firstly among the artefacts of Africa, archeologists 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. These new stone-tool
types have been described as being distinctly differentiated from each
other; each tool had a specific purpose. The invaders, commonly
referred to as the Cro-Magnons, left many sophisticated stone tools,
carved and engraved pieces on bone, ivory and antler, cave paintings
and Venus figurines.
Neanderthals continued to use
Mousterian stone tool technology and
Chatelperronian technology. These tools disappeared from the
archeological record at around the same time the Neanderthals
themselves disappeared from the fossil record, about 40,000 years
ago. Settlements were often located in narrow valley bottoms,
possibly associated with hunting of passing herds of animals. Some of
them may have been occupied year round, though more commonly they
appear to have been used seasonally; people moved between the sites to
exploit different food sources at different times of the year. Hunting
was important, and caribou/wild reindeer "may well be the species of
single greatest importance in the entire anthropological literature on
Technological advances included significant developments in flint tool
manufacturing, with industries based on fine blades rather than
simpler and shorter flakes. Burins and racloirs were used to work
bone, antler and hides. Advanced darts and harpoons also appear in
this period, along with the fish hook, the oil lamp, rope, and the
The changes in human behavior have been attributed to the changes in
climate during the period, which encompasses a number of global
temperature drops. This meant a worsening of the already bitter
climate of the last glacial period (popularly but incorrectly called
the last ice age). Such changes may have reduced the supply of usable
timber and forced people to look at other materials. In addition,
flint becomes brittle at low temperatures and may not have functioned
as a tool.
Some scholars have argued that the appearance of complex or abstract
language made these behavior changes possible. The complexity of the
new human capabilities hints that humans were less capable of planning
or foresight before 40,000 years, while the emergence of cooperative
and coherent communication marked a new era of cultural
Changes in climate and geography
European LGM refuges, 20,000 BP.
Solutrean and Proto
The climate of the period in
Europe saw dramatic changes, and included
the Last Glacial Maximum, the coldest phase of the last glacial
period, which lasted from about 26.5 to 19 kya, being coldest at the
end, before a relatively rapid warming (all dates vary somewhat for
different areas, and in different studies). During the Maximum, most
Europe was covered by an ice-sheet, forcing human
populations into the areas known as
Last Glacial Maximum
Last Glacial Maximum refugia,
including modern Italy and the Balkans, parts of the Iberian Peninsula
and areas around the Black Sea.
This period saw cultures such as the
Solutrean in France and Spain.
Human life may have continued on top of the ice sheet, but we know
next to nothing about it, and very little about the human life that
preceded the European glaciers. In the early part of the period, up to
about 30 kya, the
Mousterian Pluvial made northern Africa, including
the Sahara, well-watered and with lower temperatures than today; after
the end of the Pluvial the
Sahara became arid.
Last Glacial Maximum
Last Glacial Maximum was followed by the Allerød oscillation, a
warm and moist global interstadial that occurred around 13.5 to 13.8
kya. Then there was a very rapid onset, perhaps within as little as a
decade, of the cold and dry
Younger Dryas climate period, giving
sub-arctic conditions to much of northern Europe. The
in temperatures also began sharply around 10.3 kya, and by its end
around 9.0 kya had brought temperatures nearly to present day levels,
although the climate was wetter. This period saw the
Paleolithic give way to the start of the following Mesolithic
As the glaciers receded sea levels rose; the English Channel, Irish
North Sea were land at this time, and the
Black Sea a
fresh-water lake. In particular the Atlantic coastline was initially
far out to sea in modern terms in most areas, though the Mediterranean
coastline has retreated far less, except in the north of the Adriatic
and the Aegean. The rise in sea levels continued until at least 7.5
kya (5500 BC), so evidence of human activity along Europe's coasts in
Paleolithic is mostly lost, though some traces have been
recovered by fishing boats and marine archaeology, especially from
Doggerland, the lost area beneath the North Sea.
Map of findings of Upper
Paleolithic art in Europe.
Numerous Aboriginal stone tools were found in gravel sediments in
Castlereagh, Sydney, Australia. At first when these results were new
they were controversial, more recently dating of the same strata has
revised and corroborated these dates.
Start of the
Mousterian Pluvial in North Africa.
Earliest evidence of modern humans found in Europe, in Southern
Ornaments and skeletal remains of modern humans, at
Ksar Akil in
Denisova hominins live in the
Altai Mountains (Russia, China,
Mongolia, and Kazakhstan)
The Venus of Hohlefels is the oldest undisputed example of a depiction
of a human being yet discovered
First human inhabitants in Perth, Australia, as evidenced by
archaeological findings on the Upper Swan River.
During this time period, Melbourne,
Australia was occupied by
Early cultural centre in the Swabian Alps, earliest figurative art
(Venus of Hohle Fels), beginning of the Aurignacian.
The first flutes appear in Germany.
Human created from Hohlenstein-Stadel. It is now in Ulmer Museum,
Most of the giant vertebrates and megafauna in
extinct, around the time of the arrival of humans
Venus of Laussel, an Upper
Paleolithic (Gravettian) carving.
Examples of cave art in Spain are dated from around 40,000 BP, making
them the oldest examples of art yet discovered in the world (see:
Caves of Nerja). Scientists theorise that the paintings may have been
made by Neanderthals, rather than by homo sapiens. (BBC) (Science)
Wall painting with horses, rhinoceroses and aurochs is made at Chauvet
Cave, Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, Ardéche gorge, France. Discovered in
Archaeological studies support human presence in the
Chek Lap Kok
Chek Lap Kok area
(now Hong Kong International Airport) from 35,000 to 39,000 years
Zar, Yataghyeri, Damjili and Taghlar caves in Azerbaijan.
First evidence of people inhabiting Japan.
Kostenki XVII, a layer of the Kostenki (Kostyonki) site, on the middle
Don River, was occupied by the early upper paleolithic Spitsyn
First ground stone tools appear in Japan.
End of the
Mousterian Pluvial in North Africa.
The area of
Sydney was occupied by
Aboriginal Australians during this
time period, as evidenced by radiocarbon dating. In an
archaeological dig in Parramatta, Western Sydney, it was found that
the Aboriginals used charcoal, stone tools and possible ancient
First human settlement in Alice Springs, Northern Territory,
Venus of Brassempouy
Venus of Brassempouy is preserved in the Musée d'Archéologie
Nationale at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris.
Last eruption of the
Ciomadul volcano in Romania.
Venus of Dolní Věstonice
Venus of Dolní Věstonice (Czech Republic). It is the oldest known
ceramic in the world.
Red Lady of Paviland
Red Lady of Paviland lived around 29,000–26,000 years ago.
Recent evidence has come to light that he was a tribal chief.[citation
Human settlement in Beijing, China dates from about 27,000 to 10,000
Start of the second
Mousterian Pluvial in North Africa.
Venus of Petřkovice
Venus of Petřkovice is created at Petřkovice in Ostrava, Czech
Republic. It is now in Archeological Institute, Brno.
Last Glacial Maximum: Venus of Brassempouy, Grotte du Pape,
Brassempouy, Landes, France, created. It is now at Musée des
Antiquités Nationales, Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
Venus of Willendorf, Austria, created. It is now at the Natural
History Museum, Vienna.
Artifacts suggests early human activity occurred at some point in
Canberra, Australia. Archaeological evidence of settlement in the
region includes inhabited rock shelters, rock art, burial places,
camps and quarry sites, and stone tools and arrangements.
End of the second
Mousterian Pluvial in North Africa.
Main article: Epipaleolithic
Lascaux, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Bradshaw rock paintings
Bradshaw rock paintings found in the north-west Kimberley region of
Last Glacial Maximum. Mean sea levels are believed to be 110 to 120
metres (360 to 390 ft) lower than present, with the direct
implication that many coastal and lower riverine valley archaeological
sites of interest are today under water.
Pech Merle cave, Dordogne, France are painted.
Discovered in December, 1994.
Ibex-headed spear-thrower, from Le Mas-d'Azil, Ariège, France, is
made. It is now at Musée de la Préhistoire, Le Mas d'Azil.
Mammoth-bone village in Mezhyrich,
Ukraine is inhabited.
Spotted human hands are painted at
Pech Merle cave, Dordogne, France.
Discovered in December 1994.
Oldest Dryas stadial.
Hall of Bulls at
Lascaux in France is painted. Discovered in 1940.
Closed to the public in 1963.
Bird-Headed man with bison and Rhinoceros, Lascaux, is painted.
Lamp with ibex design, from La Mouthe cave, Dordogne, France, is made.
It is now at Musée des Antiquités Nationales, Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
Cosquer Cave are made, where the cave mouth is now under
water at Cap Margiou, France.
Bison, Le Tuc d'Audoubert, Ariège, France.
Paleo-Indians move across North America, then southward through
Pregnant woman and deer (?), from Laugerie-Basse, France was made. It
is now at Musée des Antiquités Nationales, St.-Germain-en-Laye.
Older Dryas stadial, Allerød interstadial.
Paleo-Indians searched for big game near what is now the Hovenweep
Bison, on the ceiling of a cave at Altamira, Spain, is painted.
Discovered in 1879. Accepted as authentic in 1902.[clarification
Domestication of Reindeer.
The Swimming Reindeer, created 13,000 years ago.
Younger Dryas stadial.
Beginning of the
Wooden buildings in South America (Chile).
First pottery vessels (Japan).
First evidence of human settlement in Argentina.
Arlington Springs Man
Arlington Springs Man dies on the island of Santa Rosa, off the
coast of California, United States.
Human remains deposited in caves which are now located off the coast
of Yucatán, Mexico.
Creswellian culture settlement on Hengistbury Head, England, dates
from around this year.
Evidence of a massacre near Lake Turkana,
Kenya indicates upper
Reindeer Age articles
Paleolithic in the Franco-Cantabrian region:
Châtelperronian culture was located around central and south
western France, and northern Spain. It appears to be derived from the
Mousterian culture, and represents the period of overlap between
Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. This culture lasted from approximately
45,000 BP to 40,000 BP.
Aurignacian culture was located in
Europe and south west Asia, and
flourished between 43,000 and 36,000 BP. It may have been contemporary
Périgordian (a contested grouping of the earlier
Châtelperronian and later
Gravettian culture was located across Europe.
generally date between 33,000 and 20,000 BP.
Solutrean culture was located in eastern France, Spain, and
Solutrean artifacts have been dated c. 22,000 to 17,000 BP.
Magdalenian culture left evidence from Portugal to Poland during
the period from 17,000 to 12,000 BP.
Further information: Synoptic table of the principal old world
Central and east Europe:
Gravettian culture in southern Ukraine.
30,000 BP, Szeletian culture
22,000 BP, Pavlovian,
Ahrensburg culture (Western Germany, Netherlands, England)
North and west Africa, and Sahara:
Aterian culture (Algeria, Libya)
Ibero-Maurusian (a.k.a. Oranian, Ouchtatian), and Sebilian
Capsian culture (Tunisia, Algeria)
Central, south, and east Africa:
50,000 BP, Fauresmithian culture
30,000 BP, Stillbayan culture
12,000 BP, Lupembian culture
Magosian culture (Zambia, Tanzania)
9,000 BP, Wiltonian culture
Asia (including Middle East):
Jabroudian culture (Levant)
40,000 BP, Amoudian culture
30,000 BP, Emireh culture
12,000 BP, Kebarian, Athlitian cultures
South, central and northern Asia:
11,000 BP, Khandivili culture
East and southeast Asia:
30,000 BP, Sen-Doki culture
Jōmon period starts in Ancient Japan
12,000 BP, pre-
Jōmon ceramic culture (Japan)
Hoabinhian culture (Northern Vietnam)
Jōmon culture (Japan)
Noongar culture (Perth, Australia)
35,000 BP, Wurundjeri, Boonwurrung and
Wathaurong culture (Melbourne,
30,000 BP, Eora and Darug culture (Sydney, Australia)
30,000 BP, Arrernte culture (Alice Springs, Central Australia)
Late Glacial Maximum
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resource—in many areas the most important resource—for peoples'
inhabiting the northern boreal forest and tundra regions. Known human
dependence on caribou/wild reindeer has a long history, beginning in
Middle Pleistocene (Banfield 1961:170; Kurtén 1968:170) and
continuing to the present....The caribou/wild reindeer is thus an
animal that has been a major resource for humans throughout a
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of years." Ernest S. Burch, Jr. "The Caribou/Wild
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^ "No Last Word on
Language Origins" Archived April 4, 2005, at the
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Maribyrnong River valley, near present day Keilor,
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Picture Gallery of the
Paleolithic (reconstructional palaeoethnology),
Libor Balák at the Czech Academy of Sciences, the Institute of
Archaeology in Brno, The Center for
Paleolithic and Paleoethnological
New Stone Age
New World crops
Ard / plough
Mortar and pestle
Bow and arrow
Game drive system
Langdale axe industry
British megalith architecture
Nordic megalith architecture
Neolithic long house
Abri de la Madeleine
Alp pile dwellings
Wattle and daub
Megalithic architectural elements
Arts and culture
Art of the Upper Paleolithic
Art of the Middle Paleolithic
Stone Age art
Bradshaw rock paintings
Carved Stone Balls
Cup and ring mark
British Isles and Brittany
Mound Builders culture
Stone box grave
Unchambered long cairn
Origin of language
Divje Babe flute
Origin of religion
Spiritual drug use