Home » Humanity » The Stone Age. Part 1. Paleolithic (3 million-13 thousand years ago).

The Stone Age. Part 1. Paleolithic (3 million-13 thousand years ago).

The Stone Age of humanity

Paleolithic tools found in 2008 in Guangxi (southern China).

Paleolithic tools found in 2008 in Guangxi (southern China).

Man differs from all living beings on Earth in that from the very beginning of his history, he actively created an artificial environment around himself and used various technical means, which are called tools. With their help, he obtained food for himself-hunting, fishing and gathering, built his own homes, made clothes and household utensils, created religious buildings and works of art.

The Stone Age is the oldest and longest period in the history of mankind, characterized by the use of stone as the main solid material for the manufacture of tools designed to solve problems of human life support.

For the manufacture of various tools and other necessary products, man used not only stone, but other solid materials:

  • volcanic glass,
  • bone,
  • wood, as
  • well as plastic materials of animal and vegetable origin (animal skins and skin, plant fibers, later-fabrics).

In the final period of the Stone Age, in the Neolithic, the first artificial material created by man, ceramics, was widely distributed. The exceptional strength of the stone allows products made from it to be preserved for hundreds of thousands of years. Bone, wood and other organic materials, as a rule, do not last so long, and therefore, for the study of particularly remote epochs, stone products become, due to their mass character and good preservation, the most important source.

Chronological framework of the Stone Age

The chronological framework of the Stone Age is very wide — it begins about 3 million years ago (the time of the separation of man from the animal world) and lasts until the appearance of metal (about 8-9 thousand years ago in the Ancient East and about 6-5 thousand years ago in Europe). The duration of this period of human existence, which is called prehistory and protohistory, correlates with the duration of “written history” in the same way as a day with a few minutes or the size of Mount Everest and a tennis ball. Such important achievements of humanity as the emergence of the first social institutions and certain economic structures, and, in fact, the formation of man himself as a very special biosocial being, belong to the Stone Age.

In archaeological science, the Stone Age is usually divided into several main stages:

  • old stone age — the Palaeolithic (3 million years BC — 10 thousand years BC);
  • mid — Mesolithic (10-9 thousand to 7 thousand years BC);
  • new — Neolithic (6-5 thousand 3 thousand years BC).

The archaeological periods of the stone age associated with changes in stone industry: each period is characterized by the peculiar techniques of the primary cleavage and subsequent secondary stone treatment, resulting in widespread absolutely certain sets of items and their bright of a specific type.

The Stone Age corresponds to the geological periods of the Pleistocene (which also bears the names: Quaternary, anthropogenic, glacial and dates from 2.5-2 million years to 10 thousand years BC) and the Holocene (starting from 10 thousand years BC to our time inclusive). The natural conditions of these periods played a significant role in the formation and development of the oldest human societies.

Exploring the Stone Age

Interest in collecting and studying prehistoric antiquities, especially stone products, has existed for a long time. However, even in the Middle Ages, and in the Renaissance, their origin was most often attributed to natural phenomena (the so-called thunder arrows, hammers, axes were known everywhere). Only by the middle of the XIX century, thanks to the accumulation of new information obtained during the ever-expanding construction work, and the associated development of geology, the further development of natural science disciplines, the idea of material evidence of the existence of” antediluvian man ” acquired the status of a scientific doctrine. An important contribution to the formation of scientific ideas about the Stone Age as the “childhood of mankind” was a variety of ethnographic data, while the results of the study of North American Indian cultures, which began in the XVIII century, were especially often used. along with the widespread colonization of North America, it developed in the XIX century.

The “system of three centuries” by K. Y. Thomsen — I. Ya.Vorso also had a great influence on the formation of Stone Age archaeology. However, only the creation of evolutionist periodizations in history and anthropology (cultural-historical periodization by L. G. Morgan, sociological by I. Bachofen, religious by G. Spencer and E. Taylor, anthropological by Ch. Darwin), numerous joint geological and archaeological studies of various Paleolithic sites in Western Europe (J. Boucher de Perta, E. Larte, J. Lebbock, and I. Keller) led to the creation of the first periodizations of the Stone Age-the separation of the Paleolithic and Neolithic epochs. In the last quarter of the XIX century, thanks to the discovery of Paleolithic cave art, numerous anthropological finds of Pleistocene age, especially due to the discovery of E. Dubois on the island of Java of the remains of the ape — man-pithecanthropus, evolutionist theories prevailed in understanding the laws of human development in the Stone Age. However, the developing archeology required the use of proper archaeological terms and criteria when creating the periodization of the Stone Age. The first such classification, evolutionist in its basis and operating in special archaeological terms, was proposed by the French archaeologist G. de Mortillet, who distinguished the early (lower) and late (upper) Paleolithic, divided into four stages. This periodization became very widespread, and after its expansion and addition by the Mesolithic and Neolithic epochs, also divided into successive stages, it acquired a dominant position in the archaeology of the Stone Age for quite a long time.

Mortillet’s periodization was based on the idea of the sequence of stages and periods of the development of material culture and the uniformity of this process for all mankind. The revision of this periodization dates back to the middle of the XX century.

The further development of Stone Age archaeology is also associated with such important scientific trends as geographical determinism (which explains many aspects of the development of society by the influence of natural and geographical conditions) and diffusionism (which, along with the concept of evolution, put the concept of cultural diffusion, i.e., the spatial movement of cultural phenomena). Within these areas, a galaxy of major scientists of their time worked (L. G. Morgan, G. Ratzel, E. Reclu, R. Virchow, F. Kossina, A. Grebner, etc.), who made a significant contribution to the design of the main postulates of the science of the Stone Age. In the XX century. there are new schools that reflect, in addition to those listed above, ethnological, sociological, and structuralist trends in the study of this ancient era.

Currently, an integral part of archaeological research has become the study of the natural environment, which has a great impact on the life of human collectives. This is quite natural, especially if we remember that from the very moment of its appearance, primitive (prehistoric) archaeology, having originated among representatives of the natural sciences — geologists, paleontologists, anthropologists — was closely connected with the natural sciences.

The main achievement of Stone Age archaeology in the XX century was the creation of clear ideas that different archaeological complexes (tools, weapons, jewelry, etc.) characterize different groups of people who, being at different stages of development, can coexist simultaneously. This negates the crude scheme of evolutionism, which assumes that all of humanity ascends the same steps-stages at the same time. The works of Russian archaeologists have played an important role in the formulation of new postulates about the existence of cultural diversity in the development of mankind.

In the last quarter of the XX century, a number of new directions were formed in the archaeology of the Stone Age on the international scientific basis, combining traditional archaeological and complex paleoecological and computer methods of research, which provide for the creation of complex spatial models of natural resource management systems and the social structure of ancient societies.


Division into epochs

The Paleolithic is the longest stage of the Stone Age, it covers the time from the Upper Pliocene to the Holocene, i.e. the entire Pleistocene (Antrapogene, Glacial or Quaternary) geological period. Traditionally, the Paleolithic is divided into –

    1. early, or lower, including the following epochs:
    • olduvai (about 3 million — 800 thousand years ago),
    • Acheulean ancient, middle and late (800 thousand − 120-100 thousand years ago)
    • mustier (120-100 thousand — 40 thousand years ago),
  1. upper or late Paleolithic (40 thousand-12 thousand years ago).

    Olduvai tools.

    Olduvai tools.

It should be emphasized, however,that the above chronological framework is rather arbitrary, since many issues are not fully studied. This is especially true for the boundaries between the Mousterian and Upper Paleolithic, Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic. In the first case, the difficulties of identifying the chronological boundary are associated with the duration of the process of settlement of modern humans, who brought new methods of processing stone raw materials, and their long coexistence with Neanderthals. The exact separation of the boundary between the Paleolithic and Mesolithic is even more difficult, since the abrupt changes in natural conditions that led to significant changes in material culture occurred extremely unevenly and had a different character in different geographical zones. However, in modern science, a conditional boundary is accepted — 10 thousand years BC or 12 thousand years ago, which is accepted by most scientists.

All the epochs of the Paleolithic differ significantly in their anthropological characteristics, in the methods of making the main tools, and in their forms. Throughout the Paleolithic, the physical type of man was formed. In the early Paleolithic, there were various groups of representatives of the genus Homo (N. habilis, N. ergaster, N. erectus, N. antesesst, H. Heidelbergensis, N. neardentalensis – according to the traditional scheme: archanthropes, paleoanthropes and Neanderthals), the Upper Paleolithic corresponded to the neoanthrope-Homo sapiens, this species includes all modern humanity.

Tools of labor

Mousterian tools - chisels and scrapers. Found near Amiens, France.

Mousterian tools – chisels and scrapers. Found near Amiens, France.

Due to the vast distance in time, many materials that were used by humans, especially organic ones, are not preserved. Therefore, as mentioned above, stone tools are one of the most important sources for studying the way of life of ancient people. From all the variety of rocks, a person chose those that give a sharp cutting edge when splitting. Due to its wide distribution in nature and its inherent physical qualities, flint and other siliceous rocks became such a material.

Primitive as the oldest stone tools are, it is quite obvious that abstract thinking and the ability to perform a complex chain of sequential actions were necessary for their manufacture. Various types of activity are recorded in the forms of the working blades of tools, in the form of traces on them, and allow us to judge the labor operations that ancient people performed.

To make the necessary things out of stone, auxiliary tools were required:

  • bumpers,
  • intermediaries,
  • wringers,
  • retouchers,
  • anvils, which were also made of bone, stone, wood.

Another equally important source that allows us to obtain a variety of information and reconstruct the life of ancient human collectives is the cultural layer of monuments, which is formed as a result of the life of people in a certain place. It includes the remains of hearths and residential structures, traces of labor activity in the form of clusters of split stone and bone. The remains of animal bones allow us to judge the hunting activity of humans.

The Paleolithic is the time of the formation of man and society, during this period the first social formation — the primitive communal system-was formed. The whole epoch is characterized by an appropriating economy: people obtained their means of subsistence by hunting and gathering.

Geological epochs and glaciations

The Paleolithic corresponds to the final geological period of the Pliocene and the full-geological period of the Pleistocene, which began about two million years ago and ended around the turn of the 10th millennium BC. Its early stage is called the Eiopleistocene, it ends about 800 thousand years ago. Already the Eiopleistocene, and especially the Middle and late Pleistocene, is characterized by a series of sharp cold spells and the development of cover glaciations that occupy a significant part of the land. For this reason, the Pleistocene is called the Ice age, and its other names, often used in special literature, are Quaternary or anthropogenic.

Table. Relations of Paleolithic epochs and Pleistocene stages.

Divisions of the Quaternary period Absolute age, thousand years. Paleolithic divisions
Pleistocene Wurm 10 10 Late Paleolithic
40 Ancient Paleolithic Mustier
Riess-Wurm 100 100
120 300
Riess 200 Late and Middle Acheulean
Mindel-Riess 350
Mindel 500 Ancient Acheulean
Gunz-Mindel 700 700
Eopleistocene Gunz 1000 Olduvai
Danube 2000
Neogene 2600

The table shows the ratio of the main stages of archaeological periodization with the stages of the ice age, in which 5 main glaciations are distinguished (according to the Alpine scheme adopted as an international standard) and the intervals between them, usually called interglacial periods. In the literature, the terms glacial (glaciation) and interglacial (interglacial) are often used. Within each glaciation (glacial), there are colder periods called stadials and warmer periods called interstadials. The name of the interglacial (interglacial) consists of the names of two glaciations, and its duration is determined by their time boundaries, for example, the Riess-Wurm interglacial lasts from 120 to 80 thousand years ago.

Lower-Middle Pleistocene animals.

Lower-Middle Pleistocene animals.

The epochs of glaciation were characterized by significant cold spells and the development of ice cover on large areas of land, which led to a sharp drying of the climate, changes in the flora and, accordingly, the animal world. On the contrary, during the interglacial epoch, there was a significant warming and humidification of the climate, which also caused corresponding changes in the environment. Ancient man was extremely dependent on the natural conditions surrounding him, so their significant changes required fairly rapid adaptation, i.e. flexible changes in the ways and means of life support.

At the beginning of the Pleistocene, despite the beginning of global cooling, a fairly warm climate persisted — not only in Africa and the equatorial belt, but even in the southern and central regions of Europe, Siberia and the Far East, broad-leaved forests grew. These forests were home to such heat-loving animals as the hippopotamus, southern elephant, rhinoceros, and saber-toothed tiger (mahairod).

Guentz was separated from Mindel, the first very serious glaciation in Europe, by a large interglacial, which was comparatively warm. The ice of the Mindel glaciation reached the mountain ranges in the south of Germany, and in Russia-to the upper Oka River and the middle Volga river. In Russia, this glaciation is called the Oka glaciation. There were some changes in the composition of the animal world: heat-loving species began to die out, and in the areas located closer to the glacier, cold — loving animals appeared-musk ox and reindeer.

This was followed by a warm interglacial epoch-the Mindelris interglacial-preceding the Ries (Dnieper for Russia) glaciation, which was the maximum. On the territory of European Russia, the ice of the Dnieper glaciation, divided into two languages, reached the area of the Dnieper rapids and approximately to the area of the modern Volga-Don Canal. The climate has significantly cooled, cold-loving animals have spread:

  • mammoths,
  • woolly rhinos,
  • wild horses,
  • bison,
  • tours.

Cave predators:

  • cave bear,
  • cave lion,
  • cave hyena.

In the subglacial regions lived

  • reindeer,
  • musk ox, arctic
  • fox.

The Riess-Wurm interglacial-a time of very favorable climatic conditions-was replaced by the last great glaciation of Europe — the Wurm or Valdai glaciation.

Upper Pleistocene animals.

Upper Pleistocene animals.

The last-the Wurm (Valdai) glaciation (80-12 thousand years ago) was less prolonged than the previous ones, but much more severe. Although the ice covered a much smaller area, capturing the Valdai Upland in Eastern Europe, the climate was much drier and colder. The peculiarity of the animal world of the Wurm period was the mixing of animals on the same territories, which are characteristic of different landscape zones in our time. Mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, musk musk ox existed alongside bison, red deer, horse, saiga. Among the predators, cave bears, brown bears, lions, wolves, arctic foxes, and wolverines were common. This phenomenon can be explained by the fact that the boundaries of the landscape zones, compared to modern ones, were strongly shifted to the south.

By the end of the Ice Age, the development of the culture of the ancient people reached a level that allowed them to adapt to the new, much more severe conditions of existence. Recent geological and archaeological studies have shown that the first stages of human development of lowland territories arctic fox lemming cave bear of the European part of Russia belong to the cold epochs of the late Pleistocene. The nature of the settlement of primitive man on the territory of Northern Eurasia was determined not so much by climatic conditions as by the nature of the landscape. Most often, Paleolithic hunters settled in the open spaces of the tundra-steppes in the permafrost zone, and in the southern steppes-forest — steppes-beyond it. Even during the maximum cold snap (28-20 thousand years ago), people did not leave their traditional habitats. The struggle with the harsh nature of the ice age had a great impact on the cultural development of Paleolithic man.

The final cessation of glacial phenomena dates back to the X-IX millennia BC. With the retreat of the glacier, the Pleistocene epoch ends, followed by the Holocene-the modern geological period. Together with the retreat of the glacier to the extreme northern borders of Eurasia, natural conditions characteristic of the modern era began to form.

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