“Stone Age” is a term used to refer to prehistoric times, beginning when humans started to make tools and weapons that were made of stone. The Bronze Age and the Iron Age followed. The Stone Age is divided into Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, marking the progressive levels of sophistication found in artifacts and cultural activities.
The Paleolithic Age stretches from about 2-2.5 million years BCE to 10,000 years BCE, which is 95 percent of the time humans and their direct ancestors have been on this planet. Food was obtained mostly by hunting, fishing and collecting wild plants, nuts and fruit.
Tools of the Stone Age
There are no written records from the Stone Age. What we know about Stone Age humans comes from things they made, like weapons, tools, shelters and other objects discovered mostly in archaeological digs. Engraving designs on stones and bones, carved figures and drawings on the walls of caves also give us information and help us trace the slow development of Homo sapiens throughout the period.
The oldest known tools, from 2.6 to 2.5 million years ago come from Gona in Africa, where thousands of stone artifacts were found. The artifacts show that those who made them, most likely a human ancestor species, were very knowledgeable about stone fracture mechanics. Gona is near Ethiopia, where many other tools were found, although they were a bit younger, from 2.4-2.3 million years ago.
Groups of Homo erectus, an early species of humans found in China, Asia, Africa and Europe between 100,000 and 500,000 years ago, used stone tools, including hand axes, that were made by chipping at the stone to form an edge for cutting.
Many flint tools from the Middle Paleolithic Age, about 150,000 years BCE to about 40,000 year BCE, were found mainly in Europe, but also in North Africa, the Middle East and Siberia. This is the age of the Neanderthals, an early form of humans who lived about 40,000 to 100,000 years ago. Human ancestors during this age lived in caves, and many groups used fire. Needles made out of bone from that time were also found, evidence that they may have sewn animal skins for clothing and other protection.
Where did the People of the Stone Age Live
Shelters made by Neanderthals showed that they also lived in huts made of wood and had hearths for fire, Another hut made of animal hides over wooden poles was found inside of cave in Grotte du Lazaret in France. Other huts, sometimes with divided living spaces and hearths and braced with mammoth bones have been found in France, the Ukraine, Siberia and Russia
What Did Stone Age People Eat?
During the Stone Age, people were primarily hunter-gatherers. They depended for food on those items that were readily available and were in their close proximity. This included animals and the various plants that grew in the area. This type of existence, of necessity, defined the ability of ancient people to interact with their environment.
Lacking the ability to cultivate their own food, either plant or animal, Stone Age people were forced to live on what the surroundings provided. This type of subsistence life style meant that people were unable to stay in one specific location for any length of time. A number of factors would force them to move and seek new sources of food. By way of example, the available edible plants or the animal life in any specific area would be depleted. Other factors influencing the need to relocate continuously included other, stronger tribes competing for the same area, the lack of adequate drinking water or, following the discovery of fire, the lack of fire-burning materials.
This nomadic existence also meant that Stone Age society was one without any form of permanent settlement. Therefore, people took shelter either in caves or in primitive shelters easily constructed from material gathered around them. Additionally, people were forced to carry all of their possessions with them. This was a significant burden that prevented the development of a more advanced community. The amount of time needed to find and acquire food was another barrier to mankind’s development as most of the day was spent gathering food and seeking places for shelter.
Agriculture was unknown to Stone Age people. Many of what are today considered basic foodstuffs were thus unavailable to them. For example, there would have been no grain products. These would have required people’s remaining in one place where wheat, barley, rice and so forth could ripen. The Stone Age diet would have consisted primarily of meat and fish, fruits, vegetables, roots and nuts.
Artifacts from the Upper Paleolithic Age
Artifacts from the Upper Paleolithic Age, 40,000 BCE to 10,000 BCE, belonging to Cro-Magnons, now called early modern humans, were found in Europe. This is also the period of the famous “Venus of Willendorf,” dated between 24,000 BCE and 22,000 BCE. This 11-centimeter high carving of a female figure made of oolitic limestone was discovered in a village in lower Austria. It is the first of several such small carvings of females found in an area from France to Siberia that have essentially the same characteristics: very large abdomens and pendulous breasts, no features on the face and very tiny or missing feet. Thought by some to be fertility figures, these findings, along with very few findings of male figures, have led to much speculation about the role of women in Paleolithic communities and the possibility of matriarchal societies.
During the Mesolithic Age, beginning more than 10,000 years ago, humans domesticated plants and animals and settled in communities, frequently along shorelines. Stone tools became smaller and more refined, and the bow and pottery began to appear.
The Mesolithic Age overlapped with the Neolithic age. The latter saw the development of pottery and weaving and ended with the appearance of metal tools and weapons which helped with hunting. The rate of development varied in different geographic regions but overall man was evolving.