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The Stone Age: Paleolithic to Neolithic

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 Throughout history, there have been amazing innovations and new technologies. During the Stone Age, humankind advanced in many different ways. From advancing in tools and farming to progressing in their economy and governments. They discovered new parts of the world and made civilizations. The Stone Age is quite a broad term and can be broken up into three different periods: the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic Eras. The Stone Age started around 2.6 million years ago and ended at about 3,300 BCE During this time, humans shared the world with many hominid relatives that are now extinct. Artifacts anthropologists have found over the years have given great insight into how the people of this time lived, what tools they made, and the behaviors they developed as they evolved.

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The first modern Homo sapien fossils known appeared around 200,000 million years ago in Africa. Humans only started to leave Africa 60,000 to 70,000 years ago, the cause of which is still unknown but it could have been because of the effects of the last Ice Age. By 50,000 years ago, humans had reached India, Southeast Asia, and Australia. A little after that humans reached northern parts of Asia, Europe, and other places further north. Then, humankind discovered the other half of the world when a land bridge was uncovered and they crossed it, leading them to the Americas. 15,000 years ago humans reached land beyond the ice and by 14,000 years they had already reached the tip of South America. When humans started settling in different parts of the world, they had accomplished something no other large animal has. Furthermore, they did it only using stone tools and hunting-gathering technology to help them.

The Paleolithic Era, or Old Stone Age, is the longest period of the Stone Age and was distinguished by the use of simple stone tools. Because there are no written records of what happened during this time, some researchers didn’t pay much attention to it, but many have since found out a lot of what happened by looking at the material remains left behind. Traditionally thought of as to have started about 2.58 million years ago, the start of the Paleolithic Era has now been reconsidered with the possibility of it beginning about 3.3 million years ago. The changes that took place during this time provided the foundation on which all subsequent human history was formed. In this time, Mastodons, saber-toothed tigers, and other, now extinct, large mammals roamed the Earth alongside Stone Age humans. During the lower Paleolithic period, early human ancestors were believed to use simple pebble tools. Also during this time, Homo erectus is thought to have made tools of bone, wood, and stone. The oldest stone tools were known as the Oldowan toolkit. This consisted of hammerstones that had battered surfaces, stone cores that had flake scars on one or more edges, and sharp stone flakes that offer edges used for cutting. The hand ax appeared around 700,000 years ago. Early European hand axes are thought to have come from France and more sophisticated axes have been found in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The hand ax and other larger tools used for cutting describe the Acheulean toolkit. The upper Paleolithic Era was described by the rise of regional stone tool industries. These industries show a higher complexity of tools.

During the paleolithic era, language was created and early ancestors figured out how to control fire. The people of this time were called hunter-gatherers because they would hunt animals and collect fruits and vegetables they would find. This was the time before humans learned how to domesticate animals and plants. The food they ate was basically raw meat, fruits, and vegetables before they learned how to use fire. They would hunt for wooly mammoths, bison, deer, as well as other large animals. They wore clothes made of animal skins to protect them from the harsh cold and lived in caves for shelter. They also started showing their creativity by making cave paintings and figurines. In small communities, there were bands of twenty-five members, and twenty of these bands were considered to be a tribe. Although some may believe that the people of this time were just cavemen that only worried about their survival, the people of this time actually had their societal standards and communities. Because no medicines and people were living in harsh conditions, the life expectancy was about 30 years. There is evidence that they had a sense of spirituality and would perform funerals for their dead. The Paleolithic Era ended about 9,600 BCE and led into the Mesolithic Era.

The Mesolithic Era, or Middle Stone Age, is the period between the Paleolithic and Neolithic Eras. It started at the end of the Old Stone Age and ends at the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution. During this time, the world was going through extensive changes because the climate was getting warmer due to the end of the Ice Age. The shape of the continents and islands look very different than how they used to because of all the glaciers melting. It raised northern parts of the world because it was now free of weight and sunk other parts of the world due to rising sea levels. Mesolithic material culture is described as having greater innovations than the Paleolithic period. Mesolithic people developed different local adaptations to environments compared to Paleolithic times. The Mesolithic people were more efficient than the Paleolithic when hunting and they were able to get a larger range of food sources.

The Neolithic Era, or New Stone Age, was distinguished by polished and ground stone, permanent settling in villages, and dependence on plants or animals. This change was not actually a sudden one, it was more gradual and was revolutionary for human life across the globe. Because different parts of the world reached the Neolithic stage at different times, the starting point of this era is very debated. This period started in the Near East in 9,000 BCE, 7,000 BCE in Southeast Europe, and later in other parts of the world. However, it is commonly considered to have overall started sometime about 10,000 BCE. At this time, humans were no longer reliant on hunting and fishing because they could now farm and keep livestock. Because of the Earth warming, many of the animals humans depended on went extinct which helped push them to find different ways of obtaining food for their survival. Humans started to selectively breed animals that would provide them with more abundant and better products. As this was happening, animals became more dependent on humans to keep them safe and humans became more dependent on the animals to provide them with food and other resources. The animals they domesticated and plants they farmed were totally regional depending on what was available to them. The first to experience an Agricultural Revolution at the time was Southwest Asia, or the Fertile Crescent because there was a large abundance of plants and animals that were capable of being domesticated.

Populations grew with the increase in resources and humans settled in villages, made cities, and started civilizations. Cultures of this time made effective tools by grinding and polishing rocks. When the time came around, hand axes were not as favorable because they were harder to use compared to newer tools. People of this time used scrapers, blades, arrows, spearheads, axes, adzes, hammers, and chisels. People built houses out of the mud and other materials instead of living in caves. They also invented writing, pottery, weaving, calendars, and even possibly the wheel during this time. Sculptures during this time became larger, and pottery started to become a more common thing. People of this time, in areas around the Levant, made plastered skulls of their dead. The reason behind this is still not confirmed, but many believe that it was a way of mourning their family members who had passed away. The invention of bronze is thought of as to have ended the Neolithic period and to have started the Bronze Age.

The way humans live today is a direct result of the Neolithic revolution. Today, humans don’t have to worry about going out and catching their food because they can just go to the supermarket and buy some. People are now are interconnected with others across the world through the internet, and talk to whomever they want with the simple click of a button. People can travel across the world by simply buying a plane ticket and flying there in less than one day. Humans can now start a fire by lighting a match and can stay warm by turning on the heating system in their homes. Before all these technological innovations, humans lived much harder lives. Society has advanced quite a bit since the Paleolithic and Neolithic times. The world now has better technology and tools, more efficient means of farming, and overall a more progressed society. But society isn’t stopping here; the world will keep advancing with better, more efficient technologies. Humans will make discoveries and invent new things. Times have most definitely changed since the Stone Age and will continue to change as time goes on.  

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