The Stone Age is the first period in the three-age system of archaeology, which divides human technological prehistory into three periods:
- The Stone Age
- The Bronze Age
- The Iron Age
The Stone Age was a broad prehistoric period during which stone was widely used to make implements with an edge, a point, or a percussion surface. The period lasted roughly 3.4 million years BCE and 2000 BCE with the advent of metalworking.
The major subdivisions of the Three-age Stone Age cross two epoch boundaries on the geologic time scale:
- The Paleolithic period of archaeology
- Mesolithic or Epipaleolithic period of archaeology
- Neolithic period of archaeology
The Paleolithic also called the Old Stone Age, the term “Palaeolithic” was coined by archaeologist John Lubbock in 1865 ; palaios, “old”; and lithos, “stone”, meaning “old age of the stone” or “Old Stone Age”.
At sites dating from the Lower Paleolithic Period (about 2,500,000 to 200,000 years ago), simple pebble tools have been found in association with the remains of what may have been the earliest human ancestors.
Paleolithic humans made tools of stone, bone, and wood. , The early paleolithic hominins, Australopithecus, were the first users of stone tools.
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.
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
However, the use of fire only became common in the societies of the following Middle 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).
The Lower Paleolithic Homo erectus possibly invented rafts to travel over large bodies of water, which may have allowed a group of Homo erectus to reach the island of Flores and evolve into the small hominin Homo floresiensis.
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.
Harpoons were invented and used for the first time during the late Middle Paleolithic ; the invention of these devices brought fish into the human diets, which provided a hedge against starvation and a more abundant food supply.
Paleolithic groups 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.
During the Upper Paleolithic, further inventions were made such as the net ,bolas, the spear thrower , the bow and arrow, Early dogs were domesticated. Upper Paleolithic cultures were probably able to time the migration of game animals such as wild horses and deer.
Two main forms of Paleolithic art are known to modern scholars: small sculptures; and monumental paintings, incised designs, and reliefs on the walls of caves.
Among the bone and ivory carvings dating to the Paleolithic are several examples of partial bone or ivory flutes, including one with five finger holes, found at Hohle Fels Cave, near Ulm, Germany, and dated to about 35,000 years ago.