User:Fang 23/Paleolithic

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The Paleolithic (or Palaeolithic) (from Greek: παλαιός, palaios, "old"; and λίθος, lithos, "stone" lit. "old age of the stone"; was coined by archaeologist John Lubbock in 1865.) is a prehistoric era distinguished by the development of the first stone tools. It covers the greatest portion of humanity's time (roughly 99% of human history[1]) on Earth, extending from 2.5[2] or 2.6[3][1] million years ago, with the introduction of stone tools by hominids such as Homo habilis, to the introduction of agriculture and the end of the Pleistocene around 10,000 BC.[1][4][5] The Paleolithic era ended with the Mesolithic, or in areas with an early neolithisation, the Epipaleolithic.

During the Paleolithic humans were grouped together in small scale societies such as bands and gained their subsistence from gathering plants and hunting wild animals.[6] The Paleolithic is characterized by the use of knapped stone tools, although at the time, humans also used wood and bone tools. Other organic commodities were adapted for use as tools, including leather and vegetable fibers; however, given their nature, these have not been preserved to any great degree. Surviving artifacts of the Paleolithic era are known as Paleoliths. Humankind gradually evolved from early members of the genus Homo such as Homo habilis who used simple stone tools into fully behaviorally and anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) during the Paleolithic era.[7] During the end of the Paleolithic specifically the Middle and or Upper Paleolithic humans began to produce the earliest works of art and engage in religious and spiritual behavior such as burial and ritual.[8][9][10][6] The climate during the Paleolithic consisted of a set of glacial and interglacial periods in which the climate periodically fluctuated between warm and cool temperatures.


The three-age system divides human technological prehistory into three periods: the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. The modern periodization of the Stone Age stretches from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic in the following scheme (crossing an epoch boundary on the geologic time scale):

Traditionally, the Paleolithic is divided into three (somewhat overlapping) periods: the Lower Paleolithic, Middle Paleolithic, and the Upper Paleolithic. The three ages mark technological and cultural advances in different human communities.

Age Period Tools Economy Dwelling Sites Society Religion
Stone age Paleolithic Handmade tools and objects found in nature – cudgel, club, sharpened stone, chopper, handaxe, scraper, spear, Bow and arrow, harpoon, needle, scratch awl Hunting and gathering Mobile lifestyle – caves, huts, tooth or skin hovels, mostly by rivers and lakes A band of edible-plant gatherers and hunters (25-100 people) Evidence for belief in the afterlife first appears in the Middle Paleolithic or Upper Palaeolithic, marked by the appearance of burial rituals and ancestor worship. Priests and sanctuary servants appear in the prehistory.
Mesolithic (known as the Epipalaeolithic in areas with no noticeable trend towards the development of agricultural lifestyles) Handmade tools and objects found in nature – bow and arrow, fish – basket, boats Tribes and Bands
Neolithic Handmade tools and objects found in nature – chisel, hoe, plough, yoke, reaping-hook, grain pourer, barley, loom, earthenware (pottery) and weapons agriculture Gathering, hunting, fishing and domestication Farmsteads during the Neolithic and the Bronze age Formation of cities during the Bronze age Tribes and the formation of cheifdoms in some Neolithic societies at the end of this period' States and cheifdoms during the Bronze age
Bronze Age Copper and bronze tools, potter's wheel Agriculturecattle – breeding, agriculture, craft, trade
Iron Age Iron tools

Human evolution[edit]

This cranium, of Homo heidelbergensis, a Lower Paleolithic predecessor to Homo neanderthalensis and possibly Homo sapiens, dates to sometime between 500,000 to 400,000 BC.
Main article: Human evolution

Human evolution is the part of biological evolution concerning the emergence of humans as a distinct species. It is the subject of a broad scientific inquiry that seeks to understand and describe how this change and development occurred. The study of human evolution encompasses many scientific disciplines, most notably physical anthropology, paleoanthropology, paleontology, archeology, linguistics, and genetics. The term human, in the context of human evolution, refers to the genus Homo, but studies of human evolution usually include other hominids, such as the australopithecines.

Human evolution during the Paleolithic[edit]

The evolutionary history of humankind is often traced back by paleoanthropologists to 5 or 7 million years ago prior to the start of the Paleolithic when our closest hominid ancestors diverged from the shared common ancestor of humans, chimpanzees and bonobos.[13] These early pre-Paleolithic hominids (such as Sahelanthropus tchadensis and Australopithecus) began to develop bipedalism (though bipedalism was not fully developed until Homo erectus/Homo ergaster first appeared in the human fossil record) and eventually gave rise to the earliest member of the genus homo, Homo habilis, around 2.6 million years ago. Numerous explanations have been proposed by anthropologists and biologists to explain why bipedalism evolved in humans including the provisioning model, which states that bipedalism was an adaptation to a monogamous society; the postural feeding hypothesis, which proposes that bipedalism was invented to help obtain food; and the thermoregulatory model, which claims that human bipedalism arose to reduce body heat.[14]

One current view of the temporal and geographical distribution of hominid populations. Other interpretations differ mainly in the taxonomy and geographical distribution of hominid species.

The earliest member of the genus homo, Homo habilis, appeared around 2.6 million years ago and was responsible for the beginning of the Paleolithic era and the creation of the Oldowan tool case. Most experts assume the intelligence and social organization of H. habilis were more sophisticated than typical australopithecines or chimpanzees. Homo habilis coexisted with other Homo-like bipedal primates, such as Paranthropus boisei, some of which prospered for many millennia. However, H. habilis, possibly because of its early tool innovation and a less specialized diet, became the precursor of an entire line of new species, whereas Paranthropus boisei and its robust relatives disappeared from the fossil record. Homo habilis eventually became Homo ergaster.

Homo ergaster was the first hominid to stand fully upright and migrate out of Africa (c. 2 million years ago[15][16]). Homo ergaster may also have been the first hominid to control fire. Homo ergaster is often considered to be the primogenitor of the later species Homo erectus, though H. ergaster is sometimes categorized as a subspecies of Homo erectus. Homo erectus (along with Homo ergaster) was probably the first early human species to fit squarely into the category of a hunter-gatherer society. Homo erectus was the first hominid certain to have used controlled fire (c. 300,000 BP). Earlier (disputed) evidence for controlled fire also exists at sites such as the Zhoukoudian Caves in China, which contain possible evidence for controlled fire as early as 1.5 million years ago.[17] It is unknown who was the ancestor of Homo rhodesiensis, the primitive hominid species that humans are likely to have descended from, though many current paleoanthropologists postulate that Homo rhodesiensis was the same species as Homo heidelbergensis, also the immediate ancestor of the Neanderthals.

During the Paleolithic more primitive humans or societies such as the Neanderthals, Homo habilis, Homo heidelbergensis and Homo erectus vanished and were replaced by more advanced humans, and the crudest types of Paleolithic implements vanished.[12][6] It is not certain whether they were absorbed into the new groups or displaced by them.[6] The Neanderthals and Homo erectus[18] for instance may have interbred with modern humans (Homo sapiens) in Europe and Asia.[19]

Although the first members of the species Homo sapiens, the Archaic Homo sapiens, may have existed as long as 300,000 years ago, Homo sapiens only became completely behaviorally modern during the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic (c. 50,000 or 40,000  BP). This change in human behavior is known as the Upper Paleolithic revolution and some scientists suggest that this change may have been sudden and was likely to have occurred within a timespan of roughly 5,000 or 10,000 years, though others such as Robert G. Bednarik suggest that behavioral modernity may have developed gradually over the course of tens or even hundreds of thousands of years as the earliest evidence of behavioral modernity including artistic expression (such as ochre being used as body paint and early rock art) exists prior to the Upper Paleolithic during the Middle Paleolithic however, it must also be noted that undisputed evidence of behavioral modernity only becomes common during the following Upper Paleolithic period.[12]

The driving force behind human evolution during the Paleolithic is a matter of significant debate amongst anthropologists. The hunting hypothesis suggests that human evolution was primarily shaped by the hunting of other animals, however it is currently known that humans during most of the Paleolithic period gained the majority of their meat from scavenging dead animals, rather than hunting, and were often prey for larger large carnivores such as the saber-toothed cat, Dinofelis, and hyenas which apparently preyed on the hominid Homo habilis.[20] It is also currently understood by anthropologists that even Middle Paleolithic Neanderthals, who hunted large game just as frequently and successfully as modern Upper Paleolithic humans, intermittently (and sometimes unsuccessfully) competed with carnivores such as hyenas for shelter in caves and food.[21]

Several contending theories also exist including the somewhat related killer ape theory, which proposes that warfare and violence were the driving forces behind human evolution. The killer ape theory was first described by Raymond Dart in the 1950s and was further developed by the anthropologist Robert Ardrey (who also supported the hunting hypothesis) in his book African Genesis (1961). The killer ape theory is no longer supported by the majority of the anthropological community.[22] A number of feminist anthropologists, such as Adrienne L. Zihlman, propose a reverse version of the hunting hypothesis in which gathering was the driving force behind evolution and female primates played a significant part in human evolution.[23] The aquatic ape hypothesis is another theory that seeks to uncover the driving force behind human evolution. In contrast to the two previously mentioned theories, the hunting hypothesis and the killer ape theory, the aquatic ape theory claims that life in aquatic or semi-aquatic settings was responsible for the development of many of the characteristics of Homo that are not seen in other primates.[24] However, like the killer ape theory, it is not widely accepted by the scientific community.[24][25][26] Although the modern Aquatic ape hypothesis was only developed during the 20th century the concept of humankind arising from an aquatic or semi-aquatic environment is much more ancient, the theories of the Ancient Greek philosopher Anaximander who is widely considered to be evolution's most ancient proponent bare some similarity with the contemporary Aquatic ape hypothesis as he theorized that humans evolved from fish or fish like animals. Richard Wrangham of Harvard University argues that cooking of plant foods may have triggered brain expansion by allowing complex carbohydrates in starchy foods to become more digestible and in effect allow humans to absorb more calories.[27][28][29]

Simplified human genealogy[edit]

The timeline below shows a simplified genealogy of Paleolithic humanity, although other ideas of human genealogy exist for the same period:[30] Holocene Pleistocene Pliocene Homo soloensis Homo erectus Homo neanderthalensis Homo heidelbergensis Homo antecessor Homo sapiens Homo rhodesiensis Homo ergaster Homo habilis Australopithecus Timeline scale is in thousands of years.

Paleogeography and climate[edit]

The Paleolithic climate consisted of a set of glacial and interglacial periods.

The climate of the Paleolithic Period spanned two geologic epochs known as the Pliocene and the Pleistocene. Both of these periods experienced important geographic and climatic changes that affected human Paleolithic societies such as the beginning and the end of the world wide ice age that occurred during the Pleistocene. These changes are described below in greater depth.

During the Pliocene Continents continued to drift toward their present positions, moving from positions possibly as far as 250 km from their present locations to positions only 70 km from their current locations. South America became linked to North America through the Isthmus of Panama during the Pliocene, bringing a nearly complete end to South America's distinctive marsupial faunas. The formation of the Isthmus had major consequences on global temperatures, since warm equatorial ocean currents were cut off and an Atlantic cooling cycle began, with cold Arctic and Antarctic waters dropping temperatures in the now-isolated Atlantic Ocean. Africa's collision with Europe formed the Mediterranean Sea, cutting off the remnants of the Tethys Ocean. Also Central America had completely formed during the Pliocene which allowed flora from both North and South America to leave their native habitats and colonize new areas.[31] The modern continents were essentially at their present positions during the Plestocene, the plates upon which they sit probably having moved no more than 100 km relative to each other since the beginning of the period.[32]

Climates during the Pliocene became cooler and drier, and seasonal, similar to modern climates. Ice sheets grew on Antarctica during the Pliocene. The formation of an Arctic ice cap around 3 mya is signaled by an abrupt shift in oxygen isotope ratios and ice-rafted cobbles in the North Atlantic and North Pacific ocean beds (Van Andel 1994 p. 226). Mid-latitude glaciation was probably underway before the end of the epoch. The global cooling that occurred during the Pliocene may have spurred on the disappearance of forests and the spread of grasslands and savannas.[31]

The Pleistocene climate was characterized by repeated glacial cycles where continental glaciers pushed to the 40th parallel in some places. Four major glacial events have been identified, as well as many minor intervening events. A major event is a general glacial excursion, termed a "glacial." Glacials are separated by "interglacials." During a glacial, the glacier experiences minor advances and retreats. The minor excursion is a "stadial"; times between stadials are "interstadials." Each glacial advance tied up huge volumes of water in continental ice sheets 1500–3000 m thick, resulting in temporary sea level drops of 100 m or more over the entire surface of the Earth. During interglacial times, such as at present, drowned coastlines were common, mitigated by isostatic or other emergent motion of some regions.

The effects of glaciation were global. Antarctica was ice-bound throughout the Pleistocene as well as the preceding Pliocene. The Andes were covered in the south by the Patagonian ice cap. There were glaciers in New Zealand and Tasmania. The current decaying glaciers of Mount Kenya, Mount Kilimanjaro, and the Ruwenzori Range in east and central Africa were larger. Glaciers existed in the mountains of Ethiopia and to the west in the Atlas mountains. In the northern hemisphere, many glaciers fused into one. The Cordilleran ice sheet covered the North American northwest; the east was covered by the Laurentide. The Fenno-Scandian ice sheet rested on north Europe, including Great Britain; the Alpine ice sheet on the Alps. Scattered domes stretched across Siberia and the Arctic shelf. The northern seas were frozen. During the late Upper Paleolithic/Latest Pleistocene c.18,000 BCE the Landbridge between Asia and North America known as Beringa was blocked by ice[32] and the ice covering Beringa may have prevented early Paleo-Indians such as the Clovis culture from directly crossing Beringa to reach the Americas.

According to Mark Lynas (through collected data), the Pleistocene's overall climate could be characterized as a continuous El Niño with trade winds in the south Pacific weakening or heading east, warm air rising near Peru, warm water spreading from the west Pacific and the Indian Ocean to the east Pacific, and other El Niño markers.[33]

At the end of the Paleolithic era the both the ice age and the Pleistocene epoch ended and the worlds climate became warmer. The climate change at the end of the Pleistocene may have caused or contributed to the extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna though it is also possible that the late Pleistocene extinctions were (at least in part) caused by other factors such as disease and over hunting by humans.[34]

Currently agreed upon classifications as Paleolithic geoclimatic episodes
America Atlantic Europe Maghreb Mediterranean Europe Central Europe
10,000 years Flandrian interglacial Flandriense Mellahiense Versiliense Flandrian interglacial
80,000 years Wisconsin Devensiense Regresión Regresión Wisconsin glaciation
140,000 years Sangamoniense Ipswichiense Ouljiense Tirreniense II y III Eemian interglacial
200,000 years Illinois Wolstoniense Regresión Regresión Wolstonian glaciation
450,000 years Yarmouthiense Hoxniense Anfatiense Tirreniense I Hoxnian interglacial
580,000 years Kansas Angliense Regresión Regresión Kansan glaciation
750,000 years Aftoniense Cromeriense Maarifiense Siciliense Cromerian interglacial
1,100,000 years Nebraska Beestoniense Regresión Regresión Beestonian stage
1,400,000 years interglaciar Ludhamiense Messaudiense Calabriense Donau-Günz

Way of life[edit]

An artist's rendering of a temporary wood house, based on evidence found at Terra Amata (in Nice, France) and dated to the lower Paleolithic (c. 400,000 BC).

Due to a lack of written records from this time period, nearly all of our knowledge of Paleolithic humans culture and way of life comes from archeology and or comparative ethnography. The economy of a typical Paleolithic society was a hunter-gatherer economy.[35] Paleolithic humans hunted wild animals for meat and gathered food, firewood, and materials for their tools, clothes, or shelters.[36][35] The human population density in the Paleolithic was very small and numbered around only one person per square mile.[6] The low population density during the Paleolithic was most likely due to low body fat, Infanticide, women regularly engaging in intense endurance exercise,[37] late weaning of infants and a nomadic lifestyle.[6] Like contemporary hunter-gatherers Paleolithic humans enjoyed an abundance of leisure time unparalleled in both Neolithic farming societies and modern industrial societies.[35][38] At the end of the Paleolithic specifically the Middle and or Upper Paleolithic humans began to produce works of art such as cave paintings, rock art and jewelry and began to engage in religious behavior such as burial and ritual.[39]


Picture of two Lower Paleolithic bifaces.
Picture of a stone ball from a set of Paleolithic bolas.

During this time period people made tools of stone, bone, and wood.[35] The most ancient Paleolithic stone tool industry the Oldowan was developed by the earliest members of the genus Homo such as Homo habilis around 2.6 million years ago.[40] and contained tools such as choppers, burins and awls though it completely disappeared around 250,000 years ago and was followed by the more complex Acheulean industry which was first conceived by Homo ergaster around 1.65 million years ago.[41] The most recent Lower Paleolithic (Acheulean) implements vanished from the archeological record around 50,000 years ago.

Lower Paleolithic humans are known to have used a variety of stone tools, including hand axes, which were likely used as cutting/chopping tools, digging implements, animal traps, or possibly in courting behaviour. Choppers and scrappers were most likely used for the purpose of skinning and butchering scavenged animals and sharp ended sticks were often procured for the purpose of digging up edible roots. Early hominids presumably have been using wooden spears as early as 5 million years ago to hunt small animals, much like our close relatives the common chimpanzee have recently been observed doing in Senegal, Africa.[42] Lower Paleolithic humans additionally known to have constructed shelters such as the possible wood hut at Terra Amata. Although fire was used by the Lower Paleolithic hominid Homo erectus/Homo ergaster as early as 300,000 or 1.5 million years ago and possibly even earlier by the early Lower Paleolithic (Oldowan) hominid Homo habilis and/or by robust australopithecines such as Paranthropus[6] the use of fire only became common in the societies of the following Middle Stone Age/Middle Paleolithic Period.[1]

The lower Paleolithic hominid Homo erectus possibly invented rafts (c. 800,000 or 840,000 BP) 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 hominid Homo floresiensis. However, it must also be noted that this hypothesis is disputed within the anthropological community.[43][44][45] The possible use of rafts during the Lower Paleolithic may indicate that Lower Paleolithic societies were more advanced than previously believed and may have even spoken an early form of modern language.[46] Supplementary evidence from Neanderthal and Modern human sites located around the Mediterranean sea such as Coa de sa Multa (c.300.000 BCE) has also indicated that both Middle and Upper Paleolithic humans used rafts to travel over large bodies of water (I.e. the Mediterranean sea) for the purpose of colonizing other bodies of land.[47] [12]

Around 200,000 BP Middle Paleolithic Stone tool manufacturing spawned a tool making technique known as the prepared-core technique, that was more elaborate than previous Acheulean techniques.[48] This method increased efficiency by permitting the creation of more controlled and consistent flakes.[49] This method allowed Middle Paleolithic humans to correspondingly create stone tipped spears which were the earliest composite tools by hafting sharp, pointy stone flakes onto wooden shafts. Neanderthals who possessed a Middle Paleolithic level of technology appear to have hunted large game just as modern humans have done[50] and Neanderthals may have likewise hunted with projectile weapons.[51]

During the end of the Paleolithic (The late Middle Paleolithic and the Upper Paleolithic) further technological advances were made such as the invention of bolas,[52] the spear thrower, the bow and arrow (c. 30,000 BP) and the creation of the world's oldest example of ceramic art, the Venus of Dolní Věstonice (c. 29,000–25,000 BP).[6] Early dogs were also domesticated during the end of the Paleolithic, sometime between 100,000 BP[53] and 14,000 BP[54], (presumably) to aid in hunting.[54] Archeological evidence from the Dordogne region of France demonstrates that members of the European early Upper Paleolithic culture known as the Aurignacian were the first people to use calendars (c. 30,000 BP). This early calendar was a lunar calendar that was used to document the phases of the moon. Genuine solar calendars did not appear until the following Neolithic period.[55] It is almost certain that Upper Paleolithic cultures were capable of precisely timing the migration of game animals such as wild horses and deer.[56] Upper Paleolithic humans developed this ability to become more efficient hunters.[57]

Social organization[edit]

Humans may have partook in long distance trade between bands for rare commodities and raw materials (such as stone needed for making tools) as early as 120,000 years ago in Middle Paleolithic.

The social organization of the earliest Paleolithic (Lower Paleolithic) societies remains largely unknown to scientists though Lower Paleolithic hominids such as Homo habilis and Homo erectus are likely to have had more complex social structures than chimpanzee societies.[58] Late Oldowan/Early Acheulean humans such as Homo ergaster/Homo erectus may have been the first people to invent central campsites, or home bases and incorporate them into their foraging and hunting strategies like contemporary hunter-gatherers possibly as early as 1.7 million years ago,[59] however the earliest solid evidence for the existence of home bases/central campsites (hearths and shelters) amongst humans only dates back to 500,000 years ago.[60]

Similarity it is disputed amongst scientists whether Lower Paleolithic humans were largely monogamous or polygamous[58], the Provisional model in particular suggests that bipedalism arose in Pre Paleolithic australopithecine societies as an adaptation to monogamous lifestyles, however other researchers note that Sexual dimorphism is more pronounced in Lower Paleolithic Humans such as Homo erectus than in Modern humans who are less polygamous than other primates which would provide evidence that Lower Paleolithic humans had a largely polygamous lifestyle because species which have the most pronounced Sexual dimorphism tend to be more likely to be polygamous.[61]

For most of the Lower Paleolithic human societies were probably more hierarchical than their Middle and Upper Paleolithic decedents and probably were not grouped into bands,[62] though during the end of the Lower Paleolithic the latest populations of the Hominid Homo erectus began living in small scale (possibly egalitarian) bands similar to both Middle and Upper Paleolithic societies and modern hunter gatherers.[62]

Middle and Upper Paleolithic humans like Lower Paleolithic humans lived without states and organized governments and instead unlike both Lower Paleolithic humans and complex agricultural Civilizations were grouped in bands that ranged from 25 to 100 members.[62][6] These bands were formed by several families. However bands sometimes joined together into larger "macrobands" or tribes for activities such as acquiring mates and celebrations or where resources were abundant.[6] By the end of the Paleolithic era—which ended about 10,000 BP—people began to settle down into permanent locations and agriculture began to be relied upon for sustenance in many locations. A large body of scientific evidence exists to suggest that humans took part in long distance trade between bands for rare commodities (such as ochre, which was often used for religious purposes such as ritual[63][64]) and raw materials as early as 120,000 years ago in Middle Paleolithic.[65] Inter band trade may have appeared during the Middle Paleolithic because trade between bands would have helped ensure their survival by allowing them to exchange recourses and commodities such as raw materials during times of relative scarcity (i.e. famine, drought).[65] Middle and Upper Paleolithic society was communal and collectivistic and individuals were subordinate to the band as a whole.[35][66] Both Neanderthals and modern humans took care of the elderly members of their societies during the Middle and Upper Paleolithic.[67]

Like the societies of our closest existent relative the Bonobo[68] Middle and Upper Paleolithic societies were fundamentally egalitarian[36][62][62][12][6][35] and usually did not engage in organized violence between groups (i.e. war),[12][69][70] though (like Bonobo societies) Upper Paleolithic cultures may have practiced some (small-scale) political and economic status ranking within bands especially in areas where resources were abundant.[12][6] There was no formal division of labor during the Paleolithic and Middle and Upper Paleolithic societies (like contemporary egalitarian hunter gatherers such as the Mbuti pygmies) were likely to have made decisions by communal consensus decision making rather than by appointing permanent rulers such as chiefs, kings and queens.[36][71] Theories to explain the apparent egalitarianism of Paleolithic societies have arisen, notably the Marxist concept of primitive communism.[72] Christopher Boehm (1999) has hypothesized that egalitarianism may have evolved in Paleolithic societies because of a need to distribute recourses such as food and meat equally to avoid famine and ensure a stable food supply.[62] Raymond C. Kelly speculates that the relative peacefulness of Middle and Upper Paleolithic societies resulted from a low population density, cooperative relationships between groups such as reciprocal exchange of commodities and collaboration on hunting expeditions and lastly because the invention of projectile weapons such as throwing spears provided less incentive for war because they increased the amount of damage that is done to the attacker and decreased the relative amount of territory aggressors could gain.[70]

It has Typically been assumed by anthropologists that women were responsible for gathering wild plants and firewood and men were responsible for hunting and scavenging dead animals amongst Paleolithic humans.[6][36][12] However according to recent archeological research carried out by anthropologist and archaeologist Steven Kuhn from the University of Arizona this division of labor did not exist prior to the Upper Paleolithic and was invented relatively recently in human pre-history.[73][74] The sexual division of labor may have been developed to allow humans to acquire food and other resources more efficiently.[74] There was approximate parity between men and women during both the Middle and the Upper Paleolithic and the Late Paleolithic (the Middle and Upper Paleolithic) was the most gender-equal period in human history.[75][69][76][36][77] Indeed archeological evidence from art and funerary rituals indicates that a number of individual women enjoyed seemingly high status in their bands[76] and additional scientific research of Paleolithic society has also revealed that the earliest known Paleolithic shaman (c. 30,000 BP) was female.[78] Jared Diamond suggests that the status of women may have declined with the adoption of agriculture because farming women typically have more pregnancies and are expected to do more demanding work then women in hunter-gatherer societies.[79] Matrilineal decent patterns were likely to have been more common during the Paleolithic and the Mesolithic than in the following Neolithic period.[80]

Paleolithic Art and Music[edit]

The Venus of Willendorf is one of the most famous Venus figurines.

The earliest undisputed evidence of art during the Paleolithic period comes from Middle Paleolithic/Middle Stone Age sites such as Blombos Cave in the form of bracelets,[81] beads,[82] rock art,[63] ochre used as body paint and perhaps in ritual,[63][12] though earlier examples of artistic expression such as the Venus of Tan-Tan and the patterns found on elephant bones from Bilzingsleben in Thuringia may have been produced by Acheulean tool users such as Homo erectus prior to the start of the Middle Paleolithic period.[83]

Upper Paleolithic humans produced works of art such as cave paintings, Venus figurines, animal carvings and rock paintings. The cave paintings have been interpreted in a number of ways by modern archeologists, the earliest explanation of the Paleolithic cave paintings first proposed by the physical anthropologist Abbe Breuil interpreted the paintings as a form of magic designed to ensure a successful hunt,[84] although this hypothesis falls short of explaining the existence of animals such as saber-toothed cats and lions which were not hunted for food and the existence of half-human, half-animal beings in cave paintings. The anthropologists Graham Hancock and David Lewis-Williams have suggested that Paleolithic cave paintings were indications of shamanistic practices as the paintings of half-human, half-animal paintings and the remoteness of the caves are reminiscent of modern hunter-gatherer shamanistic practices.[84] Symbol like images are more common in Paleolithic cave paintings than depictions of animals or humans and unique Paleolithic symbolic patterns are thought to have possibly been trademarks that represent different Upper Paleolithic ethnic groups.[85] The Venus figurines have evoked similar controversy amongst archeologists and have been described at various times and by various archeologists and anthropologists as representations of goddesses, pornographic imagery, apotropaic amulets, used for sympathetic magic and even as self-portraits of women themselves.[12][86]

R. Dale Guthrie[87] has studied not only the most artistic and publicized paintings but also a variety of lower quality art and figurines, and he identifies a wide range of skill and ages among the artists. He also points that the main themes in the paintings and other artifacts (powerful beasts, risky hunting scenes and the over-sexual representation of women in the Venus figurines) are to be expected in the fantasies of adolescent males during the Upper Paleolithic.

Additionally Upper Paleolithic (and possibly Middle Paleolithic[88]) humans used flute-like bone pipes as musical instruments,[89] though music can be theoretically traced to prior to the Oldowan era of the Paleolithic age. The anthropological and archeological designation suggests that music first arose (amongst humans) when stone tools first began to be used by hominids. The noises produced by work such as pounding seed and roots into meal is a likely source of rhythm created by early humans.

Religion and beliefs[edit]

Picture of a half-human, half-animal being in a Paleolithic cave painting in Dordogne. France. Archeologists believe that cave paintings of half-human, half-animal beings may be evidence for early shamanic practices during the Paleolithic.

A controversial scholar of prehistoric religion and anthropology James Harrod has recently proposed that religion and spirituality (and art) may have first arose in Pre-Paleolithic chimpanzee[90] and or Early Lower Paleolithic (Oldowan) societies,[91] however the established anthropological view holds that it is more probable that humankind first developed religious and spiritual beliefs during the Middle Paleolithic or Upper Paleolithic.[92]

It is likely that Middle Paleolithic cultures believed in an afterlife as evidenced by Middle Paleolithic humans use of burials at sites such as Krapina , Croatia (around 130,000 BP) and Qafzeh, Israel (around 100,000 BP) which have lead anthropologists and archeologists such as Philip Lieberman to believe that Middle Paleolithic humans may have possessed a belief in an afterlife and a "concern for the dead that transcends daily life".[93] Cut marks on Neanderthal bones from various sites such as Combe-Grenal and Abri Moula in France may imply that the Neanderthals like some contemporary human cultures may have practiced ritual defleshing for (presumably) religious reasons. According to recent archeological findings from H. heidelbergensis sites in Atapuerca humans may have begun burying their dead much earlier during the late Lower Paleolithic but this theory is widely questioned in the scientific community.

Likewise some scientists have proposed that Middle Paleolithic societies such as Neanderthal societies may also have practiced the earliest form of totemism or animal worship in addition to their (presumably religious) burial of the dead. Emil Bächler in particular suggested (based on archeological evidence from Middle Paleolithic caves) that a widespread Middle Paleolithic Neanderthal bear cult existed (Wunn, 2000, pp. 434–435). Additional evidence in support of Middle Paleolithic animal worship originates from the Tsodilo Hills (c. 70,000 BCE) in the African Kalahari desert where a giant rock resembling a python that is accompanied by large amounts of colored broken spear points and a secret chamber has been discovered inside a cave. The Broken spear points were most likely sacrificial offerings and the python is also important to and worshipped by contemporary Bushmen hunter-gatherers who are the descendants of the of the people who devised the ritual at the Tsodilo Hills and may have inherited their worship of the python from their distant Middle Paleolithic ancestors.[10]

The existence of anthropomorphic images and half-human, half-animal images in the Upper Paleolithic period may further indicate that Upper Paleolithic humans were the first people to believe in a pantheon of gods or supernatural beings,[94] though the half-human, half-animal images may have also been indicative of shamanistic practices similar to those practiced by contemporary tribal societies.[95] The earliest known undisputed burial of a shaman (and by extension the earliest undisputed evidence of shamans and shamanic practices) dates back to the early Upper Paleolithic era (c. 30,000 BC) in what is now the Czech Republic.[78] However, it was probably more common during the early Upper Paleolithic for religious ceremonies to receive equal and full participation from all members of the band, in contrast to the religious traditions of later periods when religious authorities and part-time ritual specialists such as shamans, priests and medicine men were relatively common and integral to religious life.[35] Additionally it is also possible that Upper Paleolithic religions like contemporary Animistic and Polytheistic religions believed in the existence of a single creator deity in addition to other supernatural beings such as Animistic spirits.[96]

Religion was often apotropaic; specifically, it involved sympathetic magic.[12] The Venus figurines which are abundant in the Upper Paleolithic archeological record provide an example of Paleolithic sympathetic magic, as they may have been used for ensuring success in hunting and to bring about fertility of the land and women.[6] The Upper Paleolithic Venus figurines have been sometimes explained as depictions of an earth goddess similar to Gaia.[97] Additionally, they have described by James Harrod as representative of female (and male) shamanistic spiritual transformation processes.[98]

Diet and nutrition[edit]

Seeds, such as legumes, were rarely eaten by Paleolithic humans.[99]

The diet of the Paleolithic hunting and gathering peoples consisted primarily of animal flesh, fruits, and vegetables.[100] There is insufficient data to determine with any certainty the relative proportions of plant and animal foods in the diets of Paleolithic humans.[101] According to some anthropologists and many advocates of the Paleolithic diet, Paleolithic hunter-gatherers consumed a significant amount of meat and possibly obtained the majority of their food from hunting.[102] Competing theories suggest that Paleolithic humans may have consumed a plant-based diet in general,[103][36][6][73][104] or that hunting and gathering possibly contributed equally their diet.[105]

Overall they experienced less famine and malnutrition than the Neolithic farming tribes that followed them. This was due in part to the fact that Paleolithic hunter-gatherers had access to a wider variety of plants and other foods than Neolithic farmers did, which allowed Paleolithic hunter-gathers to have a more nutritious diet along with a decreased risk of famine. Many of the famines experienced by Neolithic (and some modern) farmers were caused or amplified by their dependence on a small number of crops.[106][107][108] Furthermore, it is also unlikely that Paleolithic hunter-gatherers were affected by modern diseases of affluence such as Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and cerebrovascular disease.[109]

Large seeded legumes were part of the human diet long before the Neolithic agricultural revolution as evident from archaeobotanical finds from the Mousterian layers of Kebara Cave, in Israel.[110] Moreover, recent evidence indicates that humans processed and consumed wild cereal grains as far back as 23,000 years ago in the Upper Paleolithic.[111] However, seeds, such as grains and beans, were rarely eaten and never in large quantities on a daily basis.[99] Recent archeological evidence also indicates that winemaking had its origins in the Paleolithic when early humans drank the juice of naturally fermented wild grapes from animal-skin pouches.[112] Paleolithic humans consumed animal organ meats, including the livers, kidneys and brains. Upper Paleolithic cultures appear to have had significant knowledge about plants and herbs and may have, albeit very rarely, practiced rudimentary forms of horticulture.[113][114] Bananas and Tubers in paticular may have been cultivated as early as 25,000 BP in Southeast Asia.[114] Humans also probably consumed hallucinogenic plants during the Paleolithic period.[6]

During the Upper Paleolithic people enjoyed a more varied diet than their Middle and Lower Paleolithic predecessors, for example in European Paleolithic sites the Neanderthals who possessed a largely Middle Paleolithic level of technology gained most of their protein and meat from hunting deer, while later Upper Paleolithic ‘’Homo Sapiens’’ populations appear have had access to a greater variety of protein sources such as birds, small game animals like rabbits and fish. [12]

People during the Middle Paleolithic such as the Neanderthals and Middle Paleolithic Homo sapiens in Africa began to catch shellfish for food as revealed by shellfish cooking in Neanderthal sites in Italy about 110,000 years ago and Middle Paleolithic Homo sapiens sites at Pinnacle Point, in Africa.[12][115] Although fishing only became common during the Upper Paleolithic[116][12], fish have been part of human diets long before the dawn of the Upper Paleolithic era and have certainly have been consumed by humans since at least the Middle Stone Age/Middle Paleolithic.[117] For example the Middle Stone Age/Middle Paleolithic Homo sapiens in the region now occupied by the Democratic Republic of the Congo hunted large 6 foot long catfish with specialized barbed fishing points as early as 90,000 years ago.[12][118] The invention of fishing during the Upper Paleolithic affected the social structures of some post Paleolithic hunter-gatherer societies by allowing these hunter-gatherer communities in the following Mesolithic period (for example, Lepenski Vir as well as some contemporary hunter-gatherers such as the Native Americans of the northwest coast) to become sedentary or semi-nomadic. In some instances (at least in the case of the Native Americans of the northwest coast) they were able to develop social stratification and complex social structures such as chiefdoms.

Anthropologists such as Tim White suggest that cannibalism was common in human societies prior to the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic, based on the large amount of “butchered human" bones found in Neanderthal and other Lower/Middle Paleolithic sites.[119] Cannibalism in the Lower and Middle Paleolithic may have occurred because of food shortages.[120] However it is also possible that damage to recovered human bones was the result of ritual post-mortem bone cleaning, which would coincide with the development of religious practices thought to have occurred during the Upper Paleolithic.

The Paleolithic-style diet (also known as the paleodiet or the caveman diet) is a modern diet that seeks to replicate the dietary habits of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers.[99]

See also[edit]


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Category:Pleistocene Category:Paleolithic Category:Stone Age