Home » Subject » Anthropology » Notes » Paleolithic and Mesolithic

Paleolithic and Mesolithic

The culture of late Middle Palaeolithic:

About 80000 years before present in many parts of World Population started making sophisticated and specialized tools. At this time hominid exploits the environment and managed to survive in extremely cold conditions and they also showed many features of modern human cultures.

Late middle Paleolithic was roughly contemporary with Neanderthal period. This period lasted from 80000 to about 40000 year before present.

Tool tradition of this time period is known as Mousterian. Assemblages of this tradition are found in Europe and western Russia south Asia and north Africa.

Technology used in late Middle Palaeolithic:

These assemblages are not identified by a single tool as Acheulean sites. In fact Mousterian tools were composite tools, which had several parts. Earlier tools were made in single part from a single piece of material. For example, spear of Mousterian period might have a wooden shaft, with a stone point and a bone handle. There was careful preparation of a core in order to struck flakes in a precise preshaped forms.

There was considerable local variety in Mousterian assemblages. Bored have described 5 types of general tool making tradition. According to Bored the differences among these assemblages shows a distinct cultural tradition but other archaeologist says that these were products of a single culture which occupied different environment and carried different activities.

Eco-Niche:

Europe was densely occupied during Mousterian time. T h o u g h these times were prevailed by cold environment but the remains of plants and animals suggests that the area could support abundant life. Archaeologist suggests that probably in midsummer the daylight was around for 16 hours a day. Apart from the areas which were covered with snow all the times Northern Europe was having a variety of plants that were adapted to the cold conditions. The environment was probably like tundra meadow.

Hominids of this time probably took full advantage of high Biomass of this period. Reindeer seems to be there favorite food. The used traditional hunting tools spears and bolas but bows and arrows, fish hooks you are still unknown to them.

Adaptation to the cold climates might have included Anatomical changes and is a part of cultural solutions continued use of Fire is also evident. Caves and rock Shelters was used for systematically dwellings for the first time, sometimes on a semi-permanent basis. Even in open areas some groups might have built weather tight centres which day covered with skins. Many scrappers which was found in the Assembly this suggests that the people of these times were also scrapping Animal hides. But we are not sure whether they were used as blankets for clothing.

Minutes of this time migrated with the Seasons in order to adapt according to the environment in summers they travelled North into open tundras and in winters they came south to stay in forest. But this kind of life serves a small group as camp sites were not large enough to suggest that any social organisation of a more Complex nature than a band was existed in those Times.

But outside of Europe archaic Homo sapiens were expanding into new ecosystems that are from Tropical rainforest to sub-arctic regions. Technologies were also develop more specifically aimed at making use of the local food resources and building various materials, for example in African rainforest they put more emphasis on tools for working wood as this material was abundantly available in this area.

Glimmers of modern culture:

Archive populations refining their tools and they were living in new two systems at the same time some groups seemed to developed modern capacity for self-awareness and symbolic thought. Their brains were large almost as large as ours, though this trait cannot be directly linked with the intelligence. On the account of their cultural tradition it may be right to say that they must have been using some form of speech. But we cannot tell that whether they had a localized speech Centre in their brains. Some researchers have noted that these hominids had plenty of room in which to move their tongues if they had tried to speak as the bony shalves had disappeared from the insides of their lower jaws. Larynix and brain of these hominids were better equipped for speech than those of other primates.

in some areas they had begin to practice human social customs such as ritual burials. For example 60000 years ago in a cave located in modern day Iraq the child was buried on a bed of flowers, and at La Chapelle Aux Saints an individual was laid to rest in small grave carved out of Rocky floor of the cave. This body was surrounded by Quarttz, Jasper and red ocher. Perhaps these were his personal possessions. Or perhaps they were linked with Belief in after life. But for sure it carried some kind of symbolic meaning.

The upper Paleolithic:

Up to 40000 years this culture has evolved rather slowly. But the pace of change increased somewhat during the Mousterian. In the upper Paleolithic Era the people had the technology and the background of accumulated knowledge which rapidly improved and specialized there tool making techniques. Now the populations were living in the larger group and they were expecting many different environment they also cross the geographical barriers to enter the different habitable world that is the Americas and Australia.

Technology used in in the upper Paleolithic era:

Tool making tradition in this era was Complex and confusing; the best known sequence of the upper Paleolithic Era exists in Europe but even there they are poorly worked out except in France. Later on these traditions spread to other regions, whereas other archaeologist suggests that technical logical changes were taking place independently at many different places which thereby increased the cultural diversity throughout the world.

There is a gradual transition from Mousterian to Perigordian in France, at the same time however another culture appeared in France that did not seem to originate there. This was the Aurignacian tradition which is having time period from above 33000 to 25000 years before present.

Though its origin and spread is still a mystery but some archaeologist suspect that it may have been introduced from Middle East. After 18000 years before presents the late Perigordian tradition was replaced in France by solutrean, origin of Solutrean is not known and it lasted only for 2000 years but this time period saw flint working technique at its peak. Roughly 16000 years ago Solutrean vanished as mysteriously as it has appeared. This position was replaced by the very different tools of Megadalenian which lasted until about 10000 years ago and Megadalenian was intern replaced by so called Mesolithic period or stone age.

Upper Paleolithic assemblages were rich in blades which were long thin flakes with parallel sides. These blades could have been formed by one:

1. Hammering the chisel like instrument against a stone;

2. Punching vertical slices out of a rock with a long pointed tool which steadied against the tool maker's chest.

3. Traditional stone against stone percussion flaking.

These blades were of standardized shapes and with a little retouching or modification they could easily be made into other specialized tools. For example borers, its share Point were probably used to drill holes in wood, shell, bone or skins. These assemblages also contained backed blades, who is one edge was purposely dulled and the sharpened one was useful in general cutting and scrapping. For the first time bows and arrows appears in this period. They fixed shouldered points to arrows and spears for fighting and hunting purposes.

Apart from these blade tools, about paleolithic assemblages contained tools made of bones and antlers such as barbed fish hooks, harpoon heads and needles. This tools was not only a efficient tools but also throws light on the artistic talent of their makers.

Econiche of European upper Palaeolithic populations:

Due to somewhat advanced tool Technology, upper Paleolithic people were able to use food resources more efficiently. The occupied the same regions of Tundra and forest ecosystem in which Mousterian people had lived. The more number of upper Palaeolithic sites suggest that upper Paleolithic people successfully adapted to extreme cold conditions which in turn increased their population density. They had more settled existence and large groups this suggests that day people may had some form of political authority, this theory is borne out buy evidences that some people were buried with greater ceremony than others.

Upper Paleolithic peoples of Europe continue to rely on tundra and forest games. There are no evidences of domesticating of Herds. Capturing game in this period was more effective done the earlier periods. They had Spears throwers; bow and arrow will increased accuracy. Various types of traps, pitfalls and enclosures are depicted in cave drawings along with fishing improved by the invention of harpoon and primitive fishhooks.

For the first time humans seems to have a significant effect on the environment, increasing use of large-game animals like mammoths may have contributed to their extinction although climate change must have payed a part in their extinction. There are evidences of intentional forest fires by the human as they must have made it easier to sight and trap the game.

Art By upper Paleolithic people:

Extra ordinary quality artwork was created by these people as the improved hunting and gathering techniques must have provided them with enough free time to execute these artworks. During Magdalenian period especially in France and Spain engraved bone, low relief clay sculptures, cave drawings reached a peak of sophistication. Some of the realistic representation of game animals might have been used repeatedly in rituals designed to encourage the success of The Hunt, cure sickness, or to celebrate the onset of spring. Many pregnant women are shown maybe as a symbol of fertility. Many others signs such as dots, rectangles barbed lines might have symbolized males. Moreover some marks maybe attempted to keep track of time, distance, or quantity. Consistencies in the location of various animals in the cave paintings suggests that whatever the explanation, it was intentional and orderly rather than random.

Migration to the new world:

In the late Paleolithic time humans apparently has existed too cold by using warm clothing and shoes and by living in heated dwellings in Siberia. Due to their successful adaptation to this environment they may have increasing population beyond ability of the area to support them so they must have begun to migrate in to previously untapped ecosystems of Beringia, the landmass that connected Eastern Siberia and western Alaska.

Alaska and Yukon were probably even richer in plant and animal life then Siberia. This area was dotted with streams, lakes and a variety of forest grassland and tundra ecosystem.

The Mesolithic culture:

Between Paleolithic age and beginning of Neolithic age there was a transitional period which is named by archaeologists Mesolithic age. Mesolithic age is not clearly defined in all areas of the world. There are evidences of mesolithic age in Europe, near east and North America. Mesolithic age coincided with time period that followed the Retreat of last glaciation almost 10000 years ago.

As post Pleistocene warming came so came the trend of attention of animals that had lived in tundras in most of the Europe. These tundras were gradually replaced with modern temperate forests, which in turn supported a larger number of different species but the density of each species was lesser than the Pleistocene period.

These smaller and less abundant game animals caused people to live and hunt in small groups along with use of new weapons and tools. The resources of food were exploited more efficiently. Mesolithic adaptations ultimately lead to domestication of plants and animals in near east Mexico and probably China. As end of mesolithic age is marked traditionally by beginning of food production so its length varies in different part of world. Europe provides the best suited material to study mesolithic age, in fact the mesolithic was originally used to describe the European remains from the end of Magdalenian or "reindeer period" about 10000 years ago and until the adaptation of agriculture about 6000 years ago.

European mesolithic people hunted elk, wild pig, small mammals like cat etc. They also relied on fish and shellfish from fresh and saltwater. Their tools what different from tools of paleolithic age. They used small blades less than an inch long called as microliths, for using them as tips and barbs for arrows. They were well suited to hunt small game of this time. Flint and polished stone adzes used for breaking earth and chopping trees, bone headed spears and harpoons were amongst other tools. Mesolithic people lived in very specific econiches as suggested by various artifacts left by these people.

North America the mesolithic age has been divided into two parts:

  1. The desert tradition, it evolved 9000 years ago in western arid regions of North America and lasted until European contact.
  2. The Archaiac tradition of the Eastern Woodlands started about 9000 years ago and lasted until about 4000 to 3000 years ago.