Man in the Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age)
Pre-hominids are known from the Late Tertiary (ca. 6 million years ago); the earliest finds of man are ca. 2.6 million years old and known as Australopithecus or Homo australopithecus (named by the discoverer Raymond Dart in 1924, who made the first find at Taung, Transvaal). Evidence of intelligence (tool-making and using) associated with early remains classifies them as primitive hominids. They are associated with pebble-tool industries. Man gradually developed during the Pleistocene; Pithecanthropus (Homo erectus) is associated with early hand-axe industries, and knew the use of fire (earliest evidence from China).
Neanderthal man (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) first appears in the Middle Pleistocene, associated with Mousterian industries. Other human remains are known which are not easily classified, but resemble Homo sapiens (e.g. from Broken Hill, Saldanda, Swanscombe and Steinheim). These early hominids were replaced in the last Ice Age (Würm) by Homo sapiens sapiens (Cromagnon, Grimaldi, Chancelade, Oberkassel, Predmost, Lautsch, Combecapelle, Brünn, etc.).
At the end of the Pleistocene period the major human races were in existence: the Mongoloids (Asia), Negroids (Central Africa), Caucasoids, and the Australians.
The Pleistocene is divided into Glacial (cold) and Interglacial (mild) periods (in thousands of years B.C>):
600-540 First Ice Age (Günz)
540-480 First Interglacial period (Günz-Mindel)
480-430 Second Ice Age (Mindel)
430-240 Second Interglacial period (Mindel Riss = Great Interglacial)
240-180 Third Ice Age (Riss)
180-120 Third Interglacial period (Riss-Würm)
120- 10 Fourth Ice Age (Würm),
followed by the post-glacial period
Archaeologically the Pleistocene is divided into three periods:
600-100 Lower Palaeolithic (Older Old Stone Age)
100- 50 Middle Palaeolithic (Middle Old Stone Age)
50- 10 Upper Palaeolithic (Upper Old Stone Age)
Industries: Palaeolithic industries are usually named after the original find-spots (e.g. Clacton, Clactonian). The most important raw material, stone (usually flint), was struck in various ways to make tools of predetermined shapes, which served to work wood and bone, and as weapons (clubs, hatchets and points).
The worked stones fall into four main groups of industries.
- Tools made from small lumps of stone or pebbles - pebble-culture: South and East Africa, Siam, Burma, Malaya, Java, China. Working the pebbles results in chopping tools, choppers, and early forms of the hand-axe.
- Tools derived from stone cores, usually bifacial (hand-axe). Abbevillian (Abbeville on the Somme), earlier called Chellean (Chelles on the Marne): Africa, India, Java, Western Europe. Acheulian (Saint Acheul near Amiens): Africa, India, Western and Central Europe. Micoquean (La Micoque, Dordogne): Africa, India, Western and Central Europe, Palestine, Syria.
- Tools made from unilaterally worked flakes, struck from the core by direct percussion. Clactonian (Clacton, Essex): Western and Central Europe, Africa, India. Levalloisian (Levallois-Peret, near Paris): Africa, Europe, Northern India. Tayacian (Tayac, Dordogne): Palestine, Syria, Northern Africa, Western Europe.
The technical traditions of the hand-axe and flake-tool centers were fused in the Mousterian (Le Moustier, Dordogne): fine points, carefully finished choppers. The dead were buried, occasionally with artifacts or natural objects.
For these industries there is much evidence for stone tools; evidence of artistic activity is slight, as is information about dwelling structures, diet, etc.
- Tools derived from struck-off fragments (flakes): blade industries (points, drills, scrapers, cutters). Perigordian (Périgord): the 'Chatelperron-point', later the Gravette point. Aurignacian (Aurignac): bone-tools, weapon points, awls and engraving scrapers.
Development of art, female figurines ('The Venus of Willendorf'); engravings on stone, bone, and ivory: paintings and drawings in the caves of Altamira, El Castillo, et al.
Homo sapiens pushes North from the Near East. Solutrean (Solutre): tools with finished surfaces, laurel-leaf points, needles. Magdalenian (Abri la Madelene, near Tursac): bone-tools, spear-throwers, harpoon-points, long blades.
The high point of cave art (ca. 120 sites), e.g. at Altamira (1879) and Lascaux (1940). Smaller art objects were made from bone, antler, ivory and stone (engravings and sculptures). With the end of the Magdalenion period there is only slight evidence preserved for man's artistic activity.
Men lived in groups, hunting both small and large animals and gathering a wide range of vegetable foods.
The dwelt in caves, huts, skin tents, or under rocky overhangs.
Religion: possible evidence for hunting-cults, magic, and a belief in the gods. Burial of the dead with gifts of food, tools and ornaments.