March 27, 2023

The most ancient period of human history is defined as “ prehistory ”. This is the period of humanity in which men did not yet know the use of writing and of which there are no written documents that scholars can use. However, writing appeared at different times in different geographical contexts, and for this reason we cannot speak of a ” prehistory ” common to all peoples.

In the system of the three ages into which prehistory – protohistory is traditionally divided, the expression stone age refers to the phase of human evolution in which tools began to be built and used by deriving them from stones, wood, horn, bones and animal shells. Read down below and find out more about stone age.

Queens of the stone age

Ever since humans began to create works, female silhouettes have been a favorite subject for artists. Witness the famous Venus de Milo, sculpted in the second century BC. or John Singer Sargent’s ‘Madame X’, painted in 1884. Anonymous Stone Age artists were no different. Statuettes of women were indeed very common during this period.

Discovered in Europe and Asia, these female figurines created in the Paleolithic can seem crude compared to the brushstrokes laid on the perfect skin of Madame X or compared to the superbly sculpted face of the Venus de Milo. Rendered in broad strokes, their feminine attributes (chest, stomach and hips) are generous and amplified. Their silhouette is neither streamlined nor smooth, but rounded and plump. On their face, instead of a sparkling look and a smile, most often no distinctive features at all can be found.

Shapes and sizes

The first artists appeared around 80,000 years ago and their first subjects were not humans. Some of the oldest works look more like abstract geometric patterns. Moving towards more realistic representations of the world in which it moved, humanity began to take animals as subjects (as evidenced by the horses and aurochs of the Chauvet cave in southeastern France).

It was only 30,000 or 40,000 years ago, in the Palaeolithic, that human silhouettes appeared. Few works representing people have come down to us; among those that have survived, most are in the effigy of women and not of men. About 200 of these Venuses have been discovered in different places in Western Europe (mainly in the Pyrenees and in the south-west of France, as well as in Italy); from Central Europe (in the Rhine and Danube basins); and from Eastern Europe and Asia (in southern Russia and as far as Siberia).

Whether carved from stone, bone, or clay, their most notable common feature is their size. All are tiny and measure from 5 to 25 centimeters. This reduced format, which is called portable art, undoubtedly allowed nomadic peoples to transport them from place to place.

For the most part, these Venuses are endowed with an indistinct face with indefinite eyebrows, eyes, nose and mouth; some are smooth as eggs. When facial features are present, they tend to be vague. For this reason, scholars believe they may be general depictions of women rather than specific portraits.

Another hallmark of these Stone Age statuettes is their nudity, a feature that may have frightened the men who discovered them in the 19th century . Unlike later depictions, these are neither embarrassed nor modest; their nudity is straightforward, prosaic. Some are adorned with minimal finery: a necklace, a hood, a hair net, a belt, a bracelet. They have different bodies (some are slim and some are curvy) but their chests, hips and bellies are rounded and protruding.

First discoveries

It was in the 19th century that European archaeologists began to come across these Venuses. The first was discovered in 1864 by Paul Hurault, marquis de Vibraye, in Laugerie-Basse, in the Dordogne. It was an ivory figurine 7.5 centimeters high. This naked statuette has no head or arms but her hips, pubis and legs are quite defined. Thanks to analyses, we now know that it was carved 12,000 to 17,000 years ago.

Explanations and controversies

Stone Age humanshave left no written trace, specialists must rely on archaeological archives to be able to formulate their hypotheses. As this type of trace allows freer interpretations, archaeologists find it difficult to reach a consensus. The term “Venus” itself is the subject of criticism: it is an anachronism (the cult of Venus dates from Roman times) and it implies that these Stone Age statuettes fulfilled the same role. than the Roman goddess. The name is part of the popular imagination but specialists dispute its use.

According to one of the oldest and most widespread theories, the statuettes were goddesses of fertility and reproduction. They served as divine representations and were used in fertility rituals. This theory implies that European and Asian tribes valued fertility and motherhood enough to bother to depict them in their artwork.

Some scholars argue that because the statuettes look vaguely naturalistic, rather than realistic and modeled after a real person, their purpose was ceremonial or commemorative. These statuettes of women may therefore have served as a link between the world of the living and that of the dead. According to other researchers, these are ritual objects that belonged to shamans or healers and to which supernatural powers were attributed.

Other hypotheses move away from these religious or mystical aspects and are more down-to-earth. The most varied explanations have emerged: charming effigies, children’s toys, etc. It is of course possible that these statuettes were made for different reasons in different places and times; the variety of geographical areas and periods in which they were created allows this.

Stone age tools

With the Stone Age covering about 99% of mankind’s technological history, there seems to be a lot to be said for tool development during this period. Despite our reliance on the few archaeological sources that exist, this is indeed the case.

The Stone Age refers to the vast period during which stone was widely used to make tools. So far, the earliest stone tools have been dated to around 2.6 million years old. The end is set at the first use of bronze, which did not appear everywhere at the same time; the Near East was the first to enter the Bronze Age around 3300 BCE. Admittedly, stone was by no means the only material used for tools throughout this period, but it is the most resistant to degradation and therefore survives somewhat better than the others.

The first tools

In 2010, a claim was made that the earliest evidence of tool use should be pushed back to 3.3 million years ago – long before the first Homo roamed the earth; their first appearance having recently been pushed back to around 2.8 million years ago. Our supposed ancestors, Australopithecus afarensis, are held responsible for producing marks on bovid bones at a site in Dikika, Ethiopia. Furthermore, the discovery in West Turkana, Kenya of stone tools dating back 3.3 million years seems to support the idea that humans may not have been the first users of tools.

However, a more critical evaluation of the two sites has led researchers to reject these claims. The Dikika marks may also have been made by crocodile teeth or trampling, and the West Turkana site may have suffered from slippage of material from younger layers in the deposit, leading to incorrect dating. Until these possibilities have been ruled out, the evidence should be considered insufficient.

This does not mean, however, that humans are considered the only ones who have been able to use tools. All of the hominins that were present at this time may have used some sort of stone technology to a greater or lesser extent. Hominids are the group that includes modern humans, extinct human species, and our immediate ancestors – species that are more closely related to modern humans than to anything else. This group includes not only members of the genera Homo, but also Australopithecus (to which the famous Lucy belongs), Paranthropus , and Ardipithecus .. Many anthropologists argue that Homo was probably the most accustomed to using and making tools, because his brain size increased very rapidly during the first million years after the first properly recorded use of tools. 2.6 million years ago, and the size of its teeth decreased. This could only happen if there were tools to compensate for the smaller teeth. It is probably only a matter of time before the first solid documentation of tool use by non-gay people comes to light.

Although some animals – like chimpanzees, known to use sticks to dig for termites – use some kind of tool, the process of making these early stone artifacts is unique to hominins. Despite the simplicity of the first stone tools, they show a deliberate and controlled way of fracturing the rock with percussive blows, which testifies to a certain behavioral innovation.

The Lower or Early Palaeolithic

The Lower Paleolithic begins with the earliest evidence of stone technology (also called lithic), so far dated to around 2.6 million years old from sites in Ethiopia. Two industries are recognized in this period, namely the Oldowan and the Acheulean. It lasts until about 250,000 years ago, until the beginning of the Middle Paleolithic.

The Oldowan industry, which takes its name from the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, is the oldest stone industry present in our archaeological sources. It is characterized by chipped pebbles and sharded tools, found alongside weathered artifacts like hammers, as well as occasional animal bones with cut marks.

Although there is no definite end and it co-existed for some time with the later Acheulean industry (which began around 1.7 million years ago), archaeologists generally fix the end at about 1 million years when they speak of the Oldowan. Oldowan sites are first known in Africa (in places like Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Africa), but later are found to have spread to the Near East and eastern Asia, probably brought by Homo erectus.

The Acheulean

While the Oldowan was still in full swing and had almost reached East Asia through the skilled hands of Homo erectus, Africa saw the rise of a second tool industry: the Acheulean (it about 1.7 million years ago to about 250,000 years ago and named after St Acheul in France), which later spread throughout Eurasia. He saw the development of tools with new shapes: large bifaces such as hand axes, pickaxes, cleavers and knives allowed Homo erectus, and later Homo heidelbergensis, to have a literally better taken on the treatment of their prey and their pickings.

These bifaces – that is, two-sided, with a working surface on two sides – represent a new element in the manufacture of stone tools. They were made from large chips struck into stones or larger pebbles. Tools were more shaped than before, as seen in the wide range of skillfully created retouched tools, such as backed knives, awls and scrapers. But it is mostly hand axes and cleavers that show the ability to create symmetrical objects from stone materials, indicating higher cognitive ability and motor skills than seen in Oldowan industry.

More precisely shaped tools required a more delicate technique; indeed, softer materials such as wood, bone, antler, ivory or soft stones were now used as strikers in what is known as the soft striker technique. Flint became a popular material, and by working it, together with the already known lavas and quartzites, this technique produced finer flakes which were then refined.

The Middle Paleolithic

In addition to stone, wooden spear-making technology, which has its roots in the Acheulean, continued into the Middle Paleolithic, as can be seen at the site of Lehringen, Germany, where a spear with the tip hardened by fire was found and was associated with an elephant carcass. Bone points, although rare, have also been found in this area. Stone points were also found with a thinned base, which could indicate that they may have been attached to a spear handle. The discovery of the oldest known bitumen stone tools in Europe also falls within the period corresponding to this industry and, together with the stone points mentioned above, helps to argue for the development of composite tools in the Paleolithic. medium. L’

All of the above indicates that these Middle Paleolithic humans may have been very advanced. It has been argued that the steps and foresight required to successfully use the prepared core technique, for example, would have required a considerable amount of skill on the part of the manufacturer. The beginning of the manufacture of sleeves seems to reinforce this idea. It is however difficult to say if this progress would have been mainly limited to the technological sphere or if it can be considered as a more general progress of human capacities, for example in terms of social and environmental intelligence.

Upper or Late Palaeolithic

The Upper Paleolithic saw a huge proliferation of tools. Stone-bladed tools were created, but the emphasis shifted from stone to artifacts made from materials such as bone, antler, and ivory. Needles and points were made from these non-lithic materials, which lent themselves well to these fine forms, and their presence indicates that sewn garments must have been the norm from 18,000 BCE. Even technological feats such as spear thrusters, rod stretchers, harpoons, bows and arrows began to appear.

An arrow thrower is actually a long rod with a hook at the end to which an arrow can be attached, which increases both the distance and speed of the projectile thrown by the skilled hands of a keen-eyed hunter. Some of these spiers were beautifully decorated with carvings, or even carved into the shape of animals; the Magdalenian culture of Western Europe provides astonishing examples. Towards the end of the Upper Paleolithic, arrows (and thus, by implication, bows) were used, as found at a site in Stellmoor, Germany, and as implied by the small size of many arrowheads found in this industry.

These mechanical devices represent a great leap forward in the evolution of hunting and weaponry technologies. Some of these spiers were beautifully decorated with carvings, or even carved into the shape of animals; the Magdalenian culture of Western Europe provides astonishing examples. Towards the end of the Upper Paleolithic, arrows (and thus, by implication, bows) were used, as found at a site in Stellmoor, Germany, and as implied by the small size of many arrowheads found in this industry. These mechanical devices represent a great leap forward in the evolution of hunting and weaponry technologies.

Some of these spiers were beautifully decorated with carvings, or even carved into the shape of animals; the Magdalenian culture of Western Europe provides astonishing examples. Towards the end of the Upper Paleolithic, arrows (and thus, by implication, bows) were used, as found at a site in Stellmoor, Germany, and as implied by the small size of many arrowheads found in this industry. These mechanical devices represent a great leap forward in the evolution of hunting and weaponry technologies. as a result, bows) were used, as found at a site in Stellmoor, Germany, and as implied by the small size of many spikes found in this industry. These mechanical devices represent a great leap forward in the evolution of hunting and weaponry technologies. as a result, bows) were used, as found at a site in Stellmoor, Germany, and as implied by the small size of many spikes found in this industry. These mechanical devices represent a great leap forward in the evolution of hunting and weaponry technologies.

Blade technologies are typical of the stone industry and show elongated flakes produced by soft hammering or indirect percussion: a striker struck an awl placed on the edge of a blade core. The blades thus obtained could be transformed into a whole series of tools such as backed knives, chisels and scrapers.

Due to the diversity of Upper Palaeolithic technologies, some of them, such as the Solutrean of Spain and France and the Clovisand Folsom of the New World, focused on bifacial points that may have been produced by the soft hammer technique or by pressure scaling. Other technologies, such as those from Africa and Central and East Asia, emphasize small blades called “lamellae” and geometric microliths (small blades or fractions of blades made of flint) which are processed into composite and projectile tools through the manufacture of handles.

The Mesolithic

The way humans adapted to new terrains and a wider range of climates during the Upper Paleolithic is a good precursor to the kind of adaptation required when the last glaciation or ice age ended there. is around 12,000 years old. The climate warmed, causing sea levels to rise, flooding low-lying coastal areas and creating, for example, the English Channel, and denser forests began to appear. It is important to note that many giant prehistoric mammals, such as woolly mammoths, have gradually disappeared, probably pushed by the climate and possibly also by human hunters, which has had an impact on the type of food sources available to contemporary hunter-gatherers. The Mesolithic, which spans from the end of the Ice Age to the transition to agriculture (which occurred at different times in different regions), has seen humans adapt to these changing environments. While agriculture did not reach Northern Europe until around 4000 BCE, the Mesolithic barely had time to begin in the Near East, where the shift to agriculture began. made around 9,000 BCE.

The Neolithic

With the arrival of agriculture, between about 9000 BC in the Near East and until about 4000 before it spread to Northern Europe, the ways of life of the societies concerned have obviously changed radically. This is the only part of the Stone Age where the societies in question are no longer hunter-gatherers. However, as the way we choose to let this age end with the beginning of the use of bronze (the first use of which was in the Near East around 3300 BCE) suggests, the Neolithic still lives the use of stone tools.

Despite this huge shift to a more sedentary way of life, it is clear that some Mesolithic traditions persisted into the Neolithic. Bone and antler technologies and the use of projectile points are examples. Harvesting knives and sickles have been found in both Paleolithic and Mesolithic times, as they were also used before agriculture, but became popular in this new context. As for stone-working techniques, such as grinding and drilling, which were not uncommon even in the Upper Palaeolithic, they took on a whole new dimension and were applied with much more ardor than before.

The biggest effect on technology seems to come from the economic requirements of supporting a larger population (than hunter-gatherer bands), such as in villages. Such a fully sedentary way of life would have required fewer lightweight, portable tools in the field (it has been argued that there is a contrast between even the most sedentary hunter-gatherers and sedentary farmers). A good example of a piece of equipment that would have been slightly impractical to carry by human hand alone is the loom, which is almost exclusively known to farmers, and which facilitated textile production. It is conceivable that the tools used in textile production were among the first to appear during the early Neolithic. A Neolithic site in Syria exhibits tools such as drills and reamers that may have been used for joining wood – or joining pieces of wood together using dowels and the like.

If this all seems pretty peaceful to you so far, don’t worry. Humans wouldn’t be humans if they didn’t also show a glimpse of their violent side. Axes are very visibly present in the archaeological records of the Neolithic; whole heaps of flint axes are known. However, materials other than flint were also used. These tools fall into the category of polished stone tools, they were carefully polished and could be mounted on wooden handles. However, rather than just imagining raging hordes of warriors with axes, they were often work axes, used to cut down trees rather than neighbors.

When was the stone age

The beginning of the “stone age” coincided with the first migrations of hominid species from the African savannah towards Europe and the Middle East , between 3 and 4 million years ago. Metalworking appeared at different times in different regions (usually around the 7th millennium BC in the Middle East and the 5th in Europe and North Africa). The transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age was actually a gradual process; for example, ” Ötzi “, the mummified man from the 33rd century BC , was carrying a copper ax and a knifeflint . _ The transition period between the Stone Age and the Bronze Age is also called the Copper Age or Chalcolithic, and developed in very different ways and times in different areas (also depending on the local availability of tin ).

Stone age timeline


The Paleolithic covers a time period from about 2 million years ago to the end of the Pleistocene, about 11,700 years ago

The Lower Paleolithic saw the development of Homo habilis, towards the end of the Pliocene in Africa ; these ancestors of modern man developed the first known tools, the so-called stone choppers . The Olduvai site in Tanzania dates from this era. About one and a half million years ago, Homo erectus appeared , credited with the Discovery of Fire . He refined the chopper construction, and expanded towards Asia , as evidenced by the Zhoukoudian site in China. The first human finds in Europe date back to about one million years ago , and the first evidence of the use of the hand ax , an evolution of the chopper.

The Middle Paleolithic began about 200,000 years ago and is best remembered for the advent (and subsequent disappearance) of Neanderthals . The first examples of prehistoric art date back to the Middle Paleolithic era. The Upper Paleolithic represents the period from 35,000 to 10,000 years ago (the end of the last glaciation ), during which already morphologically modern humans spread throughout the planet.


The Mesolithic goes from the end of the last glaciation (from about 11,699 years ago to about 8,000 years ago). It is considered a transitional period between the Paleolithic and the great transformation that will take place with the Neolithic.

Mesolithic man lived substantially as in the Paleolithic, but great changes took place in the natural environment. In this period, in fact, the end of the last glaciation ( Würm glaciation ) leads to a temperate climate throughout Europe and to a gradual rise in the level of the seas , with consequent transformations of the territory which lead men to look for new forms of sustenance. In this phase microlithic
tools were developed , which testify to a greater refinement in the processing of materials; organized fishing -based settlements took shape ; and probably in this period the domestication of the dog took place.


The Neolithic (8000-4000 years ago) was characterized by the birth of agriculture (the so-called ” Neolithic revolution “), the development of techniques for making clay pottery , and the formation of larger and more complex settlements, such as Çatal Hüyük and Jericho. The first Neolithic cultures appeared around the 8th millennium BC in the area of ​​the so-called Fertile Crescent, and then spread towards the Mediterranean, the Indus valley, China and Southeast Asia.

The development of agriculture led to the making of new stone tools, including tools for sharpening blades and cutting wood. The first large-scale buildings were also erected in this period, including primitive towers and walls (for example those of Jericho ) and places of worship (for example Stonehenge). These works bear witness to the ability of men of the time to cooperate in large groups; it is controversial whether this fact, in turn, should be considered a consequence of the emergence of social hierarchies.

In the Neolithic period the first commercial activities also took shape, as evidenced by the discovery of materials hundreds of kilometers from the place of natural origin. The Skara Brae site, in the Orkney Islands, northwest of Scotland, is one of the most important examples of a European Neolithic village. There are stone beds, shelves, and even a rudimentary latrine connected to a stream.

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