Take a Virtual Trip to the Paleolithic Era
When anthropologists and historians look at the scope of human history, they agree that you can’t really talk about human civilization until the Paleolithic Era. The Paleolithic Era, which was from about 200,000 to 10,000 B.C., was when humans really began to develop technology, art, and other things that made up our cultural history.
Human Society in the Paleolithic Era
In the Paleolithic Era, human beings began to travel to different countries, leaving Africa to settle in other parts of the world, including places that were uninhabited before then, such as deserts. Human societies at this time were hunter-gatherer societies, which means that the people relied on killing animals and gathering fruits, nuts, and other foods from the wild for their diet. The largest communities in most of this period were no larger than about 50 people because they didn’t farm, and without farming, it is difficult to feed a community that is any bigger than that. In any case, Paleolithic societies or clans would have found it hard to find enough food to sustain themselves, which would have meant fighting with other tribes or communities whenever food got scarce.
One of the big advances in technology in the Paleolithic Era was the use of stone tools. By knocking stones against one another, human beings learned that they could shape them into useful objects. The technique is known as flaking, in which flakes of rock are removed from stones, let men and women make things like arrowheads and axes. The most popular stones used to make stone tools were chert, flint, and obsidian because they could be shaped well and would stay fairly sharp. Stone blades made in this way could be used to kill and cut up animals and cut bushes and weeds to keep them from swallowing up plants that were being used for food.
Archaeologists have found many stone tools from the Paleolithic Era, but we know that stone was not the only material used for making tools. Bone was used to make blades and maybe even sewing needles to stitch animal skins together for clothes and blankets. It is also likely that wood and other hard materials were used for tools, much as we use such materials today.
Recent discoveries in genetics show that language developed a lot during the middle of the Paleolithic Era. It looks like human beings began to talk to each other using basic language rules at about that time. This made it easier to develop new inventions and ideas because people could share their ideas and beliefs with one another.
Towards the end of the Paleolithic Era, human beings really began to take an interest in art. Maybe the most well-known proof of this is the cave paintings from the era that have been found in Europe. In Lascaux, France, for example, more than 2,000 paintings and engravings have been found in the local caves. These date to the end of the Paleolithic Era, around 15,000 to 9,000 B.C. Many of these pictures are of animals and hunting, and anthropologists think that these drawings were largely used for rituals. Another important place where many cave paintings have been found is Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc in France.
In addition to the cave paintings, Paleolithic people also made jewelry, figurines, and other types of art. Much of the jewelry was made out of bone or ivory, and some of it was even painted. The cave paintings show us that spear-throwing hunters often wore jewelry. Many female figurines made from ivory, clay, stone, and wood have also been found. Many archaeologists and anthropologists believe that these Paleolithic figurines could have been used in religious ceremonies.
The Paleolithic Era was a long period of history that was very long ago. There are many good places online to learn more about life during that time. Here are some resources on the Paleolithic Era:
- Life in the Paleolithic Era
- The Old Stone Age
- Ancient Civilizations to 300 BC
- Basic Stone Tools
- Big Era Two: Human Beings Almost Everywhere
- The Cambridge World History of Food
- The Cave of Chauvet-Pont-D’Arc
- Human Life in the Era of Hunters and Gatherers
- Human Origins in Africa through the Neolithic Age
- Lascaux Cave Paintings
- Middle Paleolithic Tool Technologies
- Prehistoric Times
- Upper Paleolithic Technology
- When Did “Modern” Behavior Emerge in Humans?
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