The Paleolithic or Palaeolithic (Greek παλαιός paleos=old and λίθος lithos=stone or the 'Old Stone Age') was the first period in the development of human technology of the Stone Age. It began with the introduction of the first stone tools by hominids such as Homo habilis (around 2,000,000 years ago) and lasted until the introduction of agriculture. It ended with the Mesolithic, or in areas with an early neolithisation, the Epipaleolithic.
In general, late paleolithics were hunter/scavengers and food gatherers. Important specifics of behavior to note are that they used aetiological myths (causal myths) to explain things. They seem to have organized around (more or less temporary) natural leaders (and followers) rather than establishing a more permanent 'government.' There was approximate parity between the sexes and their societies were homogeneous. Men hunted, and women gathered and cared for the young, but beyond that tasks were pretty much shared. They had significant knowledge about plants and herbs. Hence, their diet was rich in 'healthful' foods. We can tell this from coprolites.
Their technological skills are demonstrated by artifacts made from chipped stone and flint, and the use of wood, clay, and animal parts. Their tools kit was extensive: knives, axes, scrapers, hammers, awls, needles,spears, harpoons, clubs, shields, armor, blowguns, and bows and arrows.
They also made kayaks, snowhouses and outrigger canoes and knew poisons such as hydrocyanic acid, curare, snake venoms, hemlock, and alkaloids. They also used all the means which we use to preserve food: freezing, drying, sealing (in clay or bees wax).
Religion was epitropaic; specifically, it involved sympathetic magic. Toward the end of the Paleolithic in Europe (35,000 B.C.), art was invented. Paleolithics painted and sculpted. The level of skill in painting and sculpting animals is remarkably high. The function of art appears to be to ensure success in hunting and in the fertility of crops and women.
The Paleolithic is usually divided into three subdivisions:
- Lower Paleolithic (2,500,000 BCE - 120,000 BCE, approx.): This was the time of the hand axe-industries. Prevalent hominid species of the Lower Paleolithic were H. habilis and Homo erectus.
- Middle Paleolithic (300,000 BCE - 30,000 BCE, approx.): Flake tools were made by the prepared-core technique. This is when the Neanderthals lived.
- Upper Paleolithic (30,000 BCE - 10,000 BCE, approx.): The technological changes of the transition from Middle to Upper Paleolithic have led some to speculate that human language first fully developed at this time. This culture seems to be primarily associated with the Cro-Magnon, or modern man.
An mtDNA analysis in ancient Basque populations: implications for haplogroup V as a marker for a major paleolithic expansion from southwestern europe
Am J Hum Genet. 1999 Jul;65(1):199-207.
Izagirre N, de la Rua C.
- mtDNA sequence variation was studied in 121 dental samples from four Basque prehistoric sites, by high-resolution RFLP analysis. The results of this study are corroborated by (1) parallel analysis of 92 bone samples, (2) the use of controls during extraction and amplification, and (3) typing by both positive and negative restriction of the linked sites that characterize each haplogroup. The absence of haplogroup V in the prehistoric samples analyzed conflicts with the hypothesis proposed by Torroni et al., in which haplogroup V is considered as an mtDNA marker for a major Paleolithic population expansion from southwestern Europe, occurring approximately 10,000-15,000 years before the present (YBP). Our samples from the Basque Country provide a valuable tool for checking the previous hypothesis, which is based on genetic data from present-day populations. In light of the available data, the most realistic scenario to explain the origin and distribution of haplogroup V suggests that the mutation defining that haplogroup (4577 NlaIII) appeared at a time when the effective population size was small enough to allow genetic drift to act-and that such drift is responsible for the heterogeneity observed in Basques, with regard to the frequency of haplogroup V (0%-20%). This is compatible with the attributed date for the origin of that mutation (10,000-15, 000 YBP), because during the postglacial period (the Mesolithic, approximately 11,000 YBP) there was a major demographic change in the Basque Country, which minimized the effect of genetic drift. This interpretation does not rely on migratory movements to explain the distribution of haplogroup V in present-day Indo-European populations.