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Post by DIESEL on Sat Jun 13, 2009 2:42 pm

The Paleolithic (or Palaeolithic) (from Greek: παλαιός, palaios, "old"; and λίθος, lithos, "stone" lit. "old age of the stone"; was coined by archaeologist John Lubbock in 1865.) is a prehistoric era distinguished by the development of stone tools. It covers the greatest portion of humanity's time (roughly 99% of human history) on Earth, extending from 2.5 or 2.6 million years ago, with the introduction of stone tools by hominids such as Homo habilis, to the introduction of agriculture and the end of the Pleistocene around 10,000 BC.The Paleolithic era ended with the Mesolithic, or in areas with an early neolithisation, the Epipaleolithic.

During the Paleolithic humans were grouped together in small scale societies such as bands and gained their subsistence from gathering plants and hunting wild animals.The Paleolithic is characterized by the use of knapped stone tools, although at the time, humans also used wood and bone tools. Other organic commodities were adapted for use as tools, including leather and vegetable fibers; however, given their nature, these have not been preserved to any great degree. Humankind gradually evolved from early members of the genus Homo such as Homo habilis, who used simple stone tools into fully behaviorally and anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) during the Paleolithic era.During the end of the Paleolithic specifically the Middle and or Upper Paleolithic humans began to produce the earliest works of art and engage in religious and spiritual behavior such as burial and ritual. The climate during the Paleolithic consisted of a set of glacial and interglacial periods in which the climate periodically fluctuated between warm and cool temperatures.

Lower Palaeolithic
Near the end of the Pliocene epoch in Africa, an early ancestor of modern humans, called Homo habilis, developed the earliest stone tools. These were relatively simple tools known as choppers. Homo habilis is presumed to have mastered the Oldowan era tool case which utilized stone flakes and cores. This industry of stone tools is named after the site of Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. These humans likely subsisted on scavenged meat and wild plants, rather than hunted prey. Around 1.5 million years ago, a more evolved human species, Homo erectus, appeared. H. erectus learned to control fire and created more complex chopper tools, as well as expanding out of Africa to reach Asia, as shown by sites such as Zhoukoudian in China. By 1 million years ago, the earliest evidence of humans in Europe is known, as well use of the more advanced handaxe tool.

Middle Palaeolithic
This period is most well-known as being the era during which the Neanderthals lived (c. 120,000–24,000 years ago). The stone artefact technology of the Neanderthals is generally known as the Mousterian or more precisely Neandertal traits was found also in younger Châtelperronian, Aurignacian and Gravettian archeological cultures. The Neanderthals traits eventually disappeared from the archaeological record, replaced by modern humans traits which first appeared in Ethiopia around 120,000 years ago although often identified as Archaic Homo sapiens. Neanderthals nursed their elderly and practised ritual burial indicating an organised society. The earliest evidence (Mungo Man) of settlement in Australia dates to around 40,000 years ago when modern humans likely crossed from Asia by hopping from island to island. Middle Palaeolithic peoples demonstrate the earliest undisputed evidence for art and other expressions of abstract thought such as intentional burial of the dead.

Upper Palaeolithic
From 35,000 to 10,000 years ago (the end of the last ice age) modern humans spread out further across the Earth during the period known as the Upper Palaeolithic. In the time when Cro-Magnons and Neanderthal traits mixed in Europe (35–24.5 ky) a relatively rapid succession of often complex stone artefact technologies took place. During period between 35 and 10 kya evolved: from 35 to 29 kya Châtelperronian, 32–26 Aurignacian, 28–22 Gravettian, 22–17 Solutrean, and 18–10 Magdalenian. The last two occurred after the disappearance of neanderthal traits from paleoantropological specimens.

The Americas were colonised via the Bering land bridge which was exposed during this period by lower sea levels. These people are called the Paleo-Indians, and the earliest accepted dates are those of the Clovis culture sites, some 13,500 years ago. Globally, societies were hunter-gatherers but evidence of regional identities begins to appear in the wide variety of stone tool types being developed to suit different environments.

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