The Stone Age in archaeology

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The Stone Age in archaeology

Post by DIESEL on Sat Jun 13, 2009 2:39 pm

The date range of this period is ambiguous, disputed, and variable according to the region in question. While it is possible to speak of a general 'stone age' period for the whole of humanity, some groups never developed metal-smelting technology, so remained in a 'stone age' until they encountered technologically developed cultures. However, it is believed that this period began somewhere around 2.5 million years ago with the first hominid tool makers in Africa, most likely Australopithecus garhi.

Due to the prevalence of stone artifacts, which are frequently the only remains which still exist, lithic analysis is a major and specialised form of archaeological investigation for the period. This involves the measurement of the stone tools to determine their typology, function and the technology involved. This frequently involves an analysis of the lithic reduction of the raw materials, examining how the artifacts were actually made. This can also be examined through experimental archaeology, by attempting to create replica tools. This is done by flintknappers who reduce flintstone to a flint tool.

[edit] Modern use of the term
A variety of stone tools

One problem with the term is that it implies that human advancement and time periods in prehistory are only measured by the type of tool material most widely used, rather than, for example, type of social organization, food sources exploited, or adaption to harsh climates. This is a product of the level of knowledge of the distant past during the nineteenth century when the three age system was developed, a time when finds of artifacts were the main goal of an archaeological excavation. Modern archaeological techniques stress a wider collection of information that has expanded our knowledge of prehistory and rendered neat divisions such as the term Stone Age increasingly obsolete. We now know that the changes in past societies over the millennia were complex and involved multiple factors such as the adoption of agriculture, settlement or religion and that tool use is just one unrepresentative indicator of a society's practices and beliefs.

Another problem connected with the term Stone Age is that it was created to describe the archaeological cultures of Europe, and that it is inconvenient to use it in relation to regions such as some parts of the Americas and Oceania, where farmers or hunter-gatherers used stone for tools until European colonisation began. Metal-working was a much less important part of people's lives there and it is more useful to use other terms when dividing prehistory in those areas. The same incongruence applies to the Iron Age worldwide, because in the Americas iron (but not copper, silver or gold) was unknown until 1492, in Oceania until the 17th century or the 18th century.

A Stone Age was usually followed by a Bronze Age, during which metalworking technology allowed bronze (copper and tin or other metals) tools to become more common. The transition out of the Stone Age occurred between 6000 BC and 2500 BC for much of humanity living in North Africa, Asia and Europe. In some regions, such as Subsaharan Africa, the Stone Age was followed directly by an Iron Age. It is generally believed that the Middle East and southeastern Asian regions progressed past Stone Age technology around 6000 BC. Europe, and the rest of Asia became post–Stone Age societies by about 4000 BC. The proto-Inca cultures of South America continued at a Stone Age level until around 2000 BC, when gold, copper and silver made their entrance, the rest following later. Australia remained in a Stone Age until the 17th century.

We also now know that the transition from a Stone Age to a Bronze Age was not a neat switch but a long, gradual process involving the working of gold and copper at what are technically Neolithic sites. This "transition" period is known as the Copper age or Chalcolithic. It was a short and more a regional development, because alloying tin with copper began quite soon, except in regions lacking tin. Between the 5th and 6th millennium BC First evidence of Human Metallurgy was found in Archaeological sites of Majdanpek, Yarmovac and Plocnik (Copper Axe from 5,500BC belonging to the Vincha culture)[3] and Rudna Glava[4] Mine in Serbia[5]. Ötzi the Iceman for instance, a mummy from about 3300 BC carried with him a copper axe and a flint knife. Stone tool manufacture also continued long into the succeeding metal-using ages, possibly even until the Early Middle Ages. In Europe and North America, millstones were in use until deep into the 20th century, and still are in many parts of the world.

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