The Stone Age is the now somewhat redundant collective expression for the periods in man’s history more properly defined as the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic and covers a time span of more than two million years. It includes the period of the most recent Ice Age, when ice and glaciers covered much of the land and sea that we would recognise in modern times. This was when man began to gradually develop crude, artificial tools to assist him in his daily life and in so doing distance himself progressively from the remainder of the animal kingdom.
The Palaeolithic is the longest defined period of human development. It was the time when primitive man evolved in to the “Homo Sapien” of today. His tools were of the most basic variety, either made of wood or bone, by smashing rock between a hammer and anvil or by chipping flint away from larger rocks. His dwellings were initially still in the form of caves. He hunted for his food, eating mainly the internal organs of slain beasts, or gathered it from what nature made available. The oldest known and remaining sites of habitation from this period are in Africa, particularly present day Ethiopia and Kenya.
The Mesolithic began at the end of the last Ice Age, approximately ten thousand years ago. Humans by this stage had spread far and wide, even having reached the Americas. The earliest evidence of agriculture dates back to this time. Tools were growing more advanced, assembled from crude components as opposed to being fashioned from simply one source. As the ice retreated and climatic change affected the planet, many species grew extinct and man had to adapt his hunting practices and diet accordingly. Sites preserved from this period can be found in places such as the UK, France, Spain and the Czech Republic.
The Neolithic began around seven thousand years ago and saw a considerable improvement in farming techniques and a tendency towards organised, permanent settlements. It saw the crude development of social structure, wealth and status. Tools such as cooking utensils and weaponry grew more refined still and early inroads were made in to areas such as the manufacturing of cloth. Places such as Skara Brae, Stonehenge and the city of Jericho originated during this age and a structured civilisation was beginning to appear.
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