e-book Stone Tools in the Paleolithic and Neolithic Near East

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The weapons were shaped from branches of spruce and pine trees.

Recent research has shown that later hunters were able to kill their animal prey at a distance with spears: For instance, a study of the wounds on deer bones found at Neanderthal hunting sites show that the spears were thrown at their prey from several feet away, instead of being used in an attack at close quarters. The Upper Paleolithic period dates from between 50, and 10, years ago, depending on the region.

This was the time when anatomically modern humans — Homo sapiens — replaced earlier lineages throughout the world, such as Neanderthals and Denisovans — although DNA studies show that they sometimes interbred with them. The Upper Paleolithic period was marked by big changes in stone tools. Instead of the general-purpose stone tools used for hundreds of thousands of years, specialized stone tools began to be developed for specific tasks, — such as hafted axes for cutting wood.

This period also saw a big increase in figurative artworks, including cave paintings, rock sculptures, and bone, antler and ivory carvings. The natural pigment paintings on the walls of the Altamira cave in northern Spain date from the Upper Paleolithic period, around 30, years ago. Among the very early finds from the Upper Paleolithic period is this evidence of a human musical sense —and the creativity that went with it. Shown here is a fragment of a flute made from the hollow bones of an ancient vulture and dated to between 40, and 43, years-old.

Paleolithic vs Neolithic

That makes it the oldest known musical instrument, and the earliest evidence for human creativity. The flute fragment was found in , in a cave in the Swabian Alps in southwest Germany where some of the oldest known cave art has also been found. It has a V-shaped mouthpiece that produced a note when air was blown across it; the note could be varied by placing fingers on its five drilled holes. The archaeologists who found it speculate that playing music might have even given Homo sapiens an evolutionary edge over earlier human species, by improving their communications and creating tighter social bonds.

The so-called "Venus" figurines are one of the characteristic art forms of the Upper Paleolithic period. Most of the Venus figurines date to between 25, and 28, years ago and have been found across Europe and Eurasia. The oldest found so far is the 2-inch-long 5 centimeters Venus of Hohle Fels, which is made from mammoth ivory.


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Like the vulture bone flute, it was found in a cave in the Swabian Alps in southwest Germany, and is thought to be at least 35, years old. One of the most famous figurines is the Venus of Willendorf , found in Austria in Itdates to between 27, and 32, years ago. Venus figurines were given the name of an ancient Greek goddess in the 19th century, because they often portrayed a pregnant woman, and it was thought they represented a prehistoric goddess figure; but archaeologists have also found a few Venus figurines portraying males, or combining female and male attributes.

Many of the finest artworks from the Upper Paleolithic period are ancient carvings of bone or antler — relatively soft but durable materials that could be easily shaped with stone tools and easily carried from place to place. Bone and antler carvings from this time included figurative sculptures of people, in the form of Venus figurines; body ornaments such as necklaces; and portrayals of animals, which may have been used as magical charms for hunting.

This carving, made from reindeer antler, was found in a rock shelter in southwest France , and is thought to date from between 12, and 20, years ago. It shows a bison — a common herd animal at the time, but now extinct in Europe — apparently turning its head to lick an insect bite. Hunting weapons like spears and arrows also saw big changes from the specialization of tools in the Upper Paleolithic period.

As the shaping of bones and antlers became common, they were formed into spear points, arrowheads, harpoons and fishhooks — often highly decorated, and with intricate rows of barbs to prevent them from being shaken loose by fleeing prey.

The origin of humans and early human societies

These antler spear points from southwest France are dated to between 11, and 19, years ago. Scientists disagree if this period really deserves its own name; another term for it is the Epipaleolithic period, which signifies the end of the Old Stone Age. Achieving what scholars call behavioral modernity was a long, slow process, but some of the first glimmers arose in the Middle Paleolithic, such as the development of sophisticated stone tools, caring for the elderly, hunting and gathering, and some amount of symbolic or ritual behavior.

By the Upper Paleolithic 45,, years ago , the Neanderthals were in decline, and by 30, years ago, they were gone. Modern humans spread all over the planet, reaching the Sahul Australia about 50, years ago, mainland Asia about 28, years ago, and finally the Americas, about 16, years ago. The Upper Paleolithic is characterized by fully modern behaviors such as cave art , hunting a range of techniques including bows and arrows, and making a wide range of tools in stone, bone, ivory, and antler. Bar-Yosef O.

Back to the Stone Age: 17 Key Milestones in Paleolithic Life | Live Science

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Middle Palaeolithic and Middle Stone Age Settlement Systems

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Kris Hirst. Kris Hirst is an archaeologist with 30 years of field experience.