There is no written evidence for the Prehistoric Period. Based on the fossil bones collected, our ancestors can be classified into Homo habilis, Homo erectus and Neanderthalensis. Cultures were also classified into the following types based on microliths collected:
- Earliest Lithic Assemblages
- Oldowan Technology
- Lower, Middle and Upper Paleolithic
Earliest Lithic Assemblages of Human Ancestors
Tools made by earlier humans 3.3. million years ago, found in Lomekwi, Kenya. Oldowan tools found in Olduvai Gorge in the continent of African were 2 to 2.6 million years old. Australopithecines used hammerstones and produced the sharp-edged flakes used to process food, cutting and slicing.
Lower Paleolithic Culture
The species belonging to these cultures are Homo habilis and Homo erectus. Large stone blocks were turned into hand axes (Acheulian), cleavers, and other tools. The tools found in Asia, Africa and Europe dated back to about 1.8 million years ago. Bifaces (bi = two, face = side) tools convey the human’s cognitive skills and physical symmetry. In India, the tool-making tradition continued between 250,000 to 60,000 years ago.
Stone tools made 3.3 million years ago have been found in Kenya.
Acheulian - A place called St. Acheul in France, where the first-hand axes are found.
The indispensable part of life for prehistoric humans was food and water.
Our ancestors used sign languages and few sounds to communicate with each other. They created various stone tools from pebbles and stone blocks. They consumed the flesh of hunted animals and roots, nuts and fruits gathered from forests. In India, the Acheulean tools were found near Chennai and few other places, such as Isampur in Karnataka and Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh.
Core is the large stone block from which flakes were made using a hammerstone.
Flake is a small chip removed from the core..
Middle Palaeolithic Culture
About 3,98,000 BC ago, there were changes made while creating stone tools (lithic) in Africa. One of the human species, homoerectus, existed in this period. Anatomical evidence proves that during this period, modern humans have emerged.
Lithic Technology: ‘Lith’ means stone. The techniques used to produce stone tools are termed as Lithic technology.
Attractive designs and numerous smaller tools were created using hand axes. During this culture, short blades were also made. The traditional tool-making that belongs to this period is called, Levalloisian. Tools that belong to this culture were found at the excavation sites in Europe and Western Asia.
The Middle Palaeolithic phase appeared between 3.85 lakh and 1.98 lakh years ago in Europe and parts of western and South Asia. The tools created during this phase were in use till 28,000 BC.
Levalloisian tools are a unique type of tool knapping. It was named after the findings of flint tools from the town of Levallois in France.
The early humans of this period were called Neanderthals. Neanderthals were the ones who started the burial of the mortal remains systematically.
Upper Palaeolithic Culture
Upper Palaeolithic phase followed by middle Palaeolithic phase. There were many innovative tools invented, such as Long blades and burin. They also knew the usage of different compositions of silica. The dissimilarity in the excavated article reveals that there were huge developments in cognitive skills and languages during this phase. Though many developments took place in tool making, people in this phase also used Microliths (stone tools).
Burinis is a chisel made up of stone with a sharp edge.
Around 60,000 years ago, modern humans began to move away from their origin, i.e. Sub-Saharan Africa, to different parts of Asia. When they settle down in the newer places, the native population who lived in the places might have been replaced by the migrant. People who lived in Europe during this phase are called Cro-Magnons (skeletons found at Cro-Magnon, near the village of Les Eyzies, France).
People started to wear clothes, and they ate cooked food. They buried the mortal remains of the dead in a systematic way. They placed the hands of the dead over the chest in a cross-handed way. Animal bones, Ivory used for tools as well as for artwork. They also created Pendants from them. They used bone needles, fish hooks, harpoons and spears for their fishing and hunting activities in a brilliant way. Paintings, clay model sculptures and carvings from the excavation site very clearly reveal this information. In some parts of Asia and Europe, people carved out Goddess Venus using bones and stones.
Ice Age – This phase existed before 8000 BC. During this phase, many parts of the earth’s surface were covered by ice sheets and snow.
Lascaux – Rock painting from west France – 17000 years old
It is also called the Middle Stone Age. This phase existed between the Palaeolithic and Neolithic period. After the end of the Ice age, when the snow melted away, humans of this culture became highly mobile and settled down in different eco-zones. Most of their food demand is met by foraging (hunter-gatherer). Typical usage of Microlithic (small stone) tools and Microlithic technology is evident during this phase. Points, scrapers and arrowheads were invented during this phase. They also created tiny tools which were less than 5 cm in size. They also used geometric tools such as lunates, triangles and trapezes.
Rock paintings from Bhimbetka
Neolithic Culture and the Beginning of Agriculture
The important phase in human evolution is the Neolithic period or New Age. During this time, agriculture and animal domestication came into practice. These practices started from about 10,000 BC (BCE) to 5000 BC. They also found out new polishing and grinding techniques used in the making of tools.
The following are the regions where the evidence is found for the initial stages of Neolithic Culture:
- Fertile Crescent shape like region included Egypt, Israel-Palestine and Iraq
- Indus region
- Gangetic valley and in China
The hunter-gatherer lifestyle offered them only a limited quantity of food, which directly affects the size of a group’s population in a particular region. It was the case till the Mesolithic phase. But, the scenario was different during Neolithic Culture. People started rearing domesticated animals and involved in farming activities. It yielded an excessive amount of food grains and animal meat, which in turn led them to live together in relatively huge numbers. They built permanent houses resulting in villages of different sizes formed. The critical factors which lead to this human revolution is a fertile, rich soil deposited along the banks by the rivers (helped the agricultural growth). So this period is also known as “The Neolithic Revolution”.