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 following types based on the microliths collected:
- Earliest Lithic Assemblages,
- Oldowan Technology,
- Lower, Middle & Upper Paleolithic
Earliest Lithic Assemblages of Human Ancestors
About 3.3 million years ago, the earliest tools made by humans were found in Lomekwi, Kenya. Oldowan tools found in Olduvai Gorge in the continent of African are 2 - 2.6 million years old. Australopithecines used hammer stones and produced the sharp-edged flakes used for processing of 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 many other tools by them. The tools which were found in Asia, Africa and Europe are dated back to About 1.8 million years ago. Bi-faces (bi = two, face = side) tools are conveying the human’s cognitive skills and the physical symmetry. The tool-making tradition was continued between 250,000 to 60,000 years ago in India.
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 the 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 fleshes 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 are made using a hammer stone.
Flake is a small chip removed from the Core.
Middle Palaeolithic Culture
Later, about 3,98,000 BC ago, there were changes in making of 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 one who started the burial of the mortal remains in a systematic way.
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 during this phase, there were huge developments in cognitive skills and in languages. Though there were many developments in tool making, people in this phase also used Microliths (stone tools).
Burinis is chisel made up of stone with a sharp edge.
Around 60,000 years ago the 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. They used animal bones, Ivory for tools as well as art work. They also created Pendants from them. They used Bone needles, fish hooks, harpoons and spears for their fishing and hunting activities in a very intelligent 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 surface of the earth 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 in 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). Common 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 very small 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 period, Agriculture and animal domestication came into practise. These practices started 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 the population of a group in a particular region. It was the case till Mesolithic phase. But the scenario was different during Neolithic Culture, since people started rearing domesticated animals and involved in farming activities, yielded them 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 important factors which lead this human revolution is the fertile rich soil deposited along the banks by the rivers (helped the agricultural growth). So this period is also known as “Neolithic Revolution”.