As the earliest part of the Stone Age, the Paleolithic era derives its name from the Greek words “paleos,” meaning “old,” and “lithos,” meaning “stone.” This time saw early human ancestors —that archaeologists call hominins — developing simple stone and bone tools, art, and fire. This era began about 2.5 million years ago in Africa and lasted up to 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age. It drew to a close as modern humans began producing works of art and discovering America. Many of the tools made in this period exist, in more advanced forms, today; and fire remains an important part of human life.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
From 2.5 million years ago to 10,000 years ago, early human ancestors made developments that last, in some form, to this day. They discovered fire and art, and made basic tools. Some scientists believe they also discovered what is now called America.
Innovations in Stone Tools
Between 2.5 million and 1.5 million years ago, early Paleolithic hominins made simple tools that resembled broken pieces of rock. Tool technology evolved to produce bifacial tools — or hand axes — about 100,000 years ago. Early humans made these edged tools by using one stone to knock flakes from the surface of other, softer stones such as flint, a process archaeologists call percussion flaking. Humans put the final touches on these blades using bone or antler hammers.
Bone Tools Eased Hunting and Sewing
Anatomically-modern humans appeared about 100,000 years ago. They evolved into groups of Homo sapiens — the human species to which all modern humans belong — which began to use and make bone tools about 40,000 years ago. These humans sharpened animal bones to produce harpoons and spear heads for hunting and fishing. They crafted bones, tusks and antlers into spear-throwers. These tools acted as extensions to human arms, and allowed a person to launch spears and other projectiles at high speeds. Rudimentary sewing also began in this time — humans sharpened bones into needles.
Neanderthals Controlled Fire 100,000 Years Ago
Neanderthal hominins controlled fire, to a basic extent, 100,000 years ago. Scientists still do not know their method of producing fire, but they assume it involved striking rocks to produce sparks. The earliest controlled use of fire remains an archaeological controversy. Scientists discovered burned wood and seeds at sites in Israel dating from 790,000 years ago, and in China dating between 780,000 to 400,000 years ago.
Early Artistic Talent
Humans produced their first works of art during the Upper Paleolithic. Archaeologists have dated cave paintings in southwest Europe to between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago. Humans fashioned bone, mammoth ivory, and stones into figurines about 228,000 to 21,000 years ago at sites in central Europe, southern Russia and, central Asia.
First People in America
Paleolithic Homo sapiens discovered America. However, there is a controversy about the origins and timing of their settlement. The first human settlements appear to have been made sometime during the last 25,000 years when hunters crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Siberia to Alaska. Scientists found implements at Clovis sites in New Mexico that dated back to 13,500 years ago. This led to the theory that the Clovis people were the ancestors of today’s Native Americans. Archaeologists who question the timing and origin of the first settlements suggest that Stone Age man may have migrated from Europe to North America more than 20,000 years ago. Dennis Stanford of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and Bruce Bradley from the University of Exeter in Britain argue that Stone Age Europeans traveled a distance of 1,500 miles over Atlantic ice from Europe to North America.
About the Author
Based in London, Maria Kielmas worked in earthquake engineering and international petroleum exploration before entering journalism in 1986. She has written for the "Financial Times," "Barron's," "Christian Science Monitor," and "Rheinischer Merkur" as well as specialist publications on the energy and financial industries and the European, Middle Eastern, African, Asian and Latin American regions. She has a Bachelor of Science in physics and geology from Manchester University and a Master of Science in marine geotechnics from the University of Wales School of Ocean Sciences.