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The Stone Age: Period & Overview

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  • 0:01 The Stone Age
  • 1:08 The Paleolithic Period
  • 2:19 The Mesolithic Period
  • 3:21 The Neolithic Period
  • 5:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stacy Chambers
Most of humanity's past is shrouded in mystery, but we've learned a great deal about prehistory. Learn about the Stone Age and how humans advanced from it.

The Stone Age

The first 98 percent of humanity's history is virtually unrecorded. Known as prehistory, or the Stone Age, most of what we know is not from written accounts, but from the tools our ancestors used to survive. Our ancestors recorded very little of their existence during prehistory. Writing simply didn't exist as we know it today.

We call this period the Stone Age because many of the tools from that time were made from stone - but they were also made from flint, bone, and antler. These tools are one of the few things - besides some fossils - that have survived the 700,000 years since humankind fashioned its first axe and flint.

The Stone Age is divided into three periods: the Paleolithic period, the Mesolithic period, and the Neolithic period. Each of these periods is based on the sophistication of the tools our ancestors made. During the Paleolithic period, they made very simple tools. By the end of the Neolithic period, tools and their usage had become more complex and specialized.

The Paleolithic Period

The Paleolithic period is also known as the Old Stone Age. No one's really sure just how long this period lasted, but archaeologists have theorized people used simple tools as early as 700,000 years ago. During this period, people survived as hunter-gatherers, hunting wild game and supplementing their diets with gathered wild berries, nuts, and fruits. Animals eaten for food were also used for tools, for clothing, and for shelter. No part of the animal went unused.

Populations were small and scattered. Some archaeologists believe there were no more than one million people worldwide at any one time during the Old Stone Age. If this seems like a lot of people, compare it to our current world population of 7 billion.

People stayed in small groups and hunted, gathered, and lived together. At the time, the climate of the earth was very different from today. It was much colder. There weren't as many plants, and animals had to travel to find food. So did people - they had to follow the animals since they relied chiefly on animals for food. This is why people of the Paleolithic period were nomadic and never settled in one place for long.

Flint Hand Axe
Flint Hand Axe

The Mesolithic Period

The Mesolithic period (the Middle Stone Age) began when the last ice sheet over Great Britain melted. It was then that large areas of vegetation and woodland began to grow, but the people of this period still depended on animals for food and were still nomadic. They often camped temporarily near water sources, and their tents were made of animal skin or of thatched leaves. Like the people of the Paleolithic period, many of the Mesolithic period were hunter-gatherers. They hunted wild game and collected wild nuts, fruits, and berries.

They developed more sophisticated tools, using bones for fishhooks and deer antlers for digging. They sometimes used bones to make spears so they could more efficiently hunt wild animals. Though they hunted deer, wild pigs, wild cattle, and horses, fishing was also an important part of the Mesolithic diet, and the people of this period developed canoes and paddles to more easily catch fish.

Various Stone Age tools
Stone Age tools

The Neolithic Period

It was during the Neolithic period - also known as the New Stone Age - that humans learned to farm. Humans began to develop this skill roughly 10,000 years ago, and it made a huge difference in lifestyle. Now humans were no longer so dependent on animals for food and could settle in one place for a while. This is precisely what they did, often settling near rivers, which provided water and fertile soil. Humans also learned to tame animals - probably because they were quick to learn that animals could be used to do much of the work on a farm.

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