An Overview of Mesolithic Archaeology

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  • 0:01 Dating & Geographical Changes
  • 1:42 Nomadic Hunter-Gatherers
  • 2:12 Microliths & Technology
  • 3:17 Radiocarbon Dating
  • 3:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will seek to explain archaeological theories concerning the Mesolithic Age. In doing so, it will highlight microliths, the nomadic lifestyle, the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and the use of radioactive carbon dating.

Dating and Geographical Changes

Today's lesson on archaeology's understanding of the Mesolithic Age will be one based in theory, a supposition used to account for a situation or justify a course of action. I make this point at the very beginning of our lesson because new archaeological finds are regularly being uncovered that challenge, rearrange, or even disprove science's explanations about our past.

Using some huge oversimplification, I liken this flux to my daughter trying to alphabetize her spelling list. She thinks she's got it nailed down, but then she realizes she's missed a word, and all of a sudden the whole list needs to shift. In the same manner, new findings keep popping up that make one thing for certain: we are only dealing in theories when we speak of the Stone Ages.

With that little disclaimer of sorts, let's get onto archaeology's understanding of the Mesolithic Age, or the 'Middle Stone Age.' With dates not being completely nailed down, most archaeologists place the Mesolithic Age loosely between the years 12,000 BC to 4,000 BC. Adding to this dating, it's also theorized that the Mesolithic Age began as the Ice Age ended.

In fact, archaeologists assert that one of the most important events of the Mesolithic Age was the rising of the sea levels due to the melting of glaciers. Many believed this actually changed the physical map of our globe. For instance, some theorize that before the onset of the Mesolithic Age, places like Britain, which is now an island, were connected to their mainland continents. Moving away from the geography and dating of the Mesolithic Age, we now turn our attention toward our ancient ancestors.

Nomadic Hunter-Gatherers

At the time of the Mesolithic Age, most humans were hunter-gatherers, people who collect food from naturally occurring resources, things like plants, animals, and sea life. With this dependence on the environment, many also believe that the people of the Mesolithic Age were nomadic, moving from place to place with no specific pattern, usually in an effort to find food. In other words, the people of the Mesolithic, or Middle, Stone Age followed their food; they did not plant it.

Microliths & Technology

With this in mind, some may assume that the people of the Mesolithic Age lacked sharp intellect or reason. However, archaeologists continue to uncover clues that sort of shout the opposite. For instance, the animals hunted and killed by the Mesolithic people were not just ravaged and discarded. On the contrary, the carcasses of the animals were used to fashion tools, create weapons, and even provide ceremonial clothing. A really neat example of this was found at a Mesolithic site in Yorkshire, England, where archaeologists believe they found a human headdress made of a deer skull and antlers.

Along with the many uses they found for their killed game, Mesolithic people also manipulated other aspects of their environment to survive. In other words, Mesolithic people engaged in the use of technology. One specific example of this connected most strongly to the Mesolithic Age is the use of microliths, small flint blades of many differing shapes usually used as weapons, but also employed as tools. Yes, they may be crude technology, but it's technology all the same!

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