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Paleolithic Age: Definition & Facts

Instructor: Grace Pisano

Grace has taught high school history in several states with a master's degree in teaching.

The Paleolithic Age refers to the time period in the ancient world that (quite literally!) gave humans the tools needed to advance society. In this lesson, learn about the Paleolithic Age.

What is the Paleolithic Age?

If you're like most people, you probably only know two things about the Paleolithic Age: it happened a long time ago and there's a popular fad diet (Paleo) that has something to do with this time period. However, the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age is much more than just these two things. Let's talk about when the Paleolithic Age happened and what the most important developments of the time were.

Timeframe and Basic Information

As one name given to this time period suggests, the major developments of the Paleolithic Era center on stone. During the Paleolithic Era, stone was used to create tools and artwork. There are three major eras within the Old Stone Age. The Lower Paleolithic Age began about 2.5 million years ago and lasted until 150,000 years ago. The Middle Paleolithic Age began about 150,000 years ago and lasted until 40,000 years ago. The Upper Paleolithic Age began about 40,000 years ago and lasted until about 10,000 BCE. Each of these eras are marked with continually more advanced technological developments. Remember, when we talk about the developments of these era, they may seem very basic compared to modern times. However, keep in mind that these inventions drastically changed the way people lived!

Lower Paleolithic Age

An example of the hand axe looked like. This is similar to the first stone tool humans created!

The beginning of the Lower Paleolithic Age lines up with the dating of the oldest stone tools found by archeologists. Until recently, this was believed to be about 2.5 million years ago! However, in 2015, archeologists in Africa discovered stone tools dating back 3.3 million years (that's 800,000 years earlier than previously believed!). Historians and archeologists are now discussing when the Paleolithic Age truly started.

The tools in the Lower Paleolithic Age are very basic stone tools. The two major examples of tools from this period are tools used to chop and the hand axe. Chopping tools were used by homo erectus and could be made of wood, stone or animal bone. The hand axe was first found near modern-day France, dating back about 700,000 years ago. Fossils and artifacts show that, after starting in France, the hand ax was later used in other parts of Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. With this invention, people were able to use something other than their hands to cut up materials!

Middle Paleolithic Age

The Middle Paleolithic Era began about 150,000 years ago and ended about 40,000 years ago. The Middle Paleolithic Era is marked by the use of flake tools. Flake tools are specifically designed from small pieces of flint. Additionally, we have artifacts of shell beads from this era. These beads show signs of both being suspended and having inscriptions on them. These tools and artwork show that people were developing greater dexterity and had enough free time and interest to make things like beads.

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