Stone Tool Industries of the Paleolithic Age

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  • 0:08 Paleolithic Age
  • 1:20 Oldowan Industry
  • 2:00 Acheulian Industry
  • 2:46 Clactonian Industry
  • 3:50 Mousterian Industry
  • 5:04 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 explain the different stone industries of the Paleolithic Age. In doing so, it will highlight the Oldowan industry, the Acheulian industry, the Clactonian industry, and the Mousterian industry and their corresponding tools.

Paleolithic Age

Growing up, my dad would sometimes send me down into his toolbox to fetch a certain tool. Much to his chagrin, I usually ended up bringing him the wrong tool about nine times out of ten. To put it mildly, it wasn't all that apparent to the young me what the difference was between a socket wrench and a normal wrench. Although, as a grown up, I've gotten much better at categorizing tools, I must admit that today's lesson on the different stone tools of the Paleolithic Age can be a tricky one. For this reason, we're going to work to cover the very basics of this topic, hitting upon the most agreed upon theories of our very, very ancient past.

For starters, the Paleolithic Age is often simply referred to as the 'Old Stone Age,' spanning from the beginning of man's existence until about the year 10,000 BC. Adding to this definition, the Paleolithic Age holds the first evidence of humans making and using tools. However, since the Paleolithic Age spans such a vast amount of time, this tool-making process is usually broken down into four main categories, usually referred to as 'industries.' They are the Oldowan industry, the Acheulian industry, the Clactonian industry, and the Mousterian Industry.

Oldowan Industry

With it being the oldest of the four, we'll start with the Oldowan industry. The Oldowan industry consisted of very rudimentary tools, such as stones used to pound, scrape, or chop things. Interestingly, archaeologists don't think these tools were used in the hunting of game. Instead, they were most likely used to scrape meat from animal carcasses or to pound vegetation into edible forms.

Many of the most common Oldowan tools have been coined as pebble tools, the earliest known tools, which were made of very small stones. With this in mind, and to help me keep things straight, I like to remember the Oldowan industry as simply the 'oldest one!'

Acheulian Industry

With this, we move onto the Acheulian industry. Believed to have sort of followed the Oldowan industry, the Acheulian industry consisted of tools that were chipped down to create a thin tool, symmetrically carved on both sides.

The tools of this industry were also much larger than the tools of the older Oldowan industry. Excellent examples of this are the many axe-shaped tools found at Saint Acheul, France, the very site this industry is named after.

Tools characteristic of the Acheulian industry
Tools from the Acheulian industry

As you can see from this image, these tools have been shaped and chiseled to be symmetrical and pointed. Making this one much easier for us amateurs to remember, many archaeologists refer to the Acheulian industry as the 'axe industry.'

Clactonian Industry

Next, we have the Clactonian industry, but before we get into this description, there's one thing we need to sort of say. First, there is no agreement among anthropologists as to which industry came first, the Acheulian or the Clactonian. Also, since the tools from these two industries are so similar, some anthropologists actually just lump them together.

Keeping this in mind, let's get onto the Clactonian industry, named after the area known as Clacton-on-Sea of England. Being very similar to the Acheulian industry, the Clactonian industry consisted of tools that were notched and grooved, leading archaeologists to believe that they were attached to sticks or bones. Trying to keep things straight, I use this and think that 'Clactonian tools were clasped to wood or bones!'

Also differing from the Acheulian industry, most Clactonian tools were not symmetrical. In other words, they weren't carved or chiseled to have both sides look the same. However, the biggest difference between the Acheulian and the Clactonian industry is that the Clactonian industry seems to have lacked the use of any type of axe, the hallmark tool of the Acheulian industry.

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