Last Updated: 24.11.2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ontario Archaeological Society

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Stone Age

Butser Ancient Farm, Hampshire UK

News

Our apologies for a certain lapse in postings. Blame it on the plague. We are all fine and healthy and hope that the same applies to you and those close to you.

Archaeological field work came to an abrupt halt in 2020 and has only resumed on a limited basis in 2021. On the upside, it has given archaeologists time to organize and report their findings and a number of important publications have come out in recent months, including an interim report on the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney— a project on which I am keeping a keen eye.

New articles are due to appear in the coming weeks, starting with one on flintworking. Specifically that of the the Neanderthals, the early humans who occupied the western half of the Eurasian continent for most of the last 200,000 years.

The Three Age System

Christian ThomsenThe terminology and broad divisions of prehistory are very much Eurocentric because, in the early days, most research was either done in Europe or by Europeans. However, as more and more evidence accumulates from other parts of the world, it has become abundantly clear that these seldom fit the local situation. Nevertheless, they are still widely used in broad terms so it is important to understand them.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century one of the principal aims science was classification. The Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, had led the way with his study of plants and it was another Scandinavian scientist, Christian J├╝rgensen Thomsen (right), curator at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, who was the first to try to bring some order to the physical remains of the human past. He based his system on the technology employed to manufacture the particular artefact, be it a tool or a weapon. He reasoned that stone was unlikely to have been the medium of choice if Acheaulian hand-axebronze technology was available and that the same applied with iron over bronze so he categorized objects as belonging to (from oldest to latest) the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.

Of the three, the Stone Age was by far the longest, accounting for about 98% of the time our species has existed on the planet, a period of at least 2.5 million years (compared to the five thousand years or so that metal has beenused). It was only in the middle of the 19th century that some inkling of this vast scale was generally recognized, along with a recognition of the needto bring more order to it. It seemed logical to suppose that the more carefully finished examples, which were oftencharacterized by fine grinding and Polished Axes from Cypruspolishing (right), were later than the cruder looking chipped material, suchas the hand axe shown (above left). In 1865, John Lubbock coined the terms Palaeolithic (“old stone age”) and Neolithic (“new stone age”). It soon became apparent that the Neolithic was also characterized by agriculture rather than the hunter/gatherer lifestyle of the Palaeolithic and that it was very much shorter. The switch from foraging to farming occurred at different times in different places but appears to have happened first about ten thousand years ago in the Middle East. It did not begin in Europe untilsomewhat later and intervening period came to be known as the Mesolithic.

It is the physical remains of various species of Homo together with an interpretation of their behaviour based on the evidence of stone tools and organic remains (animal bones and plant material) that form the basis of our study.Most of the material collected in the early days of the discipline was found in the river systems flowing into the English Channel (La Manche) and the North Sea, especially the Seine and its tributaries. These were alluvial valleys, their gravels and clays eroded upstream and laid down by the river to form terraces. Although it was not possible at the time to date artefacts absolutely, it was clear from what was known of geological processes that the lower levels must be the earliest, and that an enormous amount of time was involved. So, on the basis of their stratigraphic location, a distinction could be made between Lower, Middle and Upper Palaeolithic artefacts. Archaeologists are born cataloguers, however, and subdivisions soon appeared.

These are known as archaeological cultures and are defined as recurring assemblages of artefacts and architectural features (if any) associated with a specific time and place. For example, left is an assemblage from a Beaker Culture burial in Scotland— a typical drinking vessel along with an archer's wrist-guard and a set of arrowheads. In theory, there is no limit to how long or short the period of time might be nor how widespread is the distribution of artefacts. In the early periods, some of them had an almost global reach; in later times they may have been strictly local. They are usually named after the site where the particular assemblage was first discovered (known as the ‘type site’), the geographical region where it predominates, or the artefact (‘diagnostic’) most commonly identified with it.

 

Latest Updates

 

21 Novermber, 2021 The Mousterian Industry
13 June, 2020 Paestum, The Underground Shrine
5 February, 2020 Ness of Brodgar: The Site (revised)
29 October, 2019 The Castro Culture
9 December, 2017 Ness of Brodgar: The Heart of Neolithic Orkney

 

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