Prehistoric technology

Prehistoric technology is technology that predates recorded history. History is the study of the past using written records. Anything prior to the first written accounts of history is prehistoric, including earlier technologies. About 2.5 million years before writing was developed, technology began with the earliest hominids who used stone tools, which they may have used to start fires, hunt, and bury their dead.

There are several factors that made the evolution of prehistoric technology possible or necessary. One of the key factors is behavioral modernity of the highly developed brain of Homo sapiens capable of abstract reasoning, language, introspection, and problem solving. The advent of agriculture resulted in lifestyle changes from nomadic lifestyles to ones lived in homes, with domesticated animals, and land farmed using more varied and sophisticated tools. Art, architecture, music and religion evolved over the course of the prehistoric periods.

Neandertaler-im-Museum
A reconstruction of a Neanderthal male from the Neanderthal Museum

Old World

Stone Age

The Stone Age is a broad prehistoric period during which stone was widely used in the manufacture of implements with a sharp edge, a point, or a percussion surface. The period lasted roughly 2.5 million years, from the time of early hominids to Homo sapiens in the later Pleistocene era, and largely ended between 6000 and 2000 BCE with the advent of metalworking.

The Stone Age lifestyle was that of hunter-gatherers who traveled to hunt game and gather wild plants, with minimal changes in technology. As the last glacial period of the current ice age neared its end (about 12,500 years ago), large animals like the mammoth and bison antiquus became extinct and the climate changed. Humans adapted by maximizing the resources in local environments, gathering and eating a wider range of wild plants and hunting or catching smaller game. Domestication of plants and animals with early stages in the Old World (Afro-Eurasia) Mesolithic and New World (Americas) Archaic periods led to significant changes and reliance on agriculture in the Old World Neolithic and New World Formative stage. The agricultural life led to more settled existences and significant technological advancements.[1][nb 1]

Although Paleolithic cultures left no written records, the shift from nomadic life to settlement and agriculture can be inferred from a range of archaeological evidence. Such evidence includes ancient tools,[2] cave paintings, and other prehistoric art, such as the Venus of Willendorf. Human remains also provide direct evidence, both through the examination of bones, and the study of mummies. Though concrete evidence is limited, scientists and historians have been able to form significant inferences about the lifestyle and culture of various prehistoric peoples, and the role technology played in their lives.

Lower Paleolithic

The Lower Paleolithic period was the earliest subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age. It spans the time from around 2.5 million years ago when the first evidence of craft and use of stone tools by hominids appears in the current archaeological record, until around 300,000 years ago, spanning the Oldowan ("mode 1") and Acheulean ("mode 2") lithic technology.

Early human (hominid) used stone tool technology, such as a hand axe that was similar to that used by primates, which are found to have intelligence levels of modern children aged 3 to 5 years. Intelligence and use of technology did not change much for millions of years. The first "Homo" species began with Homo habilis about 2.4 to 1.5 million years ago.[3] Homo habilis ("handy man') created stone tools called Oldowan tools.[4][5][6] Homo ergaster lived in eastern and southern Africa about 2.5 to 1.7 million years ago and used more diverse and sophisticated stone tools than its predecessor, Homo habilis, including having refined the inherited Oldowan tools and developed the first Acheulean bifacial axes.[7]

Homo erectus ("upright man") lived about 1.8 to 1.3 million years ago in West Asia and Africa and is thought to be the first hominid to hunt in coordinated groups, use complex tools, and care for infirm or weaker companions.[8][9] Homo antecessor the earliest hominid in Northern Europe lived from 1.2 million to 800,000 years ago and used stone tools.[10][11] Homo heidelbergensis lived between 600,000 and 400,000 years ago and used stone tool technology similar the Acheulean tools used by Homo erectus.[12]

Diorama, cavemen - National Museum of Mongolian History
A diorama showing Homo erectus, the earliest human species that is known to have controlled fire, from inside the National Museum of Mongolian History in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

European and Asian sites dating back 1.5 million years ago seem to indicate controlled use of fire by Homo erectus. A northern Israel site from about 690,000 to 790,000 years ago suggests that man could light fires.[13] Homo heidelbergensis may have been the first species to bury their dead about 500,000 years ago.[14]

Middle Paleolithic

The Middle Paleolithic period occurred in Europe and the Near East, during which the Neanderthals lived (c. 300,000–28,000 years ago). The earliest evidence (Mungo Man) of settlement in Australia dates to around 40,000 years ago when modern humans likely crossed from Asia by island-hopping. The Bhimbetka rock shelters exhibit the earliest traces of human life in India, some of which are approximately 30,000 years old.

Homo neanderthalensis used Mousterian Stone tools that date back to around 300,000 years ago[15] and include smaller, knife-like and scraper tools. They buried their dead in shallow graves along with stone tools and animal bones, although the reasons and significance of the burials are disputed.[16][17]

Homo sapiens, the only living species in the genus Homo, originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago. As compared to their predecessors, Homo sapiens had greater mental capability and ability to walk erect, which provided freed hands for manipulating objects and far greater use of tools.[18] There was art created during this period. Intentional burial, particularly with grave goods, may be one of the earliest detectable forms of religious practice since it may signify a "concern for the dead that transcends daily life."[19] The earliest undisputed human burial so far dates back 130,000 years. Human skeletal remains stained with red ochre were discovered in the Skhul cave at Qafzeh, Israel with a variety of grave goods.[20]

Upper Paleolithic Revolution

During the Upper Paleolithic Revolution, advancements in human intelligence and technology changed radically with the advent of Behavioral modernity between 60,000 and 30,000 years ago.[3] Behavioral modernity is a set of traits that distinguish Homo sapiens from extinct hominid lineages. Homo sapiens reached full behavior modernity around 50,000 years ago due to a highly developed brain capable of abstract reasoning, language, introspection, and problem solving.[18][21]

Aurignacian tools, such as stone bladed tools, tools made of antlers, and tools made of bones were created during this period.[22] People began creating clothing. What appear to be sewing needles were found around 40,000 years ago and[23] dyed flax fibers dated 36,000 BP were found in a prehistoric cave in the Republic of Georgia.[24][25] Human beings may have begun wearing clothing as far back as 190,000 years ago.[26]

Cultural aspects emerged, such as art of the Upper Paleolithic period, which included cave painting, sculpture such as the Venus figurines, carvings and engravings of bone and ivory. The most common subject matter was large animals that were hunted by the people of the time. The Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain and Côa Valley Paleolithic Art are examples of such artwork. Musical instruments such as flutes emerged during this period.

Mesolithic period

The Mesolithic period was a transitional era between the Paleolithic hunter-gatherers, beginning with the Holocene warm period around 11,660 BP and ending with the Neolithic introduction of farming, the date of which varied in each geographical region. Adaptation was required during this period due to climate changes that affected environment and the types of available food.

Small stone tools called microliths, including small bladelets and microburins, emerged during this period.[27] For instance, spears or arrows were found at the earliest known Mesolithic battle site at Cemetery 117 in the Sudan.[28] Holmegaard bows were found in the bogs of Northern Europe dating from the Mesolithic period.[29] These microliths point to the use of projectile technology since they are widely assumed to have formed the tips and barbs of arrows.[30] This is demonstrated by mesolithic assemblages found in southwest Germany, which revealed two types of projectiles used: arrows with transverse, trapezoidal stone tips and large barbed antler "harpoons".[31] These implements indicate the nature of human adaptation to the environment during the period, describing the Mesolithic societies as hunter-gatherers.[32]

Neolithic Revolution

The Neolithic Revolution was the first agricultural revolution, representing a transition from hunting and gathering nomadic life to an agriculture existence. It evolved independently in six separate locations worldwide circa 10,000–7,000 years BP (8,000–5,000 BC). The earliest known evidence exists in the tropical and subtropical areas of southwestern/southern Asia, northern/central Africa and Central America.[33]

There are some key defining characteristics. The Introduction of agriculture resulted in a shift from nomadic to more sedentary lifestyles,[34] and the use of agricultural tools such as the plough, digging stick and hoe (tool) made agricultural labor more efficient. Animals were domesticated, including dogs.[33][34] Another defining characteristic of the period was the emergence of pottery,[34] and, in the late Neolithic period, the wheel was introduced for making pottery.[35]

Neolithic architecture included houses and villages built of mud-brick and wattle and daub and the construction of storage facilities, tombs and monuments.[36] Copper metalworking was employed as early as 9000 BC in the Middle East;[37] and a copper pendant found in northern Iraq dated to 8700 BC.[38] Ground and polished stone tools continued to be created and used during the Neolithic period.[34]

Numeric record keeping evolved from a system of counting using small clay tokens that began in Sumer about 8000 BC.[39]

Bronze Age

Sword bronze age (2nd version)
A late Bronze Age sword or dagger blade.

The Stone Age developed into the Bronze Age after the Neolithic Revolution. The Neolithic Revolution involved radical changes in agricultural technology which included development of agriculture, animal domestication, and the adoption of permanent settlements.

The Bronze Age is characterised by metal smelting of copper and its alloy bronze, an alloy of tin and copper, to create implements and weapons. Polished stone tools continued to be used due to their abundance compared with the less common metals (especially tin).

This technological trend apparently began in the Fertile Crescent, and spread outward.

Iron Age

Axe of iron from Swedish Iron Age, found at Gotland, Sweden
An axehead made of iron, dating from Swedish Iron Age.

The Iron Age involved the adoption of iron or steel smelting technology, either by casting or forging. Iron replaced bronze,[40][41] and made it possible to produce tools which were stronger, lighter and cheaper to make than bronze equivalents.[42] The best tools and weapons were made from steel.[43]

Other societal changes often accompanied the introduction of iron, including practice changes in art, religion and agriculture. The Iron Age ends with the beginning of the historic periods, generally marked by the development of written language that enabled creation of historic records.[41][43]

The timing of the adoption of iron depended upon "the availability of iron ore and the state of knowledge".[40][41] Iron was smelted in Egypt about 6000 B.C. and iron replaced bronze in the Middle East about 1500 B.C. Chinese began casting iron about 5000 B.C. and their methods for casting iron was the precursor to modern steel manufacturing methods. Most of Asia, however, did not adopt production of iron until the historic period.[40]

In Europe, iron was introduced about 1100 B.C. and had replaced bronze for creating weapons and tools by 500 B.C. They made iron through the forging smelting process and integrated casting in the Middle Ages.[40] Large hill forts or oppida were built either as a refuge in time of war, or sometimes as permanent settlements. Agricultural practices were made more efficient with more effective and varied iron tools.[44] In Europe, the Iron Age is the last prehistoric period and is followed by the Middle Ages.[45]

Iron was extracted from metal ore starting about 2000 B.C. in Africa.[40]

New World

The New World periods began with the crossing of the Paleo-Indians, Athabaskan, Aleuts and Eskimos along the Bering Land Bridge onto the North American continent.[46]

The Paleo-Indians were the first people who entered, and subsequently inhabited, the Americas during the final glacial episodes of the late Pleistocene period. Evidence suggests big-game hunters crossed the Bering Strait from Asia into North America over a land and ice bridge (Beringia), that existed between 45,000 BCE – 12,000 BCE,[47] following herds of large herbivores far into Alaska.[48]

In their book, Method and Theory in American Archaeology, Gordon Willey and Philip Phillips defined five cultural stages for the Americas, including the three prehistoric Lithic, Archaic and Formative stages. The historic stages are the Classic and Post-Classic stages.[49][50]

Lithic

The Lithic period occurred from 12,000 to 6,000 years before present and included the Clovis, Folsom and Plano cultures.[50] Clovis culture was considered the first culture to use projectile points to hunt on the North American continent. Since then, a pre-Clovis site was found in Manis, Washington that found use of projectile points to hunt mastodons.[51]

Archaic

The Archaic period in the Americas was dated from 8,000 to 2,000 years before present.[50] People were hunters of small game, such as deer, antelope and rabbits, and gatherers of wild plants, moving seasonally to hunting and gathering sites. Late in the Archaic period, about 200-500 A.D., corn was introduced into the diet and pottery-making became an occupation for storing and caring food.[52]

Formative

The Formative stage followed the Archaic period in the Americas and continued until there was contact by European people. Some of the cultures from that period include that of the Ancient Pueblo People, Mississippian culture and Olmec cultures.[50]

Cultures of the Formative Stage are supposed to possess the technologies of pottery, weaving, and developed food production. Social organization is supposed to involve permanent towns and villages, as well as the first ceremonial centers. Ideologically, an early priestly class or theocracy is often present or in development.[53]

Gallery

Homo erectus Steveoc 86

Reconstruction of how Homo erectus may have looked

Homo antecessor male

Model of a male Homo antecessor of Atapuerca mountains (Ibeas Museum, Burgos, Spain)

Homo heidelbergensis (10233446)

Reconstruction of Homo heidelbergensis

Black Moshannon State Park Bow Drill 3

Fire started using a bow drill

National park stone tools

Selection of prehistoric tools

Lascaux 04

Aurochs on a cave painting in Lascaux, France

See also

Notes

  1. ^ During the Paleolithic Age, archaic humans had a lifestyle which involved limited use of tools and few permanent settlements. The first major technologies, then, were tied to survival, hunting, and food preparation in this environment. Fire, stone tools and weapons, and clothing were technological developments of major importance during this period. Stone Age cultures developed music, and engaged in organized warfare. A subset of Stone Age humans, including Ngaro Aborigines, developed ocean-worthy outrigger canoe technology, leading to an eastward migration across the Malay archipelago, across the Indian ocean to Madagascar and also across the Pacific Ocean, which required knowledge of the ocean currents, weather patterns, sailing, celestial navigation, and star maps. The early Stone Age is described as Epipaleolithic or Mesolithic. The former is generally used to describe the early Stone Age in areas with limited glacial impact. The later Stone Age, during which the rudiments of agricultural technology were developed, is called the Neolithic period. During this period, polished stone tools were made from a variety of hard rocks such as flint, jade, jadeite and greenstone, largely by working exposures as quarries, but later the valuable rocks were pursued by tunnelling underground, the first steps in mining technology. The polished axes were used for forest clearance and the establishment of crop farming, and were so effective as to remain in use when bronze and iron appeared.

References

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Further reading

  • Fagan, Brian; Shermer, Michael; Wrangham, Richard. (2010). Science & Humanity: From Past to the Future. Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
  • Karlin, C.; Julien, M. Prehistoric technology: a cognitive science? University of Washington.
  • Klein, Richard. (2009). The Human Career: Human Biological and Cultural Origins, Third Edition.
  • Palmer, Douglas. (1999). Atlas of the Prehistoric World. Discovery Channel Books.
  • Schick, Kathy Diane. (1994). Making Silent Stones Speak: Human Evolution and the Dawn of Technology.
  • Tudge, Colin. (1997). The Time Before History: 5 Million Years of Human Impact. Touchstone.
  • Wescott, David. (2001). Primitive Technology:A Book of Earth Skills.
  • Wescott, David. (2001). Primitive Technology II: Ancestral Skill - From the Society of Primitive Technology.
  • Wrangham, Richard. (2010). Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. Basic Books; First Trade Paper Edition.
  • Zimmer, Carl. (2007). Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins. Harper Perennial.

External links

Bare Island projectile point

The Bare Island projectile point is a stone projectile point of prehistoric indigenous peoples of North America. It was named by Fred Kinsey in 1959 for examples recovered at the Kent-Halley site on Bare Island in Pennsylvania.

Burnt mound

A burnt mound is an archaeological feature consisting of a mound of shattered stones and charcoal, normally with an adjacent hearth and trough. The trough could be rock-cut, wood-lined or clay-lined to ensure it was watertight. Radiocarbon dates vary quite widely, the earliest being late Neolithic, with clusters of dates between 1900–1500 BC and 1200–800 BC, with some outliers in the Iron Age. There are also some dates that go into the early Medieval period. The technology used at burnt mounds has much greater antiquity and is found from the palaeolithic onwards.

Celt (tool)

In archaeology, a celt is a long, thin, prehistoric, stone or bronze tool similar to an adze, a hoe or axe-like tool.

Cumberland point

A Cumberland point is a lithic projectile point, attached to a spear and used as a hunting tool. These sturdy points were intended for use as thrusting weapons and employed by various mid-Paleo-Indians (c. 11,000 BP) in the Southeastern US in the killing of large game mammals.

Eden point

Eden Points are a form of chipped stone projectile points associated with a sub-group of the larger Plano culture. Sometimes also called Yuma points, the first Eden points were discovered in washouts in Yuma County, Colorado. They were first discovered in situ at an ancient buffalo kill site near Eden, Wyoming by Harold J. Cook in 1941. The site, named after discoverer O. M. Finley, eventually yielded 24 projectile points, including eight Eden points, eight Scottsbluff points and one complete Cody point, both other sub-groups within the Plano group. Eden points are believed to have been used between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago by paleo-indian hunters in the western plains.

Eden points are the most common paleo-indian projectile points found today. They have been discovered across the western plain states, including Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, and Montana.

Folsom point

Folsom points are a distinct form of knapped stone projectile points associated with the Folsom tradition of North America. The style of tool-making was named after the Folsom Site located in Folsom, New Mexico, where the first sample was found by George McJunkin within the bone structure of a bison in 1908. The Folsom point was identified as a unique style of projectile point in 1926.

Grattoir de côté

A Grattoir de côté (translates from French as Side Scraper) is an archaeological term for a ridged variety of steep-scrapers distinguished by a working edge on one side. They were found at various archaeological sites in Lebanon including Ain Cheikh and Jdeideh II and are suggested to date to Upper Paleolithic stages three or four (Antelian).

Grinding slab

In archaeology, a grinding slab is a ground stone artifact generally used to grind plant materials into usable size, though some slabs were used to shape other ground stone artifacts. Some grinding stones are portable; others are not and, in fact, may be part of a stone outcropping.

Grinding slabs used for plant processing typically acted as a coarse surface against which plant materials were ground using a portable hand stone, or mano ("hand" in Spanish). Variant grinding slabs are referred to as metates or querns, and have a ground-out bowl. Like all ground stone artifacts, grinding slabs are made of large-grained materials such as granite, basalt, or similar tool stones.

International Institute for Prehistoric Research of Cantabria

The International Institute for Prehistoric Research of Cantabria (Instituto Internacional de Investigaciones Prehistóricas de Cantabria) is a university research institute of mixed character, created by the University of Cantabria on 29 April 2004. It is sponsored by the University of Cantabria, the Government of Cantabria and the Spanish Santander central bank (Banco Santander Central Hispano). Since 2004 it has been an associated unit of the National Research Council (Institute of History at Madrid, and Institución Milá y Fontanals at Barcelona.

The current director is Manuel Ramón González Morales.

The Institute is dedicated to prehistoric research, both of basic and applied and provides technical advice within this field. A recent five-year plan (2003-2007) has defined its subject areas of focus:

Prehistoric Art

Paleolithic of southwest Europe

Origin and development of rural societies

Prehistoric TechnologySince 2005, the IIIPC has published a journal called "Monographs of the Cantabria International Institute for Prehistoric Research" (Monografías del Instituto Internacional de Investigaciones Prehistóricas de Cantabria) with the technical support of the University of Cantabria Publications Service. This aims to disseminate the results of investigations and scientific output of the Institute in the field of prehistory.

Lamoka projectile point

Lamoka projectile points are stone projectile points manufactured by Native Americans what is now the northeastern United States, generally in the time interval of 3500-2500 B.C. They predate the invention of the bow and arrow, and are therefore not true "arrowheads", but rather atlatl dart points. They derive their name from the specimens found at the Lamoka site in Schuyler County, New York.

National Museum and Research Center of Altamira

The National Museum and Research Center of Altamira (Spanish: Museo Nacional y Centro de Investigación de Altamira) is a center dedicated to the conservation of, research into and the sharing of information about the cave of Altamira in Santillana del Mar (Cantabria, Spain), named a World Heritage Site by Unesco.

The museum offers prehistoric technology workshops to visitors, as well as a permanent exhibition called Times of Altamira, which contains objects from Altamira as well as those from other palaeolithic caves of Cantabria such as El Morín, El Juyo and El Rascaño. The New Altamira Cave, or Neocave, is also part of this exhibition: an artificial replica of the original caves, built in order to preserve the originals from damage arising from a massive influx of visitors.

Outline of prehistoric technology

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to prehistoric technology.

Prehistoric technology – technology that predates recorded history. History is the study of the past using written records; it is also the record itself. Anything prior to the first written accounts of history is prehistoric (meaning "before history"), including earlier technologies. About 2.5 million years before writing was developed, technology began with the earliest hominids who used stone tools, which they may have used to start fires, hunt, cut food, and bury their dead.

Pesse canoe

The Pesse canoe is believed to be the world's oldest known boat, and certainly the oldest known canoe. Carbon dating indicates that the boat was constructed during the early mesolithic period between 8040 BCE and 7510 BCE. It is now in the Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands.

Plano point

In archeology, Plano point is flaked stone projectile points and tools created by the various Plano cultures of the North American Great Plains between 9000 BC and 6000 BC for hunting, and possibly to kill other humans.

They are bifacially worked and have been divided into numerous sub-groups based on variations in size, shape and function including Alberta points, Cody points, Frederick points, Eden points and Scottsbluff points. Plano points do not include the hollowing or 'fluting' found in Clovis and Folsom points.

Racloir

In archeology, a racloir, also known as racloirs sur talon (French for scraper on the platform), is a certain type of flint tool made by prehistoric peoples.

It is a type of side scraper distinctive of Mousterian assemblages. It is created from a flint flake and looks like a large scraper. As well as being used for scraping hides and bark, it may also have been used as a knife. Racloirs are most associated with the Neanderthal Mousterian industry. These racloirs are retouched along the ridge between the striking platform and the dorsal face. They have shaped edges and are modified by abrupt flaking from the dorsal face.

Tool stone

In archaeology, a tool stone is a type of stone that is used to manufacture stone tools,

or stones used as the raw material for tools.Generally speaking, tools that require a sharp edge are made using cryptocrystalline materials that fracture in an easily controlled conchoidal manner.

Cryptocrystalline tool stones include flint and chert, which are fine-grained sedimentary materials; rhyolite and felsite, which are igneous flowstones; and obsidian, a form of natural glass created by igneous processes. These materials fracture in a predictable fashion, and are easily resharpened. For more information on this subject, see lithic reduction.

Large-grained materials, such as basalt, granite, and sandstone, may also be used as tool stones, but for a very different purpose: they are ideal for ground stone artifacts. Whereas cryptocrystalline materials are most useful for killing and processing animals, large-grained materials are usually used for processing plant matter. Their rough faces often make excellent surfaces for grinding plant seeds. With much effort, some large-grained stones may be ground down into awls, adzes, and axes.

Uniface

In archeology, a uniface is a specific type of stone tool that has been flaked on one surface only. There are two general classes of uniface tools: modified flakes—and formalized tools, which display deliberate, systematic modification of the marginal edges, evidently formed for a specific purpose.

Uriel's Machine

Uriel's Machine: The Prehistoric Technology That Survived the Flood is a bestselling book published in 1999 by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas. The book's name is derived from a character of the same name in the Book of Enoch. In Knight and Lomas's interpretation of the Book of Enoch, Uriel warns Enoch about the impending flood, giving him instructions for building a form of solar observatory for the purpose of preserving advanced knowledge into a time of global disaster by teaching him the movement of the Sun against the horizon over a period of time, which Enoch then records in detail in the Book of the Courses of the Heavenly Luminaries.

Yubetsu technique

The Yubetsu technique (湧別技法, Yūbetsu gihō) is a special technique to make microblades, proposed by Japanese scholar Yoshizaki in 1961, based on his finds in some Upper Palaeolithic sites in Hokkaido, Japan, which date from c. 13,000 bp.

The name comes from the Yūbetsu River (湧別川, Yubetsugawa), on the right bank of which the Shirataki (白滝遺跡, Shirataki Iseki) Palaeolithic sites were discovered.

To make microblades by this technique, a large biface is made into a core which looks like a tall carinated scraper. Then one lateral edge of the bifacial core is removed, producing at first a triangular spall. After, more edge removals will produce ski spalls of parallel surfaces.

This technique was also used from Mongolia to Kamchatka Peninsula during the later Pleistocene.

Prehistoric technology
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