10 Interesting Facts About The Stone Age

Updated: Dec 28, 2020



1. The Stone Age is the longest time period in the human timeline...

You could take all the following time periods (to the modern day) together, multiply them several times, and the Stone Age would still be longer. However the Stone Age starts and ends in different places at different times. The first period in the Stone Age: The Palaeolithic, is longer than the following time periods put together too! In Britain, the Palaeolithic lasts at least 900,000 years, while the following time periods to the modern day are only around 12,000 years combined!


2. The oldest stone tools date to around 3.3 million years ago.

The simple tools were found at Lake Turkana, Kenya from 2012 - 2014 by archaeologists from a number of institutions. It is thought the tools were made by Australopithecus afarensis or Kenyanthropus platyops, based on the age of the tools which was established by relative dating of the soil layers. Previously it was thought only species of the genus Homo produced flaked stone tools, however this discovery demonstrates some of our earliest ancestors had the ability to manipulate natural resources around them.


3. Stone Age people did not always live in caves...

As caves do not exist everywhere, people had to make use of other shelters (or not inhabit the area at all). Caves are excellent locations for preserving archaeology as they provide shelter even when the human inhabitants are long gone. Animals living in caves can dig burrows, and later humans can dig out deposits left by previous humans (damaging or destroying what was left). If there were no caves in an area that were accessible, humans built shelters of a variety of designs. These shelters almost certainly had wooden frames which were covered with hides, bark or tatching, though little is left besides post holes after thousands of years. Where caves existed however, they were generally used if they were there (and accessible).


4. The oldest musical instrument found is around 35,000 - 40,000 old...


Found at Hohle Fels in southern Germany in 2008, the five-holed flute from the radius bone of a griffon vulture (found with ivory fragments of other flutes) is the oldest clear instrument. Dating from the Aurignacian techno-complex, this type of artefact demonstrates the broadening of raw materials consistently used by humans (Neanderthals appear to have only used bone occasionally) and exploration of art and expression through different sounds or music. Both Hohle Fels, and the nearby site of Geissenklösterle have yielded huge amounts of archaeology from the time when the first anatomically modern humans were moving westwards from the Balkans.


5. The dog was domesticated during the Stone Age around 20,000-40,000 years ago...

Though the oldest dog bones date to 14,000 years ago, researchers found that they could trace back even earlier evidence of the divergence of the grey wolf and dogs through DNA. By looking at dog bones dating to between, researchers were able to determine the rate of change in DNA to the oldest specimen. This allowed them to work out roughly how long ago this change began. By 7000 years ago, the dogs that roamed would not be considered pets by modern standards, but would have almost certainly been effective tools for hunting and security.


6. Neanderthals died out around 40,000 - 30,000 years ago, but coexisted with modern humans for several thousand years...

The exact reasons behind the disappearance of Neanderthals remains debatable. It could be pressure from incoming modern humans, it could be disease, climate change or a combination of issues. What we do know is that as the Neanderthal species began to decline, modern humans (H. sapiens) were present in the same regions and coexisted for several thousand years. Based on changes in Neanderthal technological behaviour, it is possible modern humans had some influence on the way Neanderthals made tools. We also do not know if modern humans and Neanderthals fought, ignored each other or were friendly to each other, the evidence in the archaeology is missing.


7. The oldest known art dates to 73,000 years ago...

A flake of silcrete (a mineral made of cemented sand and fine gravel) was drawn on around 73,000 years ago using a piece of red ochre. The drawing is simple: a series of lines, some of which intersect one another. This is the earliest evidence of modern humans creating lines or using a colouring agent on an object or wall, but its meaning remains unclear. Could it be an attempt to teach an inexperienced tool maker how to strike off flakes? Or could it just be simple doodling? The find comes from Blombos Cave in South Africa, around 185 miles of Cape Town.


8. The oldest ceramic object from the Stone Age is approximately 30,000 years old...

It is a figurine of a female form, and like others of a similar style it has been labelled as a “venus figure”. The figure comes from the Upper Palaeolithic site of Dolní Věstonice in the Czech Republic where it was discovered in 1925 (broken in two pieces) next to a hearth (fire place). The site has provided a wealth of archaeological material from the hunters who lived there and built shelters from mammoth bones. The 11cm tall figurine was made from one piece of wet clay (instead of several being sculpted together) which had small fragments of burned bone mixed in. What these venus figures represent is difficult to answer, they may have been fertility symbols, good luck charms, toys or a 3D image of a loved one.

9. Holes were cut or scraped into the skulls of other living people!

The act of Trepanning is to bore a hole into a skull to relieve pressure. The earliest evidence of this practice on humans dates to around 7000-8000 from near Kiev (Ukraine). The patient was a male who showed complete healing after the practice and lived on into his 50s. A later Neolithic cemetery in France provided evidence that 40 out of 120 human skulls discovered showed evidence of the practice, many with evidence of healing and bone regrowth. Trepanning is still used today in extreme cases of bleeding on the brain, though it is covered with a patch or plate. It was only in remote parts of the world where the practice continued to follow its prehistoric roots (without modern surgical methods or patching) up until the early 1900s.


10. The oldest wheel so far found dates to the very end of the Stone Age...

Dating to 5150 years ago during the transition between the Stone and Bronze Ages (the Chalcolithic), a pile-dwelling settlement of houses on stilts in Slovenia yielded what was first thought to be an unremarkable wood plank in 2002. On further excavation, the plank turned out to be an ash wood wheel measuring 70cm wide and 5cm thick. A further surprise was the presence of the intact axle for the wheel, made of oak and measuring 120cm. The site is located about 20km southeast from the capital: Ljubljana, in an area known as the “Ljubljana Marshes”. The wheel and axle are believed to have come from a single-axle push cart on which the wheel and axle rotated together (as the wheel has a square socketed).




References:


Botigué, L.R., Song, S., Scheu, A., Gopalan, S., Pendleton, A.L., Oetjens, M., Taravella, A.M., Seregély, T., Zeeb-Lanz, A., Arbogast, R.M. and Bobo, D., 2017. Ancient European dog genomes reveal continuity since the Early Neolithic. Nature communications, 8(1), pp.1-11.


Conard, N.J., Malina, M. and Münzel, S.C., 2009. New flutes document the earliest musical tradition in southwestern Germany. Nature, 460(7256), pp.737-740.


Degioanni, A., Bonenfant, C., Cabut, S. and Condemi, S., 2019. Living on the edge: Was demographic weakness the cause of Neanderthal demise?. PloS one, 14(5), p.e0216742.


Harmand, S., Lewis, J.E., Feibel, C.S., Lepre, C.J., Prat, S., Lenoble, A., Boës, X., Quinn, R.L., Brenet, M., Arroyo, A. and Taylor, N., 2015. 3.3-million-year-old stone tools from Lomekwi 3, West Turkana, Kenya. Nature, 521(7552), pp.310-315.


Henshilwood, C.S., d’Errico, F., van Niekerk, K.L., Dayet, L., Queffelec, A. and Pollarolo, L., 2018. An abstract drawing from the 73,000-year-old levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa. Nature, 562(7725), pp.115-118.


Svoboda, J.A., 2016. Dolní Věstonice-Pavlov. Praha: Academia.

Velusˇcˇek, A., 2004. Past and present lake-dwelling studies in Slovenia: Ljubljansko barje (the Ljubljana Marsh). In Living on the lake in prehistoric Europe (pp. 87-100).


Routledge. Verano, J.W., 2016. Differential diagnosis: trepanation. International journal of paleopathology, 14, pp.1-9.



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