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Middle Paleolithic

Middle Paleolithic

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The Middle Paleolithic (or Middle Palaeolithic) is the second subdivision of the Paleolithic
Paleolithic
The Paleolithic Age, Era or Period, is a prehistoric period of human history distinguished by the development of the most primitive stone tools discovered , and covers roughly 99% of human technological prehistory...

 or Old Stone Age
Stone Age
The Stone Age is a broad prehistoric period, lasting about 2.5 million years , during which humans and their predecessor species in the genus Homo, as well as the earlier partly contemporary genera Australopithecus and Paranthropus, widely used exclusively stone as their hard material in the...

 as it is understood in Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 and Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

. The term Middle Stone Age
Middle Stone Age
The Middle Stone Age was a period of African Prehistory between Early Stone Age and Late Stone Age. It is generally considered to have begun around 280,000 years ago and ended around 50-25,000 years ago. The beginnings of particular MSA stone tools have their origins as far back as 550-500,000...

 is used as an equivalent or a synonym for the Middle Paleolithic in African archeology. The Middle Paleolithic and the Middle Stone Age broadly spanned from 300,000 to 30,000 years ago. There are considerable dating differences between regions. The Middle Paleolithic/Middle Stone Age was succeeded by the Upper Paleolithic
Upper Paleolithic
The Upper Paleolithic is the third and last subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age as it is understood in Europe, Africa and Asia. Very broadly it dates to between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago, roughly coinciding with the appearance of behavioral modernity and before the advent of...

 subdivision which first began between 50,000 and 40,000 years ago.

During this time period Homo neanderthalensis thrived in Europe between 300,000 and 30,000 years ago, and the earliest anatomically modern humans appeared around 195,000 years ago. Phylogenetic separation of modern humans dates to this period, mitochondrial Eve
Mitochondrial Eve
In the field of human genetics, Mitochondrial Eve refers to the matrilineal "MRCA" . In other words, she was the woman from whom all living humans today descend, on their mother's side, and through the mothers of those mothers and so on, back until all lines converge on one person...

 to roughly 150,000 years ago, Y-chromosomal Adam
Y-chromosomal Adam
In human genetics, Y-chromosomal Adam is the theoretical most recent common ancestor from whom all living people are descended patrilineally . Many studies report that Y-chromosomal Adam lived as early as around 142,000 years ago and possibly as recently as 60,000 years ago...

 to roughly 90,000 years ago; see single-origin hypothesis. Additionally, according to the Out of Africa Hypothesis, modern humans began migrating out of Africa during the Middle Stone Age/Middle Paleolithic around 100,000 or 70,000 years ago and began to replace earlier pre-existent Homo species such as the Neanderthals and Homo erectus
Homo erectus
Homo erectus is an extinct species of hominid that lived from the end of the Pliocene epoch to the later Pleistocene, about . The species originated in Africa and spread as far as India, China and Java. There is still disagreement on the subject of the classification, ancestry, and progeny of H...

.

Origin of behavorial modernity


The earliest evidence of behavioral modernity
Behavioral modernity
Behavioral modernity is a term used in anthropology, archeology and sociology to refer to a set of traits that distinguish present day humans and their recent ancestors from both living primates and other extinct hominid lineages. It is the point at which Homo sapiens began to demonstrate a...

 first appears during the Middle Paleolithic/Middle Stone Age; undisputed evidence of behavioral modernity, however, only becomes common during the following Upper Paleolithic period.

Middle Paleolithic burials at sites such as Krapina
Krapina
Krapina is a town in northern Croatia and the administrative centre of Krapina-Zagorje County with a population of 4,482 and a total municipality population of 12,479...

, Croatia (c. 130,000 BP) and Qafzeh, Israel (c. 100,000 BP) have led some anthropologists and archeologists, such as Philip Lieberman
Philip Lieberman
Philip Lieberman is a linguist at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, United States. Originally trained in phonetics, he wrote a dissertation on intonation. The remainder of his career has focused on topics in the evolution of language, and particularly the relationship between the...

, to believe that Middle Paleolithic cultures may have possessed a developing religious ideology which included belief in concepts such as an afterlife; other scholars suggest the bodies were buried for secular reasons. According to recent archeological findings from H. heidelbergensis sites in Atapuerca
Atapuerca
The Atapuerca Mountains is an ancient karstic region of Spain, in the province of Burgos and near Atapuerca and Ibeas de Juarros. It contains several caves, where fossils and stone tools of the earliest known Hominins in West Europe have been found. The earliest hominids may have dated to 1.2...

 the practice of intentional burial may have begun much earlier during the late Lower Paleolithic
Lower Paleolithic
The Lower Paleolithic is 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...

 but this theory is widely questioned in the scientific community. Cut marks on Neanderthal bones from various sites such as Combe-Grenal and Abri Moula in France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 may imply that the Neanderthals, like some contemporary human cultures
Excarnation
In archaeology and anthropology, the term, excarnation , refers to the burial practice of removing the flesh and organs of the dead, leaving only the bones....

, may have practiced ritual defleshing for (presumably) religious reasons.

Also the earliest undisputed evidence of artistic expression during the Paleolithic period comes from Middle Paleolithic/Middle Stone Age
Middle Stone Age
The Middle Stone Age was a period of African Prehistory between Early Stone Age and Late Stone Age. It is generally considered to have begun around 280,000 years ago and ended around 50-25,000 years ago. The beginnings of particular MSA stone tools have their origins as far back as 550-500,000...

 sites such as Blombos Cave
Blombos Cave
Blombos Cave is a cave in a calcarenite limestone cliff on the Southern Cape coast in South Africa. It is an archaeological site made famous by the discovery of 75,000-year-old pieces of ochre engraved with abstract designs and beads made from Nassarius shells, and c. 80,000-year-old bone tools...

 in the form of bracelets, beads, art rock, ochre used as body paint and perhaps in ritual, though earlier examples of artistic expression such as the Venus of Tan-Tan
Venus of Tan-Tan
The Venus of Tan-Tan is an alleged artifact found in Morocco.It and its contemporary, the Venus of Berekhat Ram, have been claimed as the earliest representations of the human form.-Description:...

 and the patterns found on elephant bones from Bilzingsleben in Thuringia
Thuringia
The Free State of Thuringia is a state of Germany, located in the central part of the country.It has an area of and 2.29 million inhabitants, making it the sixth smallest by area and the fifth smallest by population of Germany's sixteen states....

 may have been produced by Acheulean
Acheulean
Acheulean is the name given to an archaeological industry of stone tool manufacture associated with early humans during the Lower Palaeolithic era across Africa and much of West Asia, South Asia and Europe. Acheulean tools are typically found with Homo erectus remains...

 tool users such as Homo erectus
Homo erectus
Homo erectus is an extinct species of hominid that lived from the end of the Pliocene epoch to the later Pleistocene, about . The species originated in Africa and spread as far as India, China and Java. There is still disagreement on the subject of the classification, ancestry, and progeny of H...

prior to the start of the Middle Paleolithic period. Activities such as catching large fish and hunting large game animals with specialized tools connote increased group-wide cooperation and more elaborate social organization.

In addition to developing other advanced cultural traits such as religion and art, humans also first began to take part in long distance trade between groups
Band society
A band society is the simplest form of human society. A band generally consists of a small kin group, no larger than an extended family or clan; it has been defined as consisting of no more than 30 to 50 individuals.Bands have a loose organization...

 for rare commodities (such as ochre
Ochre
Ochre is the term for both a golden-yellow or light yellow brown color and for a form of earth pigment which produces the color. The pigment can also be used to create a reddish tint known as "red ochre". The more rarely used terms "purple ochre" and "brown ochre" also exist for variant hues...

, which was often used for religious purposes such as ritual) and raw materials during the Middle Paleolithic as early as 120,000 years ago. Inter-group trade may have appeared during the Middle Paleolithic because trade between bands would have helped ensure their survival by allowing them to exchange resources and commodities such as raw materials during times of relative scarcity (i.e., famine or drought).

Social stratification



Evidence from archeology and comparative ethnography indicates that Middle Paleolithic/Middle Stone Age people lived in small egalitarian band societies similar to those of Upper Paleolithic societies and (some) existent Hunter gatherers such as the !Kung san
Bushmen
The indigenous people of Southern Africa, whose territory spans most areas of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola, are variously referred to as Bushmen, San, Sho, Barwa, Kung, or Khwe...

 and the Mbuti
Mbuti
Mbuti or Bambuti are one of several indigenous pygmy groups in the Congo region of Africa. Their languages belong to the Central Sudanic and also to Bantu languages.-Overview:...

. Both Neanderthal and modern human societies took care of the elderly members of their societies during the Middle Paleolithic. Christopher Boehm (1999) has hypothesized that egalitarianism may have arisen in Middle Paleolithic societies because of a need to distribute resources such as food and meat equally to avoid famine and ensure a stable food supply. Typically, it has been assumed that women gathered plants and firewood and men hunted and scavenged dead animals through the Paleolithic. However, recent archaeological research done by the anthropologist and archaeologist Steven Kuhn
Steven Kuhn
Steven Kuhn is a Philosophy professor at Georgetown University. His areas of research are logic, ethics, and metaphysics and philosophy of language. Kuhn earned his undergraduate degree in mathematics from Johns Hopkins University and his Ph.D. from Stanford University...

 from the University of Arizona reveals that this gender-based division of labor (presumably) did not exist prior to the Upper Paleolithic
Upper Paleolithic
The Upper Paleolithic is the third and last subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age as it is understood in Europe, Africa and Asia. Very broadly it dates to between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago, roughly coinciding with the appearance of behavioral modernity and before the advent of...

 in Middle Paleolithic societies (Modern humans before 40,000 or 50,000 BCE and Neanderthals) and was invented relatively recently in human prehistory. The gender-based division of labor may have been invented to allow humans to acquire food and other resources more efficiently and thus may have allowed Upper Paleolithic Homo sapiens to out-compete the Neanderthals in Europe.

Nutrition


Although gathering and hunting comprised most of the food supply during the Middle Paleolithic, people began to supplement their diet with seafood and began smoking and drying meat to preserve and store it. For instance the Middle Stone Age inhabitants of the region now occupied by the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a state located in Central Africa. It is the second largest country in Africa by area and the eleventh largest in the world...

 hunted large 6 feet (1.8 m) long catfish with specialized barbed fishing points as early as 90,000 years ago, and Neanderthals and Middle Paleolithic Homo sapiens in Africa began to catch shellfish for food as revealed by shellfish cooking in Neanderthal sites in Italy about 110,000 years ago and Middle Paleolithic Homo sapiens sites at Pinnacle Point, in Africa.

Anthropologists such as Tim D. White suggest that cannibalism
Cannibalism
Cannibalism is the act or practice of humans eating the flesh of other human beings. It is also called anthropophagy...

 was common in human societies prior to the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic, based on the large amount of “butchered human" bones found in Neanderthal and other Middle Paleolithic sites. Cannibalism in the Middle Paleolithic may have occurred because of food shortages. However it is also possible that Middle Paleolithic cannibalism occurred for religious reasons which would coincide with the development of religious practices thought to have occurred during the Upper Paleolithic. Nonetheless it remains possible that Middle Paleolithic societies never practiced cannibalism and that the damage to recovered human bones was either the result of ritual post-mortem bone cleaning or predation by carnivores such as Saber tooth cats, lions and hyenas.

Technology


Around 200,000 BP Middle Paleolithic Stone tool
Stone tool
A stone tool is, in the most general sense, any tool made either partially or entirely out of stone. Although stone tool-dependent societies and cultures still exist today, most stone tools are associated with prehistoric, particularly Stone Age cultures that have become extinct...

 manufacturing spawned a tool-making technique known as the prepared-core technique
Prepared-core technique
The prepared-core technique is means of producing stone tools by first preparing common stone cores that can then be shaped into the desired implement.-First evidence:...

, that was more elaborate than previous Acheulean
Acheulean
Acheulean is the name given to an archaeological industry of stone tool manufacture associated with early humans during the Lower Palaeolithic era across Africa and much of West Asia, South Asia and Europe. Acheulean tools are typically found with Homo erectus remains...

 techniques. This method increased efficiency by permitting the creation of more controlled and consistent flake
Flake
Flake or Flakes may refer to:In food preparation:* Fish flake, a platform for drying cod* Flake , an Australian term for edible flesh of one of several species of shark...

s. This method allowed Middle Paleolithic humans correspondingly to create stone-tipped spears, which were the earliest composite tools, by hafting sharp, pointy stone flakes onto wooden shafts. Paleolithic groups such as the Neanderthals who possessed a Middle Paleolithic level of technology appear to have hunted large game just as well as Upper Paleolithic modern humans  and the Neanderthals in particular may have likewise hunted with projectile weapons. Nonetheless Neanderthal usage of projectile weapons in hunting occurred very rarely (or perhaps never) and the Neanderthals hunted large game animals mostly by ambush
Ambush
An ambush is a long-established military tactic, in which the aggressors take advantage of concealment and the element of surprise to attack an unsuspecting enemy from concealed positions, such as among dense underbrush or behind hilltops...

ing them and attacking them with mêlée weapons such as thrusting spears rather than attacking them from a distance with projectile weapons. An ongoing controversy about the nature of Middle Paleolithic tools is whether there were a series of functionally specific and preconceived tool forms or whether there was a simple continuum of tool morphology that reflect the extent of edge maintenance, as Harold Dibble has suggested.

The use of fire became widespread for the first time in human prehistory during the Middle Paleolithic and humans began to cook their food c. 250,000 years ago. Some scientists have hypothesized that hominids began cooking food to defrost frozen meat which would help ensure their survival in cold regions.Robert K. Wayne, a molecular biologist, has controversially claimed, based on a comparison of canine DNA, that dogs may have been first domesticated during the Middle Paleolithic around or even before 100,000 BCE. Christopher Boehm (1999) has hypothesized that egalitarianism may have arisen in Middle Paleolithic societies because of a need to distribute resources such as food and meat equally to avoid famine and ensure a stable food supply.

Cave sites

  • Axlor
    Axlor
    Axlor is a prehistoric archeological site in the village of Dima in Biscay in the Autonomous Basque Community of Spain, dating from the Middle Paleolithic or Mousterian period.-Excavation:...

    , Spain
  • Petralona
    Petralona
    Petralona is a neighborhood of Athens, Greece located between Thiseio and Kallithea. Athenians refer to Petralona either as Ano Petralona or Kato Petralona, where Ano Petralona is the area between the hill of Filopappou and the railway and Kato Petralona the area between the railway and Piraeus...

    , Greece
  • Le Moustier
    Le Moustier
    Le Moustier is an archeological site consisting of two rock shelters in Peyzac-le-Moustier, Dordogne, France. It is known for a fossilized skull of the species Homo neanderthalensis that was discovered in 1909...

    , France — see also Mousterian
    Mousterian
    Mousterian is a name given by archaeologists to a style of predominantly flint tools associated primarily with Homo neanderthalensis and dating to the Middle Paleolithic, the middle part of the Old Stone Age.-Naming:...

  • La Quina, France
  • Neanderthal
    Neanderthal
    The Neanderthal is an extinct member of the Homo genus known from Pleistocene specimens found in Europe and parts of western and central Asia...

    , Germany
  • Goyet, Belgium
  • Grotte de Spy
    Grotte de Spy
    The Grotte de Spy is located near Spy in the municipality of Jemeppe-sur-Sambre, province of Namur, Belgium. It has been classified as Wallonia's Major Heritage by the Walloon Region....

    , Spy
    Spy, Belgium
    Spy is a village in the municipality of Jemeppe-sur-Sambre near Namur, Belgium.Here in 1886, in Betche aux Roches cavern, Maximin Lohest and Marcel de Puydt found two nearly perfect Neanderthal skeletons at the depth of 16 ft., with numerous implements of the Mousterian type. Recently Yves Saquet...

    , Belgium

Open-air sites

  • Biache-Saint-Vaast
    Biache-Saint-Vaast
    Biache-Saint-Vaast is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.-Geography:A small farming and light industrial town located 8 miles east of Arras, on the banks of the Scarpe river, at the junction of the D42, D43 and D46 roads...

    , France
  • Rheindahlen
    Rheindahlen
    Rheindahlen may refer to*RAF Rheindahlen*Rheindahlen Military Complex*Rheindahlen, Mönchengladbach...

    , Germany
  • Maastricht
    Maastricht
    Maastricht is situated on both sides of the Meuse river in the south-eastern part of the Netherlands, on the Belgian border and near the German border...

    -Belvédère
    Belvédère
    Belvédère is a commune in the Alpes-Maritimes department in southeastern France. The village of Belvédère is an attractive village sitting above the river Vésubie at the entrance of the Gordolasque valley.-Population:-History:-The Bronze Age:...

    , The Netherlands
  • Veldwezelt-Hezerwater
    Veldwezelt-Hezerwater
    Veldwezelt-Hezerwater is a Palaeolithic archaeological site in the municipality of Lanaken in the province of Limburg, Belgium.-Context:The successive archaeological excavation campaigns at Veldwezelt-Hezerwater, Belgium, provide important remains of at least five separate Middle Palaeolithic...

    , Belgium

External links