The Study of Prehistory

The Study of Prehistory


As introduced earlier, the term prehistory refers to the period before written records. The Stone Age, which most historians estimate dated from about 2.5 MYA to 5,000 BCE, encompasses this period referred to as prehistory and is generally divided into three stages: the Paleolithic Period, the Mesolithic {Period, ad the Neolithic Period.

The Paleolithic Period, the earliest stage of the Stone Age, was the time when the first hominids appeared. The period is usually divided into three parts: Lower (2.5 YA to about 200,000 BCE), Middle (200,000 BCE to about 25,000 BCE), and Upper (25,000 BCE to about 10,000 BCE).

The Lower Paleolithic was the longest stage of hominid development and was when the hominid Australopithecus first appeared. The word Australopithecus comes from the Latin term “southern” and the Greek team for ape.” The earliest hominid had human-like teeth, but a relatively small brain, the size of a chimpanzee or gorilla brain. Scientific evidence suggests that Australopithecus walked upright, at least part of the time.

Later in the period, there appeared a different hominid, Homo habilus. Scientists believe that these hominids were the first to create crude stone tools and supplement their diet with meat. These hominids spread over Africa and Asia.

The Middle Paleolithic is best known for the appearance of Homo Erectus, hominids credited with making the hand-axe and using fire, and Homo neanderthalensis, chines hominids with a prominent brow ridge and receding forehead. Scientists now believe that the Neanderthal brain was much larger than that of modern humans. The Neanderthals’ flint-work, or early stone tools, were technically advanced , much more so than any previous hominid. Their burials, sometimes placing dyes, flowers, and animal horns around bodies – provided the first evidence of religious or religious beliefs.

The Upper Paleolithic is the first time when Homo sapiens, the hominids most similar to modern humans, appeared. Some scientists speculate that the stocky, slower Neanderthals may have been wiped out by the quick and slender Homo sapiens during the last thousands years the the two groups overlapped.

The Mesolithic Period, the middle period of the Stone Age, lasted from about 10,000 BCE to 9000 BCW and included the withdrawal of the great glaciers that has covered parts of the earth. In this period, modern forms of plants and animals appeared. Early people carried out similar hunting and gathering practices of the hominids of the Paleolithic Period, but developed new stone tools. Microliths, small stone blades and flakes, served as barbs and tips for arrows, and, when set side by side in bone or wood, made serrated cutting tools.

The Neolithic Period, which means New Stone Age, lasted from about 9,000 BCE to 5000 BCE. In this period, early people began cultivating their own food and resining animals, but stil relied on stone as the main material for weapons and tools.

It is important for students to know that the constant discovery and analysis of hominid remains and artifacts continues to and more information to what historians believe about prehistory. New finds push dates back and forth like the coming and going of season. For example, historians can not yet conclusively say just when early people arrived and settled North and South America.    

At the moment, there is some evidence suggesting that early humans might have begun migrating to North America as far back as 20,000 YA over the Bering Land Bridge, a huge plain that once connected the contents of Asia and North America. The migration of early humans, as well as the migration of animals, could have continued until about 11,000 YA, when extensive flooding caused by the melting glaciers covered the bridge again. One of the oldest and complete skeletal remains found in North America was discovered on the Columbia River, ear the town of Kennewick, Washington. Kennewick Man, as the skeleton was named, is believed to have lived and died  in the area more than 9000 YA. Stone tools found thousands of miles away at the tip of South America, at Monte, Verde, Chile, show that early humans lived in that area as far back as 12,500 YA.

It is clear there is still much to learn about the past. As the students follow the development of early people around the world, they will begin to see that the formation of cultures varied dramatically from place to place. Throughout every reason, distinct languages, house styles, economies, art forms, and religions evolved. In time, students ill see that the study of prehistory provides them with with an opportunity to gain a deeper appreciation for the tenacious progress made by early people and the effect of time and place on their common humans needs,   

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