Paleolithic – Concept and temporal division

We explain what the Paleolithic is, what were the main events of this period and what its temporal division is like.

The Paleolithic, together with the Mesolithic and Neolithic, constitutes the so-called Stone Age.

What is the Paleolithic?

The Paleolithic period, referred to simply as Paleolithic, is the longest and oldest in human existence (99% of the time of the species on the planet) and covers from the appearance of the first species of the genus Homo, of which we are the Homo sapiens the last and only survivor, about 2.85 million years ago in Africa, until about 12,000 years ago, when the kingdom of the Homo sapiens and the Neolithic (or Modern Stone Age) begins.

The name of this period comes from the Greek words paltoiors (“Old”) and lithos (“Stone”), and was created by the English archaeologist John Lubbock in 1865. Along with the Mesolithic and Neolithic, constitutes the so-called Stone Age of humanity, called that way because primitive human beings made use of different types of stone to make their utensils, unlike later ages in which the predominant material was metal (Metal Age).

The Paleolithic human being was nomadic, made his tools from stone, bone and some plant fibers, and belonged to various human species that are now extinct, such as the H. habilis, H. ergaster, H. erectus, H. antecessor, H. heidelbergensis,
H. neardentihaliensis and finally, H. sapiens.

Numerous archaeological finds have been made from this period, such as more or less intact skeletal remains, lithic tools, and art or religion samples, such as the Venus of Willendorf (22,000-24,000 years ago).

Many are attributed to the various existing human species, but the latter actually begin with the H. sapiens, capable of more complex abstract and cultural thought forms.

Paleolithic temporal division

The Paleolithic is normally divided into three sub-periods:

  • Lower Palaeolithic. It begins 2.85 million years ago and ends 127,000 years ago.
  • Middle Palaeolithic. It continues to the lower one until 40,000-30,000 years before the present.
  • Superior paleolithic. The Palaeolithic period ends, until 12,000 years ago.

This periodicity, however, is subject to revision and is considered valid only for Europe and the closest areas of Africa and Asia. The rest of the world is developing its own time measurements for the period.