The Stone Age is the oldest period in the history of mankind. With it the prehistory begins. The Stone Age is further divided: in the beginning was the Old Stone Age and then came the New Stone Age. Some scientists still push the middle stone age between them. Others name at the very end the Copper Stone Age. The Stone Age was followed by the Bronze Age, then the Iron Age.
The term Stone Age was invented by an archaeologist in 1836. The term is Greek and means "the talk of the beginning". It is very difficult to distinguish between the different periods of time. One tries today to attach each period to certain inventions. But inventions such as the wheel or the processing of copper never took place abruptly. They crept in slowly, spread from place to place and finally took over.
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How the Stone Age began?
About two and a half million years ago, the Stone Age began with the appearance of the genus "Homo". Several species developed from the Homo. One of them was the Homo Erectus, which means "the upright walking human being. From it developed the Homo Sapiens. Except for Homo Sapiens, all branches of Homo are extinct. Homo Sapiens means as much as the "wise man" or the "knowing man". He originally lived in Africa. All people living in the world today are Homo Sapiens.
The body of Homo sapiens looks different from that of other humans, such as the Neanderthals. The Homo Sapiens humans used tools and also manufactured such themselves. This distinguished humans from animals. Only a few apes used tools: usually stones or sticks they found in nature.
Today it is difficult to find out when and on which way the people emigrated from Africa. It took them a long time to reach the territory of today’s Europe. According to the archaeological findings, people first appeared in Spain about a million years ago, in today’s Central Europe only about 600.000 years. The Stone Age thus began first in Africa, then in Spain and only last in Central Europe.
How was the world in the Paleolithic Age?
The Paleolithic was an ice age. On average it was about as cold as ours only in winter. Many areas were covered by glaciers, for example large parts of today’s Switzerland. The ice-free areas resembled a tundra: that is, a landscape of grasses, shrubs, and small trees.
There were not yet so many animal species. Only those who were well adapted to the cold could live here. The most common big game was the mammoth. It was a relative of the elephant. Around the end of the Paleolithic period it became more and more rare and finally died out. Researchers don’t know if it just died out because it couldn’t adapt to a new climate. Perhaps, however, humans hunted the mammoths too much and thus exterminated them.
How people lived in the Paleolithic Age?
The Old Stone Age is called Paleolithic in technical language. The Greek word "palaiois" means "old", the word "lithos" means "stone" The Paleolithic Age lasted in Central Europe from about 600.000 to 10.000 years before Christ.
The oldest tool of mankind was the hand axe. Humans hammered out different sizes of hand axes from flint stones. Silex is very hard and occurs in nature in the form of spheres. With hand axes people could dig, punch holes in wood and much more. Smaller pieces they could use as knives for cutting or to scrape the fat off animal skins.
The use of fire was very important. Fried or cooked food is much easier to digest. It becomes more nutritious and yields more. Probably in the beginning people could not start a fire themselves, but they found it in nature, for example after a lightning strike. Then they herded it, so they did not let it go out. The oldest fireplace in Europe, about which the researchers agree and are sure, lies in England. It is about 400.000 years old.
But fire opened up other possibilities: People could heat their dwellings and were thus less dependent on the climate and the seasons. They were able to light their dwellings and thus work at night. Fire also deterred wild animals. Spear points could also be hardened in the fire. Pitch from birch wood began to flow over the fire. That they could use as glue.
People lived as hunters and gatherers. So they fed on hunted animals and protected themselves with their skins against cold and rain. They gathered berries, fruits and roots, which they found in nature. These people were hardly sedentary: they moved around, usually following the herds of animals or to where it suited the season best. So they were actually nomads.
What was the world like in the Neolithic Age?
In the Neolithic Age the earth warmed up. The glaciers receded more and more. They left behind moraines, which are long hills made of boulders. The expert recognizes them still today in the landscape. The lakes on the edge of the Alps formed where glaciers used to lie.
The tundras became loose forests. Reindeer and wild horses began to spread. Later, the deer, the red deer, the elk and the wild boar, the bear and the wolf joined them. They all provided man not only with meat as food, but also with furs as clothing. In the warmer waters, there were more fish, which people also caught and ate.
How did people live in the Neolithic period?
The Neolithic period is called Neolithic in technical language. The Greek word "neo" means "young. The Neolithic Age began in Central Europe around 10.000 years before Christ. Also this transition did not take place everywhere at the same time.
People became more and more animal breeders instead of hunting animals. They accustomed wild animals to live tethered or in a fenced pasture. This process is called "domestication". This is how the pets were created. Humans domesticated wild sheep, cattle, pigs, chickens and many more. Today’s dogs are domesticated wolves.
People also found grasses with seeds they could eat. Instead of leaving everything to chance, they began saving and replanting the biggest seeds at a time. This is how today’s cereals such as wheat, oats, barley, rye and others developed from sweet grasses. This was connected with the fact that they gave up their nomadic life more and more and settled down in small villages. Humans thus went from being gatherers to farmers.
One of the most important inventions was the wheel. First traces or finds of wheels made of wood are in our countries about 6.000 years old. Before that, people had to carry their loads on their backs or pull them on sledges. That was much more strenuous. The wheel is still considered the most important invention of mankind.
Another important invention was ceramics. Probably by accident people found out that clay becomes hard in fire. They formed vessels from clay, baked them in the fire and were thus able to store and transport supplies. Ceramic vessels are very important for archaeologists today. They can tell to which people a settlement belonged and in which period the pottery was made.
How did the stone age end?
Already during the Stone Age, people found gold and silver in pure form, i.e. nuggets. They made of it above all pieces of jewelry. Towards the end of the Neolithic Age they discovered copper. Copper was harder than gold or silver. That is why knives or scrapers could be made of it. Some scientists call this period the "Copper Age".
The next discovery was bronze. This is a mixture of a lot of copper and a little tin. Scientists now assume that people found an ore that contained this mixture.
Already during the Stone Age there were traders who moved from one place to another with carts or loads on their backs and exchanged their goods. Now they also took bronze to trade with it. This is how bronze spread across Europe. More and more bronze workshops were created. This was the transition to the Bronze Age.
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