The Stone Age

Figure 1.--Here a group of Indian Cub Scouts visiting the archaeological site of Attirampakkam, Tamil Nadu. This is the most southerly Paleolithic site found to date in India. It was a site used over an extyended period. There is evidence that it may have been used seasonally during the dry season congregation near the riverand then leaving for the hills during the rainy season. A reader writes, "Comparing this with a previous picture on your site, I am doubly convinced that these are not cubs but fully-fledged scouts. Apart from being blue rather than khaki, their uniform is remarkably like my scout uniform in England in the 1950s. Only the missing socks and shoes, with sandals instead, bow to a different climate." I'm not sure. I was going more by the age of the children.

The stone age was the longest epic of human history. It is essentially synonamous with pre-history. Archeologists have didided the stone age into the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic. The terms and time frame have changed over time as archeologists have improved our understanding of early people. The Paleolithic was the early stone age. It is by far the eariest period of human existence. There is no precise date for the beginning of the Paleolithic period, but about 2 million years ago is a good rough estimate. It approximately marks the point at which people became human. Paleolithic people were nomadic hunter gatherers. Major advances such as tool work, the use of fire, and lanuage developed in the Paleolithic. The Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age is a relatively recent term. Other terms have been used. The term represents the need felt by archeologists to better describe the transituin from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic. During this period ground stone tools appeared they were much more finely fashioned than those used in the Paleolithic. The tools were commonly used for cutting and smoothing. Some may have been used for ornamentation. The people involved were still hunter-gathers. The Neolithic was the late stone age. This was when man began to settle down to form agricultural communities and has been called the Neolithic Revolution because of the dramatic accomplishments in laying the ground work of early agriculture. Many people mixed foraging with agriculture, but the groundwork for agriculture and animal husbandry was made during this period. There is considerable differece concerning the chronology of the stone age. A factor here is that the chronologies varied in different geographic areas.


The Stone Age lasted about 2 million years--before the appearance of Homo sapiens as well as much of the life of our species. This is important because much of our species' phsiological and social roots are genetic asaptations to the Stone Age. Only in the relatively recent period has man emrtged from the Stone Age. is generally divided into three periods: Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic. Man was not the first being to use tools, but man was a unique being when it came to fashioning and using stone tools. The Neolithic begins even before the evolution of modern humans (Homo sapiens) with the appearance of the tool maker (Homo habilis). For most of human history there was little improvement on the basic stone tools. Only with the migration out of Africa do we begin to see more advanced stone tools. The Stone Age ends at about the time that agriculture appears--the Neolithic Revolution. Of course the passing of the Stone Age did not occur at the same time all over the globe. As late as the 20th century there were still isolated pockets of people living with Stone Age technology.

Violence and War

Recorded history is a very minor part of man's existence. Thus until very recently we could only speculate about man's inherent propensity for violence and war making. Thus the issue was addressed by religious figures and philosphers. The Bible with Cain and Able story suggests an inherent propensity for violence. The subject was touched on by Roman authors (including Cicero and Lucretius) who were strong supporters of the Roman Republic. They became very popular as classical literature was rediscovered by the Renaissance humanists. English philospher Thomas Hobbes is perhaps the strongest philosophical voice postulating man's violent nature. Hobbes's vission was part of his justification of the doctriune of royal absolutism. [Hobbes] in Leviathan. There he wrote that the state of nature is a "war of all against all" in which men's lives are "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short". Europe at the time was encountering primitive people in Latin America, Africa, and Oceania. Some of these people were little removed from Neolithic man so Europe essentially came into contact with people of the Neolithic era. At the time Hobbes wrote, the religious and philosphical underpinings of absolute divine right monrchies were being undermined by the dreadful religious wars (17th century). And a range of European authors took issue with Hobbes. One of the first important author to speculate that in a state of nature that humans were essentially good was the Earl of Shaftesbury, an important Whig supporter of constitutional monarchy. And only a short time after Hobbes published Leviathan, the a Glorious Revolution transformed England and began the assault on royal absolutism (1688). Shaftesbury wrote a decade later at the onset of the Enlightenment that the moral sense in humans is natural and innate. He insisted that it was based on inate feelings rather than resulting from religious or moral teaching. A popular theme of the Enligtenment was the 'noble savage'. The term was first coined by John Dryden (1672). [Dryden] The term is often associated with Jean-Jacques Rousseau who, along wih other Engligtenment authors, contended that man was born an innocent in a state of nature with the potential for goodness and that it was civilization which promoted greed, envy, and violence, a theme that appeals to the 2011 Wall Street protestors. The debate has been philosphical and most authors assumed that it was an unanswerable issue. Modern technology is, however, beginning to provide some definitive data on war and violence in the Neolithic era.


It has been estimated that if one was to meaure the time that antonomically modern man (Homo sp.) exited as a portion of earth history, if would represent meerly the last 2 seconds on a 24 hour clock. And most of those two seconds were spent in the Stone Age. As a result, we are closer physically and socially to traditional societies tghan go modrn ones. Humans have spent the great bulk of their existence before all theaccoutrements of modern society have been developed in the past 150 years. A noted antropologist tells us, "Some of the ways that traditional societies raise their children , treat their elderly, remain healthy, talk, spend their leisure time, and settle disputes may strike you, as they do me, as superior to normal practices in the First World .... But we should also not go to the opposite extremne of romanticizing the past and lonhing for simpler times. Many traditionakl practices are ones that we can consider ourselves blessed to have discarded--such as infanticide, abandoing or killing elderly people, facing periodic risk of starvation, being at heightened risk from environmental dangrs and infectious disease, often seeing one's children die, and living in costant fear of being attacked." [Diamond, World.]


Diamond, Jereny. Guns, Germs, and Steel.

Diamond, Jereny. The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? Guns, Germs, and Steel (2012).


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Created: August 18, 2003
Last updated: 5:20 AM 1/13/2013