Week 6 Blog Post – Middle and Upper Paleolithic

While watching this weeks lecture videos and reading the pieces on human evolution, we learned primarily about the archaeology of the Middle and Upper Paleolithic periods. Although the two periods cover drastically different time periods of human history, they do share many similarities. One of the similarities the two periods share is that both periods saw the development of anatomically modern humans, or Homo Sapiens. Another similarities is the existence of Homo Neanderthalensis in the Middle Paleolithic period and briefly in the Upper Paleolithic. One of the major differences that sets the Upper Paleolithic period apart from the Middle Paleolithic period is the emergence of behavioral modernity in humans which led to more complex technology, social organization, and symbolic expressions through art.

The Middle Paleolithic period saw the rise of two major stone tool traditions, the Mousterian tradition which was primarily associated with sophisticated bifacial tools used by European neanderthals between 300,000 and 30,000 years ago, and the Aterian tool tradition, primarily associated with mountable projectiles used by Homo Sapiens in north Africa between 80,000 and 40,000 years ago. Later, the Upper Paleolithic period gave way for the four major stone tool traditions. First came the Aurignacian tradition of blades in Europe and southwest Asia between 45,000 and 35,000 years ago. Next was the Gravettian tradition known for tools used to hunt big game and “burens” used for intricate carvings in Europe between 28,000 and 22,000 years ago. Almost immediately after the Gravettian industry, the rise of the Solutrean industry took place, characterised by intricate, bifacial blade based designs created by the complex pressure flaking method in southwestern Europe between 22,000 and 17,000 years ago. The last major Upper Paleolithic stone tool tradition we learned about in lecture was the Magdulenian tradition centered in Europe between 18,000 and 10,000 years ago which saw less complex tools developed for hunting deer and horses and even tools, such as harpoons, made out of bone.

As the physiology of anatomically modern humans evolved, so did their brains and subsequently their critical thinking skills. During the period between the beginning of the Middle Paleolithic period 300,000 years ago and the end of the Upper Paleolithic period 10,000 years ago, not only did stone tools and methods of developing them get more complex, but so did other technologies, societies, culture, and the spread of the species across continents. These changes culminate in old stone tool traditions being phased out for newer industries consisting of better designs and more specialized tools.

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