What was the Stone Age?
The Stone Age is the name given to the earliest period of human culture when stone tools were first used. The Stone Age ended when men began smelting metal.
Top 10 facts
- Our ancestor, modern man Homo sapiens, emerged around 200,000 years ago.
- Homo habilis, an early human who evolved around 2.3 million years ago, was probably the first to make stone tools.
- Neanderthals died out around 30,000 years ago.
- Flint was commonly used for making stone tools but other stones such as chert and obsidian were also used.
- The Stone Age is divided into three periods; the Palaeolithic (old Stone Age), Mesolithic (middle Stone Age) and the Neolithic (new Stone Age).
- Palaeolithic and Mesolithic people were nomadic hunter gatherers. They moved frequently following the animals that they hunted and gathering fruits and berries when they could.
- The dog was the first animal to be domesticated. This happened during the Mesolithic period. Dogs could help with the hunt, warn of danger and provide warmth and comfort.
- The gradual development of agriculture and the domestication of animals during the Neolithic period meant that people could live in settled communities.
- Some isolated tribespeople were still effectively living in the Stone Age as recently as the twentieth century.
- The houses in Skara Brae, a Neolithic Orkney village, had beds, cupboards, dressers, shelves and chairs.
- 300,000-150,000 years agoAppearance of Homo sapiens in Africa
- 40,000 years agoFirst cave paintings in Altamira, Spain and carved figurines
- 35,000 years agoTally sticks (for counting)
- 30,000 years agoNeanderthals become extinct
- 28,000-20,000 years agoUse of needles, saws and harpoons
- 27,000 years agoEarliest evidence of weaving
- 25,000 years agoEarliest pottery
- 15,000 years agoDomestication of pigs
- 13,000-10,000 years agoEnd of last Ice Age
- 10,500 years agoCattle domesticated
- 10,000-9000 years agoBarley and wheat cultivated
- 9,500 years agoCat domesticated
- 8,000 years agoSheep and goats domesticated; irrigation began; wheel invented
- 7.,000 years agoGold treasure in burials in Bulgaria
- 7,500 years agoFirst smelting of copper
- 6,000 years agoDomestication of horse and chicken
- 5,500 years agoWriting invented in Sumer
Did you know?
- The Palaeolithic period lasted for such a long time that it accounts for 99% of all human history.
- The first cities did not have streets. The houses were joined together and you walked across the roofs.
- Forty percent of the skeletons recovered from an Egyptian Mesolithic cemetery showed signs of violent injuries. Archaeologists believe that they may provide the earliest evidence of warfare.
- The city of Jericho was founded 11,000 years ago.
- Dogs were domesticated from wolves.
- The houses in Skara Brae had toilets flushed by streams.
Look through the gallery below and see if you can spot the following:
- A Stone Age tool set
- A Neolithic pot
- A Stone Age burial chamber
- A Stone Age village
The Palaeolithic or old Stone Age lasted from 2.7 million years ago to around 20,000 to 10,000 years ago. A number of distinct groups of humans lived during this period but only our ancestor Homo sapiens has survived.
During this time men were hunter gatherers, finding food from their local environment and moving from site to site depending on the season. Tools were made of stone but also of wood, bone, leather and vegetable fibres. Language also developed and its early forms may have been similar to the click languages used by some South and East African peoples today. The period also saw the beginnings of art, such as the cave paintings of Chauvet in France and Venus figurines (statues of pregnant women) and the development of religion.
The Mesolithic or middle Stone Age saw the development of finer, smaller stone tools such as arrow or spear heads. The first canoes were made. This meant that men could fish as well as hunt. The dog was also domesticated during this period, probably by the selection and breeding of the least aggressive wolves.
The Neolithic or new Stone Age saw the beginnings of agriculture. Animals such as the cow and sheep were domesticated and provided a ready supply of meat, milk, wool, leather and bone. Grain was the first food that could be stored for long periods of time. Grain needed to be processed so stones were used for scything (cutting grass crops) and grinding. The need to harvest and store grain meant that it became necessary to stay in one place and settlements could develop. Large scale construction could take place, trade developed and people began to have different roles such as leader, priest, fighter, farmer, hunter or slave.
Just for fun...
- Try some Stone Age crafts (make a cake henge, mix up some Stone Age paint, make a Stone Age pot and necklace and have a Stone Age feast)
- Stone Age jigsaw puzzles
- A simple Stone Age quiz
- A Stone Age cooking game
- Get into the minds of Ancient Britons, build a stone circle, create cave art and read some great fiction and non-fiction books about Ancient Britain
- Find out about the neolithic village of Skara Brae and try some Stone Age activities
- Take a virtual tour of Stonehenge from your living room with a 360 degree view from the monument
- Do some prehistoric cooking by watching videos of 'Paleolithic' and 'Neolithic' recipes: baked salmon, grilled trout and berry pudding, then following the recipes to make the food yourself
Children's books about the Stone Age
Find out more
- A Stone Age timeline
- Watch a documentary about Stone Age Orkney
- Introduction to Stone Age including cave art
- Visit a virtual museum of the Stone Age
- Find out about "Stonehenge Village"
- Stone Age tools were each designed for a specific job
- An archeological experiment in London tried out ways of moving large stones which might have been used in places like Stonehenge
- Go back in time and see what the UK countryside looked like 13,000 - 4,000 years ago
- Find out about food and health in prehistoric times
- Using virtual reality, scientists have recreated the sounds of Stonehenge from 3,000 years ago
See for yourself
- Creswell Crags in Derbyshire: first inhabited by Neanderthals, these cave dwellings with carvings date back to the Palaeolithic era
- Stonehenge is Britain’s foremost neolithic site. Silbury Hill, the Avebury Ring and Sanctuary are all close by.
- The Stonehenge Experience app helps you explore the Stonhenge landscape interactively
- Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands is one of Northern Europe’s best preserved Neolithic villages; look through a Skara Brae gallery to see inside the houses
- Castlerrig stone circle near Keswick
- Newgrange County Meath Ireland - fantastic burial complex