The Stone Age

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. In Britain, the Stone Age was around 12,000 years ago.

When people began smelting metal around 4500 years ago the Bronze Age began in the British Isles.

Top 10 facts

  1. Our ancestor, modern man Homo sapiens, emerged around 200,000 years ago.
  2. Homo habilis, an early human who evolved around 2.3 million years ago, was probably the first to make stone tools.
  3. Neanderthals died out around 30,000 years ago.
  4. Flint was commonly used for making stone tools but other stones such as chert and obsidian were also used.
  5. The Stone Age is divided into three periods; the Palaeolithic (old Stone Age), Mesolithic (middle Stone Age) and the Neolithic (new Stone Age).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. The gradual development of agriculture and the domestication of animals during the Neolithic period meant that people could live in settled communities.
  9. Some isolated tribespeople were still effectively living in the Stone Age as recently as the twentieth century.
  10. The houses in Skara Brae, a Neolithic Orkney village, had beds, cupboards, dressers, shelves and chairs.

Timeline

  • 300,000-150,000 years ago
    Appearance of Homo sapiens in Africa

  • 40,000 years ago
    First cave paintings in Altamira, Spain and carved figurines

  • 35,000 years ago
    Tally sticks (for counting)

  • 30,000 years ago
    Neanderthals become extinct

  • 28,000-20,000 years ago
    Use of needles, saws and harpoons

  • 27,000 years ago
    Earliest evidence of weaving

  • 25,000 years ago
    Earliest pottery

  • 15,000 years ago
    Domestication of pigs

  • 13,000-10,000 years ago
    End of last Ice Age

  • 10,500 years ago
    Cattle domesticated

  • 10,000-9000 years ago
    Barley and wheat cultivated

  • 9,500 years ago
    Cat domesticated

  • 8,000 years ago
    Sheep and goats domesticated; irrigation began; wheel invented

  • 7,000 years ago
    Gold treasure in burials in Bulgaria

  • 7,500 years ago
    First smelting of copper

  • 6,000 years ago
    Domestication of horse and chicken

  • 5,500 years ago
    Writing 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
  • Skara Brae in Scotland
  • Stonehenge
  • The stone circle at Avebury
  • Castlerigg in the Lake District
  • A Neolithic grave in Sweden
  • Neolithic tools
  • Recreated Neolithic stilt houses
  • Carnac in Brittany, France, known for its unique rows of ancient standing stones
  • A recreated Neolithic village

Gallery

About

The Palaeolithic or old Stone Age lasted from 2.7 million years ago to around 20,000 to 10,000 years ago. Britain would have looked very different during the Paleolithic: there were a number of cold periods called ice ages and the shape of landscapes changed as it became warmer and colder. During the Lower Palaeolithic Britian was not an island, but connected to mainland Europe. Some time between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago that changed and the area between the British Isles and what is now Denmark flooded and finally disappeared under the sea about 7500 years ago.

A number of distinct groups of humans lived during the Paleolithic 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 evidence for homes in Britain comes from this period, and 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, from around 6000 years ago, saw the beginnings of agriculture. Farmers from mainland Europe probably brought seeds and farming tools to Britain. Growing crops was a more reliable food supply than gathering wild plants and the landscape was transformed by a new type of life, linked to settled communities of people.

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. Trees were cut down to make clearings where crops could be grown and people worked together to construct trackways and paths. Large scale construction could take place, trade developed and people began to have different roles such as leader, priest, fighter, farmer, hunter or slave.

By the end of the Stone Age people created enclosures by piling up circular earth banks, perhaps to protect themselves and their animals, and buried their dead in huge earth mounds and under stone slabs. Silbury Hill, in Wiltshire, is the largest prehistoric earth mound in Europe. Built around 4500 years ago, its height and volume are similar to those of Egyptian pyramids, which were built at around the same time, 2500BC. It's been estimated that its construction must have taken around 4 million man hours of work.

Related Videos

Just for fun...

Children's books about the Stone Age

              

Find out more

See for yourself

Also see