What is the Paleolithic Age?

The Paleolithic Age is a time period from prehistory when humans and their ancestors primarily used stone tools. The word Paleolithic comes from the Greek words for old and stone, hence the term Old Stone Age. This period started about 2.5 million years ago and lasted until about 10,000 years ago. For most of human history, we were Paleolithic people.

The “Lithic” or Stone Ages are often divided into three separate periods – the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age, the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age, and the Neolithic or New Stone Age. As these periods progressed from one to the other, human technology and lifestyle changed, and the stone tools became more advanced.

In the Paleolithic Age, people were primarily hunter-gathers. Their main sources of food were meat hunted from animals and wild seeds, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other edible plants gathered from their environment. As you can imagine, life was difficult. People had to spend most of their waking hours searching for and hunting or gathering food. As a result, technology was primitive, and was centered on trying to make hunting and gathering easier.

Paleolithic people hunting a now extinct Glyptodon. (image public domain US-1923 from Wikipedia)

Paleolithic people were nomads. They had to keep moving to find food and continue to survive. This nomadic lifestyle is what caused early humans to migrate from Africa and Southwest Asia to eventually populate the rest of the world. As the nomads wandered into new environments, their lifestyles changed to match the environment. This, along with the isolation of different groups from one another, led to the development of very different cultures around the world.

One of the ways we know about Paleolithic life is from the discovery of tools, spear points, and other artifacts. Sometimes, these are discovered near very ancient camp sites or kill sites where the Paleolithic peoples killed and butchered the animals that they relied on.

The end of the Paleolithic Age is generally considered to be when humans began to move toward farming and agriculture and away from hunting and gathering.