“WELCOME TO MIDDLE EARTH”
THE MIDDLE PALAEOLITHIC
Beginning 250,000 years ago
|Middle Palaeolithic tools. Top row, from left: Levallois tortoise core, Levallois flake, small handaxe. Middle row, from left: Three unifacial points, two disc cores. Bottom row, from left: Three tanged Aterian points, backed knife, two side scrapers.
Credit: Photo by Kathy Schick, courtesy of the Stone Age Institute. All rights reserved.
With the rise of the lineages leading to Neandertals (Homo neandertalensis) and modern humans (Homo sapiens), technologies slowly shifted from the larger handaxe and cleaver technologies of the Acheulean (later Early Stone Age) to what is called the Middle Palaeolithic (or Middle Stone Age in Subsaharan Africa) characterized by more standardized and smaller flake tools, sometimes produced by prepared core technologies. As previously mentioned, fire becomes much more common in this period, indicating a mastery in the production and maintenance of fire. It is likely that hunting techniques became better developed and better organized during this time as well.
These common elements of the Middle Palaeolithic include:
• Chipped side scrapers for hide-scraping and wood-working
• Denticulated (“tooth-edged”) scrapers for cutting and sawing
• Backed knives (steepening the back edge like a modern pen knife) for cutting
• Points, some of which were almost certainly hafted (mounted) as spearpoints
• Prepared core technologies such as the Levallois tortoise-core and Levallois point methods
• Some early blade technologies (which will become much more common in the subsequent Upper Palaeolithic)
HOW DO WE KNOW?
The cultural-historical archaeological sequences and well-excavated and stratified (layered) archaeological localities show a gradal transition from handaxe/cleaver to Middle Palaeolithic technologies beginning around 250,000 years ago. Fossil human remains of Neandertals and near-modern and then modern humans are associated with these new technologies.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
These technologies in Africa led to you and us, modern humans. It must have been a very successful adaptation, as the earliest anatomically modern humans (discussed in event 50) made these types of technologies.
This is a brief timeline of the middle Paleolithic.
This is a webpage that discusses the tools and hominids of the middle Paleolithic.
This is a webpage that discusses middle paleolithic stone tool technologies.