3. Paleolithic: the 'Old' Stone Age

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 Archaeologists start their categorizations with the Stone Age, rightfully so. Stone tools were the first things that they found. Analyzing the types of tools allowed them to categorize the ages of proto-humans. Before we start throwing around archaeological terms with abandon, let us set up a framework.

History of the Ages of Humanity

Traditional Definitions

In 1836 Danish archaeologist Christian Thomse divided prehistoric times into three ages – Stone, Bronze and Iron, for the purpose of organizing archaeological artifacts. In 1865 English archaeologist John Lubbock, further divided the Stone Age into three parts, the Paleolithic, the Mesolithic, and the Neolithic, i.e. old, middle and new stone ages. The Paleolithic artifacts were chipped stone tools, while the Neolithic artifacts were polished stone tools. The Mesolithic was considered transitional. Remember these categorizations were set up solely to organize archaeological finds.

Paleolithic: hunter-gatherer societies

As the dating of artifacts became more accurate, the scientists found that these artifact categories also had cultural connections. They found that the chipped stone tools of the Paleolithic were primarily associated with small hunter-gatherer societies.

Neolithic: Agri-cultures

Furthermore they found that the polished stone tools tended to be associated with farming societies. Miles Burkitt, an English archaeologist, working in the 1920s, characterized the Neolithic by four cultural traits, i.e. polished stone tools, agriculture, domestication of animals, and pottery. At present, only the domestication of plants and animals are considered essentially Neolithic. This is true even though polished tools, pottery and even woven fabric frequently accompany this age. (Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, 1997: Neolithic) In many cases, agriculture existed long before the use of pottery. As such, the Neolithic Age has been disassociated with polished stone tools and is now linked with the agricultural revolution. However, the Paleolithic is still associated with hunter-gatherer cultures. In other words, the Ages of Humanity are now linked with culture rather than lithic, i.e stone technologies.

Bronze Age

Technically the Bronze Age is associated with the development of bronze technology. Because of the complications of formulating bronze, it takes a highly coordinated social organization to create it. Hence bronze can only be made by a society that has gone through quite a bit of social evolution. Traditionally the development of bronze technology has been associated with the development of larger cities and even countries. The Bronze Age is further linked with building larger architectural monuments, the development of writing, and highly stratified societies with a priest-god-king at the top of the hierarchy. Traditionally, the Bronze Age is considered an essential step towards modern civilization based upon an urban society.

Iron Age

The Iron Age follows the Bronze Age. During this age as in the last, there are further technological improvements that theoretically improve the plight of ancient humans living in their primitive world. The emphasis of this line of thinking is purely technological. The assumption has been that the primitive human’s life has always been violent and difficult and that any improvements in technology must certainly improve this savage life. Traditional thinking considers the Iron Age an improvement on the Bronze Age, which in turn was an improvement on the Neolithic, which in turn was an improvement on the Paleolithic. We shall see that while the cultural ages represent distinct stages of technological progress, human rights take major steps backwards, particularly women’s rights.

Paleolithic Stone Tool categories

Having established a context, we can now move onto the Old Stone Age of the Hunter-gatherers. We are now on relatively ‘firm’ archaeological ground. As with the most ancient homos, let us not take these ‘primitive’ Paleolithic hunter-gatherers too lightly. Their value systems are still alive and well in modern times, as we shall see.

Stone Age Modes of Technology or Tools to make tools

Archaeologists divide the Old Stone Age into five technological categories based upon the ‘mode’ of stone tools used, i.e. Mode 1, Mode 2, etc.. In order to appreciate the complexity of these lithic technologies, let us point out that these techniques of stone shaping were used to make tools that would in turn be used to make other tools. Stone choppers and scrapers tools were probably used to shape the more perishable wood implements. This level of foresight is seen nowhere else in the animal world. Not only did the earliest homo have the ability to pass on technology, he also had the capacity to plan ahead.

Paleolithic subdivisions

Scientists divide the Paleolithic into three time periods, the Lower, Middle and Advanced. As we shall see, the Lower and Middle Paleolithic are associated with the early humans, homo habilis and homo erectus, and their Mode 1 and 2 lithic technologies. Mode 3 technology is linked with homo sapiens of a transitional age. Modern humans, homo sapiens sapiens with his Mode 4 and 5 technologies are associated with the Advanced Paleolithic.

The subspecies and technologies merge at the boundary lines, certainly an example of fractalization that transcends specific analysis. These categories are broad with no clearly marked boundaries. This diffusion testifies to the continuity of the development of Genus Homo. This continuity points to our connection as a common family rather than as distinct subspecies.

Lithic technology is Homotaxial not universal

It makes perfect sense to break down the Paleolithic, the technologies, and the Genus Homo into subdivisions. Just don’t look too hard at the specific boundaries. In this regard, the lithic technological sequence is homotaxial, i.e. always occurring in the same sequence. However, it is not universal. (World Prehistory: A New Outline, by Grahame Clark, Cambridge University Press, 1969, p. 30)

Superior technologies were used alongside or supplanted the older technologies when in competition with them. They did not emerge independently in different areas disconnected to cultural diffusion. Mode 1 technologies spread over the entire inhabited world. Mode 2 and 3 technologies did not reach eastern Asia. Mode 3 technology spread north. When Mode 4 technology reached China, they jumped from Mode 1 to Mode 4. These technological advances were not based upon an indigenous emergence, but instead upon cultural transmission. This differentiation is key to the discussion that follows.

Fear of the Future: an innate feature of Humans

Ability to anticipate leads to worry

The ability to plan ahead and anticipate associated with technology was crucial to our survival as a species. As but one example, anticipation enabled our species to prepare for the climatic changes associated with the seasons. On the negative side, anticipation is also at the root of anxiety, a sense of mortality and fear of the future. This is an example of the maxim that with every blessing comes a curse.

Other animals also experience fear. But it is related to an immediate environmental threat. Their fear is not associated with the distant future. To deal with immediate threats, many animals have the fight or flight response. Run away or attack. The nearly instant response maximizes the chances of survival, as a delayed reaction to an environmental threat can frequently be fatal.

Humans are equipped with the same ‘fight or flight’ hardware. This immediate response system betters our chances of surviving dangers that arise instantly. However this same ‘fight or flight’ response is inappropriate when dealing with future threats.

For instance, the bio-chemicals associated with the emergency response system short circuit the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is a rational part of the brain associated with planning ahead. In other words, humans that are afraid don’t think as clearly. Thinking about the future can be fatal when faced with immediate danger, as it is too slow. However, weighing options and evaluating danger enables us to choose a more appropriate response to the potential problems of the future.

The dark powers associated with the ruling classes frequently generate fears based upon exaggerated or imaginary threats to manipulate the behavior of the citizenry. When the populace is afraid, their rational mind doesn’t operate as efficiently. These dark powers can easily entice an entire population to go to war against an undeserving victim, when they enter this fearful irrational state.

Fear of the future is an innate feature of being human. However, we don’t have to be a victim of this curse. We can change our probability of behavior. Instead of reacting immediately to supposed threats from the future, we can practice meditation or calming techniques to still our nerves. Instead of mindlessly following our innate conditioning, we can mindfully pursue a more constructive course of action. Rather than serving the dark powers, we are able to fulfill our potentials.


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