Archaic Human Culture
The cultures of prehistoric humans are known mostly through the excavation of stone tools and other relatively imperishable artifacts. The early tool making traditions are often referred to as being paleolithic (literally "Old Stone" Age). The Oldowan and Acheulian tool traditions of the first humans were the simplest technologies. As a result, they are lumped together into the Lower Paleolithic stage of cultural development. Homo heidelbergensis continued to make tools mostly in the Acheulian tradition. However, by 100,000 years ago or somewhat earlier, Neanderthal and some other late archaic humans achieved a major leap forward in tool making with the development of the Mousterian tool tradition (named for the site of le Moustier in France). This new technology was revolutionary enough to warrant being considered a distinct Paleolithic phase--the Middle Paleolithic. Mousterian-like tool industries were employed at that time also by early modern Homo sapiens in some areas of Africa and Southwest Asia.
Note: the Paleolithic stages began earlier and/or persisted longer in different regions.
Subsequently, the demarcations between stages was not sharp. The same is true
of the transitions between hominin species.
Middle Paleolithic Technology
Throughout these progressive changes in tool making technologies, there was a growing sophistication in dealing with the environment, especially in connection with obtaining food. By the Middle Paleolithic, not all sites had the same tool kits. Specialized local tasks had resulted in tool variations among the Neanderthals and their contemporaries. Much of this variation was developed within the Mousterian tool making tradition. This new technology was part of their successful adaptation to hunting and gathering, especially in subarctic and temperate environments of Europe during the last ice age which began about 75,000 years ago.
The Mousterian Tradition was marked by the progressive reduction in the use of large core tools, such as hand axes, as specialized flake tools became more common. Flakes of more or less standardized shapes and sizes were often made with the Levallois prepared core technique. Blocks or cobbles of flint and other brittle fracturing rock were percussion flaked on one side until a convex "tortoise shell" shape was formed. Then, a heavy percussion blow at one end of the core removed a large flake that was convex on one side and relatively flat on the other--i.e., a Levallois flake. This technique was first used by archaic humans in Africa around 300,000 years ago. It was perfected in the Mousterian Tradition by the Neanderthals and some of their contemporaries. Levallois flakes were preforms for making a variety of scraping, cutting, and puncturing implements. The raw flakes were modified for particular uses by systematic percussion flaking their edges. Mousterian flake knives made in this way were apparently used for such tasks as cutting small pieces of wood and butchering animals. Flake scrapers had a number of uses but were particularly important in processing animal skins. Levallois flakes were also shaped into crude unifacial spear points by Neanderthals. This was the first time in human prehistory that stone tips were affixed to spears. It allowed greater penetration of the spears and, subsequently, more effective killing of large animals. The fact that Neanderthals were the pioneers in creating these new deadly weapons is further reason to reject the old view that they were "dull-witted, brutish, ape-like creatures."
Biface core tools, such as hand axes, continued to be made in the Mousterian tradition. However, they were much more carefully and extensively worked than in the Acheulian tradition. Small flake scars on many of the Mousterian hand axes suggest that the craftsmen were using hammers of bone, antler, or similar relatively soft materials for better control in the final stages of shaping. The earliest wooden spears yet recovered came from a 380,000-400,000 year old cave site near Schoningen in Germany, presumably left by a group of late Homo heidelbergensis. They were 6-8 ft. (1.83-2.44 m.) long and had sharpened points at both ends but were not stone tipped. The fact that these spears were found in association with the butchered remains of 10 horses, suggests that they were hunting weapons. Only a few wooden artifacts have been found associated with Neanderthal remains. Those that have been discovered include spears, plates, and possibly pegs. It is likely that Neanderthals made other kinds of artifacts out of wood and more perishable materials. Their hand axes and some other stone tools very likely were used to create and modify artifacts out of these organic materials.
Copyright 1999-2012 by Dennis O'Neil. All rights reserved.