Stone age

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Overview prehistory
Holocene (➚ early history )
Iron age
  late bronze age  
  middle bronze age
  early bronze age
Bronze age
    Copper Age  
Pleistocene     Upper Paleolithic  
    Middle Paleolithic
    Early Paleolithic
  Old Stone Age
Stone age

The Stone Age is the earliest epoch in human history . It is characterized by preserved stone tools and began - according to current research - with the oldest known tools of the Oldowan culture 2.6 million years ago. The manufacturers of stone tools are the early human species Homo rudolfensis and Homo habilis , which have only survived in fossil form, as well as all later, such as Homo ergaster / Homo erectus , the Neanderthals and also the anatomically modern man ( Homo sapiens ).

The term Stone Age was introduced in 1836 by Christian Jürgensen Thomsen with the three-period system when he divided the prehistory of Denmark into the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age according to the materials primarily used for tools, weapons and jewelry . The Stone Age of Europe is now also divided into the Paleolithic , Mesolithic and Neolithic . For Africa south of the Sahara there is a separate breakdown of the epoch, consisting of the Early Stone Age , Middle Stone Age and Later Stone Age , which deviates from the time periods valid for Europe .

At the end of the Stone Age , the Copper Age was set, with very different times and regions, but always beginning with the emergence of the material copper . Only with the early Bronze Age was the Stone Age replaced in some regions of the world, in Central Europe around 2200 BC. Chr.

Paleolithic or Paleolithic

The Paleolithic includes - as the Early Stone Age in Africa - most of human history, both starting with African discovered off about 2.6 million years ago. Probably the first wave of emigration from Africa is documented by finds of tools and fossils from the ancient Pleistocene site of Dmanissi in Georgia , for which an age of 1.8 million years was calculated. In Europe, the earliest records of hominins are probably around 1.1 million years old ( Sierra de Atapuerca , Spain), in Central Europe they are a maximum of 600,000 years old , as evidenced by the lower jaw of Mauer . The Paleolithic ended with the transition from the Pleistocene to the Holocene about 12,000 years ago.

Early Paleolithic

Chopping tool (Hack Tool)
Chert hand ax, 26.8 × 12 × 5.5 cm, Acheuléen (approx. 500,000-300,000 years ago), Natural History Museum Toulouse

By definition , the Stone Age begins with the first use of tools made from stone by the early ancestors of anatomically modern humans ( Homo sapiens ). Tools can be defined in such a way that the base material has been modified in some way for the purpose of use. According to this,the Oldowan's rubble devices , whichwere given sharp edgesby a few cuts , were the first documented tools of mankind. It will probably never be possible to clearly determine whether these changes were initially brought about consciously or by chance. At least, however, their manufacturers recognized their benefits and soon passed on the tools and their manufacturing methods. The oldest known finds of the Old Paleolithic come from the Kada Gona sitein Ethiopia and are 2.6 million years old. Itis controversialwhether indentations on bones from the Ethiopian site of Dikika , dated to an age of 3.4 million years,were rightly interpreted as cutting marks from tools. It is certain that Homo habilis already made stone utensils , this is considered likelyfor Homo rudolfensis , and some of the earliest finds may also come from Paranthropus robustus , a species from the Australopithecina group .

For many millennia, little changed in the inventory. Years ago, about 600,000 then the tool further culture that developed Acheulean with his hand ax - Industries began again, first in Africa. Even in this age nothing changed for a long time, the Acheuléen can be found up to about 100,000 years ago and is associated with the Neanderthals in Europe .

For the first time, in the Lower Paleolithic fire used - an important prerequisite to colonize even colder regions and food for the digestion to make digestible of man. The oldest secured fire pits, which were undoubtedly created by humans, come from the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa and are around 1.7 million years old. Burned bone fragments and plant remains in the deep interior of the cave serve as indicators.

Middle Paleolithic

The hand axes of the Acheuléen changed about 130,000–120,000 years ago and became asymmetrical (so-called hand ax knives ). One speaks now of the Middle Paleolithic and its first stage, the Micoquien , at the same time a completely new form of tool processing developed: cuts from the core stone were produced that were smaller, lighter and could be handled more flexibly ( Moustérien with Levallois technique ). The Middle Paleolithic is generally associated with the Neanderthals , but anatomically modern humans have also been found in the Middle East for around 90,000 years. The people continued to be hunters and gatherers , especially big game was hunted, compound weapons (wood and stone, bonded by an adhesive made of birch pitch ) and fire were known. The first works of art ( Venus of Berekhat Ram ) were created, people buried their dead ( Shanidar , Teschik-Tasch ) and probably gave them grave goods with them in the graves, which implies an idea of ​​life after death. Wooden, bone and antler tools were probably used intensively, but almost nothing has survived.

Upper Paleolithic

The beginning of the Upper Paleolithic is set around 40,000 years before our time. For the first time, one can determine regional differences in development - which may have already existed before, but cannot be proven due to a lack of fund inventory. Long, narrow blades and knives appear in the Aurignacien in Central, Western and Southern Europe, which are now worn by modern man. There is evidence of early cave painting from the younger Aurignacia in France . The oldest example of an elaborate burial was discovered in Sungir ( Russia ) with the approximately 30,000 year old bones of a man and two children. Devices made from organic matter have also been handed down far more frequently.

Lion / leopard made of mammoth ivory, 40,000 to 30,000 years old, Vogelherd Cave, Baden-Württemberg

In France and northern Spain you can find the Châtelperronia (up to about 34,000 years ago), whose inventory shows, in addition to the Upper Paleolithic elements such as the Aurignacian (up to about 28,000 years ago), a clear tradition of the Levallois technique from the Middle Paleolithic. Some researchers also see the difference between these two cultures as the difference between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens in their earlier form as Cro-Magnon humans . In Eastern and Central Europe one can distinguish the cultures of Bohunicia and Szeletia at the same time . From around 28,000 to 21,000 years ago, there are gravettias , symbols of fertility or possibly depictions of goddesses such as the Venus von Willendorf indicate religious ideas.

In France, Spain and Portugal, on the other hand, the Solutréen spread from about 22,000 to 16,500 years before our time, which is characterized by lamellae and surface-retouched leaf and notch tips . Rock drawings, engraved bones and figures can also be found. The last ice age is slowly coming to an end in Magdalenian , the last section of the early Paleolithic. Blade variants with the first signs of microlithization, which was widespread in the Mesolithic, are typical . The most famous cave paintings ( Lascaux cave ) come from the Magdalenian period, as well as an increasing number of small, movable works of art. Remains of tent structures were found as well as lamps with wicks, improved hunting weapons and jewelry that was already widely traded. The best preserved finds in Germany from this period are the 14,000 year old skeletons and cultural additions from the double grave of Oberkassel .

Mesolithic or Mesolithic

With the end of the Ice Age and the beginning of reforestation (from approx. 9600 BC) of the Holocene , the Middle Stone Age begins in Central Europe . With the extinction of the Ice Age big game fauna, new hunting techniques were required to hunt down the animals that lived in the forests and that spread with them. This is expressed not least in the emergence of small arrowheads, so-called microliths . An early northern European culture was the Maglemose culture , another well-known culture was e.g. B. the Ertebölle culture . The Central European Mesolithic ended with the beginning of the linear ceramics, which started from 6000 BC. In Pannonia and in the following 2000 years to northern Europe.

Comparable transition periods begin at very different times in different parts of the world. In the Levant there is only a very short transition period up to about 6000 BC. BC, which is not called the Mesolithic but the Epipalaeolithic .

Neolithic or Neolithic

Ribbon ceramic vessels from Central Germany in the holdings of the prehistoric and early historical collection of the University of Jena, which Friedrich Klopfleisch used in 1882 to define the ribbon ceramic culture

The beginning of the Neolithic Age is defined today by the transition from the appropriative to the productive economy ( Neolithic Revolution ), i.e. the beginning of livestock and agriculture. This transition began at very different times in the world regions. In the Levant z. B. began the Neolithic Age with the Pre-Ceramic Neolithic around 9500 BC. BC, spread to Anatolia and the Balkans, until Central Europe around 5600 BC. Reached. Some inhabitants of remote regions are still today in terms of their technical development at the level of the Neolithic.

Uniformly defined regional and temporal cultural areas can now be determined far more frequently from the archaeological finds than was the case in previous epochs.

In Central Europe, the Neolithic begins with ribbon ceramics between around 5600 and 4900 BC. The Rössen culture followed on German soil , further east the stitch band ceramics . In Southeastern Europe and in the Danubian area, new independent cultures are emerging from the early Neolithic (e.g. the Lengyel culture and the Baden culture up to the end Neolithic cultures of Vinča in the Serbian-Romanian region and Tisza in Hungary).

The first attempts at metalworking were made in the 8th millennium BC. BC, initially limited to solid precious metals such as gold, silver and copper and to the creation of jewelry. These soft metals without alloys were not suitable for tools or weapons .

Well-known finds from well-preserved Neolithic people are u. a. the Kennewick man and Ötzi .

Transition to the metal age

At the end of the Stone Age, the transition to the use of a fundamentally different material, metal, began . New, better properties made possible previously unknown uses, but also required much more complex handling and technology as well as functioning long-distance trading in order to get the coveted material, which was not available everywhere. This transition phase is called the Copper Age , also called Chalcolithic or Eneolithic . It ends with the beginning of the Bronze Age .

Many tools and weapons were still made with the tried and tested materials, some with the new material, but still in the tried and tested design language, but the first new shapes appeared relatively quickly. Basic metalworking techniques such as metal casting were developed. The casting made it possible for the first time to mass-produce tools of the same type.

The first techniques of prospecting and extraction of copper ores in open pits ( mining ) were also developed. The development of the smelting of copper made it possible to defuse the quickly emerging shortage of solid copper. This technique was later used to extract tin , zinc and lead and laid the technological basis for the later Bronze Age. A first demonstrable hierarchization took place, upper classes began to form, who controlled the mining and smelting of the metal and who were buried with many valuable grave goods after their death.

Settlements in Central Europe tended to be smaller, but more fortified. They were mainly on hills. In the Mediterranean region in particular, the development of copper technology led to increased long-distance trade. In addition to other Neolithic luggage, Ötzi already had a copper ax with him.

Temporal delimitations

The temporal delimitation of the individual epochs and stages of the Stone Age is difficult. This is mainly due to the find situation, which depends on the geological conditions, the later use or overbuilding of the area and other things. The level boundaries and transitions also differ in different regions. Some subdivisions only occur in certain areas. A parallelization with certain types of people is often not possible. Despite all these difficulties, here is an attempt at a time table and a detailed overview:

Stone Age chronological table (figures millennia before today)
Geological history Human history
Holocene (12–0) Later Stone Age (50-0) Copper Stone Age , Neolithic , Mesolithic , Epipalaeolithic
Pleistocene Young Pleistocene (126–12) Paleolithic (2600-12)
Middle Stone Age (130-50)

Upper Paleolithic (40–12)
Middle Paleolithic (300 / 200–40)

Middle Pleistocene (781–126) Early Stone Age (2600–130)
Old Pleistocene (1806–781) Early Paleolithic (2600–300 / 200)
Gelasium (2588–1806)

Stone Age people

Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis are considered to be the first representatives of the Hominini to use tools , although tool finds from the Australopithecina group were also attributed to Paranthropus robustus . The successor Homo erectus has already used tools and fire; the small-stature Homo floresiensis , which was only discovered in 2003 and still lived around 50,000 years ago on the Indonesian island of Flores , was possibly a direct descendant of Homo erectus . All these species of the genus Homo are to be assigned to the Old Paleolithic and its rubble and hand ax cultures. Projections assume that only a few tens of thousands of individuals existed on earth at that time.

Many researchers consider the Neanderthals , which emerged from Homo erectus / Homo heidelbergensis in Europe around 200,000 years ago, to be the ultimate human type of the Middle Paleolithic . At the same time, the transitions from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens (i.e. to modern humans; see archaic Homo sapiens ) already existed in Africa .

The first modern humans in Europe were then - around 35,000 years ago - the Cro-Magnon humans . At the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic, Neanderthals and modern humans lived side by side for several millennia, some researchers see the cultures of Aurignacia ( Homo sapiens ) and the Châtelperronia (Neanderthals) at the same time as a possible distinction in the material legacy, which is, however, controversial. The Neanderthals died out about 30,000 years ago and left the earth to modern humans, the bearer of other cultures.

In the first millennia of settling down , the women had to show the toughest physical effort. A British study in 2017 looked at the bone strength of women at the time. In comparison with today's rowers with intensive training, the researchers determined that the upper arm strength of the “Stone Age women” was more than 10 percent stronger.

Material culture of the Stone Age


For a long time, the source of food for hunters and gatherers was everything that could be found in the natural environment of humans: plants, fruits, seeds, roots, mushrooms as well as honey, eggs, meat, fish and molluscs. Before grazing animals were domesticated, milk and dairy products were just as unavailable as the cultivated forms of fruit, vegetables and grains that later became main sources of food.

The people lived in small clans who moved around with their hunting prey in the seasonal change. Modern studies have shown that the Stone Age people obtained about two thirds of their energy from animal food and only one third from plant sources.

At the end of the last Ice Age, the image of the fauna of Europe changed completely: the large animals such as mammoths , woolly rhinos and forest elephants , previously hunted for hunting, died out. From then on, smaller animals such as deer, wild cattle, horses and wild boar were the most important prey species. As early as the Mesolithic, the first of these animal species were kept in the dwellings that were now becoming more permanent. Vegetable food gradually became more and more important, as more such food could be found due to the improved climate.

One of the greatest human inventions and a huge turning point was the Neolithic Revolution , the conscious and controlled cultivation of food ( agriculture ) and livestock . This made it possible to settle down for a long time, to cultivate additional food, to stock up on surpluses or to trade them in a targeted and far-reaching way, and last but not least, a population explosion because more people could be fed. For the individuals , however, the nutritional situation deteriorated on average due to this development (lower protein content, famine due to poor harvests), which is reflected, among other things, in a decrease in body size compared to the hunters and gatherers. Paleopathology studies such developments . It also shows that the now denser population has been affected by a variety of previously unknown infectious diseases . Agriculture also enabled greater social differentiation, as the entire adult population was no longer engaged in the production of food.

Another consequence was the spread of humans into previously unpopulated areas, as the remaining population of hunters and gatherers was pushed into less favorable areas.


Archeon , Netherlands: Reconstruction of a house from the Neolithic Age

Where there were caves and abrises due to the geological conditions , these have been used as shelter from the earliest times. Otherwise, only artificial stone circles have been found for the early Paleolithic , which can be interpreted as the remains of dwellings. Two million years ago, branches or small trunks were probably attached by stones and formed a short-term habitable shelter. The oldest hut in Europe is around 600,000 years old and was found in Přezletice (near Prague). The huts in Terra Amata near Nice in southern France are around 400,000 years old, those in Bilzingsleben around 370,000 years old.

In the Middle Paleolithic, mammoth hunters' huts made of bones and tusks , presumably in connection with rods and skins, with fire pits inside, are found. In the Grotte du Lazaret in France, a hut floor plan is around 35 m² with two fireplaces, enough to accommodate around ten people.

In the Upper Paleolithic, hut pits ( residential pits ) appear. They range from pits dug deep into the ground to huts almost at ground level. They usually contain hearths and regularly arranged post holes that indicate a solid superstructure. It is believed that the huts had tent-like or tent-hut-like shapes.

During the Neolithic, with the first peasant cultures around 10,500 BC. Then there were also permanent, permanently inhabited houses. Depending on the region, they were made of clay, stone or wood. Earth buildings are known from the Orient to Hungary, stone buildings for over 10,000 years in the Orient, wooden buildings with walls made of boards or wickerwork smeared with clay in the wooded areas. Post construction was the usual method of construction in Central Europe.

The megalithic buildings and dolmens that can be found especially in Western Europe are not dwellings, but graves and / or places of worship .

Arts and Culture


Petroglyphs are pictorial or graphic representations carved onto the stone substrate. An important cultural and religious meaning for the societies is assumed. The representations can be found on all continents. The meaning of the symbols is still largely unclear. Precise dating is often difficult, but the petroglyphs are generally assigned to the Neolithic and Metal Ages.

Rock paintings or cave paintings are not scratched, but painted on with paint . Due to the weather, the artistic designs were mostly only preserved in caves and primarily reflect the religious ideas of their creators. The colors used were mainly ocher , charcoal and various rocks and ores, and water, plant resin and sap were used as binding agents. Many paintings already show perspective drawings, the stone base was included in the structure of the representation, wiping and spraying techniques have already been used. Well-known sites can also be found here worldwide, for example almost 15,000 rock art in the high plateau of Tassili n'Ajjer in Algeria , the Uluṟu in Australia, the famous Lascaux cave in France or the Altamira cave in Spain. Using the C-14 method , the oldest works of art of this kind (through the analysis of the colors and binders used) can be traced back to the Aurignacia, i.e. tens of thousands of years ago.


Venus vom Hohlefels , approx. 35,000 years old

The first sculptures mostly showed female figures with strongly emphasized gender characteristics such as large breasts and wide pelvis ( Venus figurines ) or animals. They were made of stone and clay, but also of more easily perishable material such as wood or bones, such as the oldest representation of a person, the Venus from the hollow rock , which was found on the Swabian Alb . Some details of the female statuettes were seldom executed, such as faces and arms. The thesis that these figurines are fertility goddesses and evidence of matriarchy is no longer supported in science today. One can assume, however, that average Stone Age women were not able to take on such sweeping forms.

The animal figures found, on the other hand, often show an astonishing naturalism, often they were depicted in flight or at the moment of the fatal hit. Here, the researchers interpret the figures as objects to evoke hunting success.

One of the most famous Upper Palaeolithic sculptures is the Venus von Willendorf found in present-day Austria and about eleven centimeters high . There are also engraved bones, but their interpretation is mostly unsuccessful. Representations of men are found far less often, which is probably not only due to the preservation conditions. These figures do not show any gender-specific characteristics like the female ones , phallic symbols as sculptures only appear in later ages, but Neolithic rock paintings on this topic were very likely.


The oldest surviving musical instruments are around 35,000 year old bone flutes, which were also found in the Swabian Alb . A flute made from the bones of a griffon vulture was found in the Hohle Fels cave near Schelklingen in the summer of 2008 . Relatively well-preserved or reconstructable flutes with finger holes were discovered in the Geißenklösterle cave. Two of the flutes from the Geißenklösterle are made in one piece from swan bones. The third consists of two joined half-tubes carved from mammoth ivory; it was provided with at least three finger holes, tuned roughly at a third interval (a fourth could have broken off) and decorated with notches on the side. Due to the very old age of the flute, an attribution to modern humans ( Homo sapiens of the Cro-Magnon epoch ) is uncertain; The (presumed) gluing and sealing of the two halves with birch pitch could speak for a Neanderthal artifact .


The prerequisite for the emergence of religion is sufficient language ability (including abstract terms). Already the people of the Middle Paleolithic obviously buried their dead. Conspicuous accumulations of pollen can be interpreted as the addition of flowers or plants in general, ocher was added as a valuable raw material, and used or new tools were also found. In spite of this, almost nothing is known about ideas about life after death or religious feelings, but the finds nonetheless support such ideas. Despite the difficult nature of the finds, rituals and religious ceremonies are accepted by research as possible. Traces indicate dances and chants are also accepted.

Barter and trade

The exchange of food, material and tools in the immediate vicinity can already be assumed for the first cultures of the Stone Age. Important goods were traded over long distances early on. Finds of shells far inland are interpreted as part of jewelry , flint and other materials suitable for tool and weapon manufacture as the most important raw materials of the Stone Age were even distributed via so-called trade routes .

See also

Portal: Prehistory and Protohistory  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the subject of Prehistory and Protohistory


Web links

Commons : Stone Age  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Sileshi Semaw: The World's Oldest Stone Artefacts from Gona, Ethiopia: Their Implications for Understanding Stone Technology and Patterns of Human Evolution Between 2 6–1 5 Million Years Ago . In: Journal of Archaeological Science. Volume 27, 2000, pp. 1197–1214, doi: 10.1006 / jasc.1999.0592 , full text (PDF; 1.0 MB)
  2. ^ Eudald Carbonell et al .: The first hominin of Europe. In: Nature. Volume 452, 2008, pp. 465-469, doi: 10.1038 / nature06815
  3. Shannon P. McPherron, Zeresenay Alemseged , Curtis W. Marean et al .: Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika. In: Nature . Volume 466, 2010, pp. 857-860, doi: 10.1038 / nature09248
  4. Yonatan Sahle, Sireen El Zaatari and Tim White : Hominid butchers and biting crocodiles in the African Pliocene-Pleistocene. In: PNAS . Volume 114, No. 50, 2017, pp. 13164-13169, doi: 10.1073 / pnas.1716317114
  5. Peter S. Ungar (Ed.), Evolution of the human diet: the known, the unknown, and the unknowable. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2007
  6. ^ Peter B. Beaumont: The edge: More on fire-making by about 1.7 million years ago at Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa. In: Current Anthropology. Volume 52, No. 4, 2011, pp. 585-595, doi: 10.1086 / 660919 .
  7. ^ F. d'Errico, A. Nowell: A new look at the Berekhat Ram figurine: implications for the origins of symbolism. In: Cambridge Archaeological Journal. Volume 10, 2000, pp. 123-167
  8. Christoph Seidler: So fit were the women of the Neolithic Age. In: Spiegel Online. November 30, 2017. Retrieved December 21, 2017 .
  9. ^ Alison A. Macintosh et al .: Prehistoric women's manual labor exceeded that of athletes through the first 5500 years of farming in Central Europe . In: Science Advances . tape 3 , no. November 11 , 2017 (English, PDF [accessed December 21, 2017]).
  10. a b c Diamond, 1994, III.10 The double-edged sword of agriculture
  11. ^ Nicholas J. Conard, Maria Malina and Susanne C. Münzel: New flutes document the earliest musical tradition in southwestern Germany. In: Nature. Volume 460, 2009, pp. 737–740, doi: 10.1038 / nature08169
    Researchers discover the world's oldest musical instrument. Spiegel Online, June 24, 2009, accessed January 6, 2019 .
  12. The oldest flutes in the world. (PDF) (No longer available online.), 2005, archived from the original on February 16, 2007 ; Retrieved February 1, 2009 . Additional information, images and sound material for the article. On: , last viewed on January 6, 2019
  13. Picture of a flute made from a swan bone ( Memento from January 19, 2012 in the Internet Archive )
  14. ^ Siegfried Forty : Myths of the Stone Age. The religious worldview of early humans. BIS-Verlag of the Carl von Ossietzky University, Oldenburg 2009, ISBN ISBN 978-3-8142-2160-1 ( [1] on, PDF; 4.7 MB)
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on July 31, 2005 .