Eras and Their Highlights
What is the Stone Age?
What people commonly refer to as the Stone Age is actually two ages: The Old Stone Age (about 2,000,000 B.C. to about 10,000 B.C.) and the New Stone Age (c. 10,000 to c. 3300 B.C.). It was during these periods that humans used stone tools.
During the Old Stone Age, also called the Paleolithic Age, man was evolving from his apelike ancestors to modern-looking hunter-gatherers. Early modern man’s progress continued to the end of the Old Stone Age, around 10,000 B.C. Then, as the Ice Age ended and the Earth warmed, the hunter-gatherers again revolutionized their way of life. They opted for a more settled existence in which they could exercise greater control over their food supplies. With the coming of the New Stone Age, or Neolithic Age, humans turned to agriculture.
The New Stone Age brought profound changes in the development of humans. Neolithic man learned to produce food rather than collect it. People were no longer dependent on hunting, fishing, and gathering wild fruit and nuts for subsistence. They learned to cultivate crops, domesticate animals, make pottery, weave textiles from fiber and hair, and produce more sophisticated tools and weapons by hammering, grinding, and polishing granite, jasper, and other hard stone. More substantial houses and communities, even fortified villages, came into being, laying the foundation for the great civilizations that would follow.
Near the end of the New Stone Age, craftsmen in the Middle East learned to make tools and weapons from metal. The world’s earliest known manmade copper objects—beads, pins, and awls—were fabricated in Turkey and Iran around 8000 B.C. Archaeological evidence points to copper mining in the Balkans around 5000 B.C. From there the technology probably spread west, reaching the Alps about a thousand years later and marking the beginning of the Copper Age (c. 4000–2200 B.C.).