By Maina Kiarie
2.5 million to 300,000 years ago
The Lower Paleolithic (or Lower Palaeolithic) is the earliest subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age. It spans the time from around 2.5 million years ago when the first evidence of craft and use of stone tools by hominids appears in the current archaeological record, until around 300,000 years ago. In this period, there were two major stone technologies:
• Oldowan tools: 2.5million – 1.8 million years ago (sometimes subdivided into types, such as chopper, scrapers and pounders, as these appear to have been their main uses.) and
• Acheulean tools: 1.8 million – 300,000 years ago (oval and pear-shaped handaxes)
The Lower Paleolithic begins with the Gelasian (Lower Pleistocene), some 2.5 million years ago with the appearance of the Homo genus (Homo habilis), which possibly developed out of australopithecine ancestors (such as Australopithecus garhi or Australopithecus sediba). These early members of the Homo genus had primitive tools, Oldowan category.
Homo habilis is assumed to have lived primarily on scavenging, using the tools to cleave meat off carrion or to break bones in order to extract the marrow.
The move from the mostly frugivorous or omnivorous diet of Australopithecus to the carnivorous scavenging lifestyle of early Homo has been explained by the climate changes in East Africa associated with the Quaternary glaciation. Decreasing oceanic evaporation resulted in a drier climate and an expansion of the savannah at the expense of forests. Reduced availability of fruits forced some Australopithecine to unlock new food sources found in the drier savannah climate. Some early form of symbolic communication may have developed at this time motivated by the need for “recruitment” of group members for scavenging large carcasses.
In the Calabrian stage of the Lower Palaeolithic Age, Homo erectus moved from scavenging to hunting, developing the hunting-gathering lifestyle that would remain dominant throughout the Paleolithic into the Mesolithic. The unlocking of the new niche of hunting-gathering subsistence drove a number of further changes, behavioral and physiological, leading to the appearance of Homo heidelbergensis by some 600,000 years ago.
Homo erectus migrated out of Africa and dispersed throughout Eurasia. Stone tools in Malaysia have been dated to be 1.83 million years old. The Peking Man fossil, discovered in 1929, is roughly 700,000 years old.
In Europe, the Olduwan tradition (known in Europe as Abbevillian) split into two parallel traditions, the Clactonian, a flake tradition, and the Acheulean, a hand-axe tradition. The Levallois technique for knapping flint developed during this time.
The carrier species from Africa to Europe undoubtedly was Homo erectus. This type of human is more clearly linked to the flake tradition, which spread across southern Europe through the Balkans to appear relatively densely in southeast Asia. Many Mousterian finds in the Middle Paleolithic have been knapped using a Levallois technique, suggesting that Neanderthals evolved from Homo erectus.
The appearance of Homo heidelbergensis about 600,000 years ago yielded a number of other new varieties, such as Homo rhodesiensis and Homo cepranensis about 400,000 years ago. Homo heidelbergensis is a candidate for first developing an early form of symbolic language. Whether control of fire and earliest burials date to this period or only appear during the Middle Paleolithic is still an open question.
You will also like