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Middle Palaeolithic

By Maina Kiarie

120,000 to 24,000 years ago

The Middle Paleolithic (or Middle Palaeolithic) is the second subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age. In African archeology the term Middle Paleolithic is commonly used, while in Europe and Asia, Middle Stone Age is used as an equivalent. The Middle Paleolithic and the Middle Stone Age broadly spanned from 300,000 to 24,000 years ago. There are considerable dating differences between regions.

During this time period Homo neanderthalensis thrived in Europe between 300,000 and 30,000 years ago, and the earliest anatomically modern humans appeared around 195,000 years ago.
Additionally, according to the Out of Africa Hypothesis, modern humans began migrating out of Africa during the Middle Paleolithic around 100,000 or 70,000 years ago and began to replace earlier pre-existent Homo species such as the Neanderthals and Homo erectus. Humans in this period demonstrate the earliest undisputed evidence for art and other expressions of abstract thought such as intentional burial of the dead.

In addition to developing other advanced cultural traits such as religion and art, humans also first began to take part in long distance trade between groups for rare commodities (such as ochre, which was often used for religious purposes such as ritual and raw materials during the Middle Paleolithic as early as 120,000 years ago.
Inter-group trade may have appeared during the Middle Paleolithic because trade between bands would have helped ensure their survival by allowing them to exchange resources and commodities such as raw materials during times of famine or drought.

Middle Paleolithic people lived in small egalitarian band societies similar to those of Upper Paleolithic societies and existent Hunter gatherers such as the !Kung san and the Mbuti. Both Neanderthal and modern human societies took care of the elderly members of their societies during this period.

At this time, people also began to supplement their diet with seafood and smoking and drying meat to preserve and store it.

Around 200,000 years ago Stone tool manufacturing spawned a tool-making technique known as the prepared-core technique. This was more elaborate than previous Acheulean techniques. This method increased efficiency by permitting the creation of more controlled and consistent flakes. This method also allowed Middle Paleolithic humans to create stone-tipped spears, which were the earliest composite tools. The spears were made by hafting sharp, pointy stone flakes onto wooden shafts. Paleolithic groups such as the Neanderthals who possessed a Middle Paleolithic level of technology appear to have hunted large game just as well as Upper Paleolithic modern humans and the Neanderthals in particular may have likewise hunted with projectile weapons. However, Neanderthals hunted large game animals mostly by ambushing them and attacking them with mêlée weapons such as thrusting spears rather than attacking them from a distance with projectile weapons.

The use of fire became widespread for the first time in human prehistory during the Middle Paleolithic and humans began to cook their food about  250,000 years ago. Dogs may have been first domesticated during the Middle Paleolithic around or even before 100,000 years ago. Egalitarianism may have arisen in Middle Paleolithic societies because of a need to distribute resources such as food and meat equally to avoid famine and ensure a stable food supply.

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