By Maina Kiarie
35,000 to 10,000 years ago
The Upper Paleolithic (or Upper Palaeolithic, and also in some contexts Late Stone Age) is the third and last subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age as it is understood in Europe, Africa and Asia. Very broadly, it dates between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago. This period coincides with the end of the last ice age and the emergence of agriculture.
There are several cultures that developed around the world throughout the Upper Palaeolithic period and are referred to by various names such as the Châtelperronian, the Aurignacian, the Gravettian, the Solutrean and the Magdalenian cultures.
In Central, East and Southern Africa some of these cultures are the Fauresmitian, the Stillbayan, the Lupembian, the Magosian, the Wiltonia, the Elementeitan, Nderit and Kansyore.
From about 50,000 years ago, there was a marked increase in the diversity of artifacts. For the first time in Africa, bone artifacts and the first art appear in the archeological record. Archeologists were able to differentiate and classify tools of less than 50,000 years into many different categories, such as projectile points, engraving tools, knife blades, and drilling and piercing tools. Each tool seems to have had a specific purpose.
The new technology generated a population explosion of modern humans which is believed to have contributed to the extinction of the Neanderthals in Europe. The European invadinge Cro-Magnons, left many sophisticated stone tools, carved and engraved pieces on bone, ivory and antler, cave paintings and Venus figurines.
This shift from Middle to Upper Paleolithic is called the Upper Paleolithic Revolution. The Neanderthals continued to use Mousterian stone tool technology, but were probably extinct by about 22,000 years ago.
This period has the earliest remains of organized settlements in the form of campsites, some with storage pits. These were often located in narrow valley bottoms, possibly to make hunting of passing herds of animals easier. Some sites may have been occupied year round, though more generally, they seem to have been used seasonally; peoples moved between them to exploit different food sources at different times of the year. Hunting was important.
Technological advances included significant developments in flint tool manufacturing, with industries based on fine blades rather than simpler and shorter flakes. Harpoons also appear in this period, along with the fish hook, the oil lamp, rope, and the eyed needle.
Artistic work blossomed further. More complex social groupings emerged, supported by more varied and reliable food sources and specialized tool types. This probably contributed to increasing group identification or ethnicity. These group identities produced distinctive symbols and rituals which are an important part of modern human behavior.
Globally, the changes in human behavior have been attributed to the changes in climate during this period, which encompasses a number of global temperature drops. This meant a worsening of the already bitter climate of what is popularly (but incorrectly) called the last ice age. Such changes may have reduced the supply of usable timber and forced people to look at other materials.
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