until ca. 4000
Early or Lower Paleolithic
When compared to the history of
humankind, let alone that of the Earth, the inquiry into
the development, roots and relations of humans is very
young indeed. Up until the 18th century, the biblical
story of human creation—"So God created man in his own
image, in the image of God he created him; male and
female he created them."—was accepted as an
incontestable truth in many parts of the world. Then,
however, natural scientists— Charles Darwin the most
celebrated among them—appeared. They doubted the special
status attributed to humans by the Bible and viewed
their development within the context of a theory of
evolution. The theory has since been supported and
modified by the discovery of skeletal remains, primitive
tools, and the remnants of ancient settlements. Their
classification, dating, and evaluation using modern
technologies has made possible an increasingly accurate
perception of human origins.
Reconstruction of a hunting scene from
the Old Stone Age, ca. 25,000-30,000 B.C.
For the Cro-Magnon man, the mammoth was a desirable prey
as use could be made of the meat, hide, and teeth.
The Stone Age: The Beginning of Mankind
From the Beginnings to ca. 4000 B.C.
The Divisions of the Prehistoric Periods
Prehistory is divided into
the Old Stone Age or Paleolithic period,
the New Stone Age or Neolithic period,
the Bronze Age,
and the Iron Age:
Early or Lower Paleolithic:
ca. 2.5 miIlion-250,000 B.C.
ca. 250,000-30,000 B.C.
Late or Upper Paleolithic:
ca. 30,000-10,000 B.C.
ca. 10,000-1800 B.C.
ca. 4000-700 B.C. (Middle East), ca.
1800-800 B.C. (Europe)
from ca. 1100/800 B.C.
Mankind's prehistory occurred over the
Quaternary period of geologic time:
ca. 1.8 million-800,000 B.C.
ca. 800,000-127,000 B.C.
ca. 127,000-10,000 B.C.
Holocene (post-Ice Age):
ca. 10,000 B.C. to the present
Prehistoric Europe and the Near East.
Evolution from human ape to Homo sapiens
Even today, no definitive answers to
the questions about the origins of mankind have been
found. In 1871, Charles Darwin challenged the answers
given by the biblical story of creation with his theory
of evolution. The evolution theory suggested that man
descended from anthropoids. Africa, site of the earliest
hominoid discoveries, is considered to be "the cradle of
mankind." The evolution of today's Homo sapiens can be
traced by the trail of skeletal remains, tools, and the
remnants of settlements—such as cave paintings—that have
been left throughout the ages.
It All Began in Africa
With the development of the
theory of evolution and the corroborating identification and
hominoid finds since the mid-19th century, the hypothesis of an
African origin for humans is generally accepted today.
story of man's origins and evolution was the subject of fierce
controversy throughout the 19th century.
from Australopithecus anamensis (blue) to Homo habilis,
Homo rudolfensis, Homo erectus and archaic Homo sapiens to
Homo neanderthalensis and
Homo sapiens sapiens.
pebble resembling a human face, from Makapansgat,
South Africa, ca. 3.000.000 BCE.
Reddish brown jasperite.
Humankind seems to
have originated in Africa in the very remote past.
From that great continent also comes the earliest
evidence of human recognition of abstract images in
the natural environment, if not the first examples
of what people generally call "art." In 1925,
explorers of a cave at Makapansgat in South Africa
discovered bones of Australopithecus, a predecessor
of modern humans who lived some three million years
ago. Associated with the bones was a waterworn
reddish brown jasperite pebble that bears an uncanny
resemblance to a human face. The nearest known
source of this variety of ironstone is 20 miles away
from the cave. One of the early humans who took
refuge in the rock shelter at Makapansgat must have
noticed the pebble in a streambed and, awestruck by
the "face" on the stone, brought it back for
Is the Makapansgat pebble art? In modern times, many
artists have created works people universally
consider art by removing objects from their normal
contexts, altering them, and then labeling them. In
1917, for example, Marcel Duchamp took a ceramic
urinal, set it on its side, called it Fountain, and
declared his "ready-made" worthy of exhibition among
more conventional artworks. But the artistic
environment of the past century cannot be projected
into the remote past. For art historians to declare
a found object such as the Makapansgat pebble an
"artwork," it must have been modified by human
intervention beyond mere selection — and it was not.
In fact, evidence indicates that, with few
exceptions, it was not until three million years
later, around 30,000 все, that humans intentionally
manufactured sculptures and paintings. That is when
the story of art through the ages really begins.
The several millennia following
saw a powerful outburst of creativity. The works
produced by the peoples of the Old Stone Age or
Paleolithic period (from the Greek paleo, "old," and
lithos, "stone") are of an astonishing variety. They
range from simple shell necklaces to human and
animal forms in ivory, clay, and stone to monumental
paintings, engravings, and relief sculptures
covering the huge wall surfaces of caves. During the
Paleolithic period, humankind went beyond the
recognition of human and animal forms in the natural
environment to the representation
(literally, the presenting again — in different and
substitute form — of something observed) of humans
and animals. The immensity of this achievement
cannot be exaggerated.
There were two schools of thought. According to the creationist
doctrine of the monotheistic religions, man had been created by
God, after which he did not evolve. In opposition to this stood
Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which stated that life was
5, 6 continually evolving and
emphasized the connection between human origins and the animal
kingdom, specifically primates. Darwin's theory proposed a
progressive refining of the intellectual, social, and creative
abilities of early man. He illustrated this theory with
reference to the increasing use of tools and man's lifestyle
shift from hunter-gatherer to farmer and animal breeder.
Simultaneously the 19th century saw the beginning of a
systematic notation and classification of hominoid fossils and
stone tools. Of particular concern was the determination of the
age of the fossils; however, accurately dating the finds only
became reliable with the discovery of the radiocarbon dating
method in 1947 by Professor Willard F. Libby of the University
As the oldest hominoids were found in East Africa, a theory
proposing Africa as the "cradle of mankind" emerged. This
hypothesis was substantiated by the discovery of the "Taung
Baby." a 2.2-million-year-old Australopithecus africanus
anamensis (ca. 4.2 million B.C.), 4 Australopithecus
afarensis (ca. 4-3 million B.C.), 5 Australopithecus,
6 Homo erectus (ca. 1.9 million— 200,000 B.C.),
According to the most recent
discoveries, man's beginnings can be traced back more than six
Through a succession of progressive stages, the earliest
hominoids developed increasingly greater skills.
Slowly man began to leave his African "cradle."
Following Darwin's theory,
paleontologists looked for a "missing link" between man and his
nearest relative in the animal world, the chimpanzee. Since
then, many hominoid species have been discovered, not all of
which are direct ancestors of the modern Homo sapiens.
For a long time, the Ardipithecus ramidus, which lived 5.5—4
million years ago in present-day Ethiopia, was considered the
earliest hominoid. In 2000, however, Orrorin tugenensis
("millennium man") was found. It lived about six million years
ago in Kenya.
The next stage after the Ardipithecus was the
7, 8 Australopithecus, which lived 3.7-1.3 million years
ago and was already using primitive pebble tools. The Australopithecus afarensis became famous through
whose skeletal remains were found in 1974.
7 Skulls of Australopithecus africanus and
8 Skull of an Australopithecus with added lower jaw
The next stage of development was the
Homo genus. Homo
habilis, which lived 1.5-2.3 million vears ago, had a larger
brain and ate a broader diet than did previous hominoids. The
new diet included meat and animal fats— until then the hominoid
diet had been purely vegetarian. Homo habilis was the first
hominoid to leave the forest and 11
hunt in the savannas. He is credited with the earliest hewn
stone tools, which were probably used to break open bones to get
at the marrow.
ergaster (Homo erectus),
which lived approximately 1.8-1 million B.C.,
settled throughout the African continent and was the
first hominoid that resembled modern man in size and
proportions. He walked erect only, stored food
supplies, and made stone artifacts. About 1.6
million years ago, he made the first completely
10 hand axe that
also functioned as a pick. Homo ergastcr was also
the first hominid to travel beyond Africa, gradually
populating the nearer parts of Asia and Europe.
9,10. Flint hand axes,
worked tools, Paleolithic period
No hominoid discovery has
elicited such a sensation as the almost complete,
43-inch-high skeleton of a female Australopithecus
afarensis found in the Afar region of northeastern
Ethiopia in 1974. She was named "Lucy" after a Beatles
song that had been playing in the research camp. The
press promptly named her the "missing link." She belongs
to man's plniogenetic line and possesses all the
anatomical prerequisites for walking erect. Her bones
and teeth provided valuable information about her
11 Australopitheanes hunting on the
plains, Paleolithic period
Spreading out of Africa,
early man initially settled in Asia and Europe, and then in
Australia and the Americas.
Due to the climate, it was primarily the robust Ice Age
hunters—represented by the Neanderthal and the
Cro-Magnon man—who were able to establish themselves in Europe.
It was long
believed that early man did not leave his African
homeland until ca. 1.4 million years ago. However,
in the 1990s, a 1.7-1.8 million-year-old hominoid
skull was found in Georgia in western Asia.
The oldest Homo erectus fossils have been
found in Asia; "Java man," named after the island
where the first example was discovered, is today
dated to 1.7 million years B.C., while
2 "Peking man,"
found in China, is dated to 600,000-200,000 B.C. By
that time, Homo erectus was probably already
using fire and possibly a form of human speech. Homo erectus was also the first hominid to live
in Europe, which was at that time characterized by
extreme ice ages. The European form of Homo erectus
is named 3 Homo heidelbergensis after a find near
Heidelberg in 1907. They are thought to have lived
400,000-800,000 years ago.
2 Skull of
Middle Pleistocene period
The Late Pleistocene era
(127,000-10,000 B.C.) was the age of the Neanderthal. This new
hominid, considered to be cither a side branch of Homo
sapiens or a separate subspecies, came about through a
series of evolutionary stages and died out about 30,000 years
ago. Since the first finding of a Neanderthal skullcap in 1856,
this has become the best known example of primitive man.
4 Neanderthals were stocky Ice Age hunters with the
greatest skull volume of all hominoids known to date. Their wide
nose and large nasal cavity were well suited to the cold
Around 40,000 years ago, modern Homo sapiens, in the form of the
Cro-Magnon man, finally migrated out of Africa to Europe. This
direct ancestor of today's man inhabited modern-day Israel as
early as 100,000 в.с. ("Proto-Cro-Magnon"). They were taller,
more slender and had more stamina than the Neanderthals, but the
two coexisted in parallel in Europe for about 10,000 years. Many
theories concerning their coexistence and the causes of the
Neanderthal's displacement have been suggested. It is generally
assumed that there was interaction and a mutual influence
between the two hominid genera, but interbreeding of the two is
considered highly unlikely.
At least 60,000 years ago, although possibly much earlier, early
man settled the Australian subcontinent by way of New Guinea.
The first hominids did not reach the Americas, however, until
just 11,500 years ago. Ice Age hunters came to the continent via
Siberia and Alaska. The oldest finds discovered in America arc
worked stone arrowheads and spear points. These, known as
"Clovis points." are thought to stem from the Clovis culture.
(ca. 150,000-30,000 B.C.),
sculpted reconstruction of a Neanderthal
Neanderthals hunting cave-bears
Skull found at Kalpe
Following the classification in 1863 of a
partial skull found in a cave in the Xeander Valley near
Dusseldorf in 1856, one of man's early relatives became
known as the Seanderthal. Researchers later determined
that previously unclassifiable bones discovered in
Engis, Belgium, in 1829-1830 and again at Kalpe
(Gibraltar) in 1848 belonged to this hominid. The Kalpe
skull is much better preserved than the skullcap that
was finally identified, and the Neanderthal should
perhaps have been named the "Kalpe."
feline head, from Hohlenstein-Stadel, Germany, ca.
Mammoth ivory. Ulmer Museum, Ulm.
EUROPE'S FIRST SCULPTURES ,
although examples of still
greater antiquity may yet be found in Africa, bridging
the gap between the Makapansgat pebble and the Apollo
plaques. One of the earliest sculptures discovered to
date is an extraordinary ivory statuette,
which may be as old as
from a cave at Hohlenstein-Stadel in
Germany. Carved out of mammoth ivory and nearly a foot
truly huge image for its era—the
statuette represents something that existed only in the
vivid imagination of the unknown sculptor who conceived
it. It is a human (whether male or female is debated)
with a feline head.
Even older than the
Namib-ian painted plaques are some of the first
sculptures and paintings of western Europe
Such composite creatures with animal heads and human
bodies (and vice versa) were common in the art of the
ancient Near East and Egypt.
In those civilizations, surviving
texts usually allow historians to name the figures and
describe their role in contemporary religion and
mythology. But for Stone Age representations, no one
knows what their makers had in mind. The animal-headed
humans of Paleolithic art sometimes have been called
sorcerers and described as magicians wearing masks.
Similarly, Paleolithic human-headed animals have been
interpreted as humans dressed up as animals. In the
absence of any Stone Age written explanations
— this is a time
before writing, before (or pre-) history—researchers
can only speculate on the purpose and function of a
statuette such as that from Hohlenstein-Stadel.
Art historians are certain, however, that such
statuettes were important to those who created them,
because manufacturing an ivory figure, especially one a
foot tall, was a complicated process. First, a tusk had
to be removed from the dead animal by cutting into the
ivory where it joined the head. The sculptor then cut
the tusk to the desired size and rubbed it into its
approximate final shape with sandstone. Finally, a sharp
stone blade was used to carve the body, limbs, and head,
and a stone burin (a pointed engraving tool) to
incise (scratch) lines into the surfaces, as on
the Hohlenstein-Stadel creature's arms. All this
probably required at least several days of skilled work.