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      Palaeolithic Wisdom: (The Origins of Consciousness)

The vast Palaeolithic period (c. 2.5 mill BP - 10,000 BC) refers to the period of time when humans began to manufacture and rely upon stone tools. Essentially, this era records the complex path towards the creation of the human animal, our sophisticated behaviour patterns and the birth of imagination.

Our particular species, Homo sapiens sapiens, is thought to be only 100,000 years old, and it is therefore worth noting the Palaeolithic era included several other hominid species which became extinct.  Our own species is now thought to have dropped to around 15,000 individuals c. 70,000 BP (1). revealing just how fragile our place on the evolutionary tree is.

 

 

   Featured Articles:
 
    Peche Merle handprint.
Cave Art:

With over 350 examples of cave-art in Europe alone, there could be no better record of the Palaeolithic imagination. The earliest known cave-art is currently dated at c. 35,000 years ago,  before which there is apparently very little to see. We are left with the idea that what we are looking at is the very origins of human consciousness itself. 

(Palaeolithic Cave Art)

 
 
Venus of Willendorf.    
Venus Figurines:

One of the most fantastic discoveries in recent years is the large number of 'Venus' figurines, which have been discovered from across the Eurasian continent. They exhibit both an accomplished artistic ability at the same time as ritualising reverence for the female form, but we still have little if any understanding of their original function or meaning.

(Venus Figurines)

 
 
   
Astronomy:

While it is difficult to be definitive about astronomy in the Palaeolithic period, there have nevertheless been several serious suggestions that notched bones might be lunar counts, and that certain images such as that seen at Lascaux might be representations of constellations in the night skies.

(Palaeolithic Astronomy)

 
 
   
Palaeolithic Acoustics:

Having determined that acoustic qualities were incorporated into prehistoric structures around the ancient world, it comes as little surprise to learn that a relationship has been determined between the location of cave art and the places inside caves with the highest acoustic reverberations. The appreciation of music in Palaeolithic times is testified to by the discovery of several bone flutes. (5)

(Palaeolithic Acoustics)      (Ancient Bone Flutes)

 
 
   
Palaeolithic Script:

It has been long considered that writing emerged 'independently in at least three different places between 3500 BC and 3100 BC' (2), Recent studies suggest that certain common Palaeolithic geometric symbols found around in cave-art around the world may represent a 'proto-script' from which all other scripts can trace ancestry.

(Palaeolithic Writing)

 
 

 

The Palaeolithic Era: A Record of Invention.

Fire: Fire was used in a controlled fashion by the Lower Palaeolithic hominid as early as 1 million years ago (11) and possibly even earlier by the early Lower Palaeolithic (Oldowan) hominid Homo habilis. Early hominids may have begun to cook their food as early as the Lower Palaeolithic or at the latest in the early Middle Palaeolithic (c. 250,000 years ago) (2). Some scientists have hypothesized that Hominids began cooking food to defrost frozen meat, which would help ensure their survival in cold regions.

Rafts: The Lower Palaeolithic hominid Homo erectus possibly invented rafts (c. 800,000 or 840,000 BP) to travel over large bodies of water, which may have allowed a group of Homo erectus to reach the island of Flores and evolve into the small hominid Homo floresiensis. The possible use of rafts during the Lower Palaeolithic may indicate that Lower Palaeolithic Hominids such as Homo erectus were more advanced than previously believed, and may have even spoken an early form of modern language.(4) Supplementary evidence from Neanderthal and Modern human sites located around the Mediterranean Sea such as Coa de sa Multa (c. 300,000 BP) has also indicated that both Middle and Upper Palaeolithic humans used rafts to travel over large bodies of water (i.e. the Mediterranean Sea) for the purpose of colonizing other bodies of land. (6)

(Navigation in Prehistory)

Harpoons: These were invented and used for the first time during the late Middle Palaeolithic (c.90,000 years ago); the invention of these devices brought fish into the human diets, providing an edge against starvation and a more abundant food supply (6). Nets: The first evidence of nets comes from the Upper Palaeolithic (c. 22,000 or 29,000 BP) (9)

 

Weapons: Several specialised hunting weapons emerged during the Palaeolithic such as wooden spears (400,000 - 300,000 BP),  The Bola (c. 30,000 BP) (7), the spear thrower or 'Atl-atl' (Image right, 'Ibex with bird' c.20,000 BP) (10), and the the bow and arrow (c. 25,000 or 30,000 BP).

 

Article: (Pap.pl -Polish News) (June, 2013)

'Unique Workshop of Palaeolithic Hunters Found'

More than a thousand flint tools and waste generated on during their treatment were discovered near Pietrowice Wielkie (Silesia) by archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology, University of Wrocław - told PAP head researcher Dr. Andrzej Wiśniewski. The flint workshops, remains of which were found by archaeologists, had been used by Neanderthals. The researchers are waiting for more detailed information on the site dating. The workshop is certainly more than 45 thousand years old."Tools were made by a specific canon of Neanderthals living in Central Europe. These items have a cutting edge on both sides, they are bifacial" - said Dr. Wiśniewski.

(Link to Full Article)

 

Dogs: Evidence from canine DNA suggests that dogs may have been first domesticated in the late Middle Palaeolithic around 100,000 BP or perhaps even earlier. (8)

 

Shamanism: The earliest known undisputed burial of a shaman (and by extension the earliest undisputed evidence of shamans and shamanic practices) dates back to the early Upper Palaeolithic era (c. 30,000 BP) in what is now the Czech Republic. (3)

(More about Shamanism)

Woven Cloth: Woven cloth was being produced on looms over 27,000 years ago at the Dolni Vestonice site and others in the Czech Republic.

 

(A-Z Index)

(Return to Homepage)

References:

1). Dawkins, Richard 2004. The Ancestor's Tale, A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 
2). McClellan. 2006. Science and Technology in World History: An Introduction. Baltimore, Maryland: JHU Press
3). Tedlock, Barbara. 2005. The Woman in the Shaman's Body: Reclaiming the Feminine in Religion and Medicine. New York: Bantam.
4). http://mc2.vicnet.net.au/home/mariners/web/mariner1.html.
5). Bahn, Paul (1996). The Atlas of World Archaeology. The Brown Reference Group PLC
6). Miller, Barbra; Bernard Wood, Andrew Balansky, Julio Mercader, Melissa Panger. 2006. Anthropology. Boston Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon
7). J. Chavaillon, D. Lavallée. 1998. « Bola », in Dictionnaire de la Préhistoire, PUF
8). Christine Mellot. "stalking the ancient dog" (PDF). Science news. 
9). Marlowe FW (2005). "Hunter-gatherers and human evolution" (PDF). Evolutionary Anthropology 14 (2): 15294
10). http://archaeology.about.com/od/aterms/g/atlatl.htm
11). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17598738
12). http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/334517.stm
 
 
 
 

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