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The course of humanity throughout prehistoric times has resulted in a complex evolutionary path, which found its expression both within its own biological evolution, as well as in terms of its various dimensions or behavioral manifestations, ranging from those that supported their most basic survival needs (social organization, economics, technology), to those that represented their belief system.

The set of interactions between the social organization mode of the communities, the forms of livelihood related with the strategies of space occupation and the different technologies for exploiting its resources, and yet the symbolic expressions of their behavior, can be understood, in a broad sense, as a sociocultural system.

Essays for the reconstitution of this system, when applied to prehistoric communities, can only be made from the crossing of a diverse set of material evidence, that survived over time, and from a wide range of studies, methods and theories developed within several scientific disciplines or domains (Archaeology, Paleoanthropology, Geoarchaeology, Archaeobotany, Archaeozoology, Paleoclimatology).


The study of prehistoric times, begun in the nineteenth century, created a timeline based mainly on criteria of technical nature, whose terminology, by tradition, is still used.

The first stage of human history, between 2.5 million years (Ma) and 12,000 years before present (BP - Before Present), was dubbed the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age or Chipped Stone Age), as opposed to the period which then was admitted as succeeding him, the Neolithic (New Stone Age or Polished Stone Age). Subsequently, Paleolithic was to be divided into three stages: Lower Paleolithic, Middle Paleolithic and Upper Paleolithic.

The Lower Paleolithic (2.5 MA - 200,000 years before present) corresponds, in a global scale, to the longest stage of development of Paleolithic communities. 
There survived the last representatives of the genus Australopithecus and Paranthropus, and also emerged the first representatives of the genus Homo, including Homo habilis, Homo rudolphensis and Homo erectus l.s. (lato sensu). The latter will be responsible for the first diaspora of the human race, leaving the African savannahs (Homo ergaster) and colonizing Asia [Homo erectus s.s. (sensu stricto)] and Europe (Homo predecessor).

During this long period were the first instruments made of stone, obtained from the knapping (flaking and shaping) pebbles (Production Mode 1). 
From 1.4 MA there are important technological developments. In lithic tools, there is the appearance of objects produced by a bifacial knapping (biface) and the beginning of a gradual diversification of utensils made from flakes (Production Mode 2).

Other important innovations of this period, though they occurred somewhat later, are the domestication of fire, the appearance of the first specific evidence of the manufacture of wooden tools, and the organization of better structured habitat spaces.

The Middle Paleolithic (200,000 to 40,000 years BP) corresponds to a period in which there are major innovations in population, technological and cultural terms. The result of a process of geographic and genetic isolation, populations that had previously colonized the European continent suffer a particular evolutionary pathway that led to the emergence of Neanderthal Man (Homo neanderthalensis). This species will also populate, albeit for smaller periods, some regions of Central Asia and, especially, the Near East, where it will coexist with the first representatives of anatomically modern Man (Homo sapiens).

In this period there is an evolution and a growing diversification of instruments made from stone flakes, embodying a trend that was already appearing at the end of the previous period. As a result of this orientation there’s the development of more advanced methods of production of those supports (flakes), now pre-determined morphologically (Levallois method) by a particular preparation of the core (Production Mode 3). Also in habitat one observes an increasing complexity in the construction and organization of space.

The communities of the Middle Paleolithic were the first, that we have concrete evidence, to develop behaviors that transcend the mere satisfaction of the most basic survival needs. Among them stand out the burial of their dead, the collection of objects without a clear purpose (shells, fossils), or even the manufacture of what appear to be the first musical instruments.

Upper Paleolithic (40,000 to 12,000 years BP) is the last and shortest period of the Paleolithic, which asserts the dominance of anatomically modern human (Homo sapiens), being characterized by a set of remarkable socio-cultural advances, as well as by the colonization of the New World.

Due to innovations operated in stone working techniques and to the development of more efficient methods of manufacturing standardized elongated supports (blades and bladelets), tools made from these know a diversification and specialization never before achieved (Production Mode 4). In parallel, we also see the emergence of techniques aimed specifically at manipulating other hard materials of animal origin, namely bone, horn and ivory (that before were processed and handled as if they were stone) which, likewise, will also lead to the emergence of a whole new range of instruments until then absent from the everyday life of prehistoric man (dart points, harpoons, needles, etc.).

The strategies of occupation and exploitation of territories are organized and complex, the mobility of the communities know, in some circumstances, a marked seasonality, from which follows that their habitats assume, sometimes, a semi-permanent nature.

Symbolic behavior becomes increasingly evident, namely in the context of funeral practices and, particularly, in artistic manifestations, which appear on the European continent about 35,000 years ago.

Further reading:
GAMBLE, C. (2001) - Las sociedades paleolíticas de europa, Editorial Ariel, Barcelona, 527 p.

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