Prehistoric Period | Stone, Bronze and Iron Age Periods

Prehistoric Age Periodes | Stone, Bronze and Iron ages

Prehistoric Period

There are 3 main prehistoric periods: the stone, bronze, and iron ages. The prehistoric period is the longest period in the history of mankind: about 3 million years ago.
Starting with the appearance of the first humans, 3 million years ago. It ended with the appearance of writing in Mesopotamia, 5,000 years ago (i.e. – 3,000 BC). We know prehistory thanks to tools, pottery, paintings…

1. Palaeolithic (stone age) – 3 Million years ago

The Paleolithic is the oldest and longest prehistoric period. It began with the appearance of humans in Africa, more than three million years ago. This is also called the “cut stone age”. Because the first humans made and cut tools from stone and bone. They also found fire. This radically changes their lives, allowing them to self-heat and cook their food.

These people are nomads: they often move around in search of food. They live by hunting, fishing and gathering.

During this long period came the Tautavel Man (Homo heidelbergensis), then the Neanderthal Man (Homo neandertalis). And finally Homo sapiens sapiens, the ancestor of modern humans, which appeared about 300,000 years ago.

Lower Paleolithic -3 Million years ago (Homo, Homo erectus)

Starting with the first carved stone tools 3.3 million years ago (Mya) in Kenya. However, the species that make it are not yet known.
To date, the oldest human bone remains, found in Africa, attest to the emergence of the genus Homo 2.4 million years ago.
Elsewhere in the world, the first traces of tool-making (about 2 million years in Asia and about 1.4 million years in Western Europe) coincided with the arrival of the first humans. The latter spread the technical traditions inherited from their African ancestors.

Created in the Lower Paleolithic, the creation of lithic tools has been observed since at least 2.6 Ma, even if a site dating to 3.3 Ma describes its premature development on the African continent. If humans aren’t the only primates with this ability, they are developing their own cutting techniques.

Up to about 1.8-1.6 Ma, a one-sided spearhead search prevails; it is obtained either by removing the flakes from the gravel, or by forming a gravel core after removing the flakes from the periphery. Then two new, more sophisticated tools were developed in Africa: the machete and the biface. Their two working faces show a search for symmetry and increased control of movement. In Europe, cultures with bifaces and flakes did not appear until about 1 Ma later, during a late migration wave. They coexisted with a culture with shards and gravel that developed over several hundred millennia.

The transmission of technical know-how in tool-making seems nearly impossible by simply imitating movements; it is undoubtedly possible thanks to a rudimentary language. Similarly, the coordination required for collective hunting acts requires verbal communication. The latter is possible given the anatomical characteristics (endocranium and larynx) of the first humans.

Around 450,000, the hearth attests to the mastery of fire doubling simultaneously throughout the Old World, as many sites from Menez-Dregan (Finistère) to Chou Kou Tien (China) show. Importantly, this innovation made it possible to adopt a cooked diet. In addition, the exploitation of spaces located at high latitudes became possible, large carnivores were eventually driven out and group socialization was strengthened around the hearth. In South Africa (Wonderwerk Caves) or in Israel (Gesher Benot Ya’akov), soil analysis proves fire use of 1 Ma or 700,000. However, it is difficult to distinguish the traces resulting from the maintenance of fires of natural origin (forest fires, lightning, etc.) from those resulting from human-generated fires.

Middle Paleolithic -300,000 (Early Homo sapiens)

In Europe, this period was marked by the emergence, peak, and then extinction of a new human species: Neanderthal Man.

Resistant to alternating moderate periods and very severe cold phases for about 250,000 years, this species occupies only the area of ​​Europe that stretches from the Iberian Peninsula to the southern tip of Siberia.
During its long existence, Neanderthal spread to the Middle East where it intersects with Homo sapiens from Africa and as far as Asia where it coexists with Denisovan Man.

During the Middle Paleolithic, Neanderthals demonstrated surprising adaptability by developing ways to survive the strong climatic oscillations that marked their 250,000 year existence.

The technical system they developed required a hitherto unmatched capacity for reflection and planning by representatives of the genus Homo, and this long before they cooperated with Homo sapiens. For most germs from the late Lower Paleolithic, these discoveries reached full maturity in the early Middle Paleolithic.

Social innovation and technical innovation enrich each other. Thus, improved grips and tool tips allowed Neanderthals to hunt more effectively in groups, but also to take advantage of new marine and plant resources for foraging on their own. Traces interpreted today as shelter construction, sleeping litter and fire control testify to the arrangement of residential activities and living spaces within the nomadic camps. Fossil remains found in shallow basins dug into the ground suggest that Neanderthals used burial and performed burial rituals.

While the foundations of rock cutting were laid by their ancestors, Neanderthals developed a much more precise and efficient discharge system. Named “Levallois” because of the site of its discovery in the late 19th century in Levallois-Perret (France), its first manifestation dates back to about 320,000 years before our era in Western Europe. It is very complex to execute, consisting of preparing blocks of raw material to obtain a regular shine, which will be used raw and then re-sharpened. Requiring anticipation, this so-called “predetermined” method was a major step in the history of prehistoric material.

Upper Paleolithic -40 000 (Behavior of modernity)

After coexisting with Homo sapiens during the first Upper Paleolithic millennium in Europe, Neanderthals disappeared by about -30,000. Homo sapiens later became the only representative species of the genus Homo.
They developed traditions that were more varied and more regional than ever before: the diversification of tools and weapons accelerated, body ornamentation multiplied and figurative art emerged.
In the eyes of certain authors, these new cultural traits were the basis of the behavior of all subsequent societies.

Although ten times shorter than the Middle Paleolithic that preceded it, the Upper Paleolithic underwent many more technical and social changes.

As soon as Homo sapiens began to exploit all parts of animal carcasses, they diversified their artisanal production. For the first time, horns, tusks, and bones were turned into weapons (multiple assegai points, thrusters, spears, etc.), but also into new tools. For example, finer generalizations, made of antler or bone, facilitate the working of leather, especially deer skin. The invention of the seemingly simple needle-edged needle revolutionized their assembly and gave rise to more insulating garments. The latter also made it possible to build hiding huts that were sturdy, to withstand the vagaries of the weather, and were light to transport. The raw materials for this new animal were also used to make ornaments that ostensibly marked not a social hierarchy, but rather the sex and age of the individuals in the group.

Identity differentiation also appears, for the first time, through artistic representation. In Europe, the first figurative carvings, sculptures, and paintings showing women, men, and animals in realistic features are, to this day, associated with Homo sapiens.

The latter innovated in the field of hunting. They abandoned guns (nails and spears) in favor of throwing weapons which now allowed them to reduce the risk of fatal contact with animals and possibly hunt alone, without the previously essential group assistance. Composite weapons are developing. Assegai, for example, sees its precision, speed, and penetration power increase thanks to a propellant that acts with a lever arm effect to reach powerful prey at a distance. Bows may even have come into use, as indicated by some of the flint dots which were clearly too small for an armed spear to hold.

Mesolithic -9600

The Mesolithic is a transitional period, located between the Paleolithic and Neolithic.
Mesolithic men adapted to sudden climate changes and made important migrations. They maintain a way of life based on hunting, fishing and gathering. But they perfected their tools. Hunting with bows is also developing. They also began to settle in a limited area.

In the Mesolithic, global warming started around -10,000 which caused environmental changes and supported a semi-nomadic way of life.

Gradually, the seasonal movements of these last hunter-gatherers became less and less frequent. They make bows and arrows with very small stone tips (microlites) that allow them to hunt game animals that inhabit the new climates (deer, wild boar, roe deer, etc.).

We are not the first to be faced with the challenge of global warming. Starting around -10,000, the Mesolithic brought from -9600 to a profound transformation of the landscape and way of life of its inhabitants.

The flooding of the land corresponding to the English Channel and much of the present-day North Sea, due to rising sea levels, led to the loss of certain territories, as well as the isolation of Great Britain. The population is forced to migrate, to find new areas to exploit.
So, around -7000, other types of hunter-gatherers explore marine resources, particularly on the Breton coast.
In the late 8th millennium BC, rivers became a way to optimize travel, as demonstrated by pine canoes found at the Noyen-sur-Seine (Seine-et-Marne) site.

Dense vegetation complicates the pursuit of prey through new forests. Mesolithic Hunters gradually lightened and reduced the size of their stone arrowheads and created microliths. Mounted on wooden arrows, the pointed triangular frame at the ends is complemented by one or more frames on the thorn side (segments, triangles). This ingenious assembly of multiple parts makes it possible to keep the arrows in play in order to keep track of them.

From the 7th millennium BC, the frame evolved towards a trapezoidal shape incorporating points and spikes according to a particular installation. This new flint blade, wider and more regular than the previous one, led to the development of a discharge technique with indirect percussion. This is done using an intermediate cut (punch), such as using a chisel with a hammer.

Neolithic -6000 (Birthplace of civilization)

The Neolithic, also called the “polished stone age”, is the last prehistoric period. This is marked by the discovery of agriculture and livestock (livestock farming).
Neolithic men gradually started raising animals and cultivating plants (cereals and legumes) for food.
They abandoned the nomadic way of life for a sedentary lifestyle. They build houses out of wood and cobs. And they gathered in the villages.
They use ceramics to make pottery. They polished stones to make their tools more durable and made axes, for example.

For 3 million years, hunter-gatherer livelihoods depended on the amount of resources available in their environment. In the Neolithic period, farmers domesticated certain species of plants and animals to produce their food.
Qualified by some writers as a “revolution”, this relationship of control over nature still underpins our lifestyle today.

This process began in various regions of our planet between -10,000 and -3,000, before spreading to nearly all of the world’s population, specifically around -5800 in the region corresponding to present-day France.

The process of domestication of certain animal and plant species greatly disrupts the human way of life. Forced to be constantly present near cultivated fields for feeding, it becomes inactive.

Storage, which had existed in earlier periods, was an important concern: silos were widespread. Dug into the soil, near or in the habitat, allowing for seed conservation in oxygen-poor environments. In addition, in the southern regions, vast dungeons were excavated, while in more humid areas, elevated granaries were built. Salt, which is widely exploited, as well as drying, fat and fermentation, makes it possible to delay the expiration of meat and dairy products. The first sieve was meant to make the cheese appear at this time.

During the Neolithic period, farming tools became more complex. The rudimentary digging stick was replaced by the plow around 2600 BC. Drawn by cattle and guided by humans, it allows you to deeply cleave the earth without turning it over. Animal draft power is also used to transport large quantities of goods. The invention of yokes, drawbars, travois and solid wheels facilitated travel previously made on foot and thus supported trade. In addition, the long-distance dispersal of obsidian from the Mediterranean islands proves that Neolithic Europeans also traveled by waterways using small boats, such as canoes or rafts.

From 3500 BC, copper metallurgy developed in Western Europe. Awls (pointed tools for marking surfaces or piercing small holes), beads, small axes or even daggers were added to many Neolithic craft productions. The creation of unprecedented wealth, the competition for the most fertile land or the most valuable resources are the origins of the multiplication of fights between groups of individuals. If war had existed in an older period, it became; from the Neolithic, the constituent elements of society. The artistic symbolism promoting armed force as well as the remains of the first fortified settlements clearly attest to this.

2. Bronze Age – 2300 years ago

Settling since the Neolithic period, Bronze Age men and women perfected their farming techniques and became experts in bronze metallurgy.
Praised for making tools, weapons, and ornaments, this alloy, which resembled gold in color, required the construction of new circuits throughout Europe for supplies of copper and tin.

It is also possible to transport other sought-after goods such as gold, silver, amber or salt, this unprecedented land and sea connection was the first phenomenon of European globalization.

Caught between the Neolithic revolution and our proud “ancestor”, the Gauls of the Iron Age, the Bronze Age period is one of the forgotten parts of France’s great history, that of school textbooks. However, many innovations, generally attributed to more recent periods, were born from this time.

Read also: The First Time Humans Wore Clothes | When do we start getting dressed?

Since the 2nd millennium BC, the region equivalent to France, and more specifically its western region, has been an area composed of trails and square plots cultivated according to the principles of sustainable agriculture, such as fallows. The many farms, consisting of courtyards, front yards, residential buildings, annexes and stables, have nothing to envy those who still occupied our pre-war countryside.

From 1500 BC, ships laden with goods sailed the English Channel, participating in a growing economic network to England. Axes, Normans or Picardy, for example, as well as pottery, glass, textiles, which were produced since the beginning of the Bronze Age throughout the European peninsula, were distributed throughout the Straits. The hoarding of goods observed in some parts of Europe also tends to show the economic dynamism of the population; even if these objects can be collected for the dual purpose of worship and reserves of wealth.

More tragically, the mass graves of Tormarton (England) or Nord-Trøndelag (Norway) and battlefields of Tollense (Germany) attest to the episodes of conflict that darkened Europe between 1300 and 1200 BC. Are these tensions the result of a catastrophic contagion with the civilizations of the Greek Mediterranean (from Italy to Greece) and the East (from Egypt to Mesopotamia) that collapsed, before collapsing in 1177 before our era? However, the helmets typed by region (crested in western Europe, cones in the east, Viso-type horns in Denmark, etc.), as well as the sophistication of armour, cnemids, shields, swords, spears or the use of two-wheeled chariots show just how much warfare and mercenary are. which is currently being refined.

3. Iron Age – 800 years ago

In the prehestoric period of Iron Age, the society was highly structured during the Iron Age. The ruling elite governed the distribution of labour, created agglomerations and linked local economies to the thriving Mediterranean trade network.
Designated by the general term “Celt” by the Greeks and Romans, the inhabitants of the territory corresponding to present-day France were actually plural and underwent different developments depending on the region. If the texts of Greek and Roman writers are the only written testimony that reaches us, archaeological discoveries also forge our knowledge of the Protohistory of this concluding eight centuries.


The strong specialization of craftsmen from the Iron Age led to technical progress in many areas. It was a prosperous period for the art of forging.


In agriculture, new methods, such as lime amendments, make the soil more fertile. Terroir was gradually organized into land units, expressed by sometimes large plots. In addition, ferrous metallurgy, introduced around 850 BC in Western Europe, made it possible to manufacture new tools or improve them to increase the efficiency of the most time-consuming agricultural work. Thus, sickles, sickles, and reapers, a kind of carriage propelled by carrying animals and equipped with metal blades, facilitated harvesting and clearing the fields.


The transportation, construction, weaponry or equipment of soldiers also benefited from advances in metallurgy. For example, chain letters were invented by the Gauls before they were adopted by the Romans. Blacksmiths also developed certain everyday objects such as penknife, string lighter and a myriad of tools (pliers, gouges, files, tongs, chisels) whose shapes have been preserved to this day.

The ingenuity of Iron Age craftsmen worked wonders in many other areas such as carpentry, with “timber frame” construction, and vehicle bodies, as evidenced by the manufacture of wheeled vehicles, praised by Pliny l’ Ancient, the Roman writer. Finally, if the invention of the barrel by the Gauls of today is called into question, they must have ensured its wide distribution because they used it to transport and store water, cervoise and, later, wine.

Java Man | Prehistoric Pithecanthropus Erectus

Sources: PinterPandai, HistoryBritannicaToppr

Photo credit: Sémhur via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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