2011, pp 157-209

Paleolithic and Neolithic Cultures

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Abstract

For most of the Paleolithic period [or Old Stone Age, beginning more than ~21/2 million years before present (b.p.)], there are few materials that could be interpreted as relevant to human understanding of astronomy, even in the vaguest terms. Evidence for interest in the heavenly bodies has been suggested only for Australia (see §11) and for Western Europe during the Upper Paleolithic (70,000 to ~10,000 years b.p.). A critical summary of the European Upper Paleolithic is provided by Hadingham (1979) in Secrets of the Ice Age. Despite its provocative title and popular nature, this work reviews the results of modern scholarship about the hunters and gatherers of the last 70,000 years or so, mostly from Italy, France, and Spain. He emphasizes the difference of the environment of that time from any existing today: colder, wetter, but in some ways richer, with vastly different fauna. He discusses both continuities and changes among human populations, their tool kits, and other aspects of the culture. The people were Neanderthals (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) or Cro-Magnon (Homo sapiens sapiens)—both much like ourselves in physical type and inherent capabilities. They were skilled in making stone tools and had some crude housing, at least in some areas. They depended heavily on game, and some became skilled (and perhaps overspecialized) reindeer hunters. Others depended on wild cattle, and most groups probably killed a wide range of animals. Gathering of vegetable foods was surely of great importance, although usually this must be inferred from sketchy evidence. Fishing was probably of some importance, with more lakes and streams than today. Most sites that were then along the coast, where we might expect some evidence of fishing and indications of whether it was based on use of good watercraft, are now sunk deep beneath coastal waters, which have risen many meters since the melting of so much glacial ice. It has been suggested that in some areas there were substantial attempts to control the animal populations and that some of the reindeer could be considered as having been at least semidomesticated. Similar suggestions have been made for horses.