In the Paleolithic period, specifically the middle and upper Paleolithic periods, humans were beginning to advance and culturally develop at an unprecedented rate. The production of food and the creation and implementation of different tools defined these periods as quintessential to growth and the progress of technology. A substantial part of these periods are the traditions and lifestyle habits that developed.
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Starting of with the middle paleolithic period, humans had begun to develop a cultural sense of awareness, such as burying their dead with flowers. This is before more modern humans adopted a similar tradition in the Upper Paleolithic period of time (anthropology, 2017). We can assume that basic traditions like this would start in the earlier (middle) time period. The Upper Paleolithic period saw the beginning of traditions like spiritual awareness and beliefs, artistic expression, and trade between neighboring groups (anthropology, 2017). Groups in the Middle and Upper Paleolithic periods started to expand and eventually grow larger. These bigger groups were found to have built semi year-round settlements. Staying in certain environments for extended periods of time enabled these people to focus on improving their homesteads (more homesteads are found in the upper period than the middle period).
This segues into how the different tools of these time periods were manufactured to carve, build and hunt. Middle era tools included points, which could be tied on to shafts to make spears. (Smithsonian, 2018) Smaller points made from stone were also crafted and made into weaponry like darts and arrows. These darts and arrows enabled humans of this time to refine their hunting skills and self-defense. Shaved flecks of stone were transformed into scrapers that were useful in preparing animal hides for clothing. This and sections of wood were typical tools in the middle paleolithic age. (Smithsonian, 2018). Upper paleolithic tools are further along in design because of the cultural diversity that allowed more advancement. Different materials were introduced: Ivory, bone and antler as well as more stone. These different materials allowed more craftsmanship. The new materials also were more malleable than stone, which led to the tools being sharper and thus more effective. Each group developed their own cultural footprint and sought their own identity. Humans in both middle and upper periods discovered different ways of making things. (Smithsonian, 2018)
With the expansion of the human population, eventually the density of human groups increased to greater numbers. This led to competition and conflict over the best resources and land. (Kahn Academy, 2017). Due to the limited natural resources of the landscape, middle and upper paleolithic communities were smaller in size. They were however large enough to develop a degree of hierarchical organization: groups of labor, leadership and security. They also had exogamous patterns of reproduction, which is marring and producing outside of the standard group. (Kahn Academy, 2017)
Anthropologists have been able to draw these conclusions about Paleolithic humans by extrapolating different data from recent hunter-gatherer communities, like the Khoisan from the African Kalahari Desert. The theories and ideas based on the life and experiences of more modern societies help researches form an idea of what middle and upper paleolithic communities did. (Kahn Academy, 2017)
The increased numbers of people living in groups also highlights the hunting and gathering methods that were used. Hunting strategies that targeted large numbers of animals in herds that migrated seasonally became predominant (Johnston, Strayer 2020). Anthropologists know this from the cave art that occurs in different regions. Different art in different territories suggests a more defined sense of social organization. Burials started to become common which points to social differentiation (Johnston, Strayer 2020).
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These two periods of time additionally saw the progression of cultural pursuits. The basic techniques of drawing, building sculpture, and painting, as well as the early inclusion of dancing, ceremonies and music are also seen (specifically more in the upper paleolithic) periods. (Adams, Pittioni, 2019). Humans of both periods also started to develop linguistic behaviors and symbolic thinking. Groups began to create and settle into villages, which led the way to more dynamic interactions and interpersonal relationships (Johnston, Strayer 2020) This had an important effect on daily human life. More communication let to more advances in almost every sociological/physical category.
In conclusion, both the middle and upper Paleolithic periods saw numerous areas of cultural and physical/social progress and growth. There were advancements in weaponry and agricultural cultivation, as well as art forms and language. The development of social practices and hierarchy are also very present, which is why the middle and upper periods changed the way humans operated which led the way to modern practices.
- “Middle and Upper Paleolithic.” ISS 220: Time, Space, & Change in Human Society, August 11, 2017. http://anthropology.msu.edu/iss220-us17-ss2/2017/08/11/middle-and-upper-paleolithic/.
- “Middle Stone Age Tools.” The Smithsonian Institution's Human Origins Program, September 14, 2018. http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/behavior/stone-tools/middle-stone-age-tools.
- “Paleolithic Societies (Article).” Khan Academy. Khan Academy. Accessed March 3, 2020. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/world-history/world-history-beginnings/origin-humans-early-societies/a/what-were-paleolithic-societies-like.
- Adams, Robert McCormick, and Richard Pittioni. “Middle Paleolithic.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., December 18, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/event/Stone-Age/Middle-Paleolithic.
- Johnston, William A, and David L. Strayer. “Upper Paleolithic.” Upper Paleolithic - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. Accessed March 3, 2020. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/social-sciences/upper-paleolithic.
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