SUBHADEEP SANTRA :I wonder how the notion of dividing history into the three-age system was promulgated. Though the notion is quite fascinating it also winds into it various confusions especially the Stone Age.


The most intriguing question that concerns the era is the time zone that it denotes. Some historians take recourse on the nomenclature and opine that the discovery of stone tools should mark the onset of the Stone Age. 3.3 million year old stone tools were discovered in 2015 in lomekwi 3 excavation sites in Kenya. Therefore, the Stone Age should be regarded to have begun 3.3 million years ago.

lomekwi 3 excavation sites

Some have criticized the view saying that the phase “stone age” implies the effect of stone on human life. We are not concerned about the history of stones but the history of humans. It has also been added that ‘humans’ if not specially pinpointed, denote the present species of human being that is ‘homo sapiens’.  The only trait that makes a human species different from the other animals is a highly complex brain with a big skull which is the distinctive feature of the Homo sapiens. Therefore the evolution of Homo sapiens should mark the initiation of the Stone Age. The first Homo sapiens fossil was discovered along lower Omo River in Ethiopia by Richard Leakey in 1967. The fossils date back to 1,95,000 years ago. This conjures that the Stone Age began 1,95,000 years ago.


Some historians have proposed a variation of the above philosophy. They believe that Homo erectus should also be considered a modern human species. They could stand and walk erect. It is a physical attribute that differentiates humans from the other creatures. Therefore, the Homo erectus which is believed to have appeared 2 million years ago signifies the beginning of the Stone Age.Again, some felt that the evolution of agriculture and the role of stone implements in growth of farming should be recognized as an important historical era. Such implements, that is, polished and small stone artifacts were found dating 10,000 BC.

I wonder whether in anticipation of the following confusion archeologist John Lubbock coined the word ‘palaeolithic’ meaning ‘old stone’. The historians all over the world divided the Stone Age into various phases to come to a consensus and the concept of ‘Palaeolithic ‘came as a handy tool.

archeologist John Lubbock

The period when stone was used to hunt was termed as ‘Palaeolithic age’ and the growth of farming was implied the New Stone age-‘Neolithic age.’ The earliest evidence of stone tools signified ‘lower palaeolithic’; the evolution of Homo erectus was termed ‘middle Palaeolithic’ and Homo sapiens turned torch bearers for ‘upper Palaeolithic’.

out of Africa Theory

However, the above consensus does not seem to be universal. Development of both human species and stone tools did not occur simultaneously througout the world. Thanks to the “out of Africa Theory” it is believed that early human species migrated out of Africa and occupied other continents over millions of years. Thus humans and stone weapons appeared at different continents at different times lending unending confusion to the question-when did the Stone Age begin?


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