The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Stone Age

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Stone Age
Edition of 1920. See also Stone Age on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

STONE AGE, the name given to that period in the development of prehistoric mankind when stone, bone, shells and wood were the only materials employed as tools, weapons, and implements. The term first came into recognized use by the publication in 1865 of ‘Prehistoric Times,’ written by Sir John Lubbock (Lord Avebury), who compiled and set in order the discoveries made in France and elsewhere during the previous half century. He classified the prehistoric period into three divisions, namely: Iron Age, when bronze, copper and stone were superseded by iron in most instruments and weapons, continuing to the present; Bronze Age, preceding the use of iron, when bronze was the predominant material; and Stone Age, still earlier, in which until near its close, no metal was made use of by men.

The Stone Age was further divided by Lubbock into 1. Paleolithic, Old Stone Age, the more ancient time of chipped stone implements; and 2. Neolithic, New Stone Age, the more recent time of polished stone implements. This classification persists, but further collection of materials has enabled archæologists to define several subdivisions, especially in the Paleolithic part, marking successive changes in the population and advances in culture, at least in southern and western Europe. Elsewhere there seems never to have been such a concentration of primitive humanity, nor have its remains been so thoroughly studied; nevertheless it is possible in a general way to arrange the facts gathered in all parts of the world into the European culture-scheme. Chronologically, however, this cannot be done. Some peoples learned how to smelt and form iron long before others; bronze was made and cast in some countries earlier than in others; and meanwhile races and tribes elsewhere continued in ignorance of either. In fact, savage peoples in remote corners of the world remain in the Stone Age to the present time, and will continue to do so indefinitely, except for such improvements as they may adopt from more enlightened neighbors. The succession of stages in cultural evolution to be outlined in this article nevertheless accords with the truth as applied to any one region or race, because there is never a retrogression from a higher to a lower stage. At the same time it seems probable that the significant advances were not often, if ever, by slow evolution, but rather were owing to the conquest and occupation of each country by strangers bringing some superior degree of culture.

Paleolithic or Old Stone Age.— It is hardly a century since the chance finding of an arrowhead unmistakably of human workmanship (i.e. an artifact) deep in the gravel of the Somme Valley, in France, led to an immediate and lively interest in the new science of prehistoric anthropology, and to extended explorations not only in France but all over the world. This soon resulted in large collections of objects picked up on the surface, taken from various depths in river-sands and gravel-deposits, or found in caves, peat-bogs, graves, etc. These were attentively studied not only with reference to material, form and possible purpose, but in the light of geography and geology, in order to determine their relative age. The determination of the geological position in which each relic was found was particularly important. The general result of 50 years of study has been the perception and arrangement of the following series of culture-groups, or “stages”, within the Paleolithic period, numbered from the oldest (1) to the most recent (8):

8. Azilian-Tardenoisian    4. Mousterian
7. Magdelenian 3. Acheulian
6. Solutrean 2. Chellean
5. Aurignacian 1. Prechellean

A brief account of the geological record is here necessary in order to place the earliest traces of man in the Stone Age in proper perspective. All readers are probably acquainted with the fact that an era of intermittent glaciation that in its maximum effects covered nearly all of the northern hemisphere with an arctic climate and thick ice, intervened between the close of the Tertiary (Pleistocene division) and the beginning of the Quaternary era, which latter immediately preceded the present conditions. This Glacial Period, as it is termed, is now known to have been not continuous, but to have had — at any rate in Europe — three breaks, during which intervals the ice disappeared and a mild climate prevailed. This amelioration was most marked following the second ice-period, when for an immensely long time both Europe and North America were restored to a climate and appearance not greatly different from the present. Forests and vegetation were much the same as now, and most of the animals, with the addition (perhaps implying a somewhat warmer climate) of hippopotami, elephants, rhinoceroses, lions, and some other now tropical species, all long ago extinct.

Eolithic Relics.— In geological formations of this “Eolithic” time have been found rudely chipped and hammered stones that are regarded by most archæologists as true artifacts, and are called “eoliths.” It is very likely that some of them are really of human handiwork; and it is believed by many persons that an indication of their makers is given by the discovery, in 1907, deep in a gravel-bed near Piltdown in Kent, England, of a broken, fossilized skull having human characteristics. Piltdown is on a plateau abounding in eolithic flints and broken pebbles. This skull has been the subject of intense study and discussion. All its features, as well as the brain capacity, denote a being inferior to any other prehistoric race known; but its relationship to them, or to the more recent inhabitants of the globe, remains undetermined; it is not, in fact, fully conceded to be anything but the braincase of an anthropoid ape. These rude relies of the dawn of humanity mark the Pre-Chellean stage; and the situation implied would be dubious were it not that in some places the accompanying implements are convincingly of human workmanship, and were it not that an indubitable relic of a human frame has been exhumed: for in the sands of Maurer, near Heidelberg, Germany, there was found, in 1907, a human lower jaw, which is the oldest or earliest known representative of the human race. This Heidelberg man (Homo heidelbergensis) had many apelike features, but he was unmistakably human, and his period is estimated at 250,000 years ago.

Pre-Chelleans.— This long warm period was followed by one of great aridity, changing latterly into a moist, cooling phase that brought a renewed glaciation, which, however, did not extend nearly as far toward the south as has the earlier ones; and after a time the glaciers again retreated, and a third warm stage renewed livable conditions throughout the North Temperate Zone, so that southern Europe and northern Africa again became occupied by human inhabitants. They were nomadic savages, no doubt, wandering along the river courses; and they possessed so little ingenuity that they were able to improve very little the shapely pebbles, or accidentally fractured flints and other sharp-edged stones that they picked up and tried to use as aids to their hands. That these rude Pre-Chellean forerunners of mankind existed for an immensely long time, and became widely diffused, is shown by the fact that in every part of the world their rough implements are to be found, substantially alike whatever the region.

Chellean Stage.— The first indication of advance is that stage called Chellean, in which men had not only improved in the shaping of flint pieces to service, but invented new tools. Its characteristic implement is the “hand-ax” (coup de poing, of the French), in which an elongated pebble of flint or quartzite was flaked by chipping it on both sides to a point at one end, while usually the natural roundness of the stone was left at the other. This tool was roughly almond-shaped, of any convenient size, and was grasped in the palm of the hand, if having no other sort of a handle.

Acheulian Stage.— A more advanced stage of this industry is marked particularly by earliest evidence of knowledge how to kindle a fire — probably the most momentous single discovery in human history. The flaked flints and other worked-stones of this culture-stage are much superior in both form and variety of utility to those of the Chellean, and represent a really remarkable advance in intellectuality and in breadth of life. This Acheulian period was brought to an end, slowly but steadily, by the approach of the fourth recurrence of glacial cold in Europe, after a third interglacial, or warm, interval of about 125,000 years, during which man had progressed in industry from Pre-Chellean inability to the excellence of Acheulian productions, which imply a very considerable elevation above a mere animal existence.

Mousterian Stage.— The arid and steadily cooling climate of Acheulian times was followed, as has been stated, by a fourth glaciation, equivalent to what in North America was the last and greatest “glacial period,” when one ice-cap covered all Europe north of the Baltic, and another spread far outward from the Alps; and the climate was, of course, exceedingly cold. This is the “Reindeer Period” of the older writers on prehistoric antiquities, a name suitable enough since that and other boreal animals characterized the semi-arctic fauna of all the North Temperate Zone. During this cold time, estimated to have lasted 25,000 years, man continued to exist in what is termed the Mousterian stage of culture; but under the hard conditions of life at that time mankind deteriorated, judging by the inferiority of his tools as compared with those of his Acheulian predecessors. His relics are found most abundantly in southern Europe, and in caves, which were then first resorted to as permanent human habitations, the wintry weather driving men to seek their snug shelter. The Mousterian, then, is the true “cave-man.” What he was like is known from a great number of skulls and other parts of skeletons exhumed from cave-floors and other subterranean deposits of this time. The first important find of the kind was in 1856 in a grotto in the Neanderthal (Neander Valley) near Dusseldorf, Rhenish Prussia; but since then skulls and other bones in excellent preservation have been procured at Canstatt in Germany, Spy in Belgium, Sipka in Moravia, Krapina in Croatia, and at many places in southern France, especially in the caves at Le Moustier in Dordogne, from which the period derives its name.

Neanderthal Cave-Dwellers. — Southern France, a limestone region, is honeycombed with caves (see Cave-Dwellers), and seems to have been the most populous centre of the Neanderthals (q.v.) — an intermediate race that extended from England to Hungary, at least, and were the typical savages of Paleolithic limes. They were men of a species (Homo neanderthalensis) superior to the Heidelberg type of Chellean times (possibly their ancestor), but retained apelike characteristics, and certainly were far inferior in physique, as in mind, to the Neolithic men, presently to be described. The skull of the Neanderthal man was characterized by an extremely receding forehead, by the great ridges of bone above the eyes, a massive jaw with little chin, and very strong teeth and chewing-muscles, indicating that these ancient people were meat-eaters. They were men of stocky, robust frames, averaging about five feet and four inches in height, but they had not yet acquired a fully erect attitude of body.

The relics of the earlier part of the Mousterian period show little advance over the preceding culture; but later the increased employment of the sharp, knife-like flint-flake, retouched on one side only, is observable, and a gradual increase in the making of different hunting-weapons, and of small awls, scrapers and so forth, of stone and bone, and of needles necessary to sewing the skin clothing required in the colder weather of that time as compared with the era of their remote forefathers. Is it not possible that the improvement noted may be the result of the greater wants to be filled, and energy required thereby, owing to the increased difficulty of maintaining existence and comfort in a cold world? No evidence that these cave-men had or knew of the bow and arrow has yet come to light.

As the glaciers of this Mousterian period of cold, which lasted many thousands of years, melted, returning warmth of climate introduced the post-glacial conditions that with minor changes have continued to the present. It was at this juncture that the Neanderthal race came to an end, and did so with a relative suddenness that is astonishing. The latest student of the matter, Prof, H. F. Osborn, regards it as a case of the complete extinction of a species, “So far as we know at present,” he declares, “the Neanderthals were entirely eliminated; no trace of the survival of the pure Neanderthal type has been found in any of the Upper-Paleolithic burial-sites.” With their disappearance ends the Mousterian stage, and the Lower-Paleolithic period.

The Upper Paleolithic.— In the strata overlying that in which the relics of the Mousterian or Cave-man culture are found, lie the evidences of a new and different kind of industry, which introduces the Upper-Paleolithic division of the Old Stone Age.

This is known as the Aurignacian culture, and is attributed to the immigration into western Europe of a race of men, probably from the southeast, as Aurignacian relics are found on all the shores around the Mediterranean Sea. The inroad of these foreign and better-armed people was followed by the destruction of the race of Cave-men, whose grottoes and rock-shelters were adopted as homes by their conquerors. This happened, it is believed, between 25,000 and 30,000 years ago. Who were these strangers? Whence did they come? It is believed that they were Asiatics who had slowly worked their way westward chiefly, if not wholly, along the southern shore of the Mediterranean into and beyond Spain. They were true men — Homo sapiens — not intermediate in structure and ability between human and simian, as were their predecessors in Europe. In short they are the ancestors of a large part of the men of to-day, and it is unfortunate that they are not known by a better name than “Cro-Magnons” — the designation of the cave in Dordogne, France, where their first-known skeletons were obtained. They were tall, well-built men, with heads long fore and aft (dolichocephalic), and with broad faces, pleasing features and well-developed chins. Probably the complexion of the skin was dark. They were men of large brains, a race, in Osborn's opinion, “capable of ideas, of reasoning, of imagination, and more highly endowed with artistic sense and ability than any uncivilized race which has ever been discovered.” A large volume would be needed to describe thoroughly all of their industrial and social life as shown by the relics of the four successive stages of culture into which their long history has been divided by archæologists. It must be summarized here in a few paragraphs.

The Cro-Magnons.— The Cro-Magnons were essentially hunters, living on the flesh of wild beasts, including the mammoth, an extinct rhinoceros (elasmothere), aurochs, wild horse and other animals of the forests and plains. They dwelt not only in caves and rock-shelters but in great winter-camps, where they built clusters of houses made of timbers and covered with hides, many sketches of which they have left for our information. But they were nomads, and in summer wandered in hunting and fishing bands, for there is no evidence that agriculture was practised. They had excellent weapons of chipped stone for both warfare and hunting, and probably used bows and arrows. They made various hooks and spears for fishing, and tools of stone, bone and horn for the preparation of skins, for sewing and other household purposes; but they made no pottery. In some regions they advanced in culture more than elsewhere. They spread in Aurignacian times from the upper Danube in the East to Belgium and Britain in the West, but southern France was the most populous. There it was that their life came to be most settled, and the extraordinary art that distinguished the Aurignacian time was most highly developed. The soil of the caves occupied by the people of this period, and the sites of their camping-places, abound in small flint-flakes carefully pointed into delicate engraving tools — among them one shaped just like a modern burin. It was with these gravers that they cut from ivory and soap stone statuettes of animal and human figures, or incised on slabs of slate, tusks, flat bones, antlers, and especially on the walls of grottoes, pictures of the beasts about them, scenes of the chase, drawings of their houses, etc., sketched not only with startling fidelity to nature but with an artistic sense marvelous in the circumstances. They had a love of beauty, an instinct for true art, which led them to try to ornament everything they used; and this art was steadily cultivated and developed until it reached its astonishing culmination in Magdalenian times. The cutting out of figures in bas-relief from stone surfaces (usually a cavern wall), and the modeling of statuettes, are distinctively Aurignacian; and in this stage, also, painting had its birth, for many of the colored drawings that adorn the walls and ceilings of the caves date from this period — for examples, the red-outlined bison and aurochs in the grotto of Castillo, Spain, and the spirited drawings in red ochre of the woolly rhinoceros, and of a stag in the cave at Font de Gaume, France. In many cases the Aurignacian artist carved the outlines and distinguishing features of his subject in deeply incised lines, with minute attention to characteristic details. Therefore zoologists find some of these portraits of animals valuable to them, particularly with reference to the history of horses in Europe. The picture whose outlines were thus engraved was then coated with a reddish or yellowish paint composed of ochre and manganese mixed on a palette of schist.

Solutrean Culture.— The Aurignacian stage was succeeded by the Solutrean. This horizon is distinguished by the presence in its remains of the most delicately and perfectly worked leaf-shaped flints for knives, heads of spears, javelins and arrows, and in general by a sudden great improvement in the manufacture and design of all objects made of flint or quartz. This skilful culture, evidences of which are spread from the lower Danube Valley to the Bay of Biscay, is believed to be the product of fresh immigration of people from the teeming East, who moved westward along the northern border of the Black Sea and advanced up the Danube Valley and finally became predominant in southern Europe; yet it seems plain that the Cro-Magnons were not utterly destroyed even there, and that both in northern Europe and south of the Pyrenees they persisted in force. These invading Solutrean folks, who take their name from a vast camp, ringed with the turf-covered bones of tens of thousands of horses, slaughtered for food, near Solutré in southern France, were a practical people, ruder than those they had overcome, and during their time art declined.

Magdalenian Culture.— Comparative refinement revived, however, during the succeeding stage, the Magdalenian, when art was developed to its highest perfection in prehistory. Whatever may have been the racial character of the Solutrean people, the Magdalencan folk were unquestionably of Cro-Magnon stock. What was the occasion of the change that archæologists note at this point can only be conjectured, but the fact is plain. These Magdalenian Cro-Magnons attained in this period their highest culture and widest dispersion of the race. They have been traced northward to England and central Belgium, and eastward throughout central Germany, but never, apparently, colonized Italy or southern Spain. They were, as before, a nomadic and hunter people; but by this time the cold, wet climate had gradually softened into a warmer and drying one, and the growth of dense forests everywhere made the chase more and more difficult and arduous. Moreover the animals going in herds, such as the reindeer, wild cattle and horses, that needed large open grazing areas, had departed. In conformity with this the Magdalenians gradually became less nomadic, and depended more on fishing than on hunting for subsistence. Under these sedentary and softening influences the craft of the flintworker declined, for only poor and simple kinds of stone implements are recovered from village-sites of this time of decay; but the village-sites yield great numbers of skilfully contrived hooks, harpoon-heads, and other fishing-tools, chiefly made of bone. The style is quite new, and now are first seen round and barbed bone spearheads, the earliest with only an experimental barb, but later always furnished with rows of recurved barbs along their sides.

In this quieter life, where in the long-settled, favorable and populous districts of southern France and the neighboring border of Spain the people must have obtained a firm tribal organization, the Magdalenians acquired that power of draftsmanship, sculpture and painting that has astonished the critical world, and has been illustrated so thoroughly in several recent books, as those of Sollas, Elliot and Osborn, and in the Annual Reports of the Smithsonian Institution, not to mention the many learned writings iu French, Spanish and German. Nearly all the finest painting of this period as well as that of the Aurignacian artists is on the walls and ceilings of deep and totally dark caverns — a fact that has caused much speculation as to the motive that carried such art into places where the work could be made or observed only by lamplight. “It would appear,” remarks Osborn, “that the love of art for art's sake . . . together with the fine spaces which these caverns alone afforded for large representations, may be an alternative explanation.”

Azilian-Tardenoisian Invasion.— The decline of the Cro-Magnons may have been owing largely to environmental causes; but it may have been accelerated by the arrival, probably occasioning long battling, of two streams of newcomers, one of which, known as the Azilians, spread all over France and Belgium, and the other, the Tardenois, occupied Spain at first, but gradually coalesced with the other. Their flints are small and peculiar, totally unlike anything used by the Cro-Magnons. This may have been the result of a necessary change in the character of hunting weapons, for now southern Europe was covered with heavy forests, the reindeer had retreated to the North and the stag was the principal game-animal; in fact the people seem to have depended mainly on fishing for subsistence. The climate was still cool and moist, and therefore the use of caves and rock-shelters continued, but otherwise the habits and culture of these final races of Paleolithic man in southern Europe were totally different from, without being much in advance of those of the Magdalenians. Who were these final Paleoliths? The Azilians were a brachycephalic people, the first of that type to appear in the West; and it is believed that they may represent the first-comers of the Alpine, or Celtic, race of modern ethnology. They are often designated as the Furfooz stock. The other was a long-and-narrow-headed race that came in from northern Africa via Spain, and are thought to represent the earliest indication of what Sergi calls the Mediterranean race. It is evident that both were mentally superior to, and more broadly cultivated than, the Cro-Magnons, except in artistic matters, and subdued the latter completely; yet there is evidence that in southern France, at least, large communities of Cro-Magnons continued to live and develop, and have persisted there to the present day. After a few centuries, however, these Azilian-Tardenois men, the last of the purely hunting-races, themselves suffered displacement by the incoming of a more advanced people moving westward along the great Mediterranean highway of migration, and with their disappearance the Old Stone Age comes to an end.

Neolithic, or the Age of Polished Stone.— The notion formerly prevalent that there was a sudden clearing away of Paleolithic men and things, and an equally sudden supercession of Neolithic people and culture, has been abandoned before the progress of information. Men in different parts of the world have always advanced toward better conditions at an unequal pace; and in most cases, as, for example, our North American Indians, who at the time of their discovery by Europeans were in the Neolithic stage, no evidence can be found of just how or when the advanced step was taken. In southern Europe, where circumstances favor a clearer local understanding of prehistory, it appears probable that between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago strangers began to filter in from the eastward along the Mediterranean shores, and to settle in selected spots; and that this process went on — not always peacefully, we may imagine — until the inferior occupiers of the land had been displaced, or absorbed and educated, and the superior culture was generally established — a matter probably of a few centuries. These immigrant conquerors, who brought with them new arts of life, and dispossessed the wandering hunters, introduced to western Europe the Neolithic Age. Whether a similar conquest or a more peaceful process of intellectual development produced the same result in other parts of the world remains to be discovered. In the earlier part of their history, at least, the Neolithic men continued to make and use strong hatchets, picks, flake-knives, etc., of flint and quartz, but the patterns were more serviceable; and they introduced an entirely new article in the stout axe, the chisel-like ‘celt,’ and other tools made of granite; jasper and other tough rocks, and formed by hammering, grinding, and then, often, polishing. This is the distinctive mark of the Neolithic period, but other distinctive innovations followed, of which the most important, socially, perhaps, was the making of pottery. They had the rudiments of agriculture, had domesticated the dog and ox and pig, refused to hunt horses for food but captured and tamed them; and to carry on these domestic industries they were settled in defensive houses and villages, an excellent idea of which may be had from the remains of their lacustrine towns (see Lake-Dwellers) in Switzerland and Italy. This article may fitly be closed by a comprehensive extract from Boyd Dawkins's standard work ‘Early Man in Britain’: “The arts of spinning, weaving, mining and pottery-making were known, and that of boat-building had advanced sufficiently far to allow of voyages being made from France to Britain, and from Britain to Ireland. Traffic was carried on by barter and stone axes were distributed over areas far away from those in which the stone was found. Tombs also were built, some of imposing grandeur, for the habitation of the dead in the after-world, in which the spirits were supposed to lead a life not very different from that of the living, and at which they were worshipped by the family or tribe, after the manner of the red Indians and many African peoples. . . . The neolithic civilization was long established, and underwent so little change, if any, in the lapse of ages that no traces of a change have been preserved to our times. Its duration varied in different countries, and it yielded place to a higher culture in Greece and Italy long before it passed away from central and northern Europe.”

Bibliography.— Some of the most recent books in English are listed below. In most of them, especially those of Osborn and Sollas, will be found extensive references to other works, especially those by original investigators in France, Belgium and Germany. Dawkins, B., ‘Early Man in Britain’ (London 1883); Ripley, W. Z., ‘Races of Europe’ (New York 1899); Avebury, Lord, ‘Prehistoric Times’ (revised edition, New York 1913); Keith, A., ‘Antiquity of Man’ (London 1915); Parkyn, E. A., ‘Prehistoric Art’ (London 1915); Sollas, W. J., ‘Ancient Hunters’ (London 1915); Osborn, H. F., ‘Men of the Old Stone Age’ (New York 1916); Spurrell, H. G. F., ‘Modern Man and His Forerunners’ (London 1917).

Ernest Ingersoll.