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Story of humans

Stone Age

Sewing animal hideSewing animal hideThe Palaeolithic Period, or Old Stone Age, describes the time between the first use of simple tools by early human-like creatures (about 3.3 million years ago) to the start of the Neolithic Period, or New Stone Age, when people began to farm the land (10,000 years ago in the Middle East, later elsewhere). During the Old Stone Age, human beings travelled from place to place, eating wild plants and hunting wild animals. The start of farming brought a continuous supply of food, which meant that people could live in the same place all year round. The New Stone Age lasted until people started to make their tools from bronze rather than stone. The Bronze Age began around 3300 BC in the Middle East, and much later in Europe and other parts of the world. 


A simple chopping tool made by Homo habilisA simple chopping tool made by Homo habilis

Lower Palaeolithic toolmakers

The Lower Palaeolithic began with the appearance of the very simplest stone tools, around 3.3 million years ago, in East Africa. These were large pebbles that had been struck by other stones, knocking off flakes to produce sharp, cutting edges. We do not know which human-like creatures made these first tools, which pre-date the first true humans, Homo habilis, by about 700,000 years. Ape-like australopithecines are known to have lived in the area where the tools were discovered and may well have been the first toolmaking hominids.


Homo habilis smashes an animal boneHomo habilis smashes an animal bone

Homo habilis
, still quite an ape-like creature, used simple stone tools, called "pebble tools", rather than its teeth or its bare hands, to kill and skin animals for food. It could have also used the tools to smash bones, dig up plant tubers or break open nuts and seeds. Humans, in the form of Homo ergaster, became more skilled toolmakers about 1.7 million years ago. They crafted hand axes, carefully shaping them with soft hammers made of wood, bone or antler, so they had sharp edges for slicing, a blunt end for pounding and a point for skewering. As Homo erectus, a close relative of Homo ergaster (or possibly an identical species) spread out from Africa to Asia and Europe, so their vital, multi-purpose tool, the hand axe, travelled with them and their descendants, Homo heidelbergensis.

Lower Palaeolithic hand axe (both faces and edge)Lower Palaeolithic hand axe (both faces and edge)

The spread of Homo sapiens

Some scientists say that modern humans are a subspecies of Homo sapiens, with the scientific name Homo sapiens sapiens. Their direct ancestor, an older form of human, was another subspecies called Homo sapiens idaltu, which lived in Africa 160,000 years ago and is now extinct.

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