Chapter 1 – From the Paleolithic to the Neolithic Period

Stephanie Guerin-Yodice

The term “Paleolithic” essentially describes nomadic people or hunter-gatherers, whose primary food source involved the direct procurement of edible plants and animals from the wild: foraging and hunting without significant recourse to the domestication of either. Based on available resources, people traded when and where they could and carried few possessions. Unlike in the modern world, they did not need to take out the trash, mow the lawn, or pay their cell phone bills. Sounds liberating, but through the span of the Paleolithic Period the objective was human (and often individual) survival. From the time of hunter-gatherers, people lived in small clan-based communities, roaming the land to search for food. Traditionally men followed large animals in a hunt and women gathered food from the seasonal variation of plants in the valleys and on the plains. Natural structures, such as caves and temporary dwellings made from wood and animal hides, served as resting places where the clan could seek refuge from the harsh elements, using fire to keep warm and to cook their food. When tools were utilized, they served rudimentary functions and then were cast aside because people did not have pockets, purses, or backpacks back then. Nomadic people may not have been advanced technologically, but they were profoundly influenced by their environment and understood how to survive in a mysterious and unpredictable world.

Figure 1. Click here: How Stone Age Humans Made Hand Axes. Encyclopedia Britannica.


What is technology and why it is so important to the advancement of civilizations?

Technology can be defined as using natural resources for tools that contribute to advances in knowledge, a process, purpose, invention and/or industry that advance people and civilizations. Through humans’ ability to adapt to their environment, and because ideas were assimilated through interactions, technology could advance in a way that aided in the survival of humans. Technological adaptations then led to cognitive changes in human communication, with the world and its environment bringing about a material culture. As technology evolved, so did the purpose and intent of resources, so that over time these technological innovations were fine-tuned and applied to everyday life, making it easier for people to build boats, crush wheat, cook food, and hunt animals. Basically, live better and longer lives!


The impetus for technological change during the Paleolithic period was the climate changes brought about by the Ice Age, which profoundly impacted the developing culture of humans during the early to middle Paleolithic Period. With the geostructural changes brought about by the formation and subsequent recession of ice sheets cycling over millions of years, the nomadic tribes adapted to the changing topography of the earth’s surface and shifted their migratory patterns according to available food sources.[1] Through this experience, a distinct culture based on epistemological reasoning allowed for the evolutionary prosperity of man to continue. Where the early Paleolithic period is marked by the use of simple tools to achieve a desired result, the middle of the Paleolithic period showed that humans continued to respond to environmental changes, where their technology and learned behavior was readapted to meet new challenges. Research shows that toward the end of the Paleolithic Period, increased temperatures thawed the Scandinavian and Siberian ice sheets, causing water to rapidly flow into the Caucasus Mountains, where the rivers swelled and traveled north into the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. As the seas swelled, the water found its way into the lakes and rivers flowing from the Anatolia region into the Tigris River and Euphrates River. This caused human migratory patterns to change and shift toward the northern regions.[2]

Why did nomads become sedentary? Due to the shifting environment, nomads were forced to redefine their existence and adopt a more sedentary lifestyle. They observed the climate changes, the activity of the riverbeds and studied the plants and animals around them, all the while passing information down from generation to generation. As humans adopted to their changing environment they also advanced technology to improve their existence. Nonspecific tools became more complex, requiring a higher degree of specialization that lead to semi-sedentary communities. Humans discovered that they could plant and harvest crops and that did not have to keep moving around. Once a localized food source is established it is harder to go back to hunting and gathering because people needed to stay localized to harvest and replant. Either way, a transformative event occurred when semi-nomadic and sedentary societies developed into agricultural communities. This evolutionary process, transitioning from hunter-gathers to sedentary agricultural communities, transformed human interactions as the idea of harnessing resources to benefit people’s day-to-day interactions became paramount to sustaining clan-based populations. Whatever the reason, these nomads began to settle down, to stop roaming the lands, and stop following the herds, historians can deduce that their existence was threatened by natural disasters, human encroachment, food scarcity, infestation of insects, blight, diseases, and overpopulation. Historically the end of the Ice Age marked the end of the Paleolithic Period and the beginning of the Neolithic Period.

[1]. Guy Gugliotta, “The Great Human Migration,” Smithsonian, July 2008.

[2]. David Biello, “What Thawed the Last Ice Age?, Scientific American, April 4, 2012.


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History of Applied Science & Technology by Stephanie Guerin-Yodice is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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