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Divisions of the Stone Age

The main divisions of the Stone Age are Palaeolithic ('old stone'), lasting from approximately 2.5 million years ago to about 9000 BC; and Neolithic ('new stone') for the next few thousand years until the introduction of bronze implements.

In Asia this gives a date of 9000--6000 BC for the Neolithic. But Europe at this time lags far behind, so a local intermediate category has been introduced -- the Mesolithic ('middle stone'), lasting from 9000 to 4000 BC and pushing the European Neolithic forward to span the period 4000 to 2500 BC.

The Palaeolithic is itself subdivided, in a manner rather confusing to the layman. Most of us, confronted with the periods Upper Palaeolithic, Middle Palaeolithic and Lower Palaeolithic, will tend to assume that Upper Palaeolithic comes first -- perhaps because we are used to that kind of sequence running down a page.

But the names relate to the layers excavated by an archaeologist, and on an archaeological site the present lies above the past. So Lower Palaeolithic is the earliest period, lasting from about 2.5 million to 250,000 years ago; Middle Palaeolithic carries on to around 40,000 years ago; and then Upper Palaeolithic to about 9000 BC.

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