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(Middle Stone Age), an epoch of the Stone Age; the transitional period between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic. The transition from the Paleolithic to the Mesolithic on the whole coincided with the replacement of the Pleistocene epoch by the Holocene (Recent) epoch, characterized by modern climate, flora, and fauna. Radiocarbon dating has set the Mesolithic period in Europe at 10,000–7,000 years ago; however, in northern Europe it continued until 6,000–5,000 years ago. The Mesolithic in the Middle East occurred 12,000–9,000 years ago.
Miniature stone implements called microliths are typical of Mesolithic cultures everywhere. Stone chipped chopping tools, such as axes, adzes, and picks, were used. Tools made of bone and horn were also used—spearheads, harpoons, fishhooks, points, and picks. Bows and arrows and various devices for fishing and hunting aquatic animals (dugout canoes, nets) were widespread. Clay vessels first appeared by the time of the transition from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic.
The dog, which was probably domesticated in the Upper Paleolithic, was extensively used in the Mesolithic. The domestication of some other animals was undertaken (for example, the pig). The principal occupations were hunting, fishing, and gathering, including the gathering of edible mollusks. Some Mesolithic tribes, for example, the tribes of the Natufian culture in Palestine (tenth to eight millennia B.C.), attempted to cultivate cereals. Thus, the preconditions arose for the transition (in the Neolithic stage) to productive forms of the economy—agriculture and stock raising.
A large number of the Mesolithic places of habitation, which consisted of only several temporary dwellings, were located on dunes or peat bogs. Many sites constitute accumulations of mollusk shells (kitchen middens); sites in caves are rare. Clan burial grounds have been discovered near some of the Mesolithic settlements.
The Mesolithic cultures are numerous and varied, including the Azilian and the Tardenoisian cultures in Western Europe, the Maglemosian and the Erteb^lle cultures in northern Europe, the Sebilian culture in the Nile valley, the Capsian culture in North Africa, the Wilton culture in South Africa, and the Hoa Binh culture in Southeast Asia. Some archaeologists do not use the term “Mesolithic” and date early Mesolithic remains to the Epipaleolithic period, and late Mesolithic remains to the Protoneolithic, or the Prepottery Neolithic, period.
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Bader, N. O. “Mezolit.” In Kamennyi vek na territorii SSSR. Moscow, 1970.
Clark, G. World Prehistory, 2nd ed. Cambridge, 1969.
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P. I. BORISKOVSKII