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(or Old Stone Age), the first of two main periods of the Stone Age. The Paleolithic was a period in which fossil man and fossil, now extinct, animal species existed. It coincides with the first great stage of the Quaternary geological period— the Pleistocene. The climate, vegetation, and animal life of the earth in the Paleolithic period differed significantly from what they are today. Paleolithic man used only chipped stone tools, not yet knowing how to polish them or fashion clay vessels. He was a hunter and gatherer, only beginning to learn to fish. Land cultivation and stock raising were unknown.
The beginning of the Paleolithic period over two million years ago coincides with the appearance on earth of the first apelike men, the Archanthropinae of the Oldowayan type, Homo habilis. The end is dated to approximately 12,000 to 10,000 years ago, at the time of transition to the Mesolithic—the period between the Paleolithic and Neolithic. The Paleolithic is divided into the Lower and Upper Paleolithic. The former is further subdivided into the Oldowayan (pre-Chellean, or pebble, culture), which marks the beginning of human history; the early Acheulean (Abbevillian, or Chellean, culture); the middle and late Acheulean; and the Mousterian periods. Subdivisions of the Upper Paleolithic are confined to specific locales; there are no subdivisions that would be found everywhere.
This periodization of the Paleolithic is not universal and is only partially applicable to South Africa, southern and Southeast Asia, Australia, and the Americas. Many researchers accept a three-stage rather than a two-stage division of the Paleolithic, distinguishing the Mousterian culture as Middle Paleolithic. Homo habilis existed during the Oldowayan period; Archanthropinae, including Pithecanthropus and Sinanthropus, existed in the early, middle, and late Acheulean; and Neanderthal man (Palaeoanthropus) existed in the Mousterian period. Modern man, Homo sapiens (Neoanthropinae), appeared and spread during the transition to the Upper Paleolithic.
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Boriskovskii, P. I. Drevneishee proshloe chelovechestva. Moscow-Leningrad, 1957.
Bordes, F. Le Paléolithique dans le monde. Paris, 1968.
P. I. BORISKOVSKII