The Stone Age was a time early in the development of human cultures before the use of metals when tools and weapons were made of stone, and human food was mainly produced from hunting and gathering. The dates of the Stone Age vary considerably for different parts of the world and even until very recently there were some cultures that lived in much the same way as the hunter-gatherers of thousands of years ago. In the Stone Age, the hunting and gathering of food was the norm. The males of this time specialized in hunting – usually with stone-tipped weapons, while the females gathered items.
Incidental tools were the first tools to be used. These tools were stones, sticks and other such items that the early humans found just lying about. Next came dawn stones the first stone tools to be fashioned. These were usually crudely chipped pebbles or flaked stone implements that were used for many purposes, but dawn stones also included the stone and anvil which was used for breaking bones open to get to the marrow deep inside. Over time, a wide variety of tools were made for many purposes.
By about 100,000 years ago, humans already had several types of stone tools and were using bone and wood implements as well. As time went by, these modern humans (Homo sapiens) made such specialized tools as bone needles, bone fishhooks, nets, hand axes, choppers, scrapers, backed knives, burins, points, spears, and wooden bows & sharp stone-tipped arrows. Needles were used to sew animal skins together for clothing using sinews as the thread. Fishhooks and nets were used to catch fish. Hand-axes could be used for cutting meat, scraping skins, chopping wood, digging holes, and hammering bone or wood.
Choppers were used for smashing bones open to obtain marrow, hacking wood, softening meat, and possibly as a primitive hammer. Scrapers were deployed for dressing hides and possibly obtaining meat from bones. Backed knives were made for the ability to easily cut flesh. Burins were chisels used to carve and shape bone and wood. This would include creating sharp points on spears for hunting. Points, on the other hand, were hafted on to the spears. Rawhide and sinews were used to haft the stone points to the spears and other implements such as axes and arrows.
Hafting was a major step in tool development as it enabled the user to put much more force behind his swing. Early humans participated in close range kills, meaning that they literally had to be within a foot of their prey when they attacked it. The Bow and arrow appeared after 20,000 BC. This amazing weapon, along with the spear, allowed the early humans to hunt and kill its prey from a distance. The bows were made from strong but flexible wood while the bowstrings were made from sinews. The arrows were made of wood, but the tips were made of sharp, pointed stones.
The stones they preferred to use for their tools and weapons, like flint and obsidian, were very hard. These kinds of stones could be flaked with a bone or antler to give flakes that look something like a human fingernail. In this process, removing chips from the top and sides made a carefully prepared stone core. Whole flakes were then struck from the core to be refinished into a variety of specialized tools. The flaked edges had a surface that is only a single molecule thick – sharper than a razor blade.
In the Neolithic period, or New Stone Age, stone tools became highly polished and varied. Some Stone Age cultures, like the Aztecs, developed the art of tool making to a level unsurpassed elsewhere. They fashioned ceremonial cutting objects that were very ornate and artistically attractive in their functional form and symmetry. These ornate tools were probably used in religious ceremonies. Besides game caught from hunting, hunter-gatherers ate a variety of seeds, berries, fruits, roots, nuts and vegetables that they found growing wild.
In fact, early humans, especially females and young children, were primarily gatherers. Plants, fungi and small animals were gathered for use mainly as food, but in some cases they were used for medicines, textiles, and many other applications. The food items gathered by the early humans were varied and numerous. They ate bulbs such as Indian potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, wild leek, spring beauty, and wild onions. They ate many different kinds of roots like carrots and beets, and green leafy plants such as asparagus, poke weed, cattails, and garlic leaves.
The fruits they ate included strawberries, grapes, apples, and cranberries. They were able to preserve these fruits by pressing and drying them on rocks. They ate nuts such as beechnuts, walnuts, hickory nuts, chestnuts and acorns. Among the many seed types, a very important one was wild rice. They also ate small animals such as fish, mollusks, snails and grubs. Other things they gathered could be used for medicine. One good example of this is some willows that contain a natural aspirin. Gathered thules could be used to weave baskets as could pin oak, long grasses, and pine needles.
Gathered animal skins were cured and used for clothing and there were untold other uses for hundreds of other gathered items. The Stone Age comprises the largest part of human history. Humans survived by hunting and gathering. During this age, humans learned to make many tools from stone, wood and bone. These tools enabled humans to hunt better, use the resources around them more effectively and increase their overall chances for survival. The Stone Age ended in approx. 4,000 BC, with the coming of agriculture and the domestication of man.