Barry Newman's Blog

July 29, 2011

Science and Genesis 4: 1 – 26 (part XI)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 10:48 pm

The Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic Eras

What follows is an outline of the eras that are thought to be relevant for the beginnings of “humankind”.  The information has been largely gleaned from the internet and corresponds with what are thought to be prevailing views among the scientific community.  However there is considerable divergence of opinion, for example, about dates, how the eras and subdivisions of eras should be categorised and how fossil finds and their relationships should be understood.  Some divergence arises because different scientific disciplines work from different criteria and in the case of the Neolithic era, different dates are assigned to different cultural regions. With this in mind, much that follows should be taken to be a rough guide only. It is with the context of these eras in mind that comments will then be made on some of the items dealt with in Genesis Chapter 4.

The Palaeolithic Era is divided into the Lower Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age), extending from 2,500,000 to 200,000 years ago, the Middle Palaeolithic, extending from 200, 000 to 40,000 years ago, and the Upper Palaeolithic (Late Stone Age), extending from 40,000 years ago to 12,000 B.C E.  The Mesolithic Era covers 12,000 to 10, 000 B.C.E.  The Neolithic era is considered to have begun around 9, 500 to 10, 500 B.C.E. in the Middle East.

Dating Procedures

A variety of dating procedures are used in determining the antiquity of human beings and objects and animals associated with them.  The most well know is radiocarbon dating.  It relies on the ratio of the two isotopes carbon -12 and carbon -14 found in carbon containing substances and is useful for dating entities up to around 50, 000 years ago. 

Another radiometric dating method is potassium-argon dating.  This relies on the radioactive decay of potassium-40 to argon-40. Potassium is found in many minerals.  This dating method is very useful where the age involved is many thousands to many millions of years and where molten rock has been involved. Where the age of what was once molten rock can be determined, the age of what is immediately underneath that rock is taken to be of around the same or of an older age.

Thermoluminescence dating is useful where carbon dating is unsuitable because no carbon material is involved.  For example, it can be used for the dating of ceramics or burnt flint.  It depends on the radiation dosage that has accumulated since the time the pottery, e.g. was fired.  Electron Spin Resonance dating also relies on a type of radiation exposure and can be useful for examining the ages of animal and human bones and teeth or any carbonate material, where the age is beyond that measurable by radiocarbon dating.  Fission Track Dating relies on tracks made in a mineral or glass by fissionable material such as uranium-238.  Dating by Archaeomagetic intensity measurements relies on variations in the earth’s magnetic field at specific areas at different times.

Items such as pottery are often dated according to similarities in style but, as with the use of “index fossils”, the dating technique involved relies on some “absolute” dates having been established for some specimens by other means.

No expertise is being claimed in the above descriptions.  Nor is the list of dating procedures referred to exhaustive. Mention is made of them to indicate that a variety of dating procedures are available.   None of them are simple to apply and various techniques, such as calibration curves have been developed over the years to deal with difficulties in their application.  Where possible, a number of dating procedures are used for the one item to provide greater confidence for the estimated age of the item being assessed.

Findings?

There is much debate about dates assigned to specific finds and how, for example, some of the human or human like fossils are related.  Using various dating techniques and fossil finds, the following are examples of some of the claims that are made.

The first evidence of the use of stone tools, such as hand axes and cleavers, is found in the Lower Palaeolithic era and marks its beginning.  Numerous fossils have been found in both Africa and Asia of skeletons identified as Homo erectus, some dated to around 1.8 million years ago. These skeletal fossil remains are not greatly dissimilar to those of Homo sapiens.

The beginning of the Middle Palaeolithic era is marked by stone tools shaped by, for example, flaking.  During the Middle Palaeolithic era there is evidence of art work, perhaps of a ritual nature, and bone and antler appear to be used for a variety of purposes.  There is some evidence of death occasioned by the use a spear some 40, 000 to 50, 000 years ago. Homo neanderthalensis is thought to have flourished in Europe from 300, 000 years ago up until the late Upper Palaeolithic era. Intentional burying of Neanderthals is dated from 80, 000 years ago. There appears to be clear evidence of gathering and hunting and the use of rock art, beads and bracelets during the Middle Palaeolithic era, if not earlier and Homo sapiens is thought to have existed from around 200, 000 years ago and to have migrated out of Africa about 1000, 000 years ago. Hunting and gathering are thought to be in evidence during the Middle Palaeolithic era if not before.  The use of fire became widespread during this era and there appears to be evidence of intentional burying of humans, with a possible indication of a belief in an after-life.  There does not appear to be much difference in the tools used by Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis or Homo sapiens, whether in Europe, Asia or Africa.

During the Upper Palaeolithic era, tool development becomes more sophisticated, the use of fire to harden clay figures is evident, cooperative ventures and village life seems to operate and wall paintings become more common.  At the moment, the oldest cave paintings are dated around 30, 000 BC or later and figurines begin to appear at around the same time. There appears to be evidence of warfare in Egypt around 13, 000 BC.  The first flutes may have been used during this era.

The Mesolithic era is characterised by finer small stone tools, the production of pottery, some village life, and a movement away from hunting towards domestication of plants and animals.

Only Homo sapiens appears in the Neolithic era.  Neolithic culture appears to have had its beginnings in the Levant (roughly our Middle East) and spread at different times to Europe, Asia and Africa.  An early walled city was Jericho.  Domestication of both animals and plants becomes common and metal working to provide a new type of tool is evident towards the end of the era.

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