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I.1.8.(b) Cultural Evolution- Broad Outlines of Mesolithic cultures:

The name “Mesolithic” comes from two separate words, Mesos=Middle and Lithos=Stone.Its Period during which early humans began to control fire and develop language (11,000 – 6,000 B.C.) Mesolithic Age (Middle Stone Age) Mesolithic Age is a period of transition from Old Stone Age to the New Stone Age. The Mesolithic Age coincided with the warming trend that followed the retreat of the last glaciation some 10,000 years ago.

Mesolithic is a part of Holocene that began at the end of Pleistocene. The people of  Upper Palaeolithic culture faced gradually changed climate. The weather in temperature latitude got warmer whereas it became drier in Mediterranean and sub-tropical zones. Man had to adapt themselves to quite novel conditions. Microliths are the characteristic tools of Mesolithic people. These are extremely minutes in size. The shapes vary greatly but the usual forms are more or less Geometrical. All are the tiny tools, which could be attached, joined or embedded to the wooden or bone handles. Such microliths used to be hafted in rows to act as knives. Mesolithic people invented a wonderful device for killing of the animals i.e., bow and arrow.

Along with the post-Pleistocene warming trend came the extinction of the animals that had lived together in large herds on the tundras that had covered most of Europe. These game-rich tundras were gradually replaced with modern temperate forests. The new forest ecosystems supported a larger number of different species, but the density of each species was less than in the Pleistocene period.

Smaller, and in some cases less abundant, game animals caused people to live and hunt in smaller social groups, or bands, and to use new weapons and tools. A greater variety of food was consumed, and each source of food was exploited more fully. In the Near East, Mexico, and probably China, Mesolithic adaptations ultimately led to the domestication of plants and animals. Traditionally, the beginning of food production marks the end of the Mesolithic Age, so its length varies in different parts of the world.
The term Mesolithic was originally used to describe the European remains from the end of the Magdalenian, or “reindeer” period, about 10,000 years ago.


  • Mesolithic Age is basically the blend of two societies, existing almost at the same time according to their immediate environment;
    1. Pastoral Societies.
    2. Horticultural Societies.
  • Not only use stones but bones, Bows and arrows Fish hooks, Harpoons
  • The game available to European Mesolithic peoples included elk, wild pig, bear, small mammals such as wild cat, fox, and marten, and wild fowl. These people also leaned heavily on fresh and salt water fish and shellfish.


  1.  formation of forests after melting of ice caps
  2. started to depend on rivers
  3. started domestication of animals
  4. Gradual domestication of plants and animals, formation of settled communities. People started living in huts instead of caves.


  1. Horticulture is technology based on using hand tools to cultivate plants.
  2. Pastoralism is technology that supports the domestication of animals.
  3. Both of these strategies are capable of producing material surpluses.
  4. Farming communities began to be established. During this period, humans hunted and fished, and began to learn how to domesticate animals and plants. The late Mesolithic hunters are now known to have developed pottery (ceramic objects) and a sedentary lifestyle.
  5. Hunter-gatherers began to store food in containers (Surplus food).
  6. Less reliance on large mammals for food — more on fish.
  7. Domestication of animals began with domestication of dogs.
  8. Use of animals and much developed tools, instead of human, emerged in the field of cultivation. Slash and burn technique used by horticultural societies and use of stick and hoe for cultivation. You would find farming tools, such as a stone hoe, during this time period.
  9. Animals became smaller in size and faster than before, so human had to develop his stone tools (Microliths) and weapons made of bones and wood, in a lighter and more practical form, also some personal ornamentation and daily use items such as combs.
  10. War fear was frequent as compare to Paleolithic age, as they used to quarrel over animals, pastures (in the desert areas), land (for cultivation) and water.
  11. The people of this age were Nomadic as well as sedentary according to their surroundings.


  • Mesolithic tool kits were based on chipped stone and often include microliths (very small stone tools)
  • The tools of the European Mesolithic differed greatly from the long, fluted, leaf-shaped stone points of the Paleolithic. Small blades usually less than an inch long called microliths, were used especially as tips and barbs for arrows. These weapons were well suited to hunting the small game of this time. Other tools included flint and polished stone adzes for breaking earth and chopping trees, antler and bone-headed spears and harpoons, bone fishhooks and needles, and nets, dugout canoes, and paddles.


  • In this age people started to form a leader ship to combat war fear and to resolve their problems. (Governance started).
  • They started to elect their leader politically, which was authorized to take decisions and was powerful enough to punish any one on behalf of his people.


  • Education was informal and was not institutionalized.
  • Children used to learn from their elders as well as their own experiences.


  • During this age males started dominent as food production was mainly the job of males.

Some Anthropologist see the Mesolithic as a “cultural degeneration when compared with the Upper Paleolithic”. They cite the fact that there was no representational art as evidence. Others, however, remind us that the highly stylized drawings of humans and animals common in the art of this time are not inferior to representational art. Some, for example, suggest that the abstract drawings have been the forerunners of Neolithic pottery designs.                                              ‘

North America: In North America the Mesolithic Age has been divided into two parts, according to time and place:

(1) the desert tradition, which began about 9,000 years ago in the arid western regions, North America and lasted until European contact; and

(2) the archaic tradition of the Eastern woodlands, which began about the same time and lasted until about 4,000 to 3,000 years ago.

The Desert Tradition: The desert tradition evolved in the extremely arid Great Basin, an area that includes Nevada and parts of Utah, California, Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming. There, American aborigines,  making use of seasonal resources such as nuts, seeds, and berries, as well as bison, deer, antelope, and other smaller animals.

The people of the desert tradition are considered Mesolithic because they depended on modern plants and animals, used microliths, and lived in bands. Small, semi nomadic bands were most effective in making use of scarce resources. At most, any one location could support only 25 to 30 people at a time. The wide variety of resources called for a variety of portable, easily made tools. These included microlith projectile points for hunting, and baskets and milling stones for collecting and grinding up plants.

The Archaic Tradition: The archaic tradition of the Eastern woodlands and river valleys arose in an environment more like that of Europe. Like the European people, the Indians of the archaic tradition also relied on fish, shellfish, small game, and  plants. This tradition extended as far west as the Great Plains, where its remains are somewhat like the tool assemblages of the desert tradition. However, ground- and polished-stone tools, especially adzes, axes, and gouges for working wood, were specifically an archaic adaptation. Like members of the desert culture, archaic tradition peoples were semi-nomadic. But later, perhaps due to a greater wealth of resources, they gave up their seasonal wandering for a more settled existence.

The European Mesolithic culture may be divided into seven phases: (1) Azilian, (2) Tardenosian, (3)Asturian, (4) Larnean, (5) Maglemosean, (6) Kitchen-midden and (7) Campignion.


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