Paleolithic or "Old Stone Age" is a term used to define the oldest period in the human history. The Paleolithic or Palaeolithic - lit. old stone from the Greek paleos=old and lithos=stone. It began about 2 million years ago, from the use of first stone tools and ended of the Pleistocene epoch, with the close of the last ice age about 13,000 BC.
Subdivisions of the Paleolithic include the: Lower Paleolithic (Oldowan, Clactonian, Abbevillian, Acheulean), Middle Paleolithic, the time of the hand axe-industries (Mousterian) and Upper Paleolithic (Châtelperronian, Aurignacian, Solutrean, Gravettian, Magdalenian). The Paleolithic is followed by the Mesolithic or Epipaleolithic.
The Lower spans the time from around 4 million years ago when the first humans appear in the archaeological record, to around 120,000 years ago when important evolutionary and technological changes ushered in the Middle Palaeolithic.
In Europe and Africa the Middle Paleolithic (or Middle Palaeolithic) is the period of the early Stone Age that lasted between around 120,000 and 40,000 years ago. It was the time when early humans gained increasing control over their surroundings and later saw the emergence of modern humans around 100,000 years ago. Stone tool manufacturing developed a more sophisticated tool making technique which permitted the creation of more controlled and consistent flakes. Hunting provided the primary food source but people also began to exploit shellfish and may have begun smoking and drying meat to preserve it. This would have required a mastery of fire and some sites indicate that plant resources were managed through selective burning of wide areas. Artistic expression emerged for the first time with ochre used as body paint and some early rock art appearing. There is also some evidence of purposeful burial of the dead which may indicate religious and ritual behaviors.
The Upper Paleolithic (or Upper Palaeolithic) is the third and last subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age as it is understood in Europe, Africa and Asia. Very broadly it dates to between 40,000 and 8,500 years ago. Modern humans, who had begun migrating out of Africa during the Middle Paleolithic period, began to produce regionally distinctive cultures during the Upper Paleolithic period. The earliest remains of organized settlements in the form of campsites, some with storage pits, are encountered in the archaeological record. Some sites may have been occupied year round though more generally they seem to have been used seasonally with peoples moving between them to exploit different food sources at different times of the year. Technological advances included significant developments in flint tool manufacturing with industries based on fine blades rather than cruder flakes. The reasons for these changes in human behavior have been attributed to the changes in climate during the period which encompasses a number of global temperature drops. Artistic work also blossomed with Venus figurines and exotic raw materials found far from their sources suggest emergent trading links.
Paleolithic Art, produced from about 32,000 to 11,000 years ago, falls into two main categories: Portable Pieces (small figurines or decorated objects carved out of bone, stone, or modeled in clay), and Cave Art.