Mesolithic period

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Mesolithic period

Mesolithic period (mĕz´əlĬth´Ĭk) or Middle Stone Age, period in human development between the end of the Paleolithic period and the beginning of the Neolithic period. It began with the end of the last glacial period over 10,000 years ago and evolved into the Neolithic period; this change involved the gradual domestication of plants and animals and the formation of settled communities at various times and places. While Mesolithic cultures lasted in Europe until almost 3000 BC, Neolithic communities developed in the Middle East between 9000 and 6000 BC Mesolithic cultures represent a wide variety of hunting, fishing, and food gathering techniques. This variety may be the result of adaptations to changed ecological conditions associated with the retreat of glaciers, the growth of forests in Europe and deserts in N Africa, and the disappearance of the large game of the Ice Age. Characteristic of the period were hunting and fishing settlements along rivers and on lake shores, where fish and mollusks were abundant. Microliths, the typical stone implements of the Mesolithic period, are smaller and more delicate than those of the late Paleolithic period. Pottery and the use of the bow developed, although their presence in Mesolithic cultures may only indicate contact with early Neolithic peoples. The Azilian culture, which was centered in the Pyrenees region but spread to Switzerland, Belgium, and Scotland, was one of the earliest representatives of Mesolithic culture in Europe. The Azilian was followed by the Tardenoisian culture, which covered much of Europe; most of these settlements are found on dunes or sandy areas. The Maglemosian, named for a site in Denmark, is found in the Baltic region and N England. It occurs in the middle of the Mesolithic period. It is there that hafted axes, an improvement over the Paleolithic hand axe, and bone tools are found. The Ertebolle culture, also named for a site in Denmark, spans most of the late Mesolithic. It is also known as the kitchen-midden culture for the large deposits of mollusk shells found around the settlements. Other late Mesolithic cultures are the Campignian and Asturian, both of which may have had Neolithic contacts. The Mesolithic period in other areas is represented by the Natufian in the Middle East, the Badarian and Gerzean in Egypt, and the Capsian in N Africa. The Natufian culture provides the earliest evidence of an evolution from a Mesolithic to a Neolithic way of life.

See study by J. G. D. Clark (1953, repr. 1970).

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