Lecture 13: Homo sapiens Culture

\star ya = years ago

Upper Paleolithic/Mid-Late Stone Age

  • Upper Paleolithic refers to Europe and West Asia (at least 40,000ya to 12,000ya).
  • Middle and late Stone Age refers to Africa (much earlier). End of the Ice Age.

Anatomically Modern Homo sapiens

  • Only hominin left in most places.

upper paleo hg blog2_1

Eurasian plains: hunting of large game

Timing of Innovations

  • There were lots of changes in the types of clothing, tools and symbolic behaviour etc.
  • Their roots appear first in Africa and often very early in the Middle Stone Age.

Subsistence (Food Procurement)

  • They were efficient hunter gatherers (planning what they had to do, knowing where things were and gathering in those places), and had locally distinct systems so it was diverse, developing different lifestyles, food, style of dressing, ornaments, shelter and other symbolic behaviour.
  • They were efficient and flexible at what they do, getting the most out of the landscape.
  • Started collecting a range of plants and shellfish. In the coastal areas on Europe, ate birds, shellfish and other rich foods. (We can't study the sites as they're underwater now).

UPaleo hg d_05_p_her_1a

South African: mixed diet, including small game, birds, fish

Tools, Technology

  • Blades \rightarrow Made from used core, which involved a lot of preparation, manipulating things using indirect percussion. They used specific stones to make them, knowing which ones were sturdy and hard. A blade is a tool (specifically a flake) which is longer than it is wide.
  • New techniques \rightarrow Including indirect percussion (using another tool to use a tool which made it safer, more efficient, softer and easier to use), punch, and pressure flaking (allowing for more control and precision, so good for making coins and other small things such as bows and spears with light ends).
  • Hafted tools \rightarrow Composite tools which are efficient, because if a part of it breaks, only have to recreate part of it, not re-make the whole thing. Also, easier and safer to use.
  • Tools for hunting at a distance: lighter spears which can be thrown long distances, (can be used for war and hunting purposes). Have a lot of decorated spears. Used harpoons and nets for fishing and catching birds in larger quantities.
  • Bone, antler and ivory \rightarrow Use of new material which is lighter and tougher, making it efficient to carry and get results with. There materials were used for making tools and ornaments. Stone was used to cut these items.
  • Sewn clothing (using needles made from bone, awls and scrapers for processing the hide), twined clothing, nets, and basketry: clothing became more fitted.
  • First domesticate was a dog from 20,000-30,000ya in the Upper Palaeolithic age, used for hunting and protection.


1221 pressure flaking Pressure flaking

1222 stone points1226d bone point-harpoon Af

Bone point/ harpoon

atlatl drawing


Settlement and Social Groups

  • Small, mobile bands, who had seasonal camps and rock shelters so they stayed longer in one place, moving out to obtain more food or live in a better environment/climate.
  • Increasing interaction (economic and social): groups meet up in areas of high food quantities, using the time to exchange information, to mate, trade, etc. This made it peaceful because the groups only stayed together a short period of time.
  • There was less contagious disease because they weren't permanent settlers.


  • Especially after 35,000ya.
  • More ornaments such as bracelets and beads.
  • Increased ideas about self, beauty and differentiation.
  • Burials with grave goods (such as red oaker, tools, etc) \rightarrow elaborate burials.
  • Images/symbolism \rightarrow portable objects (everyday objects such as spears carve with imaged of animals), objects used to convey symbolism (having meaning or power such as sculptures and carvings), cave and rock paintings (open air rock art common in Europe where they painted common food animals, predators, and few human images).
  • Increasing focus on abstract concepts, imagination and visual communication.
  • Started acknowledging ideas about the afterlife and the supernatural?

1223 Venus ivory

1226a caveart bison Altamira

Overview of Evolutionary Trends in Our Direct Ancestral Line


  • Miocene hominoids
  • Pre-australopiths (earliest hominins), including Sahalanthropus, Orrorin and Ardipithecus
  • Australopiths. Earlier: A. aferensis. Later: Paranthropus and A. africanus.
  • Early Homo
  • Homo erectus
  • Homo heidelbergenis (premodern)
  • Homo neanderthals (premodern)
  • Homo sapiens (AMH)

Transition from Australopiths to Early Homo

  • Only in Africa, earlier than 2mya. Overlap, but all Australopiths gone by 1mya.

Transition from Early Homo to Homo erectus

  • Only in Africa, about 2mya, relatively rapid. Only some populations of Homo.

Transition from Homo erectus to Premoderns (Homo heidelbergenis etc)

  • Homo heidelbergenis in Africa and migrates out, at least 600,000ya or earlier. Unclear for East Asia.

Transition from Homo heidelbergenis to Homo neanderthals

  • In Europe and Western and Central Asia, 120,000ya or earlier.

Transition from Homo heidelbergenis to Homo sapiens (AMH)

  • Evolution in Africa, migrated out in the first 200,000ya or earlier. Interbreeding (refer to models).

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