Lecture 15: Holocene, Mesolithic and Archaic People

\star ya = years ago

Holocene Hunter-Gatherers, Mesolithic/Archaic People

  • Mesolithic (Europe) and Epipaleolithic (Near East): 12,000ya to Neolithic (or later).
  • AND Archaic (Americas): 10,000ya to food production.
  • We're currently in the Holocene time period, which started 10,000/ 12,000ya. A major division of change relating to the climate.


Change in Climate

  • Widespread change in lifestyles worldwide due to climate change. The glaciers began to melt and the sea levels started rising, drowning out coastal sites. Wetlands and marshes began to appear (which are resource and nutrient rich).

Changes in Material Culture

  • The resource rich environments were full of birds, fish and a range of other diverse food types. These renewing resources are good for hunter gatherer populations. There are no more megafauna left. Instead they hunted reindeer, caribou, deer and other small animals. They also stored nutrient rich food such as nuts.

Changes in Subsistence and Settlement

Mesolithic bone hooks-2 greece

archaic Smallpoints uwo

  • Some groups continued using the archaic lifestyle, well into the period of farming and agriculture, but they stayed hunter gatherers. Others interacted with the European people and altered their ways. Overall, there were increasing specialized adaptations (food, tools used etc) for local groups as they adapted to their environments, making them very diverse and leading to different cultures and ways of doing things, ex. making ornaments. Broadening their diet was good for the growing population.
  • Subsistence means methods of food obtainment: started using smaller points and tools to hunt for smaller game during the Mesolithic period. Microliths were blades broken into different shapes and hafted to make sharp effective tools. Bows and arrows developed later, as they were still using spears. There were now more wooded environments so there were a lot of wooden tools used. More berries, plants and seeds were used. They used grinding stones, fish hooks and nets to catch birds and shellfish. Overall, they predicted and planned how they would catch their food instead of just chasing herds.
  • Foragers \rightarrow Hunter gatherers that move frequently to get the resources they need, as they're available seasonally. They don't store much food. This is a common lifestyle in the tropical area where there aren't much seasonal fluctuations and the food is rich and diverse. They have specific areas they move to during specific times of the year, so they're not just wandering aimlessly.
  • Collectors \rightarrow Hunter gatherers that stay in one or a few places for a longer period of time. Whole groups or subgroups go out to collect resources as they're available. The resources are then shared and stored if possible (ex. dried meat, fish and nuts). This is a good adaptation method in temperate environments where there is a cold vs. warm and dry vs. wet season.
  • Most groups do a bit of both.
  • Seasonality and scheduling methods \rightarrow There are many different movements for each group. Ex. they know when the berries are ripe in a certain area or when salmon are plentiful in a certain area, so they travel there during that time. This choice of when and where to move effects social organization and settlement patterns.

Changes in Social Organization and Settlement Patterns

  • Solving problems of population increase - There was an increase in the population and mostly in population density.
  • Decrease in population by using birth control or killing off old people. For relatively small mobile populations, more of a forager lifestyle.
  • Split up groups \rightarrow For relatively small mobile populations, more of a forager lifestyle.
  • Expand territory to include more resources \rightarrow For relatively small mobile populations, more of a forager lifestyle.
  • Use certain resources more intensively, which is harder but more efficient: for some increasingly immobile larger groups, who have status differences. More collector lifestyle.
  • The choice of what to do is constrained by environmental conditions.

Continued small scale hunter-gatherer lifestyles

  • Ex. European Mesolithic - Star Carr
  • A temperate forested seasonal environment, full of marshes. A hunting camp where a small group comes and stays for a season, mostly during the spring and summer. Intensely hunted, focusing on deer and elk. They processed the meat and dried it for storage.
  • The group continues to migrate to other locations, using axes to cut down trees for wood needed to build platforms through the marshy areas. This shows community labor and structure. Arrows were made from wood and bone. Spear points were made from bone and antler. Domesticated dogs used for hunting were common.
  • Archaic North America - Great Basin/West Plains
  • A high plain desert environment. Small groups of people living in caves. Collected nuts seasonally and ground seeds. Used small archaic spear points. Had sandals, animal traps and baskets were made from fibers. They ate fish, rodents, insects, plants, seeds, rabbits and marsh birds. Made beautiful ornaments and other things such as feather robes. Moved around the landscape in a forager lifestyle.

meso-recon1 star carr

Intensify larger scale hunter gatherer collector lifestyles

  • Lived a large scale hunter gatherer and collector lifestyle. Focused on wetlands which were nutrient rich. Moved only a few times a year, according to seasonal shifts so they were able to have permanent housing in many areas. Stored food. This was the starting of social differences because they had settlement issues and had to organize people.
  • Example \rightarrow Archaic North America: Poverty Point around 3,500 - 2,500ya.
  • A hunter gatherer population. There were no domesticated plants. Instead they hunted small game, nuts, seeds, fish, shellfish etc. They had a wide diet.
  • Built their settlement on a series of ridges, which were very large and organized and look a lot of time and effort to make. This group had a high population density and a long distance trading network across North America to get special materials.
  • There were various polished tools, such as arrowheads for hunting and fishing. This group disappears or becomes less complex before the Europeans come to the land.

poverty point map


  • Archaic North America - North West Coast: Ozette. A complex hunter gatherer group living in a rich coastal environment at the time of European contact. Had a high population density.
  • They live an archaic lifestyle 300-500ya, not agriculturists. They lived permanently for most of the year in a village made of wood, which was inhabited for 2000 years.
  • They focused on fishing, using harpoons to catch whales and seals using boats. They cooked meat in baskets and wooden boxes by placing rocks into it and putting the meat pieces on top of the rocks. They stored food such as salmon and nuts.

NWC box

Intensify towards agricultural lifestyles


  • Near East Epipaleolithic - Kebaran-Natufian. Upper Paleolithic era. Didn't have a lot of storable resources, and the environment wasn't rich so they couldn't support big population sizes.
  • They focused on seeds and their storage, putting a lot of time and effort into getting resources.
  • Mice were the second domesticated animal. Adopted pottery. Are a mobile group.

Mesolithic vs. Neolithic axes

  • why spend more time making? In the Mesolithic era, stone was chipped via pressure flaking. It was quick to make, easy to repair and very practical. But overtime pieces of wood get caught in the chipped edges and it becomes dull and useless. In the Neolithic era, they spent hours polishing the stone. This made for a faster, cleaner cut, without causing damage to the stone.
  • Overall \rightarrow groups of complex hunter gatherers, which had increased population, were more settled and needed particular resources (mostly storable). They leaned toward domestication. There was an overlap of time periods, so they were living nearby and probably in contact with each other.

kebaran hut sciencedirect

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