Ancient Archaeology

Archaeology is a science that deals with the study of the past human remains. As far as the term ancient archaeology is concerned, we can say it is related to the beginning eras of the human activities. The epoch when the stone tool was struck by a man is the time period from where archaeologists start studying the human history. Ancient archaeology thus belongs to the first phase of the man’s history.

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Division of the human cultural history
The human past is divided basically in three periods, on the basis of the cultural material and inventions. These divisions are quite helpful to understand the ancient societies;

  1. Pre historic era.
  2. Proto-historic era.
  3. Historic era.
    These are the divisions, on the basis of which archaeologist study to any cultural material that recovers from a certain historic site. Whatever is the culture, tribe nation or ethnicity, they all have their ancestors that have come right from the Pre historic era.

The Pre Historic Era
As mentioned earlier that archaeology itself is a science that involves the study of the ancient human remains. But talking particularly about the ancient archaeology we have to remain confined with the first period of the ancient cultural history that is a Pre-historic era. Because the ancient cultural material belongs from this time is truly ancient. So our ancestors transformed gradually from the culture of the hunters and gatherers into the society of farmers and food producers.

Characteristic Features of the Pre Historic Era:
In the latter half of the Paleolithic era especially in the middle and upper Paleolithic era man started the earliest works of art like cave art, rock art and jewellery making, and also the religious activities like burial and rituals.

1. Use of Fire
This is a time period when man had begun the use of fire. He had been so smart to struck stone tools of different varieties with the help of a verity of stone tools making techniques.

2. Art Activity
The human from the Pre historic era has left behind amazing cave art. Different ochre, burnt bones, minerals, charcoal, blood etc were employed to create animal figures, humans, and geometrical motifs. Due to severe climate and wild beasts’ people used to live in the caves, where they started the practice of the cave or the rock art. In Africa the first cave art appeared so far in the archaeological records.
Besides Niaux in France, Altamira in Spain, Lascaux in France are the caves from where the specimens of the old rock art were found.
Three techniques were found that were used for the art work in the cave.

  • Fresco Bono on wet plaster.

  • Tempra on dry plaster.

  • Fresco Secco on dry plaster.

3. Community Urbanization
Community urbanization was not found in the Pre historic era as they render from place to place in search of food and water. In this time period, humans mainly had hunter gatherer economy. The men were to prey wild animals for their family. While women had to collect seeds and fruits.

4. Burial Tradition:
Man had learned how to bury his loved ones. It started in the middle Paleolithic era. They buried the dead once with the grave goods, like ornaments, personal things, pottery and tools etc.Religion or religious believes were already had begun to follow, that are obvious from the cave art and also from the style of burials.

5. Domestication of Animals:
Domestication of animals started in Neolithic era. Archaeologists have found the bones of cattle, sheep, goat and dog from the Neolithic sites.
6. Pottery Making:
The pottery making started in the end part of the Pre historic era. They also used to keep them in the graves.

7. Musical instruments:
A flute was recovered from a site in Europe that belongs from the upper Paleolithic era.

8. Sculptural Art:
It began in upper Paleolithic era. Mostly the sculpture of the animals and female figurines were found. The concept of mother goddess also started in the upper Paleolithic era.

9. Author:
The author in the Pre historic era was a relative of now-extinct hominin including Neanderthals and Denisovans.

10. Climate in the Pre Historic era:
During the prehistoric era man has faced many severe climatic conditions. As this was an era of ice age so there were glacial and inter glacial phases, including pluvial and inter pluvial phases. These phases where also so long. That they resulted in the extinct of many species of the plants and animals from the earth.So the climate fluctuated between warm and cool temperatures.

Divisions of the Ancient Pre-historic Era:
The Pre historic era is further divided in three periods.
i. Paleolithic era (2.5/2 million years – 10,000 years before present)
i. Mesolithic era (10,000 –8000 years before present)
ii. Neolithic era (8000-4000 years before present)

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1. The Paleolithic Era:
The Paleolithic era is dated from 2.5/2 million years to 10,000 B.C. Paleolithic means the Old Stone Age. It is the longest among the other Pre historic eras.

Sub-divisions of the Paleolithic Era:
The Paleolithic era has further three sub groups;
i. Lower/early Paleolithic ( 2.5-2 million years before present- 100,000 years before present)
ii. Middle Paleolithic (100,000 my -35/40,000 years before present)
iii. Upper Paleolithic (35/40,000 -10,000 years before present)
I. Features of the Lower /Early Paleolithic Era:
Following is a list of the features that are associated with the lower Paleolithic era.

1. Stone Tools:
From the ancient sites of the lower Paleolithic era mostly flakes, chopper chopping tools and cleavers were recovered. There was a proper technique of making tools. In different eras, different techniques were employed for tool making. For example if you have find a flakes from a pre historic site of Europe and a flake from Indian- subcontinent from such sites that belong from the same time period ; then the process of making the flake of these both flakes would have same, as the time period of its making is the same.

Stone Tools Making Industries in the Lower Paleolithic Era:

a. Clactonian
Clactonian is a flake tool making industry. Tools made via this technique are mainly crude and heavy. This name was given to this technique on the basis of a site Clacton situated in England near sea. As flakes made from this technique were found for the first time from this site. In this technique direct percussion or hard hammer technique was used.

b. Levelloision
It is a developed stage of clactonian industry. Flakes made by this technique became refine. This technique was named after a site that is located in France named “Levellois”. Here flakes were made with the soft or Baton technique.
c. Abbevellion:

It is an industry in which hand axes were made. This industry got its name from a site located in France “ La- Abbeville”.
d. Oldowan:

It is a flake, chopper chopping industry. It got its name from a site Olduvai-Gorge in Tanzania.

e. Acheulean:
This is also an industry in which and axes were made. But it has better technology as the hand axes of this industry had no cortex at all.
Stone tool Making techniques:
The tools that were made in the lower Paleolithic era were mostly made with the direct percussion. Besides Anvil/block technique, soft Baton technique and indirect percussion was used to make tools.

2. Settlement pattern:
The author of this time period used to live mostly in the open air and occasionally in the caves. In east Africa some sites are found where the stones were found kept in a circle. According to the archaeologists it was used to create a wind screen or shelter. Probably they used animal skin or tree trunks for this purpose.

3. Fire:
Fire had discovered in the lower Paleolithic era.

4. Author:
The lost of the authors from the lower Paleolithic era are as follow;

  1. Zinjanthropus
  2. Austral pithicus
  3. Homo-erectus
  4. Homo-habilus

ii. Features of the Middle Paleolithic Era:

1. Stone tools:
In the middle Paleolithic era mostly blades were used, while the ratio of hand axes decreased. Besides blades the other tools that are mostly available from the middle Paleolithic era are scrappers, awls and burins.
Stone tool Making Industries:

a. Mousterian
It was the middle Paleolithic industry in which flakes and blades were made. This industry got its name from a site Le-Mouster in France.
Stone tool making techniques:
The techniques used to make tools in this phase include both direct and indirect percussion. Besides Bipolar and secondary or trimming techniques were also used.

2. Settlement patterns
The settlement pattern in the middle Paleolithic era is the same like in the lower Paleolithic, but now people mostly lived near water banks for flora and fauna.

3. Economy
The economy in this phase was hunting and collecting seeds.

4. Author
From ancient site of the middle Paleolithic era in Germany skull of the Neanderthal was found. So this can be said that Neanderthal was the author in the middle Paleolithic era.

5. Burial Tradition:
Burial tradition started for the first time in this era. They used to bury grave goods along with the burial.

6. Clothing
Evidences of some fossilized skin have been found from the sites of this era, which is the indication of the use of clothing.
[prehistoric man]

7. Art and sculpting:
The famous Venus of Tan-Tan found from Morocco is said to be the earliest representation of the human form. Then the Venus of Willendorf is a Venus figurine that was dated back to 30,000 BCE, found from a village in Austria. These human activities are from the time prior to the start of the middle Paleolithic period.

iii. Features of the Upper Paleolithic Era

1. Stone Tools
This mainly is a period of blades. Archaeologist have recovered burins, awls, points, scrappers, arrow heads, spear head, spear thrower, bladelets and microliths from the sites of the upper Paleolithic era.

Stone Tools Making Industries in the Upper Paleolithic Era:
The stone tool making industries from this era are as follow;

  1. Piregordian
  2. Chattle paronian
  3. Aurignecian
  4. Gravetian
  5. Soluterian
  6. Megdalenian

2. Art Activities:
The art activity in the upper Paleolithic era can be divided in 3 categories:

a. Figurative art

In this category lays the cave paintings of the animals and in rare cases the humans depiction.

b. Non figurative art
It is consist of shapes and symbols.

c. Sculpting
Venus figurines are recovered by the archaeologists dated from the sites of the upper Paleolithic era.

3. Musical Instruments
A flute was found from a site in England that is dated from the upper Paleolithic era. It was made of bone. The use of the musical instruments could be important in their rituals and is alternatively associated with the religion of the ancient man. As the drums made out of the animal skins were found from the graves of the shamans that indicate to its religious connectivity.

Religion and beliefs in the Paleolithic era
The religious belief and practices were started by the ancient men in the middle and upper Paleolithic eras. The observation made at the site of Krapina in Croatia and Qafzeh in Israel convinced archaeologists to develop a view that the middle Paleolithic humans had a strong believe in life after death. Then in the middle Paleolithic Neanderthal societies there are some evidences of animal worship.
The existence of some anthropomorphic images and half human, half animal images for the sites of the upper Paleolithic era make scholars believe that the ancient man had believe in the pantheon of gods or the supernatural beings.

Climate in the Paleolithic era:
It was a geological time period of the Pleistocene era. That went through important geological and climatic changes on earth. And the Paleolithic era end at the end of the Pleistocene era, (that is that end of the ice age). After that the earth climate became warmer.

Human Distribution or Migration:
In the begging of the Paleolithic era, the hominins were found mainly in the east Africa in the east of the Rift Valley. The hominins earliest fossils are found from Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia .From circa 2,000,000 to circa 1,500,000 BP, the hominins in groups left Africa and some of them settle in Southern Europe and some came to Asia. And by 1,660,000 BP they had reached to China.

Extinction of Homo erectus and Homo Neanderthals:
By the end of the Paleolithic era both Homo erectus and Neanderthal got extinct.

The human has the longest history that belongs form this Paleolithic era. It is the time when the author of this era was learning very fast, and the brain capacity of the man was also changing steadily. Many things man had adopted and a kind of revolutionary or transitional phase has been observed throughout the Paleolithic era.

ii .The Mesolithic Era
The word Mesolithic derived from two Greek words “mesos” means middle and “lithos” means stone. It is a middle Stone Age of the pre historic era. It dates from 10,000 to 8000 years before present. The Mesolithic era is usually referred as the last period of the hunter gatherers in the Europe and western Asia. In this era small lithic tools and weapon were found rather than heavy crude variety .From some of the Mesolithic sites around the world use of the pottery and textile is also found. Such sites, mark to the transitional periods between the Mesolithic and Neolithic era; practices of agriculture has also been noticed. It is contemporary with the last period of the Pleistocene time.
The last glacial phase was ending. And the weather was getting dryer. For this reason in Mesolithic era societies were able to live now near the marshy land or river. That’s why rich food was available to them.


1. Stone Tools in the Mesolithic Era:
The stone tools became more refine in the Mesolithic era. They were now creating sophisticated tools by using microlithic technology. The tools of the Mesolithic era are more refined than the tools of the Paleolithic era. They are manufactured with the chipped stone tools called microlithis and retouched bladelets.
Tools made from this technology are recovered from the Mesolithic sites of the Ireland, parts of Portugal, Isle of Man and the Tyrrhenian Islands.

2. Beginning of construction:
Some evidences of constructional activity was observed from the different Mesolithic sites around the world. Those seem as are of religious significance. Stonehenge, Warren Field “lunar calendar” in Scotland are the structures that are dated earlier than 8th millennium BC.


3. Life Style in the Mesolithic era:
The Mesolithic societies adopted sedentism. Now they were living for a longer period at a single place. The reason was the change in climate, as it became more suitable for man to live near rivers and near the abundance of the vegetation. So the foraging life style was the new life style in the Mesolithic era. The acquisition of the food was depending on the easily available food like hunting, fishing and gathering of plant matter. This also resulted due to the amalgamation of the farming societies. A Mesolithic site Blatterhohle in Hagen provides evidence of the foraging life style of its inhibitors.

4. Art Activity in the Mesolithic era:
We find competitively less surviving examples of the art activities from the Mesolithic era than the upper Paleolithic and the following Neolithic era.
Talking about a few art works of this time, Elk’s Head of Huittinen is animal carving done in soapstone, found from Finland. A small statue “ Ain Sakhri lovers dated to 9000 BCE was found from modern Israel. It is carved in Calcite. Some 45 figure from a site Roca dels Moros were found dating from the Mesolithic era. This rock art situated in Spain. The figures are shown wearing clothes. The scene is showing dancing, fighting and hunting.

5. Ancient Mesolithic sites of Pakistan:
The deposits of Nala-Lai, Jamal Garhi , Khanpur Cave, Sanghao cave period 3, and dune sites situated in Bannu are among the important Mesolithic cultural sites of Pakistan.

Although in the Mesolithic era the author is coming right from the same culture and technology of the Paleolithic era, but the Mesolithic time became highly favorable for man to adopt living in a new environment. The author of the Mesolithic era became more efficient to get full benefit of a wider range of the food available to him like the animals and vegetables. So they had adopted living in the settlement in this period. Some of the Mesolithic settlements were villages of huts, while some were enveloped within stone walls.

iii.The Neolithic Era:
The last period of the Pre historic era or the Stone Age is the Neolithic era. It is dated from 8000-4000 years before present. It is the era when the first signs of farming appeared in Near East and later in other parts of the world. It is the era that marks to the permanent settlement pattern of the ancient man. The word Neolithic is derived from the two Greek words “neo” means new and “lithos” means stone. It is the last Stone Age before the beginning of the Bronze Age in the world. It is significant for its megalithic structural remains, advanced agricultural practices and the use of the polished stones. But there is no single date for the Neolithic time anywhere in the world. The date of its beginning is different even in the same region.

1. Earliest Neolithic sSettlements of the world:
In the eastern Mediterranean region of western Asia, is called as Levant in historical terms. It has an epipaleolithic archaeology which means the Old Stone Age. Natufian is a late epipaleolitic arcaheological culture of Levant dated from 15,000 to 11,500 years ago. The Natufian communities are considered as the ancestors of the first Neolithic settlements of this region, and probably the oldest in the world. The Natufians founded a permanent settlement in the area of the modern Jericho, which is the longest urban settlement on the earth in the history. They cultivated cereals like Rye. And the earliest signs of agriculture in the world come from Tell Abu Hureya. They used to hunt animals like Gazelles.

2. Pottery:
The Neolithic era is divided in two parts on the basis of pottery;
a. Ceramic Neolithic era
b. A-ceramic Neolithic era
The use of the pottery is another thing that is a bit confusing in case of the Neolithic sites. Because in some regions like in Japan pottery making begun before agriculture. In Near East the agriculture started first then the pottery making. Aceramic Neolithic is the time in which we do not find any pottery from the Neolithic era sites. While the ceramic Neolithic era is the era in which the pottery making was started.

4. Development in the life style of the Neolithic Societies:
Major advances in the field of agriculture were observed. They were now able to use many techniques for growing crops and cereals. Some more effective ways of in agriculture and the ways of irrigation were introduced, that resulted in growing more food. Hence it resulted to feed many people. That was helped to make a more happy economically contented society. That had enough food storage. This was finally converting to a small urban area into a large urban city or a village. At a Neolithic site in Jericho a settlement was found with a massive fortified wall with a ditch around it.
There developed some new social organizations in the societies in the Neolithic era. Due to large amount of grain, it was stored in the main granary of the village. In Jarf el Ahmar situated in south Syria, a large structure used as communal storage facility was found.

5. Aceramic Neolithic sites
Some famous aceramic Neolithic sites are located in Cyprus. One is Khirokitia and the other is Kalavasos-Tenta. Mehergarh in the Pakistan also has one period from the aceramic Neolithic era.

6. Ceramic Neolithic Era:
This period has further two phases;
a. Ceramic Neolithic A.
b. Ceramic Neolithic B
Halafian culture in Mesopotamia, turkey and Syria, and then the site of Ubaid in Southern Mesopotamia are the ceramic Neolithic sites.

Neolithic is a time phase that developed gradually, over a long time rather than suddenly. The small villages developed into large fortified towns in the Neolithic era. The population density increased due to large amount of availability of the food and also the stored food. It marks a historic revolution in agriculture.

The most ancient archaeological sites or the Pre historic sites of the world are mostly located in the Africa. Africa is a continent from where skeletal remains of different hominin species have been recovered in a great amount. Pre historic era is immensely important to study as it helps to understand different elements that were involved in the development of the human thinking, their evolution, their social interaction, the initial use of the languages, their beliefs and religion and even the customs. This is not an easy task to study the ancient archaeological remains from the Pre historic times, as there were no written records available from that time. But as Pre history comprised of almost ninety nine percent of the human past, so it not only highlights the evolutionary stages of man, but it also enlightens us from the nature and the diversity of the human races.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Here are some frequently asked questions with their answers that are related to the ancient archaeology.

1. What is the oldest archaeological site in the world?
There is a Theopetra cave situated in Greece .The researchers after a long period of research came to find that humans were living in Theopetra cave over 135,000 years ago. And hence it is declared as the oldest archaeological site in the world.

2. Who was the first archaeologist?
There was a king Nabonidus in the history of Babylonian civilization, who ruled in 6th CBC. He was the first to act like an archaeologist, as he excavated and restored his ancestral tombs and buildings situated in Sippar and Harran. That’s why he is known as the ‘Father’ of archaeology.

3. When was archaeology invented?
The archaeology started in about 15th and 16th century in Europe. People started taking interest in the collection of the renaissance period from the ancient Greece and Rome.

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