|The Stone Age|
|? before Homo (Pliocene)|
In archaeology, the Epipaleolithic or Epi-paleolithic is a term for a period intervening between the Upper Paleolithic and Neolithic in the Stone Age. This position is also occupied by the Mesolithic and the two are sometimes confused, or used as synonyms. More often they are used for different areas: Epipaleolithic for the Levant (Middle East near the Mediterranean coast), and sometimes parts of Europe other than North and Western Europe, where Mesolithic is more often used.
The Epipaleolithic has been defined as the "final Upper Palaeolithic industries occurring at the end of the final glaciation which appear to merge technologically into the Mesolithic" (not meaning that the Epipaleolithic is suceeded by the Mesolithic). The period is generally dated from c. 20,000 BP to 10,000 BP in the Levant, but later in Europe. If used as a synonym or equivalent for Mesolithic in Europe, it might end at about c. 5,000 BP or even later.
In the Levant the period may be subdivided into Early, Middle and Late Epipaleolithic, the last also being the Natufian. The preceding final Upper Paleolithic period is the Kebaran or "Upper Paleolithic Stage VI".
Epipalaeolithic hunter-gatherers, generally nomadic, made relatively advanced tools from small flint or obsidian blades, known as microliths, that were hafted in wooden implements. There are settlements with "flimsy structures", probably not permanently occupied except at some rich sites, but used and returned to seasonally.
In describing the period before the start of the Neolithic, Epipaleolithic is typically used for cultures in regions that were far from the glaciers of the Ice Age, so that the retreat of the glaciers made a less dramatic change to conditions. This was the case in the Levant. Conversely, the term Mesolithic is most likely to be used for Western Europe where climatic change and the extinction of the Megafauna had a great impact of the paleolithic populations at the end of the Ice Age, creating post-glacial cultures such as the Azilian, Sauveterrian, Tardenoisian, Maglemosian. In the past, French archaeologists had a general tendency to prefer the term "Epipaleolithic" to "Mesolithic", even for Western Europe.
"Epipaleolithic" stresses the continuity with the Upper Paleolithic. Alfonso Moure says in this respect:
In the language of Prehistorical Archaeology, the most extended trend is to use the term "Epipaleolithic" for the industrial complexes of the post-glacial hunter-gatherer groups. Inversely, those that are in transitional ways towards artificial production of food are inscribed in the "Mesolithic".
The Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) period follows the Epipaleolithic in the Levant and West Asia. The term Protoneolithic is now usually included in this, although it was previously sometimes counted as Epipaleolithic, and used for some late Natufian sites which showed some Neolithic features.
The Epipaleolithic is best understood when discussing the southern Levant, as the period is well documented due to good preservation at the sites, at least of animal remains. The most prevalent animal food sources in the Levant during this period were: deer, gazelle, and ibex of various species, and smaller animals including birds, lizard, fox, tortoise, and hare. Less common were aurochs, wild equids, wild boar, wild cattle, and hartebeest. At Neve David near Haifa, 15 mammal species were found, and two reptile species. Despite then being very close to the coast, the rather small number of seashells found (7 genera) and the piercing of many, suggests these may have been collected as ornaments rather than food.
However the period seems to be marked by an increase in plant foods and a decrease in meat eating. Over 40 plant species have been found by analysing one site in the Jordan Valley, and some grains were processed and baked. Stones with evidence of grinding have been found. These were most likely the main food sources throughout the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A, which introduced the widespread agricultural growing of crops.
The Scandinavian Ice Sheet itself started to retreat northward about 8300 bce, and the period between then and the origins of agriculture (at various times in the 7th to 4th millennia, depending on location) was one of great environmental and cultural change. It is termed the Mesolithic Period (Middle Stone Age) to emphasize its transitional importance, but the alternative term Epipaleolithic, used mostly in eastern Europe, stresses the continuity with processes begun earlier.