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Reconstruction of a "temporary" house in Ireland; waterside sites offered good food resources.

In Old World archaeology, Mesolithic (Greek?, mesos "middle"; , lithos "stone") is the period between the Upper Paleolithic and the Neolithic. The term Epipaleolithic is often used synonymously, especially for outside northern Europe, and for the corresponding period in the Levant and Caucasus. The Mesolithic has different time spans in different parts of Eurasia. It refers to the final period of hunter-gatherer cultures in Europe and West Asia, between the end of the Last Glacial Maximum and the Neolithic Revolution. In Europe it spans roughly 15,000 to 5,000 BP, in Southwest Asia (the Epipalaeolithic Near East) roughly 20,000 to 8,000 BP. The term is less used of areas further east, and not all beyond Eurasia and North Africa.

The type of culture associated with the Mesolithic varies between areas, but it is associated with a decline in the group hunting of large animals in favour of a broader hunter-gatherer way of life, and the development of more sophisticated and typically smaller lithic tools and weapons than the heavy chipped equivalents typical of the Paleolithic. Depending on the region, some use of pottery and textiles may be found in sites allocated to the Mesolithic, but generally indications of agriculture are taken as marking transition into the Neolithic. The more permanent settlements tend to be close to the sea or inland waters offering a good supply of food. Mesolithic societies are not seen as very complex, and burials are fairly simple; grandiose burial mounds are another mark of the Neolithic.


Mesolithic microliths

The terms "Paleolithic" and "Neolithic" were introduced by John Lubbock in his work Pre-historic Times in 1865. The additional "Mesolithic" category was added as an intermediate category by Hodder Westropp in 1866. Westropp's suggestion was immediately controversial. A British school led by John Evans denied any need for an intermediate: the ages blended together like the colors of a rainbow, he said. A European school led by Louis Laurent Gabriel de Mortillet asserted that there was a gap between the earlier and later.

Edouard Piette claimed to have filled the gap with his naming of the Azilian Culture. Knut Stjerna offered an alternative in the "Epipaleolithic", suggesting a final phase of the Paleolithic rather than an intermediate age in its own right inserted the Paleolithic and Neolithic.

By the time of Vere Gordon Childe's work, The Dawn of Europe (1947), which affirms the Mesolithic, sufficient data had been collected to determine that a transitional period between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic was indeed a useful concept.[1] However, the terms "Mesolithic" and "Epipalaeolitic" remain in competition, with varying conventions of usage. In the archaeology of Northern Europe, for example for archaeological sites in Great Britain, Germany, Scandinavia, Ukraine, and Russia, the term "Mesolithic" is almost always used. In the archaeology of other areas, the term "Epipaleolithic" may be preferred by most authors, or there may be divergences between authors over which term to use or what meaning to assign to each. In the New World, neither term is used (except provisionally in the Arctic).

"Epipaleolithic" is sometimes also used alongside "Mesolithic" for the final end of the Upper Paleolithic immediately followed by the Mesolithic.[2] As "Mesolithic" suggests an intermediate period, followed by the Neolithic, some authors prefer the term "Epipaleolithic" for hunter-gatherer cultures who are not succeeded by agricultural traditions, reserving "Mesolithic" for cultures who are clearly succeeded by the Neolithic Revolution, such as the Natufian culture. Other authors use "Mesolithic" as a generic term for post-LGM hunter-gatherer cultures, whether they are transitional towards agriculture or not. In addition, terminology appears to differ between archaeological sub-disciplines, with "Mesolithic" being widely used in European archaeology, while "Epipalaeolithic" is more common in Near Eastern archaeology.


Two skeletons of women aged between 25 and 35 years, dated between 6740 and 5680 BP, both of whom died a violent death. Found at Téviec, France in 1938.

The Mesolithic began with the Holocene warm period around 11,660 BP and ended with the introduction of farming, the date of which varied in each geographical region. Regions that experienced greater environmental effects as the last glacial period ended have a much more apparent Mesolithic era, lasting millennia.[3] In northern Europe, for example, societies were able to live well on rich food supplies from the marshlands created by the warmer climate. Such conditions produced distinctive human behaviors that are preserved in the material record, such as the Maglemosian and Azilian cultures. Such conditions also delayed the coming of the Neolithic until as late as 5000-4000 BCE in northern Europe.

Animated image showing the sequence of engravings on a pendant excavated from the Mesolithic archaeological site of Starr Carr in 2015 [4]

The type of stone toolkit remains one of the most diagnostic features: the Mesolithic used a microlithic technology - composite devices manufactured with Mode V chipped stone tools (microliths), while the Paleolithic had utilized Modes I-IV. In some areas, however, such as Ireland, parts of Portugal, the Isle of Man and the Tyrrhenian Islands, a macrolithic technology was used in the Mesolithic.[5] In the Neolithic, the microlithic technology was replaced by a macrolithic technology, with an increased use of polished stone tools such as stone axes.

There is some evidence for the beginning of construction at sites with a ritual or astronomical significance, including Stonehenge, with a short row of large post holes aligned east-west, and a possible "lunar calendar" at Warren Field in Scotland, with pits of post holes of varying sizes, thought to reflect the lunar phases. Both are dated to around 8,000 BCE.[6]

As the "Neolithic package" (including farming, herding, polished stone axes, timber longhouses and pottery) spread into Europe, the Mesolithic way of life was marginalized and eventually disappeared. Mesolithic adaptations such as sedentism, population size and use of plant foods are cited as evidence of the transition to agriculture.[7] In one sample from the Blätterhöhle in Hagen, it seems that the descendants of Mesolithic people maintained a foraging lifestyle for more than 2000 years after the arrival of farming societies in the area;[8] such societies may be called "Subneolithic". In north-Eastern Europe, the hunting and fishing lifestyle continued into the Medieval period in regions less suited to agriculture, and in Scandinavia no Mesolithic period may be accepted, with the locally preferred "Older Stone Age" moving into the "Younger Stone Age".[9]


Roca dels Moros, Spain, The Dance of Cogul, tracing by Henri Breuil

Compared to the preceding Upper Paleolithic and the following Neolithic, there is rather less surviving art from the Mesolithic. The Rock art of the Iberian Mediterranean Basin, which probably spreads across from the Upper Paleolithic, is a widespread phenomenon, much less well known than the cave-paintings of the Upper Paleolithic, with which it makes an interesting contrast. The sites are now mostly cliff faces in the open air, and the subjects are now mostly human rather than animal, with large groups of small figures; there are 45 figures at Roca dels Moros. Clothing is shown, and scenes of dancing, fighting, hunting and food-gathering. The figures are much smaller than the animals of Paleolithic art, and depicted much more schematically, though often in energetic poses.[10] A few small engraved pendants with suspension holes and simple engraved designs are known, some from northern Europe in amber, and one from Starr Carr in Britain in shale.[11] The Elk's Head of Huittinen is a rare Mesolithic animal carving in soapstone from Finland.

The rock art in the Urals appears to show similar changes after the Paleolithic, and the wooden Shigir Idol is a rare survival of what may well have been a very common material for sculpture. It is a plank of larch carved with geometric motifs, but topped with a human head. Now in fragments, it would apparently have been over 5 metres tall when made.[12] The Ain Sakhri Lovers from modern Israel, are a Natufian carving in calcite.

Ceramic Mesolithic

In North-Eastern Europe, Siberia, and certain southern European and North African sites, a "ceramic Mesolithic" can be distinguished between 7000-3850 BCE. Russian archaeologists prefer to describe such pottery-making cultures as Neolithic, even though farming is absent. This pottery-making Mesolithic culture can be found peripheral to the sedentary Neolithic cultures. It created a distinctive type of pottery, with point or knob base and flared rims, manufactured by methods not used by the Neolithic farmers. Though each area of Mesolithic ceramic developed an individual style, common features suggest a single point of origin.[13][] The earliest manifestation of this type of pottery may be in the region around Lake Baikal in Siberia. It appears in the Elshan or Yelshanka or Samara culture on the Volga in Russia c. 7000 BCE,[14][15] and from there spread via the Dnieper-Donets culture to the Narva culture of the Eastern Baltic. Spreading westward along the coastline it is found in the Ertebølle culture of Denmark and Ellerbek of Northern Germany, and the related Swifterbant culture of the Low Countries.[16]



Geographical range Periodization Culture Temporal range Notable sites
Southeastern Europe (Greece, Aegean) Balkan Mesolithic 15,000-7,000 BP Franchthi, Theopetra[18]
Southeastern Europe (Romania/Serbia) Balkan Mesolithic Iron Gates culture 13,000-5,000 BP Lepenski Vir[19]
Western Europe Early Mesolithic Azilian 14,000-10,000 BP
Northern Europe (Norway) Fosna-Hensbacka culture 12,000-10,500 BP
Northern Europe (Norway) Early Mesolithic Komsa culture 12,000-10,000 BP
Central Asia (Middle Urals) 12,000-5,000 BP Shigir Idol, Vtoraya Beregovaya[20]
Northeastern Europe (Baltics and Russia) Middle Mesolithic Kunda culture 10,500-7,000 BP Lammasmägi, Pulli settlement
Northern Europe Maglemosian culture 11,000-8,000 BP
Western and Central Europe Sauveterrian culture 10,500-8,500 BP
Western Europe (Great Britain) British Mesolithic 11,000-5,500 BP Star Carr, Howick house, Gough's Cave, Cramond, Aveline's Hole
Western Europe (Ireland) Irish Mesolithic 11,000-5,500 BP Mount Sandel
Western Europe (Belgium and France) Tardenoisian culture 10,000-5,000 BP
Eastern Europe (Belarus, Lithuania and Poland) Late Mesolithic Neman culture 9,000-5,000 BP
Northern Europe (Scandinavia) Nøstvet and Lihult cultures 8,200-5,200 BP
Northern Europe (Scandinavia) Kongemose culture 8,000-7,200 BP
Northern Europe (Scandinavia) Late Mesolithic Ertebølle 7,300- 5,900 BP
Western Europe (Netherlands) Late Mesolithic Swifterbant 7,300-5,400 BP

Near East

The first period, known as Mesolithic 1 (Kebarian culture; from 20,000-18,000 BCE until 12,150 BCE), followed the Aurignacian or Levantine Upper Paleolithic periods throughout the Levant. By the end of the Aurignacian, gradual changes took place in stone industries. Small stone tools called microliths and retouched bladelets can be found for the first time. The microliths of this culture period differ greatly from the Aurignacian artifacts. This period is more properly called Epipaleolithic.

By 20,000-18,000 BCE the climate and environment had changed, starting a period of transition. The Levant became more arid and the forest vegetation retreated, to be replaced by steppe. The cool and dry period ended at the beginning of Mesolithic 1. The hunter-gatherers of the Aurignacian would have had to modify their way of living and their pattern of settlement to adapt to the changing conditions. The crystallization of these new patterns resulted in Mesolithic 1. New types of settlements and new stone industries developed.

The inhabitants of a small Mesolithic 1 site in the Levant left little more than their chipped stone tools behind. The industry was of small tools made of bladelets struck off single-platform cores. Besides bladelets, burins and end-scrapers were found. A few bone tools and some ground stone have also been found. These so-called Mesolithic sites of Asia are far less numerous than those of the Neolithic and the archeological remains are very poor. The second period, Mesolithic 2, is also called the Natufian culture. The change from Mesolithic 1 to Natufian culture can be dated more closely. The latest date from a Mesolithic 1 site in the Levant is 12,150 BCE. The earliest date from a Natufian site is 11,140 BCE.[] This period is characterized by the early rise of agriculture that would later emerge into the Neolithic period. Radiocarbon dating places the Natufian culture between 12,500 and 9500 BCE, just before the end of the Pleistocene.[21] This period is characterised by the beginning of agriculture.[22] The earliest known battle occurred during the Mesolithic period at a site in Sudan known as Cemetery 117.

Natufian culture is commonly split into two subperiods: Early Natufian (12,500-10,800 BCE) (Christopher Delage gives c. 13,000-11,500 BP uncalibrated, equivalent to c. 13,700-11,500 BCE)[23] and Late Natufian (10,800-9500 BCE). The Late Natufian most likely occurred in tandem with the Younger Dryas. The following period is often called the Pre-Pottery Neolithic; in the Levant, unlike elsewhere, "Mesolithic pottery" is not talked of.

Geographical range Periodization Culture Temporal range Notable sites
North Africa (Morocco) Late Upper Paleolithic to Early Mesolithic Iberomaurusian culture 24,000-10,000 BP
Southwest Asia (Caucasus, Iran) Late Upper Paleolithic to Mesolithic Zarzian culture 20,000-10,000 BP
Levant Early Epipaleolithic Kebaran 19,000-14,500 BP
Caucasus Epipaleolithic Trialetian 16,000-8,000 BP
Levant Late Epipaleolithic Natufian culture 14,500-11,500 BP
Levant (Israel) Late Epipaleolithic Harifian culture (Late Natufian) 10,800-10,000 BP
North Africa Capsian culture 12,000-8,000 BP

"Mesolithic" outside of Western Eurasia

While Paleolithic and Neolithic have been found useful terms and concepts in the archaeology of China, and can be mostly regarded as happily naturalized, Mesolithic was introduced later, mostly after 1945, and does not appear to be a necessary or useful term in the context of China. Chinese sites that have been regarded as Mesolithic are better considered as "Early Neolithic".[24]

In the archaeology of India, the Mesolithic, dated roughly between 12,000 and 8,000 BP, remains a concept in use.[25]

In the archaeology of the Americas, an Archaic or Meso-Indian period, following the Lithic stage, somewhat equates to the Mesolithic.

Geographical range Periodization Culture Temporal range Notable sites
North Africa (Morocco) Late Upper Paleolithic to Early Mesolithic Iberomaurusian culture 24,000-10,000 BP
North Africa Capsian culture 12,000-8,000 BP
Central Asia (Middle Urals) 12,000-5,000 BP Shigir Idol, Vtoraya Beregovaya[26]
East Asia (Japan) J?mon cultures 16,000-1,350 BP
East Asia (Korea) Jeulmun pottery period 10,000-3,500 BP
South Asia (India) South Asian Stone Age 12,000-4000 BP[27] Bhimbetka rock shelters

See also


  1. ^ Linder, F. (1997). Social differentiering i mesolitiska jägar-samlarsamhällen. Uppsala.: Institutionen för arkeologi och antik historia, Uppsala universitet. 
  2. ^ "final Upper Paleolithic industries occurring at the end of the final glaciation which appear to merge technologically into the Mesolithic" Bahn, Paul, ed. (2002). The Penguin archaeology guide. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-051448-1. 
  3. ^ Conneller, Chantal; Bayliss, Alex; Milner, Nicky; Taylor, Barry (2016). "The Resettlement of the British Landscape: Towards a chronology of Early Mesolithic lithic assemblage types". Internet Archaeology. 42. doi:10.11141/ia.42.12. 
  4. ^ Morgan, C.; Scholma-Mason, N. (2017). "Animated GIFs as Expressive Visual Narratives and Expository Devices in Archaeology". Internet Archaeology (44). doi:10.11141/ia.44.11. 
  5. ^ Driscoll, Killian (2006). The early prehistory in the west of Ireland: Investigations into the social archaeology of the Mesolithic, west of the Shannon, Ireland. 
  6. ^ V. Gaffney; et al. "Time and a Place: A luni-solar 'time-reckoner' from 8th millennium BC Scotland". Internet Archaeology. Retrieved 2013. 
  7. ^ Price, Douglas, ed. (2000). Europe's first farmers. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. ISBN 0521665728. 
  8. ^ Bollongino, R.; Nehlich, O.; Richards, M. P.; Orschiedt, J.; Thomas, M. G.; Sell, C.; Fajkosova, Z.; Powell, A.; Burger, J. (2013). "2000 Years of Parallel Societies in Stone Age Central Europe" (PDF). Science. 342 (6157): 479-481. doi:10.1126/science.1245049. 
  9. ^ Bailey, Geoff and Spikins, Penny, Mesolithic Europe, p. 4, 2008, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521855039, 9780521855037
  10. ^ Sandars, Nancy K., Prehistoric Art in Europe, Penguin (Pelican, now Yale, History of Art), pp. 87-96, 1968 (nb 1st edn.)
  11. ^ "11,000 year old pendant is earliest known Mesolithic art in Britain", University of York
  12. ^ Geggel, Laura (April 25, 2018). "This Eerie, Human-Like Figure Is Twice As Old As Egypt's Pyramids". Live Science. Retrieved 2018. 
  13. ^ De Roevers, p.162-163
  14. ^ Anthony, D.W. (2007). "Pontic-Caspian Mesolithic and Early Neolithic societies at the time of the Black Sea Flood: a small audience and small effects". In Yanko-Hombach, V.; Gilbert, A.A.; Panin, N.; Dolukhanov, P. M. The Black Sea Flood Question: changes in coastline, climate and human settlement. pp. 245-370. ISBN 978-9402404654. 
  15. ^ Anthony, David W. (2010). The horse, the wheel, and language : how Bronze-Age riders from the Eurasian steppes shaped the modern world. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691148182. 
  16. ^ Gronenborn, Detlef (2007). "Beyond the models: Neolithisation in Central Europe". Proceedings of the British Academy. 144: 73-98. 
  17. ^ Detlef Gronenborn, Beyond the models: Neolithisation in Central Europe, Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. 144 (2007), pp. 73-98 (87).
  18. ^ Sarah Gibbens, Face of 9,000-Year-Old Teenager Reconstructed, National Geographic, 19 January 2018.
  19. ^ Dragoslav Srejovic Europe's First Monumental Sculpture: New Discoveries at Lepenski Vir. (1972) ISBN 0-500-39009-6
  20. ^ Central Asia does not enter the Neolithic, but transitions from the Mesolithic to the Chalcolithic in the fourth millennium BC ( The early onset of the Mesolithic in Central Asia and its importance for later European mesolithic cultures was understood only after 2015, with the radiocarbon dating of the Shigor idol to 11,500 years old. N.E. Zaretskaya et al., "Radiocarbon chronology of the Shigir and Gorbunovo archaeological bog sites, Middle Urals, Russia", Proceedings of the 6th International Radiocarbon and Archaeology Symposium, (E Boaretto and N R Rebollo Franco eds.), RADIOCARBON Vol 54, Nr 3-4, 2012, 783-794.
  21. ^ Munro, Natalie D. (2003). "Small game, the Younger Dryas, and the transition to agriculture in the southern Levant" (PDF). Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Urgeschichte. 12: 47-71. 
  22. ^ Bar-Yosef, Ofer (1998). "The Natufian Culture in the Levant, Threshold to the Origins of Agriculture" (PDF). Evolutionary Anthropology. 6 (5): 159-177. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1520-6505(1998)6:5<159::AID-EVAN4>3.0.CO;2-7. 
  23. ^ Delage, Christophe, ed. (2004). The last hunter-gatherers in the Near East. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports 1320. ISBN 978-1-84171-389-2. 
  24. ^ Zhang, Chi, The Mesolithic and the Neolithic in China (PDF), 1999, Documenta Praehistorica. Poro?ilo o raziskovanju paleolitika, neolotika in eneolitika v Sloveniji. Neolitske ?tudije = Neolithic studies, [Zv.] 26 (1999), pp. 1-13 dLib
  25. ^ Sailendra Nath Sen, Ancient Indian History and Civilization, p. 23, 1999, New Age International, ISBN 8122411983, 9788122411980
  26. ^ Central Asia does not enter the Neolithic, but transitions from the Mesolithic to the Chalcolithic in the fourth millennium BC ( The early onset of the Mesolithic in Central Asia and its importance for later European mesolithic cultures was understood only after 2015, with the radiocarbon dating of the Shigor idol to 11,500 years old. N.E. Zaretskaya et al., "Radiocarbon chronology of the Shigir and Gorbunovo archaeological bog sites, Middle Urals, Russia", Proceedings of the 6th International Radiocarbon and Archaeology Symposium, (E Boaretto and N R Rebollo Franco eds.), RADIOCARBON Vol 54, Nr 3-4, 2012, 783-794.
  27. ^ The term "Mesolithic" is not a useful term for the periodization of the South Asian Stone Age, as certain tribes in the interior of the Indian subcontinent retained a mesolithic culture into the modern period, and there is no consistent usage of the term . The range 12,000-4000 BP is based on the combination of the ranges given by Agrawal et al. (1978) and by Sen (1999), and overlaps with the early Neolithic at Mehrgarh. D. P. Agrawal et al., "Chronology of Indian prehistory from the Mesolithic period to the Iron Age", Journal of Human Evolution Volume 7, Issue 1, January 1978, 37-44: "A total time bracket of c. 6000-2000 B.C. will cover the dated Mesolithic sites, e.g. Langhnaj, Bagor, Bhimbetka, Adamgarh, Lekhahia, etc." (p. 38) S. N. Sen, Ancient Indian History and Civilization, 1999: "The Mesolithic period roughly ranges between 10,000 and 6,000 B.C." (p. 23).

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