The Palaeolithic period is the Old Stone Age. In most countries it was replaced by the Neolithic or New Stone Age. In Britain, we had to be different. We had the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age in between. What’s the difference? Are archaeologists just splitting hairs? The words refer to the different lifestyles of the three eras. In the Old Stone Age, people were hunter-gatherers, i.e. they lived by hunting and eating fruits, nuts and berries they found growing naturally. They were nomadic, or semi-nomadic, following the herds in their seasonal migrations.
What happened after the Palaeolithic Age?
In the New Stone Age they became farmers, taking control of the production of their food, and became settled. In Britain, and a few other places, there was a period between the two, when people kept semi-domesticated animals, but still migrated with them, like the reindeer herders in Scandinavia today. The dates of these ages differed in different countries, because the changes in lifestyle didn’t happen at the same time everywhere. The British seem to have been among the last to catch on. Always keen to hang on to old traditions. There were probably objectors to cutting down forests and draining marshes. Destroying the natural habitats of mammoths and sabre-tooth tigers.
Why am I talking about the Palaeolithic Age?
Because that’s the setting for my next book. About 8,000 years BC, when people began to move back into Britain after thousands of years. Not the same people. During the Ice Age nothing had lived in most of Northern Europe, but the climate was changing, making the region inhabitable again.
Did I say palaeolithic detective? Really?
If Palaeolithic people were hunters and gatherers, there wouldn’t have been many detectives, surely? Not many criminals either.
Yes, but… selfishness and wickedness have always been around, and there must always have been some sort of rules to make society work effectively. And hunter-gatherers needed discipline to work effectively, otherwise it wouldn’t have been the sabre-tooth tiger that went extinct. Rule-breakers were a threat to the rest. Someone had to exercise authority.
Wasn’t life cheap in the Palaeolithic era?
Yes and no! Life was often short, for lots of reasons, and there were probably violent clashes between people-groups at times, but cooperation was essential to everyone’s survival. I suspect that a lot of conflicts were resolved peacefully, or by limited, ritualised violence. I think murder would have been punished. Presumably by death.
Weren’t palaeolithic people too superstitious for scientific detective work?
Up to a point, but people have always been rational, capable of understanding cause and effect. Some more than others. That’s why my hero is a bit different from the average person of his day, but only a bit. He was the one who made the lever deductions, but most of the others would get it, once he pointed something out. How he does it, you’ll have to read the book to find out, but he’ll need help. The help of a dog, a god and a flint.