The following points highlight the three main prehistoric ages. The ages are: 1. Chronological Ages 2. Economic Ages 3. Chrono-Cultural Ages.
1. Chronological Ages:
Subsequently Garrod and Leakey in 1952 advocated the use of purely chronological nomenclature for designating prehistoric cultures. But it could not be used widely as Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods cannot be given any common and acceptable chronological definition at any world-wide level.
2. Economic Ages:
Finally in 1962 Thomson and Braidwood suggested a threefold nomenclature to describe the prehistoric cultures upto Neolithic period. They suggested that the early part of Palaeolithic culture be called food gathering period and the later part of Palaeolithic, when organized hunting and selective collecting was done, be called food collecting period. Finally, the period marking the beginning of agriculture was termed as food producing period.
Such terminologies on the basis of subsistence were only hypothetical as the use of such terms would obviously include many a present day population within the meaning of the prehistoric periods suggested. The terms used today for broad cultural designation are the same as suggested by Lartet but there are stricter definitional controls on them. On a worldwide basis the various terms used may have the following definitions.
3. Chrono-Cultural Ages:
The earliest of human cultures occur within the Pleistocene period. These essentially comprise stone tools prepared with low expenditure of energy in their manufacture. The subsistence economy at this stage by definition is hunting and gathering. This may further be sub-divided into four stages on the basis of cultural features.
The generally accepted features are:
(i) Lower Palaeolithic mainly contains core tools which are medium to massive in shape;
(ii) Middle Palaeolithic mainly contains an emphasis on flake tools with a preponderance of side scrapers;
(iii) Upper Palaeolithic mainly contains thick elongated tools with a good percentage of finished bone tools and a good degree of art execution,
(iv) Finally a terminal Pleistocene stage of culture is added with a blade tools which are not as big as the Upper Palaeolithic and also not as small as the Mesolithic. This stage has been named as the Epi-Palaeolithic.
The earliest Holocene culture which shows no indication of a change in economy from the Palaeolithic is broadly called Mesolithic. Usually there is a worldwide change towards microlithization observed during this period. It is also accepted as the period in which hafting of a series of tools on suitable organic handles has emerged as a new technological evolution. The tradition of composite tool manufacture has lead to a specialization in microlithic types in almost all over the Old World during this period.
This is the last of the stone ages in human history.
It is best defined as that period which precedes the discovery of metals and which shows the earliest evidence of any one or more of the following socio-economic traits:
(i) Evidence of food production precisely demonstrated with domesticated varieties of cereals. Indirect evidence of productive economy like saddle and querns or ceramics is not always known to be developed coevally with agriculture. Evidences from Kurdisthan and Laristhan demonstrate communities collecting wild barley in the same manner as any collecting economy would and using both ceramics as also saddle and querns.
(ii) Evidence of animal domestication as a live-stock economic means. Here again mere Palaeontological evidence of a species being domesticated has not always been correctly understood. Any species which leaves its natural habitat and starts living as a parasite along the periphery of human settlements for generations will start developing palaeontological changes caused by the adaptation in noncompetitive existence.
In this regard we may soon find the man-eating tigers of Lakhimpur-Kheri district (U.P.) developing attributes of domestication in their bones. What is more important is to find out whether man has bred a species in captivity for its own economic benefits. The only way this can be conclusively proved is to obtain an age-sex wise statistics of the slaughtered animals.
(iii) Communities which adopt agriculture, no matter in what rudimentary stage it is, will always tend to be less mobile. Subsequently sedentism is accepted as an indicator of agricultural knowledge. Since agricultural success requires larger band or group size, the settling of such a group invariably requires a social control to prevent conflict. In other words, Neolithic sites can also be identified on the basis of evidences of villages, temple structures or similar other indicators of the sacred and the secular trends.
In most of the Neolithic sites a new lithic technique is introduced. This is called the grinding and polishing technique.
This term is used to designate the cultural period which marked the emergence of metals like copper, tin, lead and gold and subsequently manufacturing and alloys. Since such an emergent technology can never replace the earlier techniques, stone tools continue to occur in this period. Hence the name Chalco-lithic.
There has been prolonged debate about whether the knowledge of metallurgy should be taken as the diagnostic trait of Chalcolithic cultures or the mere presence of metal (even if it is single piece) within a find should be enough to declare it so, since metallurgy is demonstrable only at places of natural occurrence of ore.
There is no archaeological way to prove if a given site represents a metal manufacturing community expanding its power over larger area and hence away from the actual manufacturing site or it represents a non-manufacturing community who obtained metals by way of trade only. The mere presence of metal, therefore, is taken to designate the find as Chalcolithic. It is needless to emphasize that the culture has to be proved to be pre-iron in technique.
Most of the terms given above are to facilitate understanding of accepted usages of cultural terms, but more often than not improvising these terms to suit a given situation is necessary in many cultural areas. Hence in India we have the term Neo-Chalcolithic or in Anatolia the Aceramic Neolithic. These new improvised terms are self-explanatory to anybody who is introduced to basic terms.