Last week we looked at the process of transition from the Middle Palaeolithic to the Upper Palaeolithic. This week we are starting to look at what life was like in the now human-only world of the Near East in the Upper Palaeolithic proper.
We know from last week that the move into the Upper Palaeolithic can be seen through changes to the way that we made stone tools, moving from making flakes and turning these flakes into tools to moving from making blades and making these blades into tools. Part of this change in the way that we made stone tools involved not only a change in the technology of tool manufacture, with the far greater use of soft-hammer (hammers made of bone or deer antler) percussion rather than just hard-hammer (hammerstone hammers) percussion, which allowed us to make more detailed, tiny modifications to our stone tools.
Some of these modifications seem to have been related to changes in the technology of hunting weapons which were developed in the Upper Palaeolithic. One of these which we are pretty certain of as an Upper Palaeolithic invention is the spear-thrower, or atlatl. An atlatl is not necessarily a flashy tool development to look at – as it can be something as basic as a slightly-modified forked stick. However, in terms of its impact the atlatl was a big deal for Upper Palaeolithic hunting. This invention created a synthetic extension of the human arm, meaning that it allowed a spear to be thrown twice as far and with twice as much force, without us humans having to become any stronger to achieve this.
Other modifications, such as the use of microlithics (tiny stone tools), suggest that an invention which we had previously thought came about just after the Upper Palaeolithic might have actually been invented here in the Upper Palaeolithic – the bow and arrow. This would not only have meant that the Upper Palaeolithic was a time when two new hunting weapons were invented, but it also would have meant not only a complete revolution in the way that we thought about weapons technology, but also the ability to carry a lot more weapons (many arrows as opposed to one spear) when we went out hunting.
Upper Palaeolithic inventiveness was not restricted just to stone tools, though. We also saw a big improvement in the way that we made bone tools, and in the number of bone tools that we find on sites. A lot of of these are different types of bone points, which would have had a variety of different uses. Two of these types of bone points are particularly interesting, as they suggest another invention of the Upper Palaeolithic.
From the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic we find bone awls. An awl is a long and thin bone point, with a thicker part at the end to act as a handle. These are used to poke holes, such as to poke a hole through a piece of leather and then to push a length of leather strip, animal sinew or plant-fibre string through the hole to sew two pieces of leather together. Slightly later than the awl we find another bone tool which further improved our sewing capacity – bone sewing needles. These are closer in size to a large darning needle than a modern metal sewing needle, but they have the same shape and the same little eye drilled out of the base to hold and carry thread. These awls and needles would have allowed us humans not only to wear clothing, but to make a range of tailored clothing. So in the Upper Palaeolithic we can thing of us humans as not only inventing sewing tools, but as also inventing fashion and power-dressing.
The Upper Palaeolithic of the Near East was not a single identical thing across all of the Near East. We see a lot of little differences in tools and the way that they were made between regions, and even some pretty major differences in the same region – such as in the Levant when we have the early Ahmarian replaced in some areas by the incoming Levantine Aurignacian. These inventions,though, and the major changes that they indicate in how we lived, how we hunted and what we wore, were common across all of these parts of the Near East. Some of these inventions – such as tailored clothing – would even have helped us to be able to live in a wider range of areas of the Near East, especially in the mountains and other colder areas.
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