The Stone Age marks the first appearance of the beasts known as humans and gets its name because these creatures used stone tools. Scientists have divided the period into three distinct phases: Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic. The earliest phase is that of the Paleolithic and it overlaps with the geologic era of the Pleistocene Era, also known as the Glacial Era. It is further divided into Lower, Middle and Upper Paleolithic periods.
The Paleolithic phase of the Stone Age encompasses one of the longest periods of human history. Scientist estimate that it began nearly two million years ago and lasted to about 8000 B.C. The exact end date varies by up to 60,000 years. It was during this period that Homo sapiens evolved to the form that exists today. Humans throughout this period were food gatherers, as agriculture wouldn't develop until the Mesolithic period.
Lower Paleolithic Period
This earliest period was populated by the ancestors of the modern Homo sapiens. These forebears included Homo erectus and Australopithecus. Both created stone tools which they used for hunting and gathering food. Scientists have found tools dating back to this period in Tanzania, China and sites in Europe, Africa and Asia. This period began two million years ago and ended approximately 100,000 years ago.
Middle Paleolithic Period
One of the major advances of early man in this period is the discovery of fire and how to use it. Neanderthals hunted prehistoric animals and, according to evidence found in caves, likely used fire for cooking and protection. There is also evidence that they developed early sewing skills to fashion clothing out of animal furs and skins. Most archaeological findings from this period have been unearthed in Europe, North Africa, Palestine and Siberia. This period began around 100,000 years ago and lasted until about 40,000 years ago.
Upper Paleolithic Period
It was during this late stage of the Paleolithic period that man began to have an interest in artwork and in adorning the body. Cave paintings date to this period as do the archaeological findings of bones and teeth made into necklaces and belts. Scientists have also found evidence near burial grounds that may indicate an early belief in religion and the afterlife. The Neanderthal faded away during this period to be replaced by Homo sapiens such as the Cro-Magnon and Grimaldi. During this period, people began to form communities which built houses, hunted together and shared belief systems. The stone tools become more advanced and were used for sculpture as well as hunting and warfare.