This section is from the book "Principles Of Sociology With Educational Applications", by Frederick R. Clow. Also available from Amazon: Principles of sociology with educational applications.
. . . The sudden appearance in Europe at least 25,000 years ago of a human race with a high order of brain power and ability was not a leap forward but the effect of a long process of evolution elsewhere. When the prehistoric archaeology of eastern Europe and of Asia has been investigated we may obtain some light on this antecedent development. - Osborn, Men of the Old Stone Age, p. 501.
. . . There is no beginning; we know nothing about beginnings; there is always continuity with the past, and not with any one element only of the past, but with the whole interacting organism of man. - Cooley, Social Process, p. 46.
Back of historical time comes archaeological time. There are many durable, but non-verbal, sources of information regarding prehistoric man: tombs, human bones, and the bones of animals used as food, implements of copper or bone or stone, drawings and carvings on the walls of caves, and heaps of refuse left by the eaters of shell-fish. Since primitive man did not bother about house-cleaning or street-cleaning, his remains are found in strata which, of course, show in what order the various stages succeeded one another; the archaeologists may by digging through these strata work out the successive epochs of prehistoric culture in any given region.
At the dawn of civilization the most advanced peoples used copper. It exists in nature nearly chemically pure; it melts at a much lower temperature than iron, and can be easily hammered into any desired shape. Alloyed with tin - and it is sometimes so found in nature - it becomes hard enough to hold a cutting edge. This is why the history of the great peoples begins - in the archaeological terminology which Sir John Lubbock adopted half a century ago - with the Bronze Age. Of course, implements of other materials were used as well - leather, wood, bone, - but these would sooner decay and leave the copper or bronze implements for the archaeologists to find.
Back of the Bronze Age comes the Stone Age. Before man learned to use the metals, his durable tools were made of stone. The Stone Age is divided into several parts. First in order as we travel backwards comes the Neolithic, in which the stone implements were brought into their final shape by grinding. Back of that, and lasting much longer, comes the Palaeolithic, or Old Stone Age, in which the stones were shaped by chipping.
Objection has been made to regarding these archaeological stages as periods of time:
It is true that in Western Europe the Stone Age ended many hundreds of years ago; but in the Pacific Islands the Stone Age was in progress when white men first reached there; in North America the Stone Age continued among the Indians until the last century; in South America there are, no doubt, many tribes who still five in their Age of Stone. The term, then, should be used to designate a stage of culture, not a period of time. - Starr, Some First Steps in Human Progress, p. 96.
But we are naturally most interested in the foremost people, and the foremost culture soon diffuses itself over the habitable portion of a continent. Whenever, therefore, these archaeological terms are used to designate periods of time, without limitation of any kind, they refer to the periods in which the most advanced peoples were in the stages mentioned. They are also limited geographically, for the most part and in the present state of our knowledge, to southern and western Europe. The only considerable extension into Africa is the one up the Nile valley already mentioned. There is another in Asia to the Tigris-Euphrates valley. There are great possibilities farther to the east, in Trans-Caucasia, Thibet, the Tarim Basin, India, China, and the East Indies, but the research there has been limited. The great drift of population, in archaeological time as in historical, seems to have been westward, so that each successive stage of culture reached its highest development in western Europe.
Palaeolithic time is subdivided into the later or upper, of perhaps fifty thousand years, and the earlier or lower, of several times as long. The difference between these two stages of culture is in the way the chipping was done and the extent to which the implements were varied in shape to suit different purposes. The earliest division of the Stone Age is the Eolithic, longer probably than all the succeeding portions. The Eolithic implements were so crudely shaped as sometimes to leave doubt whether they are the work of man.
Another way of distinguishing these early stages of human development is by the kind of dwellings. There were the Lake-dwellers, who in Neolithic times built their houses on piles along the borders of the lakes in Switzerland and elsewhere. There were the later Cave-men and the early Cave-men, both in Palaeolithic time. Back of them were the Tree-dwellers in the Eolithic stage of culture.
Another series of names for the stages of culture is based on the names of the places in France and Spain and other regions where the typical remains were found. These local types for western Europe have now been so clearly characterized and related to one another that the series is comparable for continuity with, say, medieval history.