The Palaeolithic Period
The Palaeolithic Period
Man gradually mastered the techniques of cutting stone, and then working bone and antler. 500,000 years ago, the first European, Tautavel Man, made the first tools: roughly hewn bifacial pebbles. Neanderthal Man had more sophisticated tools. He was the first to bury his dead, sometimes accompanied by offerings (flowers, tools, and quarters of meat).
Our direct ancestor, Cro-Magnon Man, appeared around 35,000 years ago. He lived by hunting, fishing and gathering wild plants for food. His favourite prey and plant foods varied according to the location, the period and the season. Although men sometimes did live deep inside caves, they preferred to stay at the entrance, under the overhanging roof. These semi-nomads mainly lived in encampments, with tents made of animal skins in which they stayed for several weeks, or even a whole season.
Stone tools became more diversified and finely crafted. Now, each tool corresponded to a specific action: chisels, various types of scrapers, spiked and pointed objects, etc. The ultimate was the blade known as the “laurel leaf”. Shells, animal teeth and pendants were used for jewellery by these people. They had a wide and varied range of reindeer antler tools. Women (?) invented the eyed needle to sew animal skins for clothes and tents. The men used atlatls (spear throwers) to extend their target range when hunting. Damaged assegais (hunting spears made of bone and attached to a wooden shaft) could be straightened by inserting them into a specially perforated stick. Harpoons with one or more sets of barbs were useful both for hunters and fishermen. Stone lamps were soaked in animal fat.
The appearance of art around 20,000 BC is one of the most important phenomena of this period. The most important and richest centres for this art were in France. The museum’s Palaeolithic collections of mobiliary art (art on small objects) are among the best in the world.
These men engraved, carved and modelled their weapons and tools as well as non-utilitarian objects. The representations are, in the main, of animals. All these huge wild animals, some of which have now disappeared from France, parade before our eyes: horse, bison, mammoth, reindeer, ibex, cave bears, lions, etc. Human figures feature in ways that make them difficult to identify: who and what were they?.
Today, archaeologists believe that Palaeolithic art was sacred, magic or religious in nature.