What was the difference between paleolithic (old stone) tools and neolithic (new stone) tools?
…paleolithic used mainly knapped (chipped) stone tools, as well as bone and wooden tools, the Mesolithic showed an increasing number of microliths (tools made from tiny bits of stone) for things like arrow heads and sickle blades. The neolithic saw the beginning of farming tools to fit the new agricultural lifestyle and in the west the introduction of polished stone axes and pottery…
Why did they start producing polished stone tools? Wouldn’t it have taken one heck of a lot longer to make smooth, polished tools like these?
It’s occurred to me that there might be a very simple explanation for the difference between paleolithic and neolithic tools. And it is that neolithic tools were made from molten rock. They were cast stone tools, made by pouring molten rock into moulds or forms, in exactly the same way we still make cast iron products. And that’s why the tools have smooth and even polished surfaces. Far from taking ages to make, they were made in a matter of minutes or hours.
So how did they melt rock? In furnaces or kilns, using charcoal and bellows?
They probably didn’t have to do that either. They used naturally-occurring molten rock. of the kind that flows in streams from volcanoes in places like Hawaii.
All they had to do was figure out how to get the molten rock to flow into the moulds or formwork in which the rock was to be shaped. Maybe they did that by diverting the molten streams. Or maybe they dropped buckets into the streams, and hauled out molten rock like water.
It was a stone age industrial revolution which began about 12,000 years ago, which seems to be when smooth, polished neolithic tools started appearing in large numbers, long before copper or bronze or iron tools. And the reason these new cast stone tools appeared first is because molten rock occurs naturally, whereas molten copper or bronze or iron does not.
It would have been an industrial revolution because the new technology allowed them to make all sorts of stone tools very quickly, cheaply, and in large numbers. Neolithic axes probably had very sharp blades, which cut through timber far more quickly than their paleolithic knapped stone predecessors. Life got a lot easier. And the inexpensive and highly effective new stone tools were traded all over the world, because everyone wanted them.
And after they’d started off making simple stone tools, they went on to make ever bigger and better ones. Here’s a neolithic stone sickle from China:
It looks like it could have been made of iron. But apparently it’s a stone sickle. There are also stone vases found in Cairo museums. In the accompanying text it is said:
At least one piece is so flawlessly turned that the entire bowl (about 9″ in diameter, fully hollowed out including an undercut of the 3in opening in the top) balances perfectly (the top rests horizontally when the bowl is placed on a glass shelf) on a round tipped bottom no bigger than the size and shape of the tip of a hen’s egg !
I very much doubt that the porphyry or diorite was turned on a lathe. Only the (wooden?) mould in which the piece was cast would have been made using a lathe.
The same applies to Inca constructions in Peru. I suggest that they also were constructed using molten rock. They probably made these walls in much the same way that concrete walls are made today, by pouring the liquid rock into formwork surrounding them, where they took the shape of adjacent rocks which had already cooled.
So why did they stop making all these cast stone axes and sickles and vases and walls and statues?
Most likely because the volcanoes which had been producing millions of tons of molten rock ceased erupting. They ceased producing streams of molten rock. And with that the entire technology was lost. Within a century or two, nobody could remember how to make these objects.
It won’t have been the first time that technological skills have been lost. The Romans invented concrete, and used it in lots of buildings, but the secret of how to make concrete was lost for many years, until rediscovered just a century or two ago.
In summary, my suggestion: The neolithic era which began 12,000 years ago was the result of the eruption of one or more volcanoes at the end of the last Ice Age, producing large amounts of molten rock, which humans developed methods of shaping in all sorts of ways. This neolithic technology continued to be developed and improved until the volcanoes stopped erupting, at which point the required skills were lost. But they could be recovered, maybe in places like Hawaii, if some way can be found to get molten lava to flow into moulds once again.
A further suggestion: The neolithic period was fully part of the Stone Age. It just saw the production of new kinds of stone tools and artefacts. The discovery of copper and bronze and iron (and everything else) was a subsequent development. So the neolithic civilisation was nowhere near as advanced as today (with aircraft and spaceships).