History is the study of the past using written records. Archaeology can also be used to study the past alongside history. Prehistoric archaeology is the study of the past before historical records began.
With regards to the Western Europe , prehistoric period generally ends with Roman colonization ; although other places notably Egypt and China finished it early followed by Australia. A transitional phase of protohistory or protohistoric archaeology may exist where written records provide a limited picture of the society in question.
The earliest record of the word prehistoric comes from the French archaeologist and scientist Paul Tournal who used it in 1831 to describe the finds he made in ancient caves he had investigated in the south of France. It did not enter English until 1851 when it was used by the Scots-Canadian archaeologist Sir Daniel Wilson. The three-age system, which just predates the coining of the term, was created in an attempt to make sense of the chronology of prehistoric Europe.
Without history to provide evidence for names, places and motivations, prehistoric archaeologists speak in terms of cultures which can only be given arbitrary modern names relating to the locations of known occupation sites or the artifacts used. It is naturally much easier to discuss societies rather than individuals as these past people are completely anonymous in the archaeological record.
Such a lack of concrete information means that prehistoric archaeology is a contentious field and the arguments that rage over it have done much to inform archaeological theory. The variety of theories regarding the purpose of objects or sites for example obliges archaeologists to adopt a critical approach to all evidence and to examine their own constructs of the past. Functionalism and Processualism are two schools of archaeological thought which have made a great contribution to prehistoric archaeology.
Prehistoric archaeology is one of those chewy definitions that not everybody agrees on. Mostly, as compared to historical archaeology, prehistoric archaeology refers to the archaeological remains of cultures that are primarily pre-urban and so, by definition don't have contemporary economic and social records that can be consulted. The time depth varies across the planet; and some archaeologists consider any culture untouched by European colonization as prehistoric--but in a good way.
Thus, although there might be disagreements about the latter part of human history, scholars would agree that prehistory includes the Stone Age (also known as the Paleolithic period), hunter-gatherers, and the first farming communities.
The Stone Age in human prehistory is the name given to the period between about 2.5 million and 20,000 years ago. It begins with the earliest human-like behaviors of crude stone tool manufacture, and ends with fully modern human hunting and gathering societies. The Paleolithic is the earliest archaeology; anything older is paleontology.
The Lower Paleolithic lasted between 2.5 million-200,000 years ago (or at least according to one permutation), and it was when the Hominin ancestors of human beings, including Australopithecus, Homo habilis, Homo erectus and Homo ergaster, roamed most of the earth and began making the first stone tools.
The Middle Paleolithic (ca 200,000 to 45,000 years ago) witnessed the evolution of Neanderthals and the first anatomically modern Homo sapiens sapiens, and some of the first glimmers of modern behaviors: sophisticated stone tools, caring for the elderly, hunting and gathering and some amount of symbolic or ritual behavior.
Upper Paleolithic :
By the Upper Paleolithic (45,000-10,000 years ago), the Neanderthals were in decline, and by 30,000 BP, they were gone. Modern humans spread all over the planet. The LSA is characterized by fully modern behaviors such as cave art, hunting, and making a wide range of tools in stone, bone, ivory and antler.
hunter-gatherers hunt game and collect plant foods (called foraging) rather than grow or tend crops. Hunter gatherers is the term used by anthropologists to describe a specific kind of lifestyle, that of all human beings until the invention of agriculture about 8000 years ago.
Recent studies have identified the importance of fish and maritime resources as a component of some coastal-based hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherers who rely on marine resources (such as the Mesolithic Erteblle-Ellerbeck culture are known as hunter-gatherer-fishers.
Tools of the Hunter-Gatherer
Hunter-gatherers are traditionally identified by their tools: bow and arrow, atlatl, harpoon and projectile points. Even after agriculture became a major source of food, hunting and gathering of wild plants remained a large component of people's diets. People who tend stands of natural plants are called horticulturalists; those who farm are agriculturalists. Up until about fifty years ago, there were a few modern hunter-gatherer societies in the world today, such as the Ainu; however, they have pretty much all been made part of the modern market economy by way of the intrusion of plastics or clothing or metal which can only be retrieved from outside sources.
Explore evolution and prehistory through photos, examples, and anthropologists' studies with Haviland et al's EVOLUTION AND PREHISTORY. The authors' goal in writing this book is to provide you with a vivid, accessible text that shows how the field is relevant to understanding the complex world around you.
Ranging from the earliest settlements through the emergence of Minoan civilization to the barbarian world at the end of the Roman Empire, this extraordinary volume provides a fascinating look at how successive cultures adapted to the landscape of Europe.
The cave's sediments record important cultural changes during the past few thousand years, including the first local experiments with agriculture and with sheep and goat domestication. Buried more than three meters deep in the sand, silt, and loam at Enkapune Ya Muto, however, lie the traces of an earlier and even more significant event in human prehistory.