Mesolithic Culture


The Mesolithic had a characteristic tool type – microlithic (Greek for small stone).By 12000 B.P. subarctic animals no longer lived in south western Europe. By 10,000 B.P. the glaciers had retreated to such a point that the range of hunting, gathering, and fishing populations in Europe extended to the formerly glaciated British Isles and Scandinavia. The reindeer herds had gradually retreated to the far north with some human groups following them. Europe around 10,000 B.P. was forest rather than treeless steppe and tundra. People still hunted but their prey were solitary forest animals such as roe deer, the wild ox, and the wild pig rather than herd species. This led to new hunting techniques of solitary stalking and trapping. The coasts and lakes of Europe and the Middle East were fished intensively. Some important Mesolithic sites are Scandinavian shell mounds. Microliths were used as fishhooks and in harpoons. Dugout canoes were used for fishing and travel. The process of preserving meat and fish by smoking and salting grew increasingly important. The bow and arrow became essential for hunting waterfowl in swamps and marshes. Dogs were domesticated by Mesolithic people. Wood working was important in the forested environment of northern and western Europe. Tools used by Mesolithic carpenters appear in the archaeological record: new kinds of axes, chisels and gouges. Big game hunting and Mesolithic hunting and fishing were important in Europe but other foraging strategies were used by pre historic humans in Africa and Asia. Generalized broad spectrum economies lasted about 5000 years longer in Europe than in the Middle East. Whereas Middle Easterners had begun to cultivate plants and breed animals by 10,000 BP, food production reached Western Europe around 5000 B.P. (3000 B.C.E) and northern Europe 500 years later. After 15000 B.P. throughout the inhabited world as the big game supply diminished, human attention shifted from large bodied, slow reproducers to species like fish, mollusks and rabbits that reproduce quickly. This happened with the European Mesolithic. It also happened at the Japanese site of Nittano located on an inlet near Tokyo.Nittano was occupied several times between 6000 and 5000 B.P by members of the Jomon culture for which 30,000 sites are known in Japan. These broad spectrum foragers hunted deer, pigs ,bears and antelope. They also ate fish,shell fish and plants.Jomon sites have yielded the remains of 300 species of shellfish and 180 species of edible plants.