Dictionary of Archaeological Periods

Dictionary of Archaeological Periods

When it comes to prehistoric times, the Three-Age System is mostly used. A methodological concept, the Three-Age System, was developed in the 19th century by Christian Jürgensen Thomsen, a Danish antiquarian. According to the Three-Age System, prehistoric periods are divided into three as Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. However, in the light of new findings, the system has been revised and the current terms have emerged: Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age. However, the most common mistake is to assume that archaeological periods everywhere start and end at the same time. It is usually the industrial and socioeconomic developments in the societies that determine the start and end dates of the periods. Therefore, archaeological periods, especially post-Paleolithic periods, started and ended at different times in different regions. For this reason, the time periods corresponding to the periods are not given under a single heading, but are evaluated according to different geographical regions within the paragraph.


The archaeological period that started about 3.3 million years ago and ended 12 thousand years ago is called the Paleolithic. Covering more than ‰3 of human history, the Paleolithic almost overlaps with the Pleistocene, a geological epoch. It is the emergence of the first stone tools that started the Paleolithic period. Easily workable stones, bones, horns, mollusc shells and tree branches are the most commonly used materials for making Paleolithic tools. During the Paleolithic, hunter-gatherer culture and nomadism were dominant.

It is divided into three as Lower, Middle and Upper:

Lower Paleolithic

It is the first and longest sub-period of the Paleolithic. It started 3.3 million years ago and ended about 300 thousand years ago. The genus Homo emerged during this period. The earliest evidence that hominids could control fire dates to the middle of the Lower Paleolithic. According to some anthropologists, carnivorous Homo species transitioned from a scavenger to a hunter-gatherer life in the early Lower Paleolithic.

Middle Paleolithic

It is the second sub-period of the Paleolithic. It started 300 thousand years ago and ended about 50 thousand years ago. Modern humans began to migrate from Africa from the middle of the Middle Paleolithic. It is thought that competences such as using symbols, abstract thinking, artistic expression and the first religious rituals emerged in this period, but a consensus has not been reached yet on this issue. The use of fire became widespread in the Middle Paleolithic. Hunter-gathering continued, but seafood was also included in the daily diet.

Upper Paleolithic

It is the last sub-period of the Paleolithic. It started 50,000 years ago and ended about 12 thousand years ago with the end of the Last Ice Age. The spread of modern humans to Southern and Central Europe took place during this period. Neanderthals disappeared in the first quarter of the Upper Paleolithic. Due to the Last Ice Age, sea level is thought to have been at least 100 meters lower than today. This means that at the end of the Upper Paleolithic, coastal settlements are now submerged.


It is a transitional period between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic. The pre-agricultural period between the end of the Last Glacial Maximum and the Neolithic Revolution is called the Mesolithic. It is considered to have started around 14,000 BC in parts of South Asia and the Near East, around 12,000 BC in Southeast Europe, and around 10,000 BC in Northern Europe. The Mesolithic, which ended around 8000 BC around the Levant and the Fertile Crescent, lasted until 3000 BC in parts of Europe and Inner Asia. The most important factor delaying the realization of the agricultural revolution in Northern Europe was the rich food resources in the swamps and lakes, which were created due to the warming climate.


The period between the Mesolithic and the Chalcolithic is called the Neolithic. It is characterized by the Agricultural Revolution and the transition to settled life. Many plant and animal species were domesticated in the Neolithic. It began around the Levant and the Fertile Crescent around 8000 BC, in Southeast Europe around 6000 BC, in Western Europe around 4000 BC, and in parts of Northern Europe and Central Asia around 3000 BC. Neolithic societies generally lived into tribes consisting of many subgroups. The ownership of agricultural lands and domesticated animals has led to an increase in social inequalities over time. According to some researchers, concepts such as social hierarchy and inheritance emerged in this period.


It is the period between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age. It is also known as the Copper Age. Along with stone tools, copper tools became a part of daily life in this period. It started in the Near East and Southeastern Europe around 5000 BC and ended around 3000 BC. The population and the number of settlements started to increase rapidly from the beginning of the Chalcolithic period. At the end of the Chalcolithic, the first known civilizations emerged in the Near East, such as the Sumerians, and inter-civilizational mineral trade began.

Bronze Age

It is the period between the Chalcolithic and the Iron Age. Bronze tools produced by melting copper and tin became widespread in this period. Writing was invented in the Bronze Age. It began in the Near East, Southern Europe, the Balkans, and parts of Southern Asia around 3300-3000 BC and ended around 1200-700 BC. The Assyrian Trade Colonies Age and the Old Hittite Age coincide with the middle of the Bronze Age. At the end of the period, cultural and socioeconomic collapses called the Bronze Age Collapse took place.

Iron Age

It is the last of the prehistoric periods. After the Iron Age, the ancient history begins. The most distinctive feature of this period is the prominence of iron in the making of tools and weapons. It began in the Near East, Southern Europe, the Balkans, and parts of South Asia between 1200-1000 BC and ended around 700-200 BC. Due to the Bronze Age Collapse that took place at the end of the Bronze Age, trade tended to contract in the early Iron Age. The use of alphabetic letters became common in the Iron Age.

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