From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Middle Paleolithic (or Middle Palaeolithic) is the second subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age as it is understood in Europe, Africa and Asia. The term Middle Stone Age is used as an equivalent or a synonym for the Middle Paleolithic in African archeology. The Middle Paleolithic and the Middle Stone Age broadly spanned from 300,000 to 30,000 years ago. There are considerable dating differences between regions. The Middle Paleolithic/Middle Stone Age was succeeded by the Upper Paleolithic subdivision which first began between 50,000 and 40,000 years ago.
During this time period Homo neanderthalensis thrived in Europe between 300,000 and 30,000 years ago, and the earliest anatomically modern humans appeared around 195,000 years ago. Phylogenetic separation of modern humans dates to this period, mitochondrial Eve to roughly 150,000 years ago, Y-chromosomal Adam to roughly 90,000 years ago; see single-origin hypothesis. Additionally, according to the Out of Africa Hypothesis, modern humans began migrating out of Africa during the Middle Stone Age/Middle Paleolithic around 100,000 or 70,000 years ago and began to replace earlier pre-existent Homo species such as the Neanderthals and Homo erectus.
Origin of behavorial modernity
The earliest evidence of behavioral modernity first appears during the Middle Paleolithic/Middle Stone Age; undisputed evidence of behavioral modernity, however, only becomes common during the following Upper Paleolithic period.
Middle Paleolithic burials at sites such as Krapina, Croatia (c. 130,000 BP) and Qafzeh, Palestine (c. 100,000 BP) have led some anthropologists and archeologists, such as Philip Lieberman, to believe that Middle Paleolithic cultures may have possessed a developing religious ideology which included belief in concepts such as an afterlife; other scholars suggest the bodies were buried for secular reasons. According to recent archeological findings from H. heidelbergensis sites in Atapuerca the practice of intentional burial may have begun much earlier during the late Lower Paleolithic but this theory is widely questioned in the scientific community. Cut marks on Neanderthal bones from various sites such as Combe-Grenal and Abri Moula in France may imply that the Neanderthals, like some contemporary human cultures, may have practiced ritual defleshing for (presumably) religious reasons.
Also the earliest undisputed evidence of artistic expression during the Paleolithic period comes from Middle Paleolithic/Middle Stone Age sites such as Blombos Cave in the form of bracelets, ochre used as body paint and perhaps in ritual, though earlier examples of artistic expression such as the Venus of Tan-Tan and the patterns found on elephant bones from Bilzingsleben in Thuringia may have been produced by Acheulean tool users such as Homo erectus prior to the start of the Middle Paleolithic period. Activities such as catching large fish and hunting large game animals with specialized tools connote increased group-wide cooperation and more elaborate social organization.
In addition to developing other advanced cultural traits such as religion and art, humans also first began to take part in long distance trade between groups for rare commodities (such as ochre, which was often used for religious purposes such as ritual Inter-group trade may have appeared during the Middle Paleolithic because trade between bands would have helped ensure their survival by allowing them to exchange resources and commodities such as raw materials during times of relative scarcity (i.e., famine or drought).