The Paleolithic Era (or Old Stone Age) is a period of prehistory from about 2.6 million years ago to around 10000 years ago. The Neolithic Era (or New Stone Age) began around 10,000 BC and ended between 4500 and 2000 BC in various parts of the world. In the Paleolithic era, there were more than one human species but only one survived until the Neolithic era. Paleolithic humans lived a nomadic lifestyle in small groups. They used primitive stone tools and their survival depended heavily on their environment and climate. Neolithic humans discovered agriculture and animal husbandry, which allowed them to settle down in one area. The Mesolithic era followed the Paleolithic era but the period of the Paleolithic—Mesolithic boundary varies by geography by as much as several thousand years.

Comparison chart

Neolithic versus Paleolithic comparison chart NeolithicPaleolithicMeaning Dwelling Lifestyle Tools Clothes Governance Economy Health Art Sculpture material Main Discovery Food
Neo=new; Lithic=stone. Neolithic era is also call the New Stone age.

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Paleo=old; Lithic=stone. The Paelolithic era is also called the Old Stone age.
Mud bricks supported by timber Mouths of caves, huts, skin tents
Sedentary. They farmed in permanent settlements and raised/herded animals; agriculture was discovered and became a major source of food; families evolved. Nomadic; in groups of up to 50; tribal society; hunters and gatherers
polished stone tools made sharper by grinding Chipped stone, wooden weapons, light stone tools (not sharpened)
Animal skins, woven garments Animal skins
Military and religious leaders had authority. Monarchy emerged. Tribal society. Clan controlled by elders or the powerful (according to age)
The concept of private property and ownership emerged for things such as land, livestock and tools. There was no concept of private property.
Neolithic people were shorter and had lower life expectancy. Diseases like tooth cavities and typhoid emerged in the new stone age. Neolithic women had more children because the life style was no longer nomadic. Paleolithic people were taller and lived longer than neolithic people.
Wall paintings Cave paintings
Stone, clay (baked) Stone, mammoth ivory, reindeer horn
Agriculture and tools with polished stones, the plow Fire; Rough stone tools
They grew crops such as corn, wheat, beans, etc. Hunted and gathered for their food supply.


A reconstruction of the head from a skull of a Paleolithic man excavated from Gongwangling, Lantian County.


Paleolithic people were hunter-gatherers. They were nomads who lived in tribes and relied on hunting, fishing and gathering wild fruits. They hunted animals like bison, mammoths, bears and deer. Meat was a source of food and animal hide was used to make clothes. They lived in clans of 20-30 people in caves, outdoors or in cabins made of tree branches and animal skin.

The Neolithic era began when humans discovered agriculture and raising cattle, which allowed them to no longer have a nomadic life style. They were able to settle in fertile areas with predictable climate, usually near river basins. Rice and wheat were the first plants they cultivated, and the first animals to be domesticated were dogs, goats, sheep, oxen and horses.


A painting at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park showing paleolithic men hunting a mammoth using spears.

Important Discoveries and Inventions

Perhaps the most important invention of paleolithic man was language. A close second was their discovery of how to control fire.

Neolithic humans discovered how to cultivate plants and domesticate animals. They also invented writing, pottery and weaving. The agricultural revolution in the early Neolithic era had a profound impact on the human species. The wheel is also believed to have been invented in the Neolithic period. Calendars and time-keeping were also invented in this era.

Health and longevity

In general, Paleolithic people were healthier than Neolithic man. Life expectancy was 35.4 years for men and 30.0 years for women in the late Paleolithic era (30000 to 9000 BC). In the early neolithic era (7000 to 5000 BC) this fell to 33.6 and 29.8 years, and in the late Neolithic era (5000 to 3000 BC) fell even further to 33.1 and 29.2 years respectively. The adoption of grains in the Neolithic era coincided with a shortening of stature, thinner bones and crooked, cavity-ridden teeth. Another interesting physiological change was a decline in pelvic inlet depth, making childbirth more difficult in the Neolithic era compared with the Paleolithic era.<1>

Diseases like tooth cavities, malaria, tuberculosis and typhoid fever are first known to have occurred in the Neolithic era.


Paleolithic tools were made of wood, stone and animal bones. Tools and weapons like harpoons, axes, lances, choppers and awls were used.


Neolithic era tools were more sophisticated. A variety of tools were invented in the New Stone age, such as sickle blades and grinding stones for agriculture, and pottery and bone implements for food production. Stone axes allowed Neolithic man to clear forests, and the adze allowed him to ashioning wood for shelter, structures and canoes. Archaeologists have also found projectile points, beads, and statuettes from this era.

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Paleolithic people are believed to have animistic religious beliefs. They decorated walls of their cave dwellings with pictures of animals, including deer, bison and mammoths. They also made small sculptures; notably Venus. The most famous prehistorical paintings are in the caves of Altamira, in Spain, and Lascaux, in France. This kind of art, distinct from natural formations in caves, is called cave art. Cave art has been found all over Europe, Asia and Africa. People in paintings were depicted as stick figures.