The Stone Age covered a huge period of time, with a number of Hominins species starting around 6 to 7 million years ago; most scientists currently agree on some 15 to 20 different species of early humans (some are covered below).

Diagram shows evolution of hominid species.
( Source:LiveScience )


Australopithecus anamensis

Australopithecus anamensis

  • Geologic Period: 4 to 4.5 million years ago
  • Location: East Africa
  • Habitat: Woodlands and forest, close to water
  • Brain Size Range:
  • Body Size:
  • Diet:
  • Tool Technology:

The first fossil found was a single fragment of humerus (arm bone) found in Pliocene strata in the Kanapoi region of East Lake Turkana by a Bryan Patterson and his Harvard University research team in 1965


Australopithecus afarensis

Australopithecus afarensis

  • Geologic Period: 3.9 to 2.9 million years ago
  • Location: North & East Africa
  • Habitat: Grassland and woodlands, close to water sources
  • Brain Size Range: 380–430 cm³ (35% the size of a modern brain)
  • Body Size: 151cm (M) 105cm (F)
  • Diet:
  • Tool Technology:

The most famous fossil is the partial skeleton named Lucy (3.2 million years old) found by Donald Johanson and colleagues, who celebrated their find by repeatedly playing the Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"


Australopithecus africanus

Australopithecus africanus

  • Geologic Period: 3.03 to 2.04 million years ago
  • Location: South Africa
  • Habitat: Grassland and woodlands, close to water sources
  • Brain Size Range: 420-500  cm³
  • Average Body Size: 138cm (M) 115cm (F)
  • Diet: Tooth analysis suggests a diet of fruit and leaves, with some meat (likely that they may have scavenged for meat rather than hunted)
  • Tool Technology:

In 1924, a fossil was rescued from a limestone quarry at Taung in South Africa was sent to Raymond Dart who was a Professor of Anatomy in nearby Johannesburg. Because the skull had a mixture of human and ape features, Prof Dart identified it as early ancestor of humans


Homo habilis

Homo habilis

  • Geologic Period: 2.33 to 1.44 million years ago
  • Location: East Africa
  • Habitat: Wet grasslands, savannahs with open woodland
  • Brain Size Range: 550–687 cm³ (47% the size of a modern brain)
  • Body Size: 157cm (M) 125cm (F)
  • Diet:
  • Tool Technology: Olduwan

In 1959 and 1960 the first fossils (consisting of several teeth and a lower jaw associated with fragments of a cranium and some hand bones) were discovered at Olduvai Gorge in northern Tanzania. The name Homo habilis means ‘handy man’ and was given in 1964 by Raymond Dart because this species was thought to represent the first maker of stone tools. Homo habilis is a very difficult species to describe, as archaeologists continue to disagree about its features and attributes.


Homo erectus

Homo erectus

  • Geologic Period: 1.9 million years ago to around 143,000 years ago
  • Location: Africa, Europe, Asia, South Asia
  • Habitat: Tropical forrest with grasslands, swamps and lakes
  • Brain Size Range: 850 –1200 cm³
  • Body Size: 163cm
  • Diet: Large amounts of meat supplemented with plant foods
  • Tool Technology: Achuelean

In 1891 Eugen Dubois discovered remains of what he called Pithecanthropus erectus or Java Man on the banks of the Solo River near Trinil (on the island of Java, Indonesia) - re-classified in 1950 as Homo erectus ("human that stands upright"). Dubois described his finds as "a species in between humans and apes", a transitional form or the so-called "missing link". These were the first specimens of early hominid remains to be found outside of Africa or Europe.


Homo heidelbergensis

Homo heidelbergensis

  • Geologic Period: 600,000 to 200,000 years ago
  • Location: Africa, Europe and Western Asia
  • Habitat: Temporate regions
  • Brain Size Range: 1100–1400 cm³ (93% the size of a modern brain)
  • Body Size: 180cm (M) 157cm (F)
  • Diet:Large animals including horses, hippos, deer and rhinos 
  • Tool Technology: Hafted stone points

In 21st October 1907 workman Dnaiel Hartmann spotted a jaw in a sandpit at  Mauer (Germany). Professor Otto Schoetensack from the University of Heidelberg, identified and named the fossil. In 1994 archaeologists lead by Mark Roberts discovered a lower hominin tibia bone, along with hundreds of flint hand axes at the Boxgrove Quarry site - several Homo heidelbergensis teeth were also found in the following years


Homo sapiens neanderthalensis

The extinct species of human in the genus Homo, called Neanderthals are closely related to modern humans, differing in DNA by only 0.12%. Males were 164–168 cm and females about 152–156 cm tall; their brain case was lower but longer with an average size  of 1600 cm3 (much larger than average modern human at 1400 cm3).

In 1829, the first Neanderthal remains were uncovered in Engis Cave (Liege) by Philip Carel Schmerling (1790-1836). The next discovery was a skull found by Captain Edmund Flint of the Royal Navy in Forbes' Quarry (Gibraltar) in 1848. In August 1856, more Neanderthal remains were discovered by workman in a limestone quarry of the Neander Valley in Erkrath east of Düsseldorf. This significant find consisted of a skull cap, two femora, three bones from the right arm, two from the left arm, part of the left ilium, fragments of a scapula, and ribs.


Neanderthals were very efficient hunters who occupied much of Europe and Eurasia. Their tool culture is known as the Mousterian after the Le Moustier rock shelter in the Dordogne (France). Neanderthals would have hunted mega fauna such as Mammoth and woolly rhino in order to maintain their high protein demands. Their solid, stocky stature meant they were very strong and excellent sprinters but required large amounts of red meat to survive. Generally occupation sites for Neanderthals groups come in the form of caves although some open air sites exist which may have been hunting sites or workshop areas for tool production. They made clothing and occasionally created symbolic art or ornamental objects. There is some evidence that Neanderthals buried their dead and marked their graves with offerings.

There is still much controversy as to why Neanderthals died out around 40,000 years ago - climate change and competition from the modern humans have been suggested as reasons. There is evidence of interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans, with analysis showing that about 1.5 to 2.1 percent of the DNA of anyone outside Africa is Neanderthal in origin, so in some respect they never did become extinct.

Modern Man

The first fossils of early modern humans to be identified were found during construction for a railroad in March 1868 in a rock shelter in a limestone cliff near the village of Les Eyzies de Tayac (Dordogne, France). At the back of the shelter the remains of four adult skeletons, one infant and some fragmentary bones were discovered by geologist Édouard Lartet (1801–1871) in Abri Cro-Magnon, along with pieces of shell in what appeared to have been a necklace, an object made from ivory and worked reindeer antler.

Analysis of the Cro-Magnons skeletons (carbon dated to about 28,000 year old) found at the Les Eyzies rock shelter indicates that these humans had a tough life, as several of the individuals found at the shelter had fused vertebrae in their necks indicating traumatic injury. The female adult had survived for some time with a skull fracture. They were powerfully built and were about 170cm tall, with a straight forehead, short wide face and brain size of 1600 cm³. Initially called Cro-Magnon, the phrase has been dropped from common use, as it does not refer to any taxonomy or even a particular group located in a particular place and most archaeologists now use the terms Anatomically Modern or European Early Modern Humans.

Les Eyzies rock shelter

Reconstruction of Cro Magnon rock shelter at Les Eyzies

Stone Age People

The Red Lady of Paviland

Ochre pigment is sometimes found with early human burials and one of the most famous was of a young man who died around 29,000 years ago - the so called the "Red Lady" of Paviland. The oldest anatomically modern human remains found in the UK were discovered between 18th and 25th January 1823 by Rev. William Buckland, during an archaeological dig at Goat's Hole Cave in South Wales. Upon discovery, Buckland (Professor of Geology at Oxford) identified the skeleton as male, believing the red-stained bones were those of a Customs Officer murdered by smugglers, but later that year he changed the gender based on the numerous decorative items (perforated seashell necklaces, ivory wands and jewellery) discovered with it, for his forth-coming publication. He suggested the bones were from a Roman prostitute or witch – thinking the iron-age fort on the hilltop above the cave was Roman.

( © National Museum of Wales - with kind permission)

In his 1823 book Reliquiae Diluvianae (Evidence of the Flood) Buckland stated:

"I found the skeleton enveloped by a coating of a kind of ruddle ... which stained the earth, and in some parts extended itself to the distance of about half an inch [12 mm] around the surface of the bones ... Close to that part of the thigh bone where the pocket is usually worn surrounded also by ruddle [were] about two handfuls of the Nerita littoralis [periwinkle shells].

At another part of the skeleton, viz in contact with the ribs [were] forty or fifty fragments of ivory rods [also] some small fragments of rings made of the same ivory and found with the rods ... Both rods and rings, as well as the Nerite shells, were stained superficially with red, and lay in the same red substance that enveloped the bones."

When the Rev. William Buckland's small group found the Red Lady, they also discovered the skull and bones of a mammoth close by. As a creationist, Buckland believed no human remains could have been older than the great Biblical flood and concluded that they were from the Roman era and that the extinct mammoth remains had been deposited there as a result of the flood. Buckland admired the work of Georges Cuvier (1769–1832), the French naturalist and zoologist who  believed there was no evidence for the evolution of organic forms, but rather evidence for successive creations after catastrophic extinction events. Buckland's own view was that account of Genesis actually referred to two separate episodes of creation separated by a lengthy period - known as the Gap Theory.

Eighty-five years after Buckland, another excavation lead by William Sollas (1849-1936), also holder of Oxford's Chair of Geology, recovered over 4,000 lithics in the cave and together with Abbé Breuil (1877-1961) who had joined the Sollas expedition in the role of lithics analyst, they reinterpreted the burial and correctly identified the gender and Stone Age period.

Radiocarbon dating has revealed the Red 'Lady' Of Paviland was a man of around 20 years of age. Although Goat's Hole Cave (on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales) is on the coast today, it would have been around 70 miles inland 30,000 years ago. His diet of between 15% - 20% fish, balanced by other foods such as horse, reindeer, roots, acorns and berries suggests his tribe semi-nomadic, or that they transported his body from a coastal region for burial. Although the red ochre and grave goods may hint at a ritual or shamanistic burial, the general view is that this man was part of a mammoth hunt and suffered a fatal accident, as his bones show no major signs of illness or disease.

Goat's Hole cave is a 22m long passage, with a maximum width of about 7m and height 10m at tear-drop shaped entrance tapering to rear. The ceiling has a chimney which rises one third of the way in on the east side and two floor hollows on the west side, as a result of the excavations in 1823 and 1912. The cave in the limestone cliffs of Paviland, is only accessible at very low tide for a couple of hours a day.

Now kept as part of the Earth Collection at the Oxford Museum of Natural History,  (right) the skeleton is missing the skull and the long bones of the right side and vertabrae; presumed lost, either because of human disturbance or the effects of the sea, backfilling the cave at high tide - known as the colluvial process.

Red Lady display at Oxford Museum of Natural History

Cheddar Man

Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, is the home of Cheddar Man; Britain's oldest complete skeleton buried there 9,000 years ago, following what is thought to be a violent death.

Gough's Cave at Cheddar Gorge

Richard C. Gough excavated the cave in 1892 to open it up as a tourist attraction, but after a while the show cave started to flood, so in 1903 a drainage ditch was dug near the entrance of the cave. While digging this ditch, workman came across a skeleton under a stalagmite - this was Cheddar Man. The remains were moved to the Natural History Museum in London (a replica is shown in the Cheddar Prehistoric Museum and in the cave, as shown above).

During the excavations in 1927–28, a number of human bones were found that showed some evidence of cannibalism. Skull fragments found from five individuals with fractures that appeared to have been made when the bone was still fresh. Other bones had been split in a similar way to how animal bones are opened to get at the marrow.

Further excavations in 1986–87 found about 120 human cranial and postcranial remains from a small area near the entrance of the cave (shown by the red/white ranging rod in the photo above). The remains represented at least five individuals, consisting of three adults and two children from about 14,700 years ago.

More recently analysis of these has suggested they were deliberately fashioned into ritual drinking skull cups or bowls.

In 2003, a Palaeolithic image of what is thought to be a mammoth was found carved in the limestone walls in an alcove in Gough's Cave. If correct, it is only the second piece of representational cave art found in Britain.

It has been long thought that Cheddar man's ancestors may still live in the area and recent DNA testing (his DNA was extracted from one of Cheddar man's teeth) may prove that correct.

The Shepperton Woman - London's First Lady

In 1989, archaeologists working at a gravel pit site at Staines Road Farm, Shepperton (near Laleham Road, north of the M3) uncovered a 21-23m ring ditch or henge, with three entrances that has been radiocarbon dated to the Early Neolithic (3650-3100 BC). Two bodies were recovered from the ditch; one of them was the skeleton of a woman, found in a crouched position. She was between 30 - 40 years old when the "Shepperton Woman" (or London's first lady) died. The other burial a few metres away from her, was crouched male inhumation; other artefacts included a Mortlake bowl, faunal remains of a wolf or dog’s skull and 6 red deer antlers, flints and red ochre.

The woman's teeth were worn flat, possibly through eating a lot of gritty, stone-ground bread, but with no evidence of any dental decay. Further analysis of her teeth suggested she must have originally come from a chalkier, more calcareous area, such as the Pennines, Mendips or Derbyshire Peaks. The shape of her lower leg bones suggests that she may have spent considerable time in a squatting position (in some unknown task) or through nutritional deficiency in her early life.

The face of the Shepperton Woman carefully reconstructed by Dr Caroline Wilkinson (Forensic Anthropologist) from the bones of the skull outwards in 2001.

Medical artists took two weeks to rebuild her skull, before clay was applied to this to build up the shape of the face.


Shepperton Woman display at Museum of London


The Iceman - Ötzi 

The Iceman's Death

The Iceman was about 45 years old when he died. The actual cause of death has been the subject of speculation for many years and theories included ritual murder (like the Bronze Age bog bodies), or he became lost in the high mountains, or an ambush / battle -  Ötzi had an arrowhead lodged in his left shoulder when he died and suffered a blow to the back of the head. In 2012, a team of scientists studied the Iceman's red blood cells and concluded in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface that Ötzi bled to death after being struck by the arrow. Traces of clotting around the wound indicated that he did not survive long after the injury.

By analysing DNA samples taken from 3,700 blood donors from the state of Tyrol in western Austria a team of researchers at the Institute of Legal Medicine at Innsbruck Medical University found 19 men related to the Iceman. 

Finding the Iceman

On 19th September 1991, German husband and wife Helmut and Erika Simon from Nuremberg, were walking on the east ridge of the Fineilspitze in the Ötztal Alps on the Austrian–Italian border. At 3,210 metre above sea level, they came across a body stuck in the ice and thought it was the deceased body of a modern-day mountaineer; they notified the mountain gendarmes and Mountain Rescue Unit, who went to retrieve the body the next day. Eventually on 23rd September, the body was extracted from the ice and moved to the University of Innsbruck, where it was identified as being ancient.

Surveys in October 1991 showed that the body had been located 92.56 metres inside Italian territory and so since 1998 the Iceman and his belongings has been on display at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano. He was given the nickname Ötzi by Viennese reporter Karl Wendl, who wrote: "This dried-out, gruesome looking corpse must be made more loveable to make a good story", however officially he is known as The Iceman.

The Iceman's Body

Ötzi the 5,300 year old Iceman was about 1.60 m tall (5´ 3") with size 38 feet; he had brown eyes and shoulder-length dark brown hair which he wore loose. He was not in the best of health when he died, as his gut was infested with whipworms, he had well-healed rib fractures, a broken nose and his teeth showed considerable wear caused by gritty cereals from stone mills. He was also lactose intolerant and was infected with Lyme Disease. Ötzi's intestinal contents showed the remains of two meals consumed before his death: chamios (goat) meat, red deer and herb bread, that were eaten with grains, roots and fruits. Charcoal particles were also found in his intestine, showing that his meal had been cooked on an open fire. 

Based on tooth enamel anaylsis it is believed that Ötzi came from South Tyrol, with his early years in the Eisack Valley and his adult life somewhere in Vinschgau.

The Iceman had 57 carbon tattoos consisting of simple dots and lines or crosses on his lower spine, behind his left knee and on his right ankle. The tattoos are blue and black, with some are more visible than others. They were probably made by first cutting lightly into his skin, and then rubbing charcoal into the incisions.

Iceman display case

The Iceman's Belongings: Clothes

Ötzi's find is the best example of a complete set of Stone Age clothes. The hides, bones, antlers and feathers of six different animal species and the leaves, wood and fibre of 17 different trees and shrubs can be seen in the making of his clothing and equipment. The shoes are made of a grass netting mesh and deerskin, which are fastened to an oval-shaped sole made of bearskin by means of leather straps. Ötzi’s are the second oldest known shoes.

The Iceman's Belongings: Equipment

The Iceman's tools included:

  • Copper axe with a yew wood handle
  • Flint-bladed knife with an ash wood handle
  • An unfinished yew  longbow that was 1.82 metres long
  • A quiver with what is thought to be a bow string
  • 14 arrows with dogwood and viburnum shafts (two of the arrows had a flint arrowhead and had fletching, the others were unfinished)
  • An antler tool which might have been used for sharpening arrow points

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