These are not specific chronological periods. They are a set of behavioral and cultural characteristics that usually followed in this order and end when written historical record-keeping began. Until then, all we have are artifacts and almost always durable artifacts, thus the stone and metal names to these periods.
The Stone Age
The Stone Age – “-lithic” is Greek for “stone”.
Rock art that old is found on every continent except Antarctica: gallery
some cupules – La Ferrassie Cupules 60,000 BCE, France
oldest known ceramic artwork is the Venus of Dolni Vestonice (left, and a very large hi-res version), a 4-inch figure made from clay and bone ash and dating to roughly 26,000 BC, found near Brno in the Czech Republic
hand stencils at the Cuevas de las Manos (Cave of the Hands) (right) near Rio de las Pinturas, Argentina, – c. 9,500 BC
art materials – charcoal, dirt, clay, wood, vines, threads
spinning Tibetan Handcraft
The few (though thousands) of artifacts we have are a tiny fraction of all that was produced. We can see that humans’ drawing skills were as developed as ours today, so we can only assume that their music and dance was as developed as ours, too.
Unlike technology, which can be said to “improve”, the arts have changed but I’m not sure they have improved.
Mesolithic Age – hunting/gathering, nomadic, extended family/bands, women probably as powerful if not more powerful than men
Almost all the artifacts that we have of the human form from pre-Neolithic cultures are images of women, often with exaggerated features. Many anthropologists and archaeologists think that women took care of the children and provided the steady diet of gathered food while the men went out on long, dangerous, and often unsuccessful hunts for animal protein to supplement the grain, fruits, and vegetables gathered by the women.
Neolithic Age – The Neolithic Revolution was a process that began about 12,000 years ago and gradually spread though most of humanity. We shifted from small hunter-gatherer, nomadic tribes to stable communities. It was marked by the use of wild and domestic crops and domesticated animals. All the evidence points to this period as the beginning of male dominance over women.
The oldest art in China is three pottery pieces pieces were unearthed at Liyuzui Cave in Liuzhou, Guangxi Province dated 16,500 and 19,000 BCE.
The oldest prehistoric ceramic art was made during the ancient Japanese Jomon culture. Ceramic remains taken from the Odaiyamamoto I site in Aomori Prefecture – one of the most ancient sites for this type of Japanese art – were carbon-dated to between 14,540 and 13,320 BCE.
The Metal Ages
The Copper Age – early metal tools made with pouding gold and silver. Some low heat and pounding; blowstick and lungs for air compression to make the fire hotter. Mehrgarh (Pakistan) starting around 7000 BCE.
The Bronze Age – advanced metalworking (smelting copper and tin); bellows to make a fire hot enough to smelt ores of copper, lead, tin — in that order because it takes more heat to get tin from the rock (ore) than it takes to get lead, and more for lead than copper; potter’s wheel. Earliest evidence: 4500 BCE.
The Iron Age – cutting tools and weapons were mainly made of iron or steel; foot bellows to make a fire hot enough to smelt iron ore, about three times hotter than what s needed for tin. But iron tools and weapons are very strong.
When does “history” begin?
The Iron Age lasted in every culture until written records, that is, until what we call “history” replaces “pre-history” and is studied by historians in addition to archaeologists and anthropologists.
The Iron Age is usually said to end in the Mediterranean with the rise of the Greek civilization around 400 BC, in India with the beginnings of Buddhism around 500 BC, in China with the beginnings of Confucianism around the same time, and in Northern Europe a thousand years later with the early Middle Ages.