The Palaeolithic period of Man’s development is considered to be roughly contemporary with the Pleistocene period of the earth’s history and has to be dated in geological terms. The Pleistocene may be broadly divided, on the basis of faunal remains, into Lower, Middle, and Upper or (in Europe at least), on the basis of Alpine glacial deposits, into four major periods of glacial advance (Gunz, Mindel, Riss, and Wurm) with three corresponding interglacial periods. The dating of Palaeolithic industries in terms of Alpine glacial and interglacial periods is still, however, a highly speculative affair, owing to the fact, which is not always properly appreciated, that almost no archaeological remains have yet been found in actual glacial deposits of the Alpine region. Attempts have been made to correlate glaciations in Asia and Africa with these Alpine glaciations and to correlate with both the series of implement bearing river terraces (especially of the Thames, Somme, and Nile) and implement bearing deposits of so-called Pluvial periods in non-glaciated regions (notably in East Africa), but only preliminary work has yet been done on this large and complicated problem. Hence statements of experts regarding the age of the earlier Palaeolithic cultures differ greatly and should be regarded as opinions or theories only, which require further evidence before they can be accepted as established fact.
That tool-making man existed as early as the Lower Pleistocene period has been contended by a number of authorities. Teilhard de Chardin has dated the Sinanthropus finds at Chou-kou-tien as possibly Lower Pleistocene, and Breuil considers that deposits containing his Abbevillian (Pre-Chellean) industry and the earliest Clactonian industry belong to the First (Gunz-Mindel) Interglacial period. Various alleged implements of a very primitive nature (including the so-called eoliths) found in Europe and Africa have been ascribed to this period and Reid Moir claims to have found tools of primitive types in deposits that are presumably of pre-Gunz age. Such early dates are not yet Universally accepted by archaeologists and geologists.
When we come to the Middle Pleistocene, however, there is a more general agreement that the early phases of the hand-axe and flake industries (Chellean, Clactonian, etc.) in Europe and Africa probably existed in the Second (Mindel-Riss) Interglacial period. De Terra has found similar implements in India in deposits contemporary with the end of his Second Himalayan Glacial Advance or the following interglacial period (which may be contemporary respectively with the Second or Mindel Glaciation of Europe and the Mindel-Riss Interglacial).
Furthermore, it is thought very probable that in Europe the fully developed Acheulean and associated Levalloisean industries belong to the Third (Riss-Wurm) Interglacial period, the typical Mousterian to the end of this period and the first maximum of the Fourth Glacial period (Wurm I), the Aurignacian to the time of the Laufen oscillation, the Solu6ean to the second maximum of the Fourth Glacial (Wurm 11), and the Magdalenian to the last stages and retreat of Wurm II. African and Asiatic implements that show relationship to some of the above industries are probably roughly contemporary with them.
It is impossible to give an absolute date to these periods in years. Most recent geological opinion assigns a duration of one and one half to two million years for the Pleistocene. This would mean that the earliest man whose tools we have found and certainly identified lived perhaps as much as a million years ago. It is estimated (largely on the basis of De Geer’s studies of varves in the Scandinavian area) that for Europe the Pleistocene period ended (and with it the Palaeolithic Age) circa 8000 B.C.