Pa·​leo·​lith·​ic ˌpā-lē-ə-ˈli-thik How to pronounce Paleolithic (audio)
especially British
ˌpa- How to pronounce Paleolithic (audio)
: of or relating to the earliest period of the Stone Age characterized by rough or chipped stone implements

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Since lithos means "stone" in Greek, the name Paleolithic was given to the older part of the Stone Age. The first known period of human culture, the Paleolithic actually covers almost all of human history, from the first use of stone tools around 2.5 million years ago until the invention of agriculture around 10,000 years ago. For almost all that time, humans used the very crudest of stone tools, produced by chipping away flakes of stone in order to make an edge for an ax or knife. Near the end of the period, animal bones and antlers were being used for tools, especially pointed tools, and sculpted figures and cave art were being produced. The Paleolithic gave way to the Mesolithic ("Middle Stone Age") period, with its tools made of polished stone, wood, and bone.

Word History


paleo- + -lithic

Note: See note at neolithic.

First Known Use

1865, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of Paleolithic was in 1865

Dictionary Entries Near Paleolithic

Cite this Entry

“Paleolithic.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 31 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


Pa·​leo·​lith·​ic ˌpā-lē-ə-ˈlith-ik How to pronounce Paleolithic (audio)
: of, relating to, or being the earliest period of the Stone Age marked by rough or crudely chipped stone implements
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