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What Is a Microlith?

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  • Written By: B. Turner
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2014
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A microlith is a small tool made of flint or rock. Generally, these types of flint tools measure between 1 and 3 cm (0.39 to 1.18 inches) in length, and less than 0.5 cm (0.19 inches) in width. The microlith dates to the Mesolithic period, or Middle Stone Age, which dates from roughly 10,000 to 4,000 BC. During this period, nomadic tribes relied on the microlith as they engaged in the hunter-gatherer lifestyle common to the period. Many microlith examples have been found throughout Europe and Asia, and these tools provide valuable insight into ancient man and prehistory.

Stone Age man made microliths by breaking apart lengths of flint. They often shaped the tools using rocks to create a sharp edge, or simply took advantage of natural sharp edges on some units. The most basic microlith featured a narrow, straight blade with a pointed end, similar to a modern knife. Later versions came in many different shapes, and are commonly referred to as geometric monoliths. By examining the shape and size of each tool, researchers can often date the unit to a specific period or group of ancient people.

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Geometric microliths came in a variety of shapes and sizes, and were formed using rocks or other rudimentary tools. The lunate microlith took the form of a half moon, with the rounded edge used for cutting and chopping. Triangular microliths provided multiple points to serve as backup if one became damaged. These triangular units were also useful for penetrating further into an animal or enemy than was possible using a standard weapon of the time. Some ancient people also used square or rectangular tools, while trapezoidal versions were common during the later part of the Middle Stone Age.

The nomadic people of the time used the microlith in a variety of ways, and relied on this tool for hunting and protection. Generally, these flint tools were too small to use alone, and had to be fastened to another object to make them more practical for everyday use. These small pieces of flint often served as arrowheads or spearheads for hunting and fishing. They could also be attached for bone or wooden handles for use as a weapon or cutting tool.

Some modern scientists believe that the microlith helped to spur population growth during the Stone Age. These small tools were easy to make and could be transported over a long distance, making them much more practical than earlier tools, which were large and bulky. This allowed more members of the tribe to stay involved in a hunt, resulting in greater food supplies for all.

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