Stone Age is a term used to designate the period in all human cultures when people used stone, rather than metal, tools.  The Stone Age began about 21/2 million years ago, when small stones were first made into crude chopping tools.  It ended in the Near East about 3000 B.C., when bronze replaced stone as the chief material from which tools were made.

Scientists have divided the Stone Age on the basis of toolmaking techniques into Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic phases.  But only the term paleolithic (Old Stone Age) is still commonly used.  This phase includes the prehistory of all human beings until about 8000 B.C. Paleolithic people were hunters and gatherers.  After 8000 B.C., hunting and gathering became more specialized.  Some people mainly gathered wild vegetables, while others fished or hunted large game.  Many early farmers in the Near East, Asia, and the Americas had no metals and lived in the Stone Age.  They used polished stone axes and flint sickles to harvest crops.

Many peoples were still using Stone Age technology when Europeans began their voyages of exploration and discovery in the A.D. 1400′s.  The Aborigines of Tasmania and Australia were making Stone Age tools when white explorers discovered them in the 1700′s.  Europeans found groups in southern Africa living like their Stone Age ancestors.  Islanders of the South Pacific Ocean and most American Indians lacked metal farming tools when they first met Europeans.  A few groups in New Guinea and Australia are still in the Stone Age.