The period of time commonly referred to as the Stone Age, or more specifically the "Old" or "Early" Stone Age, began with the first emergence of human beings and ended about 12,000 years ago. The descriptive term "Stone Age" is derived from the fact that the early humans living during this time first began to use tools made from stone to help them meet their basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. One of the methods used to produce their stone tools was a process called "flaking" that involved using one stone to strike another to produce sharp edges.
The archaeological term which is usually used to describe the entirety of the Stone Age is the Paleolithic Era. The term is derived from the Greek words "palaios" and "lithos," which mean "old" and "stone" respectively. The people living during the Paleolithic Era are often referred to as hunter-gatherers because of the manner in which they obtained food before the development of agriculture. Their lifestyle was a nomadic existence as they followed the migrations of the animal herds that provided them with their primary food source. The homes they built were temporary shelters rather than permanent structures.
The Paleolithic Era reflects a portion of the general period of archaeological time known as prehistory. Prehistory refers to the part of human existence prior to the development of writing systems. The significant change that marked the end of the Stone Age was the development of smelting techniques that enabled metals to be extracted from ores, which were then used in the production of metal tools. This new development represents the beginning of what is commonly called the Bronze Age, which began between 6,000 B.C. and 2,500 B.C.