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1.the time period during which only modern Homo sapiens was known to have existed; ended about 10,000 years BC
Upper Paleolithic (n.)
Upper Paleolithic (50–10 ka)
↓ Stone Age
The Upper Paleolithic (or Upper Palaeolithic, Late Stone Age) is the third and last subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age as it is understood in Europe, Africa and Asia. Very broadly, it dates to between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago, roughly coinciding with the appearance of behavioral modernity and before the advent of agriculture. The terms "Late Stone Age" and "Upper Paleolithic" refer to the same periods. For historical reasons, "Stone Age" usually refers to the period in Africa, whereas "Upper Paleolithic" is generally used when referring to the period in Europe.
Modern humans (i.e. Homo sapiens) are believed to have emerged about 195,000 years ago in Africa. Though these humans were modern in anatomy, their lifestyle changed very little from their contemporaries, such as Homo erectus and the Neanderthals. They used the same crude stone tools. Archaeologist Richard G. Klein, who has worked extensively on ancient stone tools, describes the stone tool kit of archaic hominids as impossible to categorize. It was as if the Neanderthals made stone tools, and were not much concerned about their final forms. He argues that almost everywhere, whether Asia or Africa or Europe, before 50,000 years ago all the stone tools are much alike and unsophisticated.
About 50,000 years ago, there was a marked increase in the diversity of artifacts. For the first time in Africa, bone artifacts and the first art appear in the archeological record. The first evidence of human fishing is also noted, from artifacts in places such as Blombos cave in South Africa. Firstly among the artifacts of Africa, archeologists found they could differentiate and classify those of less than 50,000 years into many different categories, such as projectile points, engraving tools, knife blades, and drilling and piercing tools. These new stone-tool types have been described as being distinctly differentiated from each other, as if each tool had a specific purpose. Three thousand to 4,000 years later, this tool technology spread with people migrating to Europe. The new technology generated a population explosion of modern humans which is believed to have led to the extinction of the Neanderthals. The invaders, commonly referred to as the Cro-Magnons, left many sophisticated stone tools, carved and engraved pieces on bone, ivory and antler, cave paintings and Venus figurines.
This shift from Middle to Upper Paleolithic is called the Upper Paleolithic Revolution. The Neanderthals continued to use Mousterian stone tool technology, but were probably extinct by about 22,000 BCE. This period has the earliest remains of organized settlements in the form of campsites, some with storage pits. These were often located in narrow valley bottoms, possibly to make hunting of passing herds of animals easier. Some sites may have been occupied year round, though more generally, they seem to have been used seasonally; peoples moved between them to exploit different food sources at different times of the year. Hunting was important, and caribou/wild reindeer "may well be the species of single greatest importance in the entire anthropological literature on hunting."
Technological advances included significant developments in flint tool manufacturing, with industries based on fine blades rather than simpler and shorter flakes. Burins and racloirs were used to work bone, antler and hides. Advanced darts and harpoons also appear in this period, along with the fish hook, the oil lamp, rope, and the eyed needle.
Artistic work blossomed, with Venus figurines, cave painting, carvings and engravings on bone or ivory (such as the Swimming Reindeer), petroglyphs and exotic raw materials found far from their sources, which suggests emergent trading links. More complex social groupings emerged, supported by more varied and reliable food sources and specialized tool types. This probably contributed to increasing group identification or ethnicity. These group identities produced distinctive symbols and rituals which are an important part of modern human behavior.
The changes in human behavior have been attributed to the changes in climate during the period, which encompasses a number of global temperature drops. This meant a worsening of the already bitter climate of what is popularly (but incorrectly) called the last ice age. Such changes may have reduced the supply of usable timber and forced people to look at other materials. In addition, flint becomes brittle at low temperatures and may not have functioned as a tool.
Some scholars have argued that the appearance of complex or abstract language made these behavior changes possible. The complexity of the new human capabilities hints that humans were less capable of planning or foresight before 40,000 years, while the emergence of cooperative and coherent communication marked a new era of cultural development. This theory is not widely accepted, since human phylogenetic separation dates to the Middle Palaeolithic (see Pre-language). While the latter view is better supported by phylogenetic inference, the material "evidence" is ambiguous.
The climate of the period in Europe saw dramatic changes, and included the Last Glacial Maximum, the coldest phase of the last glacial period, which lasted from about 24,500 to 18,000–17,000 BCE, being coldest at the end, before a relatively rapid warming (all dates vary somewhat for different areas, and in different studies). During the Maximum, most of Northern Europe was covered by an ice-sheet, forcing human populations into the areas known as Last Glacial Maximum refugia, including modern Italy and the Balkans, parts of Iberia and areas around the Black Sea. This period saw cultures such as the Solutrean in France and Spain. Human life may have continued on top of the ice sheet, but we know next to nothing about it, and very little about the human life that preceded the European glaciers. In the early part of the period, up to about 30,000 BCE, the Mousterian Pluvial made northern Africa, including the Sahara, well-watered and with lower temperatures than today; after the end of the Pluvial the Sahara became arid.
The Last Glacial Maximum was followed by the Allerød oscillation, a warm and moist global interstadial that occurred around 11,500 to 10,800 BCE. Then there was a very rapid onset, perhaps within as little as a decade, of the cold and dry Younger Dryas climate period, giving sub-arctic conditions to much of northern Europe. The Pre-Boreal rise in temperatures also began sharply around 9600 BCE, and by its end around 8500 BCE had brought temperatures nearly to present day levels, though the climate was wetter. This period saw the Upper Paleolithic give way to the start of the following Mesolithic cultural period.
As the glaciers receded sea levels rose; the English Channel, Irish Sea and North Sea were land at this time, and the Black Sea a fresh-water lake. In particular the Atlantic coastline was initially far out to sea in modern terms in most areas, though the Mediterranean coastline has retreated far less, except in the north of the Adreatic and the Aegean. The rise in sea levels continued until at least 5,500 BCE, so evidence of most of the no doubt busy human activity along Europe's coasts in the Upper Paleolithic is therefore lost, though some traces are recovered by fishing boats and marine archaeology, especially from Doggerland, the lost area beneath the North Sea.
30,000 BCE—26,000 BCE
25,000 BCE—17,000 BCE
18,000 BCE—15,000 BCE
18,000 BCE—11,000 BCE
18,000 BCE—12,000 BCE
17,000 BCE—15,000 BCE
15,000 BCE–12,000 BCE
11,500 BCE—10,000 BCE
The Upper Paleolithic in the Franco-Cantabrian region: