The Palaeolithic is subdivided into three parts of unequal duration and extent: the Lower, Middle and Upper. The Lower Palaeolithic began with the first tools manufactured by humans somewhere in Africa around 3 million years ago and ended around 300,000 years ago. It included various cultures, in particular the Pebble Culture, the earliest, and the Acheulean (from the eponymous site of Saint-Acheul), a culture in which bifacial stone tools dominated. Human types were represented by Homo habilis and Homo erectus.

The Middle Palaeolithic followed it between 300,000 and 40,000 years ago, corresponding to the Neandertal cultures (Mousterian, Micoquien, Keilmesser Group etc.). The last subdivision is the Upper Palaeolithic (40,000-11,000 years  ago), which includes all of the cultures attributed to Homo sapiens sapiens (Châtelperronian, Aurignacian, Gravettian, Solutrean, Badegoulian, Magdalenian and Azilian). The debitage of flint blades became dominant, cave and portable art appeared and developed and the manufacture of tools and weapons from hard animal materials became systematic, radically transforming behaviours and economic modes. The territorial expansion of Homo sapiens began in this period.