Question: Since Homo Sapiens first emerged around 200,000 BC, it could be possible that there were civilizations akin to those of the Bronze Age something like 150,000+ years ago, but all archaeological evidence would have eroded in the long time span. Is that so?
This is a fun question because it is always intriguing to consider what might be missing in the ancient record. Keywords here are “civilization,” “akin,” and “Bronze Age.”
The further back one goes in the archaeological record, the more various factors – environmental degradation and increasingly limited populations – affect the number of sites to consider. In short, the older the period, the less the evidence because sites are destroyed and there were fewer people to leave things. This causes a gap that is easily filled with imagination, but let’s try to sort all this out. First of all, that “gap” is not as dramatic as one might think: we actually know a lot about prehistory.
The first underpinning thing to tackle is the term, “civilization.” It really is a self-congratulatory word that allows us to pat ourselves on the back because we live in a civilization, but other people in other places or times do/did not. They are/were, by implication “uncivilized.” That communicates a long list of ill-fitting ideas. People are people no matter the time, and people can be extremely clever as they figure out how to deal with their unique situations.
We should not assume that people living 50,000 or at any other time in the Paleolithic was yet to be “smart”: those people were able to survive in their environments better than we might if we were thrust back in those times. The question, then, is what techniques did they employ to survive – or, were any of those techniques “akin to those of the Bronze Age?”
Despite gaps in the archaeological record, some features of the material culture retrieved from prehistory are amazingly consistent. The first of these is that pre-Bronze Age archaeology consistently demonstrates that people did not generally use metals and even when they did, they did not smelt metal.
It is extremely doubtful that hidden prehistoric metal-smelting technology is lurking in an archaeological record that was destroyed or has yet to be found. The consistent absence of this approach to surviving in those prehistoric environments must be taken to mean that people were not consistently smelting metals millennia before the so-called Bronze Age.
This does not mean that early examples of metal smelting will not consistently be pushed back – that will happen because we don’t know everything. It merely means that people 50,000 years ago – for example – did not have a need for this technology, but that as various factors come into play – increased population and an increasingly sedentary existence – smelting of metals began to be a useful technology to employ. This was less progress as it was a matter of adopting a different technology that was now needed to survive.
Having set aside metal smelting as an issue, the real heart of the matter was whether prehistoric people 50,000 years ago (give or take thousands of years) were building large communities and monumental architecture – even without metal smelting. That is a great question, and it is at the heart of these claims in your question.
Were these people capable of “building large communities and monumental architecture”? Of course, they were. Did they want to/need to/have the means to accomplish those attributes of “civilization? That is the question.
We get a glimpse of the possibility with the British site, Star Carr, which dates to roughly 11,000 years before the present. When it was possible, people likely enjoyed living in one place. The problem with hunting-gathering is that one was frequently forced to move after local resources had been fully exploited (or were forced to move to follow resources that, themselves, moved). Star Carr shows how sedentary – or nearly sedentary – Mesolithic people could be when the environment afforded that lifestyle.
In addition, Göbekli Tepe in modern-day Turkey and dating roughly to the same time as Star Carr shows how hunter-gatherers were entertaining approaches to monumental architecture and were likely finding ways to gather if not settle in increasingly large numbers.
Something was clearly happening in the Mesolithic that was changing the means of adaptation to a changing environment – a change that may have included an increased population as well as climate change. It is true that these discoveries are relatively recent, and it is intriguing to consider what might be discovered in the future.
Monumental architecture and a sedentary existence are likely to be pushed further back in time with discoveries, but it is not likely that it those features will be found in sites that are dramatically older than those that have been discovered. The sites that are being explored are pushing the timeline back a few thousand years; they are not pushing it back tens of thousands of years into a time that is otherwise fairly well understood.
The single most significant factor challenging the claim of paleolithic “civilization” existing is that we have no verification of this in the archaeological record as it is currently understood. And more importantly, these claims continue to thrive because it is impossible to prove a negative.
While anything is possible, it is extremely unlikely to find anything along the lines of the claims pushed back more than another one or two thousand years into prehistory – and even that would be extraordinary. Finding evidence of key cultural features of monumental architecture and large population groups from tens of thousands of years into the paleolithic is simply not indicated by any substantiated evidence.