Early Upper Paleolithic Cultures edit

Aurignacian edit

The Aurignacian indicates a tool industry from the Upper Paleolithic in Europe. A tool industry contains standardized tools and production techniques that indicate a shared cultural knowledge. The Aurignacian industry contains blades (long, thin stone flakes), burins (stone chisels for working bone and wood), bone points, as well as the beginning of prehistoric art.

First Discovered edit

The name is associated with the Aurignac Rockshelter in the Pyrenees in Southwestern France.

Chronology edit

  • ca. 35,000-27,000 BC

Geography edit

  • Widespread distribution over Eurasia
  • Siberia (Sungir)

Hominid edit

  • Modern humans (Homo sapiens)

Material Culture edit

The tools of the Aurignacian are quite standardized which shows planning and foresight in their creation. In addition, the inclusion of tools to work bone and wood show a wider variety of raw materials being used in tool production.

  • Upper Paleolithic-type lithic industry
  • Aurignacian blades, burins, endscrapers, etc.
  • Bone Tools

Mortuary practices edit

The Aurignacian period includes definitive elaborate burials with grave goods. Burials can indicate the social status of the deceased as well as the beginning of religious concept associated with life and death. Grace goods provide archaeologists important social and cultural information.

Symbolic Expression edit

Proliferation of various forms of personal ornaments:

  • perforated animal-teeth;
  • distinctive "bead" forms carved out of bone and mammoth ivory;
  • earliest perforated marine shells
Artistic Expression edit

Types of evidence:

  • Engraved limestone blocks
  • Animal and human figurines
  • Parietal art

Engraved block characteristics:

  • Stiffness of outlines;
  • Deep incisions;
  • Work executed mainly on limestone slabs or blocks;
  • Sexual symbols realistically represented;
  • Animals (usually heads, forequarters and dorsal lines) extremely crudely rendered;
  • This type of artistic expression limited to southwest France (mainly Dordogne).

Figurine characteristics:

  • Earliest evidence of artwork in the Upper Paleolithic: Geissenklösterle - 37,000-33,000 BC
  • Present in Central Europe, presently Germany
  • Sophisticated and naturalistic statuettes of animal (mammoth, feline, bear, bison) and even human figures
  • Carved from mammoth ivory

Gravettian edit

First Discovered edit

  • La Gravette (Dordogne, France)

Chronology edit

  • ca. 27,000-21,000 BC

Geography edit

  • Widespread distribution over Eurasia

Major cultural centers edit

  • Southwest France
  • Northern Italy (Grimaldi)
  • Central Europe (Dolni Vestonice, Pavlov)

Architecture edit

  • Mammoth huts

Material Culture edit

  • Upper Paleolithic-type lithic industry
  • Gravette Points, etc.

Other Economic Activities edit

  • Pyrotechnology
  • Basketry

Complex mortuary practices edit

  • Dolni Vestonice triple burial

Artistic Expression edit


  • Animal figurines
  • Female figurines ("Venuses")
  • Parietal art

Animal figuring characteristics: Animals most frequently depicted are dangerous species (felines and bears), continuing Aurignacian tradition

  • In Moravia, 67 animal statuettes recorded:
    • 21 bears
    • 11 small carnivores
    • 9 felines
    • 8 mammoths
    • 6 birds
    • 6 horses
    • 4 rhinoceroses
    • 1 caprid
    • 1 cervid

By contrast, Magdalenian animal statuettes from the same region show very different patterns (N=139):

  • 56 horses, 44 bisons
  • 9 bears,
  • 2 felines,
  • 1 mammoth
  • 2 birds
  • 1 caprid, 1 cervid
  • 5 miscellaneous, 18 indeterminates
  • No rhinoceros

Dangerous animals represent only 10% of total

Female figurine characteristics: Widespread distribution over Europe and Russia; except Spain where no evidence of Venuses

  • Raw materials:
    • ivory
    • clay
  • Various types of research performed by anthropologists:
    • technological
    • stylistic
    • details of clothing, ornaments
    • chronological/geographical
    • interpretational
  • Most of baked clay figurines found fragmented
    • Lack of skill or deliberate action? Intentional fracturation through heating process
    • Fragmented figurines were intended products Involved and by-products of ritual ceremonies rather than art objects

Parietal art characteristics: From 21 sites, a list of 47 animals identified:

  • 9 ibexes
  • 9 cervids
  • 7 horses
  • 4 mammoths
  • 3 bovids
  • 1 megaceros
  • 1 salmon
  • 10 indeterminates

Dangerous animals (rhinoceros, bear, lion) depicted during the Gravettian do not constitute more than 11% of determinable animals:

  • 3 times less than in Aurignacian period);
  • yet still higher frequency than during Solutrean and Magdalenian

Strong preponderance of hunted animals, with horse very widely dominant

  • Example: Gargas with a list of 148 animals identified:
    • 36.5% bovids (bison and aurochs)
    • 29% horses
    • 10% ibexes
    • 6% cervids
    • 4% mammoths
    • 8% indeterminates
    • (2 birds, 1 wild boar)
    • No feline, rhinoceros, bear

Late Upper Paleolithic Cultures edit

Solutrean edit

First Discovered edit

  • Solutré (NE France)

Chronology edit

  • ca. 21,000-18,000 BC

Geography edit

  • Limited distribution over SW France and Iberia

Material Culture edit

  • Upper Paleolithic-type lithic industry
  • Heat Treatment, Pressure Retouch
  • Solutrean points: bifacially retouched leaf points, shouldered points, etc.
  • burins, endscrapers, etc.

Settlements edit

  • Some sedentary groups (Fourneau-du-Diable)
  • Long stratigraphic sequences

Human remains edit

  • Complex mortuary practices:
No evidence of burials, but manipulation of dead (e.g., reuse of skull: Le Placard)

Artistic expression edit


  • Engraved limestone blocks
  • Engraved Bones
  • Parietal art


  • Various techniques applied: painting, engraving
  • Distribution and amount of animals represented in tradition of Late Upper Paleolithic: mainly horses and bisons
  • Several novelties from Gravettian:
    • First association of parietal art with occupation sites [Low-relief scupture on blocks detached from walls];
    • Representation of animals in line or opposed

Magdelenian edit

First Discovered edit

  • La Madeleine (Dordogne, France)

Chronology edit

  • ca. 19,000-10,000 BC

Geography edit

  • Widespread distribution over Eurasia

Major cultural centers edit

  • Southwest France (Charente, Dordogne, Pyrénées)
  • Northeast Spain
  • Central Europe

Material Culture edit

  • Upper Paleolithic-type lithic industry
  • Magdalenian blades, burins, etc.
  • Rich bone tool industry (harpoons)

Complex mortuary practices edit

  • Children burials

Artistic expression edit


  • Raw Materials: Great diversity (limestone cave walls and slabs, sandstone, shale, bone, ivory, clay, etc.)
  • Techniques: All techniques employed: Engraving, Sculpture, Molding, Cutting, Drawing, Painting
  • Both mobiliary and parietal arts present. Out of about 300 sites with parietal art, 250 are attributed to Magdalenian period.
  • Types of Figurations:
    • Animals (mainly horses and bisons)
    • Humans (male and female)
    • Hands (positive and negative)
    • Signs (dots, lines)