The Aurignacian culture (// or //) is an archaeological culture of the Upper Palaeolithic, located in Europe and southwest Asia. It lasted broadly within the period from ca. 45,000 to 35,000 years ago (about 37,000 to 27,000 years ago on the uncalibrated radiocarbon timescale; between ca. 47,000 and 41,000 years ago using the most recent calibration of the radiocarbon timescale). The name originates from the type site of Aurignac in the Haute-Garonne area of France.
The Aurignacian tool industry is characterized by worked bone or antler points with grooves cut in the bottom. Their flint tools include fine blades and bladelets struck from prepared cores rather than using crude flakes. The people of this culture also produced some of the earliest known cave art, such as the animal engravings at Aldène and the paintings at Chauvet cave in southern France. They also made pendants, bracelets and ivory beads, and three-dimensional figurines. Bâtons de commandement are also found at their sites.
Association with modern humans
This sophistication and self-awareness led archaeologists to consider the makers of Aurignacian artifacts the first modern humans in Europe. Human remains and Late Aurignacian artifacts found in juxtaposition support this inference. The most critical single discovery is that of the so-called Egbert skeleton from Ksar Akil, embedded in deposits overlain by Levantine Aurignacian industries. This is a fully modern human in both cranial and postcranial terms, between 40,000 and 45,000 years old. Although finds of human skeletal remains in direct association with Early Aurignacian technologies are scarce in Europe, the few available are also probably modern human. The best dated association between Aurignacian industries and human remains are those of at least five individuals from the Mladec cave in the Czech Republic, dated by direct radiocarbon measurements on the skeletal remains themselves to at least 31,000–32,000 years old. At least three robust but typically anatomically modern individuals from the Peștera cu Oase cave in Romania, were dated directly on the bones to ca. 35,000–36,000 BP. Although not associated directly with archeological material, these finds are within the chronological and geographical range of the earlier Aurignacian in southeastern Europe.
Aurignacian figurines have been found depicting faunal representations of the time period associated with now-extinct mammals, including mammoths, rhinoceros, and Tarpan, along with anthropomorphized depictions that could be inferred as some of the earliest evidence of religion.
In June 2007, a 35,000 year old figurine of a mammoth was discovered in the Vogelherd cave. Currently being studied by the University of Tübingen, the figurine embodies the intricate and complex artistic characteristics of Aurignacian culture.
A flute (~22 cm long and 2.2 cm in diameter; from the hollow wing-bone of a giant vulture) along with fragments of ivory flutes found at the same Hohle Fels Cave in 2009 are the oldest undisputed musical instruments: but see  who state that "there is also controversy surrounding whether this fossil was in fact used for music, as puncture holes are occasionally made in bones by carnivores in pursuit of the marrow inside, and there is no clear evidence that the holes in the fossil were made by hominids".
Stone tools from the Aurignacian culture are known as Mode 4, characterized by blades (rather than flakes, typical of mode 2 Acheulean and mode 3 Mousterian) from prepared cores. Also seen throughout the Upper Paleolithic is a greater degree of tool standardization and the use of bone and antler for tools.
- Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures
- Ksar Akil
- Venus figurines
- Bacho Kiro cave
- P.Mellars, Archeology and the Dispersal of Modern Humans in Europe: Deconstructing the Aurignacian, Evolutionary Anthropology, vol. 15 (2006), pp. 167–182.
- Debeljak, Irena; Turk, Matija. "Potočka zijalka". In Šmid Hribar, Mateja. Torkar, Gregor. Golež, Mateja. Podjed, Dan. Drago Kladnik, Drago. Erhartič, Bojan. Pavlin, Primož. Jerele, Ines. Enciklopedija naravne in kulturne dediščine na Slovenskem – DEDI (in Slovene). Retrieved 12 March 2012.
- Finds from the Vogelherd cave
- Conard, Nicholas (2009). "A female figurine from the basal Aurignacian of Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany". Nature 459 (7244): 248–52. doi:10.1038/nature07995. PMID 19444215.
- Henderson, Mark (2009-05-14). "Prehistoric female figure 'earliest piece of erotic art uncovered'". London: The Times Online.
- Marlowe Hood, AFP (2009-06-24). "35,000-year-old flute oldest instrument ever found". Yahoo!.
- McDermott & Hauser (2005. The Origins of Music: Innateness, Uniqueness, and Evolution. Music Perception , (23)1, pp. 29-59
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