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 50,000 and 10,000 years ago, roughly coinciding with the appearance of behavioral modernity and before the advent of agriculture. The terms "Later Stone Age" and "Upper Paleolithic" refer to the same periods. For historical reasons, "Later 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, 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.
Changes in climate and geography
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 Adriatic 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.
- start of the Mousterian Pluvial in North Africa
- At Ksar Akil in Lebanon, ornaments and skeletal remains of modern humans are dated to this period.
- Denisova hominin live in the Altai Mountains
- Cro-Magnon appear in Europe, early cultural center in the Swabian Alps, earliest figurative art (Venus of Schelklingen), beginning Aurignacian
- the first flutes appear in Germany
- Most of the giant vertebrates and megafauna in Australia became extinct, around the time of the arrival of humans.
- Europeans understand how to harden clay figures by firing them in an oven at high temperatures.
30,000 BCE—26,000 BCE
- Venus of Dolní Věstonice. It is the oldest known ceramic in the world. The Red Lady of Paviland lived around 29,000–26,000 years ago. Recent evidence has come to light that he was a tribal chief.
- People start to live in Japan.
25,000 BCE—17,000 BCE
- Wall painting with horses, rhinoceroses and aurochs, Chauvet Cave, Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, Ardéche gorge, France, is made. Discovered in December 1994.
- start of the second Mousterian Pluvial in North Africa.
- Venus of Petřkovice (Petřkovická venuše in Czech) from Petřkovice in Ostrava, Czech Republic, was made. It is now in Archeological Institute, Brno.
- Neanderthals believed to have become extinct in Europe.
- Last Glacial Maximum: Venus of Brassempouy, Grotte du Pape, Brassempouy, Landes, France, was made. It is now at Musée des Antiquités Nationales, St.-Germain-en-Laye.
- Venus of Willendorf, Austria, was made. It is now at Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna.
- end of the second Mousterian Pluvial in North Africa.
- Last Glacial Maximum. Mean Sea Levels are believed to be 110 to 120 meters (361 to 394 ft) lower than present, with the direct implication that many coastal and lower riverine valley archaeological sites of interest are today under water.
18,000 BCE—11,000 BCE
- Ibex-headed spear thrower, from Le Mas d'Azil, Ariège, France, is made. It is now at Musée de la Préhistoire, Le Mas d'Azil.
18,000 BCE—12,000 BCE
17,000 BCE—15,000 BCE
- Hall of Bulls, Lascaux caves, is painted. Discovered in 1940. Closed to the public in 1963.
- Bird-Headed man with bison and Rhinoceros, Lascaux caves, is painted.
- Lamp with ibex design, from La Mouthe cave, Dordogne, France, is made. It is now at Musée des Antiquités Nationales, St.-Germain-en-Laye.
- Paintings in Cosquer cave, where the cave mouth is now under water at Cap Margiou, France were made.
- Bison, Le Tuc d'Audoubert, Ariège, France.
15,000 BCE–12,000 BCE
- Paleo-Indians move across North America, then southward through Central America.
- Pregnant woman and deer (?), from Laugerie-Basse, France was made. It is now at Musée des Antiquités Nationales, St.-Germain-en-Laye.
- Paleo-Indians searched for big game near what is now the Hovenweep National Monument.
- Bison, on the ceiling of a cave at Altamira, Spain, is painted. Discovered in 1879. Accepted as authentic in 1902.
- Domestication of Reindeer.
11,500 BCE—10,000 BCE
- First evidence of human settlement in Argentina.
- The Arlington Springs Man dies on the island of Santa Rosa, off the coast of California.
- Human remains deposited in caves which are now located off the coast of Yucatán.
The Upper Paleolithic in the Franco-Cantabrian region:
- The Châtelperronian culture was located around central and south western France, and northern Spain. It appears to be derived from the earlier Mousterian culture, and represents the period of overlap between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. This culture lasted from approximately 33,000 BCE to 27,000 BCE.
- The Aurignacian culture was located in Europe and south west Asia, and flourished between 32,000 BCE and 21,000 BCE. It may have been contemporary with the Périgordian (a contested grouping of the earlier Châtelperronian and later Gravettian cultures).
- The Gravettian culture was located across Europe. Gravettian sites generally date between 26,000 BCE to 20,000 BCE.
- The Solutrean culture was located in eastern France, Spain, and England. Solutrean artifacts have been dated to around 19000 BCE before mysteriously disappearing around 15,000 BCE.
- The Magdalenian culture left evidence from Portugal to Poland during the period from 16,000 BCE to 8000 BCE.
- central and east Europe:
- north and west Africa, and Sahara:
- central, south, and east Africa:
- 50,000 BCE, Fauresmithian culture
- 30,000 BCE, Stillbayan culture
- 10,000 BCE, Lupembian culture
- 9000 BCE, Magosian culture
- 7000 BCE, Wiltonian culture
- 3000 BCE, beginning of hunter-gatherer art in southern Africa
- West Asia (including Middle East):
- south, central and northern Asia:
- 30,000 BCE, Angara culture
- 9000 BCE, Khandivili culture
- east and southeast Asia:
- Pleistocene Homo sapiens from Middle Awash, Ethiopia Nature 423, 742-747 (12 June 2003) http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v423/n6941/pdf/nature01669.pdf
- Out of Africa: modern human origins special feature: middle and later Pleistocene hominins in Africa and Southwest Asia Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 22 September 2009;106(38):16046-50. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2752549/pdf/zpq16046.pdf
- Biological origins of modern human behavior part3
- Biological origins of modern human behavior part 1
- "'Modern' Behavior Began 40,000 Years Ago In Africa", Science Daily, July 1998
- "In North America and Eurasia the species has long been an important resource—in many areas the most important resource—for peoples' inhabiting the northern boreal forest and tundra regions. Known human dependence on caribou/wild reindeer has a long history, beginning in the Middle Pleistocene (Banfield 1961:170; Kurtén 1968:170) and continuing to the present....The caribou/wild reindeer is thus an animal that has been a major resource for humans throughout a tremendous geographic area and across a time span of tens of thousands of years." Ernest S. Burch, Jr. "The Caribou/Wild Reindeer as a Human Resource", American Antiquity, Vol. 37, No. 3 (July 1972), pp. 339–368.
- Gilman, Antonio. 1996. Explaining the Upper Palaeolithic Revolution. Pp. 220-239 (Chap. 8) in Contemporary Archaeology in Theory: A Reader. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell
- "No Last Word on Language Origins", Bellarmine University
- "Humans killed off Australia's giant beasts". BBC News. 24 March 2012.
- McClellan, pg 11
- Sea level data from main article: Cosquer cave
- Lloyd, J. & Mitchinson, J.: The Book of General Ignorance. Faber & Faber, 2006.
- Carpenter, Jennifer (20 June 2011). "Early human fossils unearthed in Ukraine". BBC. Retrieved 21 June 2011.
- Gilman, Antonio. 1996. Explaining the Upper Palaeolithic Revolution. Pp. 220-239 (Chap. 8) in Contemporary Archaeology in Theory: A Reader. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
- The Upper Paleolithic Revolution
- Picture Gallery of the Paleolithic (reconstructional palaeoethnology), Libor Balák at the Czech Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Archaeology in Brno, The Center for Paleolithic and Paleoethnological Research