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Mas d’Azil cave
Geographical rangeWestern Europe
PeriodEpipaleolithic or Mesolithic
Dates12,500–10,000 BP[1]
Type siteLe Mas-d'Azil
Preceded byMagdalenian
Followed byMaglemosian culture, Sauveterrian

The Azilian is a Mesolithic industry of the Franco-Cantabrian region of northern Spain and Southern France. It dates approximately 10,000–12,500 years ago.[1] Diagnostic artifacts from the culture include projectile points (microliths with rounded retouched backs), crude flat bone harpoons and pebbles with abstract decoration. The latter were first found in the River Arize at the type-site for the culture, the Grotte du Mas d'Azil at Le Mas-d'Azil in the French Pyrenees (illustrated, now with a modern road running through it). These are the main type of Azilian art, showing a great reduction in scale and complexity from the Magdalenian Art of the Upper Palaeolithic.[2][3]

The industry can be classified as part of the Epipaleolithic or the Mesolithic periods, or of both.[citation needed] Archaeologists think the Azilian represents the tail end of the Magdalenian as the warming climate brought about changes in human behaviour in the area. The effects of melting ice sheets would have diminished the food supply and probably impoverished the previously well-fed Magdalenian manufacturers, or at least those who had not followed the herds of horse and reindeer out of the glacial refugium to new territory. As a result, Azilian tools and art were cruder and less expansive than their Ice Age predecessors - or simply different.[citation needed]


The Thaïs Bone, c. 12,000 BP.[4]

The Azilian was named by Édouard Piette, who excavated the Mas d'Azil type-site in 1887. Unlike other coinages by Piette, the name was generally accepted, indeed in the early 20th century used for much greater areas than it is today. Henry Fairfield Osborn, president of the American Museum of Natural History and a palaeontologist rather than an archaeologist, was taken around the sites by leading excavators such as Hugo Obermaier. The popularizing book he published in 1916,

Men of the Old Stone Age talks happily of Azilian sites as far north as Oban in Scotland, wherever flattened barbed "harpoon" points of deer antler are found.[5][6][7]

Subsequently, Azilian types of artefact have been defined more precisely, and similar examples from beyond the Franco-Cantabrian region generally excluded and reassigned, although references to "Azilian" finds much further north than the Franco-Cantabrian region still appear in non-specialized sources. Terms like "Azilian-like" and even "epi-Azilian" may be used to describe such finds.[8]



The Azilian in Vasco-Cantabria occupied a similar region to the Magdalenian, and in very many cases the same sites; typically the Azilian remains are fewer, and rather simpler, than those from the Magdalenian occupation beneath, indicative of a smaller group of people.[9] As the glaciers retreated, sites increasingly reach into the slopes of the Cantabrian Mountains as high as 1,000 metres above sea level, though presumably the higher ones were only occupied in the summers.[6] The grand cavern at Mas d'Azil is not entirely typical of Azilian sites, many of which are shallow shelters at the bottom of a rock face.

Azilian pebbles

Azilian painted pebbles from the cave of Le Mas d'Azil.

Painted, and sometimes engraved pebbles (or "cobbles") are a feature of core Azilian sites; some 37 sites have produced them. The decoration is simple patterns of dots, zig-zags, and stripes, with some crosses or hatching, normally just on one side of the pebble, which is usually thin and flattish, and some 4 to 10 cm across. Large numbers may be found at a site. The colours are usually red from iron oxide, or sometimes black; the paint was often mixed in Pecten saltwater scallop shells, even at Mas d'Azil, which is far from the sea. Attempts to find a meaning for their iconography have not got very far, although "the repeated combinations of motifs does seem to some extent to be ordered, which may suggest a simple syntax". Such attempts began with Piette, who believed the pebbles carried a primitive writing system.[10][11]



The Azilian culture coexisted with similar early Mesolithic European cultures, such as the Federmesser in northern Europe, the Tjongerian in the Low countries, the Romanellian culture of Italy, the Creswellian in Britain and the Clisurian in Romania (in a process called azilianization).

In its late phase, it experienced strong influences from the neighbouring Tardenoisian, reflected in the presence of many geometrical microliths. The Azilian culture persisted until the arrival of the Neolithic Era.[12][13][14] The Asturian culture in the area to the west along the coast was also similar, but added a distinctive form of pick-axe to its toolkit.


In Southern Iberia


A culture very similar to the Azilian spread as well into Mediterranean Spain and southern Portugal. Because it lacked bone industry it is named distinctively as Iberian microlaminar microlithism. It was replaced by the so-called geometrical microlithism related to Sauveterrian culture.



In a genetic study published in 2014, the remains of an Azilian male from the Grotte du Bichon were examined. He was found to be carrying the paternal haplogroup I2 and the maternal haplogroup U5b1h.[15]

Villalba-Mouco et al examined the remains of two males of the Azilian culture buried at the Late Upper Paleolithic site of Balma de Guilanyà, Catalonia, Spain c. 11,380-9,990 BC.[16] They were found to be carrying the paternal haplogroups I and C1a1a, and the maternal haplogroups U5b2a and U2'3'4'7'8'9. They had a significant genetic affinity to earlier individuals of the Magdalenian culture.[16]

See also



  1. ^ a b Barbaza, Michel (2011). "Environmental changes and cultural dynamics along the northern slope of the Pyrenees during the Younger Dryas" (PDF). Quaternary International. 242 (2): 313–327. Bibcode:2011QuInt.242..313B. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2011.03.012.
  2. ^ Osborn 1915, pp. 460 Piette's excavation described, 464, pebbles.
  3. ^ "Mesolithic Culture of Europe" (PDF). e-Acharya INFLIBNET. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  4. ^ "The Thaïs Bone, France". UNESCO Portal to the Heritage of Astronomy. The engraving on the Thaïs bone is a non-decorative notational system of considerable complexity. The cumulative nature of the markings together with their numerical arrangement and various other characteristics strongly suggest that the notational sequence on the main face represents a non-arithmetical record of day-by-day lunar and solar observations undertaken over a time period of as much as 3½ years. The markings appear to record the changing appearance of the moon, and in particular its crescent phases and times of invisibility, and the shape of the overall pattern suggests that the sequence was kept in step with the seasons by observations of the solstices. The latter implies that people in the Azilian period were not only aware of the changing appearance of the moon but also of the changing position of the sun, and capable of synchronizing the two. The markings on the Thaïs bone represent the most complex and elaborate time-factored sequence currently known within the corpus of Palaeolithic mobile art. The artefact demonstrates the existence, within Upper Palaeolithic (Azilian) cultures c. 12,000 years ago, of a system of time reckoning based upon observations of the phase cycle of the moon, with the inclusion of a seasonal time factor provided by observations of the solar solstices.
  5. ^ Osborn, Obermaier and others thanked in the Preface ix-x, Piette's excavation described 460, Scottish "stations" 475
  6. ^ a b Straus 2008, p. 312.
  7. ^ Oban is also given as an Azilian site in Prehistory: A Study of Early Cultures in Europe and the Mediterranean Basin by M. C. Burkitt, p. 115-116, originally 1921, reissued by Cambridge University Press in 2012, ISBN 1107696844, 9781107696846; Map from a 1932 book showing British "Azilian" sites
  8. ^ Jameson 1999, p. 97.
  9. ^ Straus 2008, pp. 312–313.
  10. ^ Jameson 1999, pp. 97–98, 98 quoted.
  11. ^ Osborn 1915, pp. 463–464.
  12. ^ A. Moure, El origen del hombre, 1999. ISBN 84-7679-127-5
  13. ^ F. Jordá Cerdá et al., Historia de España 1: Prehistoria, 1989. ISBN 84-249-1015-X
  14. ^ X. Peñalver, Euskal Herria en la Prehistoria, 1996. ISBN 978-84-89077-58-4
  15. ^ Fu 2016.
  16. ^ a b Villalba-Mouco et al. 2019.