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The Aurignacian culture (pronounced /ɔrɪɡˈneɪʃən/ or /ɔrɪnˈjeɪʃən/) is an archaeological culture of the Upper Palaeolithic, located in Europe and southwest Asia. It began about 40,000 to 36,000 years ago[1], and lasted until about 28,000 to 26,000 years ago. The name originates from the type site of Aurignac in the Haute Garonne area of France. The Aurignacian culture is considered by some archaeologists to have co-existed with the Périgordian culture of tool making.

The oldest known example of figurative art, the Venus of Hohle Fels, comes from this culture. It was discovered in September 2008 in a cave at Schelklingen in Baden-Württemberg in southern Germany.


Main characteristics

"The Lion Man," found in the Hohlenstein-Stadel cave of Germany's Swabian Alb and dated at 32,000 years old, is associated with the Aurignacian culture and is the oldest known anthropomorphic animal figurine in the world.

The people of the Aurignacian culture produced worked bone points with grooves cut in the bottom, and some of the earliest known cave art, such as the animal engravings at Aldène in south-west France. Their flint tools were more varied than those of earlier industries, employing finer blades struck from prepared cores rather than using crude flakes. The people also made pendants, bracelets and ivory beads, and three-dimensional figurines to ornament themselves. The Aurignacian tool industry is characterized by complex art, which includes figurines depicting faunal representations of the time period associated with now-extinct mammals, including mammoths, rhinoceros, and the European horse, along with anthropomorphized depictions that could be inferred as some of the earliest evidence of religion.

Bâtons de commandement are also found at their sites. This sophistication and self-awareness leads some archaeologists to consider the makers of Aurignacian artifacts the first modern humans in Europe. Human remains and Aurignacian artifacts originally found at Cro-Magnon in France support the inference (but do not indisputably establish) that the culture was modern human rather than Neanderthal. However, in 2004 direct carbon dating of skeletal human remains at the Vogelherd cave in south-western Germany, the site of an important array of Aurignacian artifacts, demonstrated that the modern human remains found in proximity to the artifacts were as recent as 3.5 - 5.0 kya. No human remains matching the dating of the artifacts were found. The possibility that Aurignacian artifacts are attributable to Neanderthals cannot yet be excluded.[2][3]

In June 2007, a 35,000 year old figurine of a mammoth was discovered in the Vogelherd cave.[4] Currently being studied by the University of Tübingen, the figurine embodies the intricate and complex artistic characteristics of Aurignacian culture.

One of the most ancient Venus figurines was discovered in 2008 in Germany. The figurine has been dated to 35,000 years ago.[5][6] 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 known musical instruments.[7]


Stone tools from the Aurignacian culture are known as Mode 4, characterised 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 standardisation and the use of bone and antler for tools such as needles and harpoons.

See also


  1. ^ Higham, T; Ramsey, Cb; Karavanić, I; Smith, Fh; Trinkaus, E (Jan 2006). "Revised direct radiocarbon dating of the Vindija G1 Upper Paleolithic Neandertals" (Free full text). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 103 (3): 553–7. doi:10.1073/pnas.0510005103. ISSN 0027-8424. PMID 16407102. PMC 1334669. ""...for the Aurignacian assemblages known across most of Europe by at least 36,000 B.P. Did modern humans leave it behind, or were Neandertals responsible for much of the earlier Aurignacian? This situation currently makes it difficult to use an archeological complex, such as the Aurignacian, as a correlate for the spread of modern humans across Europe during this biocultural evolutionary transitional time period (in contrast to ref. 49). Several factors play into this ambiguity. It is possible that the dating difficulties described above with reference to Vindija may be more widespread than hitherto anticipated, and that the 4,000-year gap between the earliest directly dated modern humans and the earliest Aurignacian is a function of radiocarbon accuracy on the few dated specimens. The gap may be a function of the scarcity of Aurignacian human remains and the low number of dated specimens. Alternatively, it may be a result of semiindependence of the spread of the Aurignacian (a cultural process) and the westward dispersal of early modern humans (a biological population process)".  
  2. ^ Unexpectedly recent dates for human remains from Vogelherd
  3. ^ Unexpectedly recent dates for human remains from Vogelherd
  4. ^ Finds from the Vogelherd cave
  5. ^ Conard, Nicholas (2009). A female figurine from the basal Aurignacian of Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany. doi:10.1038/nature07995.  
  6. ^ Henderson, Mark (2009-05-14). "Prehistoric female figure 'earliest piece of erotic art uncovered'". London: The Times Online.  
  7. ^ Marlowe Hood, AFP (2009-06-24). "35,000-year-old flute oldest instrument ever found". Yahoo!.  

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