Upper Paleolithic: Wikis


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The Stone Age

before Homo (Pliocene)


Lower Paleolithic
control of fire, stone tools
Middle Paleolithic
Homo neanderthalensis
Homo sapiens
out of Africa
Upper Paleolithic, Late Stone Age
behavioral modernity, atlatl, dog


microliths, bow, canoe


Pre-Pottery Neolithic
farming, animal husbandry, polished stone tools
Pottery Neolithic
metallurgy, horse, wheel
Bronze Age

The Upper Paleolithic (or Upper Palaeolithic, and also in some contexts 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 40,000 and 10,000 years ago, roughly coinciding with the appearance of behavioural modernity and before the advent of agriculture. The terms "Late Stone Age" and "Upper Paleolithic" refer to the same periods. For historical reasons, "Stone Age" usually refers to the period in Africa, whereas "Upper Paleolithic" is generally used when referring to the period in Europe. In 19th century archaeology, the Upper Paleolithic was known as the period in which the reindeer was an important prey.



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 when the Neanderthals went to make a stone tool they weren't really concerned about its final form. He argues that almost everywhere, whether Asia or Africa or Europe, before 50,000 years ago all the stone tools are very much alike and unsophisticated. However after 50,000 years ago there is sharp increase in the diversity of artifacts. For the first time bone artifacts, and the first art appear in the fossil record in Africa. The first evidence of human fishing is also noted from artifact in places like Blombos cave in South Africa. After 50,000 years ago, firstly in Africa, it was found that human artifacts could be placed 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. 3000 to 4000 years later this technology spread to Europe resulting in a population explosion of modern humans and also the extinction of the Neanderthals. The invaders commonly referred to as the Cro-Magnons left many sophisticated stone tools, cave art and Venus figurines.[1][2][3] This shift from Middle to Upper Paleolithic is called the Upper Paleolithic Revolution. The Neanderthals continued to use Mousterian stone tool technology.

Upper Paleolithic people used caves and tents like this one (reconstruction) for dwelling. This form might be ancestral to the Native American tipi.

The earliest remains of organized settlements in the form of campsites, some with storage pits, are encountered in this period. These were often located in narrow valley bottoms, possibly in order to make hunting passing herds of animals easier. Some sites may have been occupied year round though more generally they seem to have been used seasonally with peoples moving between them to exploit different food sources at different times of the year. Hunting played an important role, and caribou/wild reindeer "may well be the species of single greatest importance in the entire anthropological literature on hunting."[4]

Technological advances included significant developments in flint tool manufacturing with industries based on fine blades rather than simpler and shorter flakes. Burins and racloirs attest to the working of 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 also blossomed with Venus figurines, cave painting, petroglyphs and exotic raw materials found far from their sources suggest 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 reasons for these changes in human behaviour have been attributed to the changes in climate during the period which encompasses a number of global temperature drops, meaning a worsening of the already bitter climate of the last ice age. These may have reduced the supply of usable timber and forced people to look at other materials while flint becomes brittle at low temperatures and may not have functioned as a tool.

It has also been argued that the appearance of complex or abstract language made these behaviour 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 [1]. This suggestion has no wide acceptance, since human phylogenetic separation dates to the Middle Palaeolithic (see Pre-language). Still, it must be remembered that while the latter view is better supported by phylogenetic inference, the material evidence is hard to explain thus.


Map of findings of Upper Paleolithic art in Europe

50,000–40,000 BC

40,000–30,000 BC

30,000–20,000 BC

20,000–15,000 BC

Lascaux, it is in UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Paleo-İndian life in Museum of Florida History

16,000–12,000 BC

12,000–11,000 BC

  • 11500 BC–10000 BC: Wooden buildings in South America (Chile), first pottery vessels (Japan).
  • 11000 BC: First evidence of human settlement in Argentina.
  • 11000 BC: The Arlington Springs Man dies on the island of Santa Rosa, off the coast of California.
  • 11000 BC: Human remains deposited in caves which are now located off the coast of Yucatan [2]


Reindeer Age articles
Reindeer Age (Aurignacian) Engravings & Carvings

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 33000 BC to 27000 BC.
  • The Aurignacian culture was located in Europe and south west Asia, and flourished between 32000 BC and 21000 BC. It may have been contemporary with the Périgordian (a contested grouping of the earlier Châtelperronian and later Gravettian cultures).
  • The Gravettian culture was located around France, though evidence of Gravettian products have been found across central Europe and Russia. Gravettian sites date between 26000 BC to 20000 BC.
  • The Solutrean culture was located in eastern France, Spain, and England. Solutrean artifacts have been dated to around 19000 BC before mysteriously disappearing around 15000 BC.
  • The Magdalenian culture left evidence from Portugal to Poland during the period from 16000 BC to 8000 BC.

From the Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures:

  • central and east Europe:
    • 30000 BC, Szeletian culture
    • 20000 BC, Pavlovian, Aurignacian cultures
    • 11000 BC, Ahrensburg culture
    • 10000 BC, Epigravettian culture
    • 9000 BC, Gravettian culture
  • north and west Africa, and Sahara:
  • central, south, and east Africa:
    • 50000 BC, Fauresmithian culture
    • 30000 BC, Stillbayan culture
    • 10000 BC, Lupembian culture
    • 9000 BC, Magosian culture
    • 7000 BC, Wiltonian culture
    • 3000 BC, beginning of hunter-gatherer art in southern Africa
  • West Asia (including Middle East):
  • south, central and northern Asia:
    • 30000 BC, Angara culture
    • 9000 BC, Khandivili culture
  • east and southeast Asia:

See also


  1. ^ Biological origins of modern human behavior part3
  2. ^ Biological origins of modern human behavior part 1
  3. ^ Modern' Behavior Began 40,000 Years Ago In Africa
  4. ^ "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 (Jul., 1972), pp. 339–368.
  5. ^ McClellan, pg 11
  6. ^ Sea level data from main article: Cosquer cave
  7. ^ Lloyd, J & Mitchinson, J: "The Book of General Ignorance". Faber & Faber, 2006.

External links


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