Paleolithic Europe

"Homo erectus" and Neanderthals settled in Paleolithic Europe long before the emergence of modern humans, "Homo sapiens". The bones of the earliest Europeans are found in Dmanisi, Georgia, dated at 1.8 million years before the present. West Europe was populated since c. 1.2 million ago (Atapuerca). [cite news |url= |title='Fossil find is oldest European yet' |date=2008-03-26 |publisher=Nature News] . The earliest appearance of anatomically modern people in Europe has been dated to 35,000 BC. Evidence of permanent settlement dates from the 7th millennium BC in Bulgaria, Romania, and Greece. Fact|date=March 2008


Lower Paleolithic

Europe was populated by species of "Homo" since c. 900,000 years ago ("Homo erectus"), associated with the "pebble-tools" technology and later to the Acheulean technology (since c. 300,000 BP).

Middle Paleolithic

Eventually these European "Homo erectus" evolved through a series of intermediate speciations including "Homo antecessor" and "Homo heidelbergensis" into the species "Homo neanderthalensis" (since c. 200,000 BP) associated with the Mousterian technologies. It must be noted that our ancestors "Homo sapiens" also participated in this tool-making technique for a long time and they may have first settled Europe while this Mid-Paleolithic technique was still in use, though the issue is still unclear.

A possible flute from the Divje Babe I cave reveals that the Middle Paleolithic Neanderthal inhabitants of Europe may have made and used musical instruments.Nelson, D.E., "Radiocarbon dating of bone and charcoal from Divje babe I cave", cited by Morley, p. 47]

Upper Paleolithic

Ancient Upper Paleolithic

The bearers of most or all Upper Paleolithic technologies were "H. sapiens". Some locally developed transitional cultures (Szletian in Central Europe and Chatelperronian in the Southwest) use clearly Upper Paleolithic technologies at very early dates and there are doubts about who were their carriers: "H. sapiens" or Neanderthal man.

Nevertheless, the definitive advance of these technologies is made by the Aurignacian culture. The origins of this culture can be located in what is now Bulgaria (proto-Aurignacian) and Hungary (first full Aurignacian). By 35,000 B.C., the Aurignacian culture and its technology had extended through most of Europe. The last Neanderthals seem to have been forced to retreat during this process to the southern half of the Iberian Peninsula.

The first but scarce works of art appear during this phase.

Middle Upper Paleolithic

Around 22,000 B.C. two new technologies/cultures appear in the southwestern region of Europe: Solutrean and Gravettian. The Gravettian technology/culture has been theorized to have come with migrations of people from the Middle East, Anatolia, and the Balkans carrying the haplotype I y-chromosome. They might be linked with the transitional cultures mentioned before, because their techniques have some similarities and are both very different from Aurignacian ones but this issue is thus far very obscure.

Though both cultures seem to appear in the SW, the Gravettian soon disappears there, with the notable exception of the Mediterranean coasts of Iberia. Nevertheless, it finds its way to other regions of Europe (Italy, Central and Eastern Europe), reaching even the Caucasus and the Zagros mountains.

The Solutrean culture, extended from northern Spain to SE France, includes not only a beautiful stone technology but also the first significant development of cave painting, the use of the needle and possibly that of the bow and arrow.

The more widespread Gravettian culture is no less advanced, at least in artistic terms: sculpture (mainly "venuses") is the most outstanding form of creative expression of these peoples.

Late Upper Paleolithic

Around 17,000 B.C., Europe witnesses the appearance of a new culture, known as Magdalenian, possibly rooted in the old Aurignacian one. This culture soon supersedes the Solutrean area and also the Gravetian of Central Europe. However, in Mediterranean Iberia, Italy and Eastern Europe, epi-Gravettian cultures continue evolving locally.

With the Magdalenian culture, Paleolithic development in Europe reaches its peak and this is reflected in the amazing art, owing to the previous traditions: basically paintings in the West and sculpture in Central Europe.


Around 10,500 B.C., the Würm Glacial age ends. Slowly, through the following millennia, temperatures and sea levels rise, changing the environment of prehistoric people. Nevertheless, Magdalenian culture persists until circa 8000 B.C., when it quickly evolves into two "microlithist" cultures: Azilian, in Spain and southern France, and Sauveterrian, in northern France and Central Europe. Though there are some differences, both cultures share several traits: the creation of very small stone tools called microliths and the scarcity of figurative art, which seems to have vanished almost completely, being replaced by abstract decoration of tools. []

In the late phase of this epi-Paleolithic period, the Sauveterrean culture evolves into the so-called Tardenoisian and influences strongly its southern neighbour, clearly replacing it in Mediterranean Spain and Portugal.

The recession of the glaciers allows human colonization in Northern Europe for the first time. The Maglemosian culture, derived from the Sauveterre-Tardenois culture but with a strong personality, colonizes Denmark and the nearby regions, including parts of Britain.

External articles

*Links to Paleolithic santuaries in France:
** [ culture : lascaux]
** [ culture : chauvet]


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