Upper Paleolithic Tool Industry
Created by Cro-Magnons in Europe
Aurignacian culture is the first archaeological tool industry and artistic tradition, to be introduced by modern humans in Europe.
This so-called revolution affected many different areas of Stone Age culture, including painting, sculpture, tool-making, hunting, and possibly language.
It was followed by the Gravettian, around 30,000 BC.
Aurignacian culture - named after the type site of Aurignac Cave in the Haute-Garonne region of southwest France - was introduced into Europe by modern H. sapiens, who began migrating out of Africa around 100,000 years ago, and settled initially in the Middle East.
Here, they introduced the Emiran culture (c.60,000 BC) - noted for its Emireh point - and afterwards the Ahmarian culture (c.45,000 BC), noted for its blade and bladelet-knapping techniques.
Around 55,000 BC, or perhaps earlier, some of these Middle Eastern settlers began moving north-west into Europe.
The earliest known traces of these Cro-Magnons - dating to 54,000 BC - were recovered from Mandrin Cave in the French Dordogne, although even earlier finds are likely.
The dates of the Aurignacian vary with the terminology used. It's the same with the three other tool cultures of the Upper Paleolithic. So, for the sake of simplicity alone, we adopt the following chronology:
Aurignacian stone tools were archaeology's first Mode 4 technology.
Overall, the Aurignacian - the first of the four Cro-Magnon tool industries - introduced numerous innovations in tool technology of the late Stone Age, which formed a major part of the so-called Upper Paleolithic Revolution. For more, see: History of Stone Tools.
Until the end of the 20th century, many paleoanthropologists doubted that Aurignacian Man was capable of producing representational art.
With rare exceptions, almost all cave painting involving animal or human figures was assigned to the later Magdalenian culture, while the oldest known figurative carvings were venus figurines, which dated to the Gravettian.
Then came the sensational discovery of Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc cave in the French Ardèche, with its stunning imagery of lions, rhinoceroses and bison.
When it was learned that the oldest images were created as early as 34,500 BC, some archaeologists simply refused to accept that such mature cave art could have been created by Aurignacian artists.
Even today, some scientists still can't accept it, despite the fact that no other cave has been as precisely and as scientifically carbon-dated, as Chauvet.
See also: Upper Paleolithic Art (40,000-10,000 BC).
Prehistoric sculpture also underwent a revolution under the Cro-Magnons.
A series of finds in caves of the Swabian Jura in Germany, revealed that Aurignacian sculptors were responsible for a wide range of small-scale mammoth ivory carvings, dating to between 38,000 and 30,000 BC.
In addition, they created the first therianthropic carving known as the Lion-Man of Hohlenstein-Stadel, also dated to the Aurignacian, and the first venus figurine, the Venus of Hohle Fels (see below).
New finds of Aurignacian art are ongoing across the region of Franco-Cantabrian art, and further afield.
This is partly due to the emergence of new dating technologies, such as Urianium-Thorium dating.
Other discoveries include the Fumane animal paintings near Verona and the Abri Castanet engravings in the Dordogne.
Although the Aurignacian culture is limited to Europe and parts of the Middle East, the time period also witnessed the creation of spectacular parietal art in Indonesia, notably in the Maros-Pangkep region of Sulawesi (43,500 BC), and the East Kalimantan Caves of Borneo (38,000 BC).
Evidence of human occupation at Madjedbebe (Malakunanja II), Arnhem Land, shows that modern humans arrived in Australia from about 65,000 BC. The main sites of rock art are those on the Burrup Peninsula; at Ubirr; and in the Kimberley, all of which date back to at least 30,000 BC.
Recent dating tests on signs at several Spanish caves, including La Pasiega Cave in Cantabria, as well as Ardales Cave northwest of Malaga and Maltravieso Cave in Extremedura, showed that the oldest were created about 62,000 BC - at least 8,000 years before the advent of moderns.
Modern humans continued this abstract signage throughout the Aurignacian, creating additional signs along the way.
The Aurignacian offers an interesting comparison between H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis.
Neanderthals had dominated the European continent since they introduced the Mousterian tool culture around 300,000 years ago.
Now, some 250,000 years later, a new species of early humans had arrived on their doorstep, and lost no time in demonstrating their cultural and cognitive superiority.
Recent research indicates that moderns were cognitively more advanced than Neanderthals (they developed more brain neurons), and it showed.
They achieved all this within the Aurignacian period, while they were still acclimatizing to a colder climate and an unfamilar habitat.
The consequences for indigenous Neanderthals were fatal. For a variety of reasons, they faded from the archaeological record. Their last known remains are dated to 37,000 BC.
Here is a short chronological list of the most famous items of Aurignacian art.
For more about the chronology of cave painting and engraving, see: Prehistoric Art Timeline (from 540,000 BC).
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