Conclusions: A Widespread Legacy

From the pre-Aurignacian to the end of the various Aurignacian phases, something significant had occurred. A cultural sequence had been broadly transported, elaborated, and shared throughout many places in the world. From as far afield as Central Asia and Southwester Siberia to Europe and the Levant, Aurignacian culture dominated. These peoples were innovators in art and technology, always increasing and elaborating the scale and detail of their toolkit over time. One of the most significant pieces of information learned by studying the Aurignacian is the mobile nature of Homo sapiens in the Upper Paleolithic. Over the course of about 20,000 years, Aurignacian technology and peoples made their way at first into the Balkans and Central Europe, and later into the Levant, North and Western Europe, Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Mesopotamia, and even Siberia. Along with this diversity of geographic locations came a diversity in art ranging from figurines and paintings to musical instruments and pendants. What this suggests is that the Upper Paleolithic was a time of immense cultural output. While many of the Aurignacian technologies had been experimented with in the Middle Paleolithic, the Aurignacian witnessed a true flourishing of culture across space and time. Furthermore, the progression from pre- proto- to typical Aurignacian bears testimony to the ongoing process of experimentation and innovation. Thus, one can appreciate the importance of this culture and it’s peoples as innovators, artists, craftsmen, hunters, naturalists, and travelers.

Aurignacian Tools and Technologies

Aurignacian tool technologies were dominated by burins, scrapers, and bone tools. Although blades and bladeletes were produced, these were fewer in number compared to the Ahmarian assemblages in the Levant. According to Gilead, “In the Negev and Sinai, the assemblages dominated by endscrapers and burins are clearly different from the Ahmarian. The dominance of endscrapers or burins and their similarity to the “Aurignacian” as defined by the pioneer prehistorians (e.g., Garrod, 1954) were the reasons for grouping them as the Levantine Aurignacian (Gilead, 1981a; Marks, 1981). This tradition was char acterized by a predominance of flakes in the debitage; typologically, there are numerous endscrapers (Aurignacian or non-Aurignacian), burins, or both,” (Gilead, 127). Aurignacian people used the burins, or chisel like tools, to incise their tools and objects with symbolic signs. These acts of engraving of tools are one of the features that differentiates the Aurignacian peoples from their predecessors and contemporaries. According to Hahn, “Of the 100 Aurignacian assemblages twenty-one have yielded signs. The special position of the two Vogelherd assemblages (nos 5 and 6) is shown on figure 9. Vogelherd V contains at least one example of every sign known and Vogelherd IV, twelve of the total of fifteen signs. With this continuous representation, these two assemblages clearly stand out from all the others of which only one, Muralovka (24), contains as many as four different signs. On the average, all the other assemblages have only two different signs apiece ” (Hahn, 257). Bone tools were another important feature which distinguished Aurignacian industries.One of the most important of these was the split bone point which was created by splitting antlers or other bones to make multiple bone point out of the raw material. Assemblages dominated by these types of remains can be found after the pre-Aurignacian in almost all of the geographic regions containing Aurignacian assemblages. Another common tool that accompanied these was the dufour bladelet, one of the many predecessors to microlithic technologies which would dominate at the end of the Paleolithic.

Source (Gilead): The Upper Paleolithic Period in the Levant. Journal of World Prehistory, Vol. 5, No. 2 (June 1991), pp. 105-154

Source (Hahn): Aurignacian Signs, Pendants and Art Objects in Central and Eastern Europe. World Archaeology, Vol. 3, No. 3, Art and Design (Feb., 1972), pp. 252-266

Origins: The Pre-Aurignacian in Europe

The Aurignacian Industry and it’s related assemblages can be subdivided into many different categories. The oldest of these are the Pre-Aurignacian and the Proto-Aurignacian. The Pre-Aurignacian is the older of the two. Although the industry itself is most widespread in the Balkan peninsula and Central Europe, the peoples who used the industry are thought to have been migrants coming from Southwest Asia in successive waves. According to Kozlowski, “An analogy can be made to the diffusion of the Neolithic, which, like the Aurignacian, was also earlier in the southeast, the Balkans, and the eastern Mediterranean. At both times, the Danube Basin was crossed, and, finally, these new traditions reached Atlantic Europe,” (Kozlowski, 513). Thus, the Pre-Aurignacian industry can be seen as a techno-biological migration of anatomically modern humans through Southwest Asia into Europe.

The new arrivals contrasted sharply with the transitional industries that were contemporaneous with the Pre-Aurignacian. These transitional industries are associated with Neanderthal occupations. The notable difference between the Pre-Aurignacian and transitional industries are the lack of Levallois and Mousterian technologies in the blade reliant Pre-Aurignacian assemblages. Furthermore, little interaction is seen between transitional industries and Pre-Aurignacian tool cultures. Interestingly though, the transitional industries, especially the Chatelperronian, indicate that Neaderthals were making symbolic objects similar to the Pre- and later Aurignacian assemblages, most notably pendants. This has led  Zilhao and others to conclude that the Neanderthals that were sympatric with the Aurignacian peoples were behaviorally modern. “The radiocarbon dates for the Grotte des F6es confirm that the Chitelperronian is significantly earlier than the Aurignacian (Fig. 4). If the latter is a proxy for the initial dispersal of modern humans into Europe, then the process postdates by several millennia the Neandertal innovations for which the Chitelperronian stands. Thus, such autochthonous, largely independent cultural developments only can be taken as evidence for the Neandertal’s ability for symbolic thinking, as proposed by Cultural Model views of the emergence of behavioral modernity,” (Zilhao et. all,12,648). Nevertheless, Kozlowski maintains his position that, “Artistic and symbolic evidence, common in the Aurignacian, is rare in the transitional assemblages,” (513) suggesting that the pre-Aurignacian was a sharp contrast to what came before. Along with artistic and symbolic objects, the pre-Aurignacian assemblage was typified by, “The Pre-Aurignacian tool kit is made on well-mastered blades and contains endscrapers (sometimes thick, nosed, or atypical), blades with marginal retouch, truncated blades, dihedral burins, and burins on break,” (Kozlowski, 516). The industry, however, lacked some features of the typical Aurignacian, “Otherwise, this facies lacks typical carinated endscrapers, carinated burins, Aurignacian blades, and bladelets with fine retouch (i.e., Dufour or Krems). Bone points are also absent, although bone technology is present (as evidenced by ivory and bone manufacturing debris). Representational art is lacking, but pendants are present (made on bone, antler, ivory, and teeth),” (Koslowski, 516).

Dates for the pre-Aurignacian range from 45,000 bp – 37,000 bp, predating the Levantine Aurignacian by 10-12,000 years, the Aurignacian in the Zagros by 5-7,000 years, the Aurignacian in Eastern Europe by 10-15,000 years, the proto-Aurignacian in Italy/Spain by 6,000 years, and the typical Aurignacian of western and central Europe by 9,000 years. During the time separating these different facies, the Aurignacian peoples would pioneer microblade technologies, notably Dufour bladelets and el-Wad points, bone projectile points, and representational art. Included above is a video of a recently dated piece of art from a pre-Aurignacian site.

Source (Koslowski): The Formation of the Aurignacian in Europe. Journal of Anthropological Research, Vol. 56, No. 4 (Winter, 2000), pp. 513-534

Source (Zilhao): Analysis of Aurignacian Interstratification at the Châtelperronian-Type Site and Implications for the Behavioral Modernity of Neandertals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America,Vol. 103, No. 33 (Aug. 15, 2006), pp. 12643-12648

The Aurignacian Period, Origins and Questions

The Aurignacian Industry was a widely distributed cultural sequence which spanned much of Europe and parts of Asia in the Upper Paleolithic. It’s widespread use begs numerous questions. Where did it originate? How did it travel so far? Who were the people that used it? And how did it compare to other industries that were present before and after it? What types of tools and technologies are covered by the label Aurignacian? These questions help one to explore this important industry and gain better insights into migrations of peoples and cultures in the Upper Paleolithic.Image

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