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Paleolithic period

The Upper Paleolithic Period

In the Upper Paleolithic period Neanderthal man disappears and is replaced by a variety of Homo sapiens such as Cro-Magnon man and Grimaldi man. This, the flowering of the Paleolithic period, saw an astonishing number of human cultures, such as the Aurignacian, Gravettian, Perigordian, Solutrean, and Magdalenian, rise and develop in the Old World. The beginnings of communal hunting and extensive fishing are found here, as is the first conclusive evidence of belief systems centering on magic and the supernatural. Pit houses, the first man-made shelters, were built, sewn clothing was worn, and sculpture and painting originated. Tools were of great variety, including flint and obsidian blades and projectile points. It is probable that the people of the Aurignacian culture migrated to Europe after developing their distinctive culture elsewhere, perhaps in Asia. Their stone tools are finely worked, and they made a typical figure eight–shaped blade. They also used bone, horn, and ivory and made necklaces and other personal ornaments. They carved the so-called Venus figures, ritual statuettes of bone, and made outline drawings on cave walls.

The hunters of the Solutrean phase of the Upper Paleolithic entered Europe from the east and ousted many of their Aurignacian predecessors. The Solutrean wrought extremely fine spearheads, shaped like a laurel leaf. The wild horse was their chief quarry. The Solutrean as well as remnants of the Aurignacian were replaced by the Magdalenian, the final, and perhaps most impressive, phase of the Paleolithic period. Here artifacts reflect a society made up of communities of fishermen and reindeer hunters. Surviving Magdalenian tools, which range from tiny microliths to implements of great length and fineness, indicate an advanced technique. Weapons were highly refined and varied, the atlatl first came into use, and along the southern edge of the ice sheet boats and harpoons were developed. However, the crowning achievement of the Magdalenian was its cave paintings, the culmination of Paleolithic art.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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