an autodidact meets a dilettante…

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

ancient cultures and technologies

with 4 comments

The book I’ve been reading on the neanderthals [the convention is to use capitals for these people, but I’m not sure about this, as we don’t use capitals for humans – and clearly neanderthals are a type of human, and we don’t use capitals for dolphins, lions and chimpanzees, so…] has made me think so discursively, and has opened up so many areas in which I’m ignorant and would like to learn more, that it’s hard to know where to begin. One area is that of ancient, ancestral or proto-human technologies. That’s to say, the tools these peoples used, to hunt and to gather mostly, and any other implements or pieces they might fashion. Terms such as Aurignacian, Mousterian, Gravettian and Châtelperronian are used in the book, and I’ve only vaguely heard of the first one, so I’m going to write a post here to educate myself.

It would nice to be able to neatly associate each of these cultural and technological designations with particular times and places and stages of human development, but as always, things are much more complicated. Anyway, I’ll take each of them in turn.

aurignacian tools

The name Aurignacian comes from the ‘type site’ in Aurignac in south-west France, near the Spanish border. The culture is currently dated from 47.000 to 41,000 years ago, though artifacts of Aurignacian type, such as the Venus of Hohle Fels, are continually being discovered and analysed, leading to re-appraisal of  both the period and the cultural content. Aurignacian cultural sites are spread throughout southern Europe, from the western Iberian peninsula to the Crimea. Their flint tools were blades and bladelets made from a prepared lithic core, rather than flakes typical of Acheulean and Mousterian culture.

mousterian tools

Mousterian culture is named from the type site of Le Moustier in Aquitaine, France. It’s generally associated with the neanderthals, though it has also been associated with anatomically modern humans in north Africa and the eastern borders of Europe. Not surprisingly its period coincides with the neanderthal period – between 300,000 and 30,000 years ago. It’s associated with flint flake tools, and no art-work or decorative elements have so far been connected with it. The tools are sometimes associated with more sophisticated techniques such as Levallois.

gravettian tools

The type site of La Gravette, also in France, in the Dordogne region, gives its name to the Gravettian culture, noted for the use of small pointed blades in hunting larger game, such as mammoths, bison and reindeer. They also used nets for hunting. Dated between 28,000 and 23,000 years ago, it succeeded Aurignacian culture, with a similar creation of Venus figurines. The culture is divided into two regional groups, one around France, the other in the central European plains and Russia. One important feature of their technology was the use of a tool known as a burin for carving and engraving.

chatelperronian tools

Châtelperronian industry, another French designation, is associated with central and south-western France and northern Spain [the above pic is from J L Katzman’s website on paleolithic and neolithic artefacts]. It’s apparently difficult to distinguish from Gravettian and is often lumped together with it under the name of Perigordian. It has been controversially associated with neanderthals, because of claimed development upon Mousterian techniques of tool-making. It’s generally dated between 35,000 and 29,000 years ago. The direct connection between this type of technology and particular types of proto-humans is a notoriously vexed question.

There are other ancestral technologies and cultures worth mentioning. The Uluzzian of southern Italy and the Szeletian of eastern Europe [along with the Châtelperronian] were once claimed as ‘transitional’ post-Mousterian types indicative of neanderthal acculturation from Arignacian Homo sapiens, but this has been increasingly disputed. The many complex issues involved are way beyond my capacity to explain, but this paper provides a comprehensive account. The conclusion, along with Finlayson’s observations on the effects of microclimates and particular regional ecologies and the modifications of technology and hunting strategy they bring about, raise useful questions about acculturation, transitions and the realities of the multi-faceted middle-upper paleolithic period.

Written by stewart henderson

December 3, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Posted in anthropology

4 Responses

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  1. You should ask for the permission to use my photographs and give a link to my website (
    In addition these are not “Gravettian artifacts” but artifacts from the Willendorf-Kostenki culture.

    J.L Katzman

    August 19, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    • Hello, I’m sorry I’ve haven’t gotten back to you as I’ve been quite busy. The image you’re talking about would probably have been downloaded from google images [I can’t remember exactly, but that’s what I usually do] after I googled ‘Gravettian tools’. I’m sorry if you feel this image was owned by you, and I’m much more sorry if the image is wrongly labelled. I will try to sort this out in the next few days. If it’s wrongly labelled and I can’t use it, I’ll delete it or replace it with something more apppropriate. If I can use it, I’m happy to acknowledge it as coming from your site. Hoping this meets with your approval.
      Stewart Henderson


      August 22, 2012 at 12:29 pm

  2. Thanks- please replace my photo of Chatelperronian tools also-or alternatively use it and give a reference to my site. In this case you have my permission to use it. In the future you should be more careful in the selection of your pictures…
    Best Regards

    J.L Katzman

    August 24, 2012 at 12:28 pm

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