Home » Humanity » Paleolithic. Mousterian epoch (120-100 thousand-40 thousand years ago)

Paleolithic. Mousterian epoch (120-100 thousand-40 thousand years ago)

Currently, there is a tendency to revise the chronological framework of this era, which is explained by the emergence of new data on the origin of the” intelligent man ” and the accumulation of new extensive archaeological material. The most controversial problem is the transition from the Mousterian to the Upper Paleolithic. However, since many issues are very far from being resolved, the characterization of the Mousterian era is presented in accordance with the most widely accepted views to date.

Natural conditions and human settlement

Plants and animals

The archaeological era of Mustier coincides with two periods of the Pleistocene:

  • warm and humid Riess-Wurm (Mikulinsky for Eastern Europe) interglacial and the
  • first half of the Wurm (Valdai) glaciation.

The most probable date of this interglacial period is from 120-110 thousand to 75-70 thousand years ago. The main features of the relief of that time were close to modern ones, but the areas and coastline of the seas, especially the inland ones, had significant differences, since the seas experienced a phase of transgression (level rise) and flooded previously dry areas. The warmest phase of the interglacial period was characterized by perhaps the greatest degree of development of woody vegetation during the entire Pleistocene period, and there was no tundra zone on the Russian Plain. Average annual temperatures were 4-6 degrees higher than today, mainly due to relatively warm winters. For Siberia, this interglacial period is also the warmest and least continental climate of the Pleistocene epoch. Paleobotanical data indicate a wide distribution of forest, especially dark coniferous, landscapes.

Upper Pleistocene animals.

Upper Pleistocene animals.

The second half of the Mustier (75-70 thousand — 40 thousand years ago) corresponds to the first half of the Wurm (Early Valdai, for Eastern Europe — Kalinin, for Siberia — Zyryan) glaciation. As the ice cover gets colder and increases, forest vegetation degrades; in the north, the landscapes are represented by forest tundra, and in the south-rather cold, sparsely grassy steppes. The climate becomes harsh, permafrost develops, reaching 50 degrees north. latitudes. Mammals of the Early Valdai period are known mainly from the materials of the Mousterian sites, these are animals of the tundra, forest and steppe landscape zones. The characteristic species are –

  • mammoth,
  • woolly rhinoceros,
  • cave bear,
  • cave hyena,
  • tiger
  • lion,
  • reindeer,
  • wild horse,
  • bison,
  • donkey,
  • saiga,
  • musk ox,
  • arctic fox.

Human settlement and ancient hunter camps

This epoch is represented by a large number of diverse monuments, spread much wider than in the Acheulean period; Mousterian sites are known throughout the Old World, and the northernmost ones cross the border of the Arctic Circle.

For example, in Russia and in the surrounding areas, more than 150 Mousterian monuments are known. Most of them are represented by materials that do not have a clear stratigraphic position and are therefore called redeposited. However, there are sites with well-stratified rich cultural layers, such as the Crimean caves of Kiik-Koba, Staroselye, Zaskalnoye 1-5, the sites of Molodov 1-7 on the Dniester, Rozhok in the Azov region, the caves of Kudaro 1-3, Tsona in the Caucasus, the caves of Mezmayskaya, Triangular, Matuzka, Myshtulagty-lagat and Monasheskaya, the site of Ilskaya in the North Caucasus, Sukhaya Mechetka on the Volga, the caves of Denisova, Strasnaya, Ust-Kanskaya, Kara-Bom and others in Altai. The most northern monuments, such as Khotylevo on Desna, Cave log and other sites of the Kama basin, Byzovaya and Krutaya Gora on Pechora, show the increased capabilities of people in adapting to new natural conditions. The widespread human settlement in Mustia is due to the development of the stone industry and housing construction.

In the most studied areas, scientists have identified Mousterian archaeological cultures: for example, Stinkovskaya and Molodovskaya on the Dniester, Kudarskaya, Khostinskaya in the Caucasus.

Mousterian monuments are known in almost all countries of the Old World. Their stone tools are very diverse. Mousterian material culture is heterogeneous. On the one hand, it identifies the so-called options, or ways of development, which reflect the general patterns of development of various stone processing technologies and are not associated with a specific territory. An example is the following options: –

  • a serrated mustier, whose inventory is characterized by the presence of a large number of tools of irregular outlines with a serrated-notched edge,
  • mustier-levallois, characterized by the Levallois splitting technique,
  • classic mustier, represented by numerous scrapers and pointers of different types with a predominant one-sided processing, etc.

On the other hand, within these variants there are small local groupings of similar monuments — archaeological cultures. Within archaeological cultures, the differences in the composition of the inventory and the nature of the cultural layer can be traced to monuments of different economic types.

The direct connection between the monuments of Acheul and Mousthier, which allows us to speak about their genetic continuity, can be traced only in rare cases: for example, in France, a variant of Mousthier with the Acheulean tradition is distinguished.

More information about the settlement can be found in the article – ” The settlement of ancient people»

Economic activity

Tools and equipment for their production

The era as a whole is characterized by the improvement of the technique of splitting stone: Mousterian nuclei are very diverse. The most common types of nuclei are discoid or tortoiseshell (Levallois), amorphous, and protoprismatic. The main types of blanks obtained by splitting nuclei are flakes and plates.

Tools of the Mousterian era.

Mustier guns:
1-subprismatic nucleus; 2-discoid (Levallois) nucleus; 3 — scraper; 4, 5-spikelets; 6-biface; 7 – use of a spikelet; 8-scraper;
9-incisor; 10-point.

The improvement of the splitting technique led to the emergence of new and further development of existing forms of tools. Mustier is characterized by a much greater consistency and stability of the forms of tools, a large number of tools on flakes and plates. The choppers either disappear, or their smaller and more elegant forms are found. Secondary processing, with the help of which the blanks were turned into products, is represented by upholstery and various types of retouching.

There is an expansion of the set of stone products, there are now about 100 types. A fairly widespread use of bone as a raw material for the manufacture of tools begins. The main groups of products of the Mustier era — a variety of scrapers, pointers, scrapers, knives, punctures, drills, switches, various points, retouchers, etc. Retouchers, awls, and points were made from bone. The analysis of the traces of harmony on the mousterian tools allows us to speak about their polyfunctionality and the existence of such labor operations as cutting, planing, drilling, processing of wood and hides.

Pointers and scrapers are the most numerous and diverse categories of tools in the mousterian inventory

Gables are massive stone products of an almond-shaped or triangular shape with straight or slightly convex edges treated with retouching. They could serve as part of composite tools — heavy hunting spears with a wooden shaft, with which they hunted mammoths, elephants, rhinos, bison, bears and other large animals, and could also be used for other economic purposes.

The same items of hunting weapons were probably leaf-shaped points. They had the shape of a wood leaf and were treated with upholstery on one or both surfaces, and on the edges additionally-with retouching. Leaf-shaped points could serve as spearheads and javelins.

A scraper is a fairly large product, often asymmetrical in plan, with one or more working edges. Scrapers are very diverse, their number, shape and location of working blades vary widely. Scrapers could be used for processing hides and leather, wood.

Various products on flakes and plates, such as scrapers, toothed-notched tools, flakes and plates with retouching were intended for processing wood and bone, dressing animal skins and for other household needs.


The Mousterian camps are located both in caves and grottos, and in open spaces. These are either long — term settlements (base sites-Molodovo 1-5), or short-term (hunting camps-Kudaro cave 1, 3, Mousterian layers). Often, workshops for the extraction and primary processing of stone raw materials are located at its exits to the surface.

The most characteristic form of dwellings in open-air parking lots were rounded or oval ground buildings with internal hearths. The main building material for their frame was large animal bones and wood, from above it could be covered with skins, reeds, turf, tree bark, etc. The most vivid housing is represented at the sites of Molodovo 1-5, belonging to the Molodovo Mousterian culture in Transnistria. The area of each of them is about 50 sq. m., inside there were several hearths, which housed various production centers.


The main means of obtaining food was hunting. People hunted a variety of animals: judging by the bone remains found at the sites, the prey could be the largest (mammoth, cave bear, woolly rhinoceros), and relatively small (saiga, wild donkey, ram). In the southern regions, for example, in the Caucasus, there was fishing. Sometimes there is some specialization in the production of a particular animal: in sites located close to each other and existing at about the same time, the bones of different animals predominate. For example, in Staroselye (Crimea), wild donkey bones predominate (98%), and in Zaskalnaya 4-5 (Crimea) — saiga bones. In the caves of the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus, most of the bones of the cave bear, and at the Ilskaya site (Northern Caucasus) – up to 87% of bison bones.

Hunting different animals required special skills and weapons. For the Paleolithic, collective round-up hunts on rough terrain are usually reconstructed, but there is no doubt that hunting pits and other traps could have been used. Undoubtedly, hunting was supplemented by gathering, as evidenced by the finds of teroch stones, which served for grinding fruits and roots.

Worldview views, burials

From the Mousterian era, the first evidence of the existence of worldview ideas has also been preserved — this is the appearance of:

  • burials, the
  • beginnings of art andzool
  • atry (animal worship).

Burials of the Mousterian period are known in Western and Southern Europe, the Crimea, the Middle East, and Central Asia. On the territory of modern Russia, there is one known burial of a child in the Meizmayskaya cave in the North Caucasus.

Reconstruction of the burial in the cave of La Chapelle-au-Seine.

Reconstruction of the burial in the cave of La Chapelle-au-Seine.

The first human burials in the history of mankind were found in the Mousterian open sites and in inhabited caves and grottos. They are characterized by all the signs that allow us to characterize the burial as a phenomenon of material and spiritual culture: the creation of a burial structure, giving the deceased a certain pose, the presence of accompanying equipment. The funerary structures had various forms. Rectangular pits are known, specially cut in the rock bottom of residential caves and grottos. Such objects are traced in the cave of Kiik-Koba (Crimea), the cave of La Chapelle-haut-Seine, the grotto of Le Moutier (France), the grotto of La Ferrasi (Italy). The pits have a considerable depth (up to 70 cm), on their walls there are traces of teshuschih tools, after the burial they were covered with stone slabs. All this allows us to say with complete confidence that such structures were created intentionally. In some cases, burial pits were dug in the ground, which is known from the materials of the caves of Teshik-Tash in Central Asia and Shanidar in Iraq, as well as a number of Mousterian monuments of the Front East. In some cases, artificial mounds were created over the burials (the grottoes of Le Moutier, La Ferracy, Regourdou in France, the Triangular cave in the North Caucasus) or stone boxes made of individual slabs (the Regourdou grotto). There are special fences around the burial (Teshik-Tash grotto).

The postures of the buried also vary — from elongated to crouched and sitting. The accompanying inventory is not rich, but it is diverse: stone tools and flakes, lumps of ochre, animal bones, which can be interpreted as parting food or as some ritually significant items. In addition, there are also exotic objects, such as an ostrich egg ,which was” pressed ” to the chest by one of the sitting buried in the cave of Shul (Iraq).

Various features of the funeral rite are observed —

  • so, in the burial of a teenager from Shanidar (Iraq), a huge amount of pollen from aquatic flowers and plants that did not grow nearby was found;
  • the fence of the burial of a boy from Teshik-Tash (Uzbekistan) consisted of seven pairs of cave horns of a bezoar goat;
  • The burial of a young woman in Regourdou (France) in a stone box was accompanied by the burial of the bear’s limbs in another smaller stone box, standing on the first one.
The boy from the burial of Teshik-Tash.

Reconstruction of Gerasimov M. M. Neanderthal
boy from the burial of Teshik-Tash. Reconstruction of Gerasimov M. M.

The age of the buried-from 10 (or less) to 70 years, which seriously contradicts the generally accepted ideas about the unusually short life expectancy of people of the Stone Age. Paleoanthropological materials indicate that representatives of almost all sex and age groups (children, adolescents, young and elderly people) were buried, but the forms and rites of the funeral ritual apparently differed greatly. Almost all the burials of the Mousterian period that are now known have been found in parking lots, but some groups of people could have been buried outside of residential areas. Apparently, therefore, there are disproportionately few burials known in relation to the number of primitive collectives. In addition, it should be borne in mind that the degree of preservation of such objects depends on many reasons and most of them are simply destroyed by time.

It is possible that in addition to the presence of ideas of a general worldview order, such as “life — death”, “death — new life”, etc., the burials also indicate the awareness of the ancient collective of its community. So, in one of the burials in the Shanidar cave in Iraq, the skeleton of a crippled Neanderthal man was discovered, who lost an arm long before his death and lived after that, apparently, only thanks to the care of others. At the same time, it is impossible not to say that there are traces of cannibalism, possibly ritual, at the Mousterian sites (Krapina Cave, Yugoslavia).

Animal Cult

Increasingly, objects are found on Mousterian monuments that allow us to speak of the emergence of activities that are not related to any utilitarian needs, i.e., the emergence of the rudiments of fine art.

These are fragments of bone or stone plates with cuts of an ornamental nature. In addition, at the sites and in the caves there are remnants of red mineral paint ochre-in the form of red spots, lumps or rods, worn off like pencils. Very rarely are there objects that can be called small plastic: despite the rough archaism of the execution, these are quite recognizable anthropomorphic and zoomorphic images. In addition, a number of finds of jewelry in the form of beads or pendants are known.

The origin of zoolatry — the cult of animals, most clearly represented in the so-called “bear caves” – also belongs to the Mousterian era. In these caves, special complexes of bones from the skulls and limbs of the cave bear were found, which have a non-utilitarian character, i.e., not related to human economic and household activities. “Bear caves” are common from Spain to the Caucasus. The most famous Swiss caves are Drachenloch and Petersgele, where stone boxes containing bones of limbs and skulls of bears were discovered. A number of such caves are also known in the Caucasus, for example, the Upper Cave of the Tsutskhvat cave complex in Georgia. Often, the bones of other animals, most often ungulates, are preserved in the ritual complexes of “bear caves”. And although the bear occupied an exceptional place in the worldview of ancient man as the largest terrestrial predator and the main rival in the fight for the caves, it can not be argued that other animals were not revered. Probably, these findings show the appearance of early animistic and totemistic ideas.

Thus, in the era of Mustier, there is a further development of material culture, worldview ideas are formed, expressed in the creation of funerary and ritual complexes, the first examples of fine art appear. All this together indicates a further complication of the social organization of ancient human collectives, and the increase in the power of cultural layers and the large number of remnants of hunting prey on the monuments indicate the development of economic activity and increasing settlement. A number of researchers suggest that already in this era, the formation of a tribal society takes place. The variety of mustier flint tools reflects the existence of certain traditions in the manufacture of stone and bone tools inherent in individual groups of people.

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