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Paleolithic. Upper Paleolithic (40-10 thousand years ago)

General characteristics

The Upper Paleolithic, with all the variety of manifestations of cultural features, is a single archaeological epoch associated with the activity of a modern type of man — Homo sapiens. Throughout its entire length, people still earn their livelihood by hunting and gathering. From a sociological point of view, in this era there is a further development of the primitive communal and, according to most researchers, the tribal system.

Material culture in the Upper Paleolithic was different than in the previous era, due to the improvement of stone processing techniques, the widespread use of bone as technical raw materials, the development of house construction, the complexity of life support systems, and the emergence of various forms of art.

People of the Upper Paleolithic are most often called Cro-Magnons from the finds in the Cro-Magnon grotto in France, where in 1868 E. Larte discovered five human skeletons, along with stone tools and ornaments made of drilled shells, overlaid with thick layers of sediments. Since then, quite a lot of anthropological remains have been found that allow us to characterize the Cro-Magnon man as a pronounced representative of the Homo sapiens species. Currently, there are more than 80 known finds of Upper Paleolithic human bone remains in Eurasia, mostly all of these finds come from funerary monuments. The most important of them are found:

  • In France-the grottos of Grimaldi, Combe-Capelle, La Madeleine and La Lojerie Ba, Le Plakard, Solutre, etc.;
  • in England-the caves of Paviland and Halley Hill;
  • in Germany — Oberkassel;
  • in the Czech Republic-Brno, Przedem, Mladec, Dolni Vestonitsy, Pavlov;
  • In Russia— Kostenkovsko-Borshevsky district, in the parking lots of Sungir, Malta.

Natural conditions and human settlement

Human settlement

The Upper Paleolithic was an era of significant expansion of the Oikumene. Sites of this time are known in the Old and New World, Australia. The settlement of North America, most likely, was due to the existence of a powerful ice “bridge” across the modern Bering Strait, which connected Alaska, Kamchatka and Chukotka. Due to the harsh climatic conditions of Wurm, this “bridge” has existed for many millennia, on its surface, covered with sediments, from time to time even vegetation appeared. In the scientific literature, this area is usually called Beringia. The settlement of North America through Beringia occurred about 30-26 thousand years ago from the territory of Eastern Siberia. The new population quickly mastered the entire American continent — the Upper Paleolithic sites in Chile date back to the time of 14-12 thousand years BC.

Man is actively developing the northern regions of the Earth-the sites of this time are known far beyond the Arctic Circle: in the Middle Pechora, in the lower reaches of the Aldan and Lena rivers, in the basins of the Indigirka and Kolyma rivers, in Chukotka, Kamchatka, and Alaska. Evidence that man is developing a wide variety of natural and climatic zones is found in the sites found high in the mountains in the Caucasus and Pamirs, in Central Asia and the Middle East, known locations in the now arid and desert areas. The sites of the Upper Paleolithic occur in a variety of geological and geomorphological conditions: in river valleys and watersheds, in flat and mountainous areas.

Many monuments contain rich cultural layers with the remains of residential buildings, numerous accumulations of stone products and industrial waste, mammalian bones, etc.In Russia and in the surrounding areas, more than 1,200 sites and locations of the Upper Paleolithic are known, many of them are multi-layered. For example, in the Kostenkovsko-Borshevsky district on the Middle Don, more than 20 monuments are known, which represent more than 60 cultural layers. Based on their study by the famous Russian archaeologist A. N. Rogachev, the generally accepted ones up to the middle of the XX century were convincingly refuted. ideas about the unified stadium development of human society and its material culture.

The Upper Paleolithic epoch is separated from the present by a relatively short period of time, it ended 12 thousand years ago, but, nevertheless, it cannot be said that it is well studied — many, not only particular, but also general problems need to be resolved.

Natural conditions

The beginning of the Upper Paleolithic corresponds to the second half of the Middle Wurm (Valdai for Eastern Europe) – 50-24 thousand years ago. This interglacial (mologosheksninskoe), or megainterstadial, was characterized by a fairly warm climate, at times similar to the modern one, and the absence of ice cover within the entire Russian plain. In the Srednevaldaysky megainterstadial, there are at least three periods with favorable conditions (three climatic optima), separated by colder phases. The last of these optima seems to have been the warmest and the longest: it lasted from the 30th to the 22nd millennium BC.

The beginning of the late Valdai (Ostashkov time) – 24-20 thousand years ago-was characterized by a gradual cooling, the onset of the glacier, which reached its maximum spread about 20-18 thousand years ago. This is the coldest period during the entire Wurm. The end of the Wurm, the Late Glacial period (15-13, 5-12 thousand years ago) — is a time of some improvement in the climate, the retreat of the glacier, which occurred not smoothly, but as if in pulsations: short-term periods of warming alternated with periods of cooling.

Depending on climate fluctuations, the composition of animals in a particular region sometimes changed very dramatically. During the last glaciation (20-10 thousand years ago), cold-loving animals (reindeer, arctic fox) penetrated far south to the south-west of France and northern Spain. This is associated with the largest cooling in the entire Pleistocene and the resulting widespread occurrence of near-glacial landscapes.

The main reason for the disappearance and decline in the number of different species of animals is a significant change in climate and landscapes. Recently, opinions have also been expressed that changes in the Earth’s magnetic field are “responsible” for these interrelated phenomena, the last inversion of the poles took place about 12-10 thousand years ago. Whatever the prerequisites for certain changes in the organic world (including fauna), the main causes of these changes were undoubtedly changes in the entire natural environment, and not human hunting activities.

About 12-10 thousand years ago, extensive cover glaciations, gradually retreating, disappear and the modern geological epoch — the Holocene-begins.

Tools of labor

In comparison with previous epochs, information about the Upper Paleolithic is much more diverse and complete. We draw our knowledge about the life of Paleolithic man from the study of the cultural layers of settlements, which preserve the remains of residential structures, stone and bone tools and places of their production, the bones of animals that served as hunting prey, small utensils and household items.

Stone tools and their manufacturing techniques

For this era, the most important and characteristic features are the widespread use of prismatic splitting techniques, the virtuoso processing of bone and tusk, and a diverse set of tools — about 200 different types.

Stone tools of the Upper Paleolithic

1-3-microplates with retouching; 4, 5-scrapers; 6,7-tips; 8, 9-points; 10-prismatic nucleus with a chipped plate from it; 11-13-incisors; 14, 15-toothed-notched tools; 16-piercing

Significant changes have taken place in the technique of splitting stone raw materials: the experience of many millennia led man to create a prismatic nucleus, from which the blanks were chipped with a relatively regular shape, close to rectangular, with parallel edges. Such a billet is called, depending on the size, a plate or plate, it allowed the most economical use of material and served as a convenient basis for the manufacture of a variety of tools. Blanks-flakes that do not have a regular shape, were still widespread, but when chipped from prismatic nuclei, they become thinner and very different from the flakes of earlier eras. The technique of retouching in the Upper Paleolithic was high and very diverse, which made it possible to create working edges and blades of different degrees of sharpness, to design different contours and surfaces of products.

The tools of the Upper Paleolithic change their appearance in comparison with earlier epochs: they become smaller and more elegant due to changes in the shapes and sizes of the blanks and more advanced retouching techniques. The variety of stone tools is combined with a much greater stability of the shapes of the products.

Among all the variety of tools, there are groups known from previous eras, but new ones appear and become widespread. In the Upper Paleolithic, there are such previously known categories as

  • serrated-notched tools,
  • scrapers,
  • pointers,
  • scrapers,
  • incisors.

The specific weight of some tools increases (incisors, scrapers), others, on the contrary, sharply decreases (scrapers, sharp points), and some disappear completely. The tools of the Upper Paleolithic are more narrowly functional in comparison with the previous epochs.

One of the most important and most common tools of the Upper Paleolithic was the chisel. It was designed for cutting hard materials such as bone, mammoth tusk, wood, thick leather. Traces of chisel work in the form of conical grooves are clearly visible on numerous products and blanks made of horn, tusk and bone from the sites of Western and Eastern Europe. However, in the inventory of some archaeological cultures of Siberia and Asia, incisors are missing, apparently, their functions were performed by other tools.

Scrapers in the Upper Paleolithic were one of the most widespread categories of tools. They were usually made of plates and flakes and had a convex blade, treated with a special scraper retouch. The size of the guns and the angle of sharpening of their blades are very diverse, which is due to their functional purpose. For many millennia from the mustier to the Iron Age, this tool was used for processing hides and leather.

Scrapers performed one of the main operations-mesdrenie, i.e. cleaning of skins and leather, without which they could not be used for sewing clothes and shoes, nor for the construction of the roof of homes and the manufacture of various containers (bags, sacks, boilers, etc.). A large variety of furs and skins required an appropriate number of necessary tools, which is clearly seen from the archaeological materials.

In the Paleolithic, the scraper was most often worked without a handle with movements “on itself”, stretching the skin on the ground and securing it with pegs or spreading it on the knee.

Manufacture and use of Upper Paleolithic flint tools

Manufacture and use of Upper Paleolithic flint tools: 1-splitting the prismatic nucleus; 2, 3 – working with a chisel; 4-6 — using the end scraper

The working edge of the scrapers quickly wore out, but the length of its blank provided the possibility of multiple adjustments. After mezdeniya and treatment with ash, in which a lot of potash, the skins and skins were dried, and then washed out with bone spatulas and veneers, and cut them with knives and chisels. For sewing leather and fur products, small points and punctures and bone needles were used. Small points were used to make holes in the skin, and then the cut fragments were sewn together with the help of plant fibers, veins, thin straps, etc.

The points do not represent a single category, these various tools are united by one common feature — the presence of a sharp retouched end. Large specimens could be used for hunting weapons as spearheads, darts and arrows, but they could also be used to work with rough and thick skins of animals such as bison, rhinoceros, bear, wild horse, necessary for the construction of homes and for other economic purposes. Punctures were tools with a dedicated retouch, a relatively long and sharp stinger, or several stingers. With the stingers of these tools, the skin was pierced, the holes were then expanded with the help of proverka or bone awls.

Composite tools

In the second half of the Upper Paleolithic, composite, or field tools appear, which were undoubtedly a very important new technological achievement. On the basis of the prismatic splitting technique, a person learned to make the right miniature plates, very thin and having cutting edges. This technique is called microlytic. Products whose width did not exceed one centimeter, and the length — five centimeters, are called microplates. A significant number of tools were made from them, mainly micro-points and quadrangular micro-plates with a blunted retouched edge. They served as inserts — components of the blade of the future product. By inserting retouched microplates into a base made of wood, bone, or horn, cutting blades of considerable length and various shapes could be obtained. The base of the complex shape could be cut with incisors from organic materials, which was much more convenient and easier than making such an object entirely from stone. In addition, the stone is quite fragile and with a strong impact, the gun could break. If a composite product broke down, it was possible to replace only the damaged part of the blade, and not to make it entirely anew, this way was much more economical. This technique was especially widely used in the manufacture of large spearheads with convex edges, daggers, as well as knives with concave blades, which were used when collecting wild cereals by the inhabitants of the southern regions.

A characteristic feature of the Upper Paleolithic tool sets is a large number of combined tools — i.e., those where two or three working blades were located on one billet (flake or plate). It is possible that this was done for convenience and to speed up the work. The most common combinations are scraper and cutter, scraper, cutter and puncture.

In the Upper Paleolithic era, fundamentally new techniques for processing solid materials appeared — drilling, sawing and grinding, but only drilling was widely used.

Drilling was necessary to obtain a variety of holes in tools, jewelry, and other household items. It was made with the help of a bow drill, well known from ethnographic materials: a hollow bone was inserted into the bowstring, under which sand was constantly poured, and when the bone was rotated, a hole was drilled. When drilling smaller holes, such as needle eyes or holes in beads or shells, flint drills were used — small stone tools with a retouched sting.

Sawing was used mainly for processing soft rocks of stone, such as marl or slate. On the figurines made of these materials, traces of sawing are visible. Stone saws-insert tools, they were made from plates with a retouched toothed edge, inserted into a solid base.

Grinding and polishing were most often used in bone processing, but sometimes there are tools, mostly massive and apparently related to wood processing, in which the blades are processed using grinding. This technique is more widely used in the Mesolithic and Neolithic.

Bone tools and bone processing techniques

New in the Upper Paleolithic is the very widespread use of bone, horn and tusks for the manufacture of tools, utensils and jewelry, small plastics. Occasionally, bone tools were made in earlier epochs, but then people did not have enough knowledge of the technique of processing this material. In the Upper Paleolithic, complex techniques are already used in bone processing — chopping, cutting with a knife or chisel, drilling, and surface treatment with abrasives. The process of processing the bone involved a number of operations, each of which required special tools made of flint or soft stone. When processing the bone, heating, soaking, etc. were probably used.

Tools made of bone are diverse — these are points that may have served as spearheads, harpoons made of deer horn, various awls, punctures, needles, pins, rakes, adzes, hoes, so-called spear straighteners or “wands of chiefs”. Bone needles are almost identical to modern ones in size, except that they are slightly thicker. They were cut out of dense bone and polished, the eyelet was either cut or drilled. The needles are found along with the needlecaps, small cylindrical boxes made from the tubular bones of birds. Often, bone tools are very carefully crafted and decorated with ornaments.

Living conditions and economy


Reconstruction of a dwelling in the parking lot of Molodovo 1 (Ukraine). The first Mousterian dwelling is oval in shape, measuring 7×10 m. Overlaid with mammoth bones.

Reconstruction of a dwelling in the parking lot of Molodovo 1 (Ukraine). The first Mousterian dwelling is oval in shape, measuring 7×10 m. Overlaid with mammoth bones.

If very few remains of residential structures have survived from previous epochs, then quite a lot of them have survived for the Upper Paleolithic. People still used natural shelters-grottos, canopies, and caves-but they also built artificial structures in open-air parking lots. Dwellings vary in size, shape, design features, and materials. In some cases, a large number of mammoth bones or other large animals were used for the construction of the dwelling, in others — other materials. So, at the Siberian sites of Malta and Buret, stone and reindeer antlers were such building materials, in some other cases large stones of different shapes were used. All these solid materials served to create the plinth of the residential structure and strengthen its frame, which probably consisted of wooden poles. The frame was covered with skins, which could be fixed on top with large flat bones or other available materials. The closest analogs to the Upper Paleolithic dwellings are those of northern peoples such as the Chum and Yarang, or the light ground dwellings of hunter-gatherers in the southern regions.

The most common were rounded or oval-shaped dwellings with one or more hearths inside. Their remains are found during excavations of sites in the form of accumulations of large bones of a mammoth or other large animals. Such a cluster has clear boundaries and represents the remains of collapsed walls and the roof of the dwelling. Often it lies in a depression. The bottom of the depression is the floor of the dwelling, on which during excavations you can find various traces of habitation-hearths, storage pits, ash or ochre spots, fragments of flint and bone, stone and bone products, embers. The location of the finds allows us to judge how the area of the dwelling was used, where the working or sleeping places were located, entrances and exits, etc.

More than 30 Upper Paleolithic dwellings of various types are known on the territory of Russia. Most well-studied —

  • dwellings of the Kostenkovsko-Borshevsky district and in the Gagarino parking lot on the Don;
  • at the parking lots of the Desna — Eliseevichi pool, Yudinovo;
  • In the Middle Dnieper region — at the sites of Gontsy, Mezin, Dobranichevka, Mezhirichi.
Paleolithic dwelling in Mezhirichi (Kiev region, Ukraine). 16-12 thousand years BC.

Paleolithic dwelling in Mezhirichi (Kiev region, Ukraine). 16-12 thousand years BC.

Often, as the base of the dwelling, a plinth was built from the skulls and large bones of a mammoth, which provided a reliable support for the walls. In Yudinov, such a plinth consisted of 20 mammoth skulls, and in Mezhirichi, the bones of 149 mammoth individuals were used in the construction structure.

There were also elongated dwellings with several hearths in the Late Paleolithic. The remains of such a structure with a length of 12 m and a width of 4 m with three foci were studied at the Pushkari site. Similar dwellings are known at the Kostenki 4 site. The elongated dwellings may have had a gable roof, which may have been made of bark, grass, or animal skins.

The most difficult to reconstruct is another type of Late Paleolithic residential buildings — these are complexly organized oval residential areas, with an area of more than a hundred square meters, with a number of hearths located along their long axis. Along the perimeter of such areas were surrounded by pits-storerooms and sleeping rooms (?) dugout pits. The storage pits were probably used for storing meat supplies, since large hunting prey could not be used for food immediately. Large mammoth bones and tusks were widely used to cover storerooms and dugouts. Such residential areas are characteristic of the Kostenkov-Avdeevskaya culture and were found at the sites of Kostenki 1 on the Middle Don, Avdeevo near Kursk, Zaraiskaya near Zaraisk near Moscow.

In the more southern areas, where the natural conditions were much milder, light ground dwellings such as huts or sheds and wind barriers around the hearths are known. A number of such light ground structures are known on the monuments of France (Pinsevant, Etiol), in the Balkans and in the south of Russia (Muralovka, Kamennye Balki, Osokorevka, etc.). The only traces of such structures are holes from the post structures of the frame, foci and clusters of finds with clear boundaries.

Reconstruction of the dwelling with three hearths from the parking lot of Pushkari I.

Reconstruction of the dwelling with three hearths from the parking lot of Pushkari I.

Several dwellings could form a small village, as shown by the material of the sites Dobranichevka, Mezhirichi, Kostenki 4, Malta, Buret. At some sites, there are complexes consisting of dwellings and associated workshops where flint and bone tools were made, there were also open-air hearths and various household pits. The population of such settlements probably formed a close-knit group-a clan or community.

To determine the duration of human habitation at a particular site, in addition to archaeological sources, various data on paleoecology, paleodemography and, with special care, ethnography are used. Despite the fact that much of this question is not completely clear, researchers usually talk about the predominance of relative — seasonal — sedentariness in Paleolithic hunter-gatherers.

Jewelry and clothing

A bracelet with an ornament. Mezinskaya parking lot (Chernihiv region, Ukraine).

A bracelet with an ornament. Mezinskaya parking lot (Chernihiv region, Ukraine).

In the Upper Paleolithic, ornaments made of animal bones and drilled fangs, teeth, and shells were widely distributed. These are bead necklaces made from mammoth tusks, animal teeth, and shellfish shells, often including larger pendants or plaques. On the head, ornamented hoops (diadems) made of mammoth tusk were worn to hold the hair together, and on the hands — various bracelets carved from tusk or made up of strung beads. Beads and shells decorated headdresses or hairstyles and clothing, which is clearly visible from the materials of burials and details of anthropomorphic figurines.

The cut and character of the sewn clothing is evidenced by both images of people and the remains of jewelry sewn on it, found in burials. This data allows you to reconstruct several clothing options. So, based on the study of a female figurine from the Siberian site of Buret, we can talk about the existence of fur clothing such as overalls, sewn with wool outside, tightly fitting the body from head to toe. A more complex costume is reconstructed from the materials of the burials at the Sungir site. The costume consisted of a shirt, pants, shoes and a raincoat, pinned with a large pin (fibula). The clothes of the buried were richly embroidered at the seams with beads cut from the tusk, which formed decorative borders. In general, the presence of quite complex clothing is indicated by the finds of a large number of buckles, buttons and various plaques-stripes made of bone and often ornamented.

Paleolithic decorations

Jewelry: 1-bracelet (Mezin); 2, 6 – image of a bird (Mezin); 3-ornamented mammoth shoulder blade (Mezin); 4-plate of mammoth tusk, ornamented on both sides (Malta); 5 — mammoth skull, ornamented with red ochre (Mezhirini); 7, 8 — fragments of diadems with ornaments (Avdeevo).

Research over the past decade suggests that weaving, knitting, and, in some areas, weaving were widespread in the Upper Paleolithic. Samples of the first textile are 26 thousand years old and were found at a number of sites in Moravia (Central Europe). The plant raw materials for it were nettle and hemp fibers.


The finds of a large number of bones of various animals at the sites indicate that hunting was one of the main occupations of the population. Based on the animal bone remains, we can determine a set of commercial species. Such animals were mammoth, wild horse, northern and red deer, bison, saiga, and from predators-wolf, brown and cave bear, fox, arctic fox, from rodents-hare, baibak. Much less often find the bones of birds and fish.

Sometimes there are whole skeletons of arctic foxes and other predators in the parking lots — therefore, these animals were not eaten. This suggests that in some cases the hunt was conducted solely because of the fur. According to the nature of bone materials, it is possible to trace a certain selectivity of hunting for a particular type of animal, depending on the season, gender and age. So, the above-mentioned skeletons of fur-bearing animals belong to the sites where they lived in the autumn-winter seasons, i.e. at the time when the fur is most durable. Animal bones found at the sites are usually either young or old animals, and the amount of hunting prey at the sites is not very large. Thus, hunting did not disturb the ecological balance of the area. All this suggests that the idea of Paleolithic man as a mindless predator is clearly outdated.

Leaf-shaped and other points, tips with a side notch, probably served as the finials of hunting weapons-spears and javelins. Bone arrowheads for weapons such as spears and harpoons have also been found at a number of sites. Often, ear tips were made: sharp flint plates were fixed in the grooves of the bone tip. At some sites in France, spear throwers were found that increased the range of the throwing weapon and the force of the impact. In the Upper Paleolithic, the bow and arrow seem to have been invented. A number of researchers suggest that at this time the domestication of the wolf begins (Avdeevo camp).

For the Upper Paleolithic, various hunting methods are reconstructed:

  • with the help of trap pits,
  • corrals or raids,
  • ambushes at watering holes,
  • with the help of various traps, etc.

Hunting required a clear organization of all the actions of the team. A hunting horn was found at one of the French sites, which is known to be used to send signals to groups of hunters at various stages of the hunt.

Hunting provided people with food, material for clothing and building homes, and provided a very important raw material for making various products-bone (which, in addition, served as fuel). At the same time, hunting could not meet all human needs and was significantly supplemented by a variety of gathering, the role of which was great, especially in the southern regions.

Spiritual life

Religious beliefs. Burials

The spiritual life of the Paleolithic man developed in direct connection with the further development of the world and the development of material culture. Primitive beliefs are a reflection of certain conclusions, ideas and concepts that have emerged as a result of long-term observations of natural phenomena and accumulated life experience. Already in the Mousterian era, a person begins to develop a set of ideas that explain the most important foundations of the universe. Without separating their existence from the surrounding world and observing various natural phenomena, primitive people attributed to themselves the ability to cause or create the same phenomena, and, on the other hand, attributed to the forces of nature, animals and inanimate objects various abilities and capabilities inherent only in man. This complex of ideas is called animism.

The belief in the existence of a human connection with any animal or plant led to the emergence of another direction of primitive beliefs —totemism. Totemism arises together with the emergence of a tribal society. It is based on the idea that all members of the same generic group are descended from a particular animal, plant, or even an inanimate object — a totem.

Reconstruction of the costume of a 40-50-year-old man from the burial of Sungir-1.

Reconstruction of the costume of a 40-50-year-old man from the burial of Sungir-1.

The main reason for the emergence of the funeral practice, as already mentioned above, was the further development of social organization and the complication of worldview ideas. To date, about 70 Upper Paleolithic burials are known, found so far only in Eurasia. In this era, despite the relatively few finds of burials, we can talk about some stable features of the burial practice. Dead people were placed in grave pits, often surrounded or covered with stones and bones, funeral equipment is represented by jewelry, stone and bone products, red ochre was often used.

Burials are usually located in parking lots or in inhabited caves. The postures of the buried are very diverse. Burials can be single or collective. For example, a collective burial was found at the site of Przedem (Czech Republic), containing the remains of at least 20 people: 8 skeletons belonged to adults, the rest — to children. The skeletons lay mostly crouched on their sides, sometimes overlaid with mammoth shoulder blades or covered with rocks. Paired and triple burials were found in the grottos of Grimaldi in the south of France, in Moravia, in the parking lot of Sungir near Vladimir, in the parking lot of Malta on the Hangar.

The male and paired children’s burials of Sungir are of particular interest due to their excellent preservation and rich inventory. The male burial contained more than three thousand beads of mammoth tusk and arctic fox teeth. Their location on the skeleton allows you to reconstruct a suit consisting of a shirt without a cut in the front and pants connected to shoes. On the head of the buried man was a headdress decorated with sewn carved beads, on the hands — bracelets made of bone. At the bottom of the grave was a flint knife and a scraper. The buried man lay in an extended position on his back and was thickly covered with ochre.

Reconstruction of the burial of a boy and a girl from the burial of Sungir-2 and Sungir-3.

Reconstruction of the burial of a boy (12-14 years old) and a girl (9-10 years old) from the burial of Sungir-2 and Sungir-3.

Almost next to this burial, another one was discovered, which stands out among the others due to the unusual rite and the richness of the inventory. In a 3-meter-long grave pit, two skeletons lay in an elongated position, their heads facing each other. They belonged to teenagers-a boy and a girl, buried at the same time. The clothes of the buried were richly decorated with sewn carved beads and other bone ornaments. Next to the children were placed unique hunting weapons-spears exceeding 2 meters in length, made of a single straightened mammoth tusk, long and short bone daggers. On the boy’s chest was an amulet, a figure of a bone horse. It is interesting to note that the same figure, decorated with a spiral pattern made by a number of pits, was found in the cultural layer of the parking lot.

The sites of the Kostenkovsko-Borshevsky district provide rich material for the study of the funeral rite. Four burials were found on them. The burial at the Kostenki 2 parking lot was found next to the dwelling in a specially attached oval chamber made of mammoth bones. The position of the skeleton suggests that the deceased was placed in a burial chamber in a sitting position with his legs tied. The burial site of Markina Gora (Kostenki XIV) contains a fully preserved skeleton of a man of about 25 years old, lying in a simple dirt pit, the floor of which was densely covered with ochre. The buried man was laid on his side in a heavily crouched position, with three flint flakes, a mammoth phalanx, and hare bones found next to him.

Unique are the design and burial rite at the Kostenki XV parking lot. In an oval grave pit located under the floor of the dwelling, in a sitting position, on an artificially constructed seat, a boy of 6-7 years was buried. The inventory found in the burial was a rich set of 70 different bone and stone tools. On the head of the buried man was a headdress decorated with more than 150 drilled arctic fox teeth. The bottom of the grave was thickly stained with yellow and red ochre.

Paleolithic Art

The richness of the spiritual world of the ancient hunters and gatherers was revealed in the art of the Late Paleolithic. Although the beginning of pictorial activity can be attributed to the epochs of the late Acheulean and Mustier, its heyday falls on the time of the Upper Paleolithic. The samples of Upper Paleolithic painting discovered at the end of the XIX century were so perfect that contemporaries at first refused to believe in their ancient age, and only as a result of a long and stormy discussion were they recognized as authentic.

Figurines made of different materials from the Avdeevo parking lot.

Figurines made of different materials from the Avdeevo parking lot.

At present, the phenomenon of Paleolithic art is generally recognized and is the subject of comprehensive study. In Paleolithic art, there are three main groups of monuments (three main genres):

  • monumental-cave paintings and reliefs;
  • the art of small forms — small plastic (figurines, small plates of bone with engravings);
  • applied — jewelry, artistically decorated household items, etc.

The birth and flourishing of Upper Paleolithic art indicates the completion of the formation of consciousness, the emergence of a new, very specific-human activity aimed at creating the first model of the world.

The main visual motifs of cave painting and small plastic art were the images of the beast and man. Some of the drawings and sculptures are so realistic that paleontologists are able to identify the species of animals that are now extinct. Especially common among the images are mammoth, bison, horse, and predators.

It is believed that zoomorphic images appear somewhat earlier than anthropomorphic ones. The earliest monument of cave painting (28 thousand years ago) is now the Chauvet cave in France, where beautiful compositions of images of horses, lions and other animals are presented. Monumental paintings are most fully represented in the caves of the south and south-west of France, northern Spain, Italy, as well as Serbia and Croatia. There are about 120 such objects known there. Such monuments as the caves of Altamira, Lascaux, Pesch-Merle, Nio, and the Three Brothers are vivid examples of polychrome pictorial compositions. According to one of the greatest archaeologists of the XX century, A. Leroy-Guran and many other scientists, the cave paintings were not just a haphazard series of images, but could serve as “records-illustrations” to the most ancient myths. So, the bison in cave painting represented the female principle, the horse — the male, and various combinations of their images could reflect some mythological subjects.

Images of humans are quite rare in monumental art and, unlike images of animals, are more conventional. There are known images that combine the features of a person and an animal. As a rule, they are interpreted as participants in rituals related to hunting magic.

Such are, for example, the figure of the “shaman” from the cave of the Three Brothers, or the scene of the ritual eating of a bison from the cave of Raimonden, etc. It should be noted that several such images are also presented in small plastic — the most famous figure is a standing man with a lion’s head from Hohlenstein-Stadel (Germany). They all seem to be connected with a similar range of totemism-based beliefs.

In Russia, cave paintings were discovered in the Kapova and Ignatievskaya caves in the Urals. The age of the cultural layer in these caves is about 14 thousand years. Images of mammoths, rhinos, horses, and geometric shapes are found on the walls of the caves.

Primitive artists used mineral paints: chalk, charcoal and ochre of yellow, red or cherry color. In dark caves, a person would draw by the light of a fire, torch, or lamp. Fragments of such a clay lamp were discovered during excavations in the Kapova Cave.

In addition to examples of wall paintings, usually polychrome paintings, monumental cave art presents relief images made in the technique of engraving and picketing. Picketing is a technique of creating an image by knocking out point depressions. The most famous are the high relief of a woman with a horn from the Lossel cave and the paired group of bison from the Bale de Audubert cave, made as a high relief, in 3/4 of the natural volume.

Small art objects — figurines of people and animals and plates with their engraved images-are very widely distributed. In Central and Eastern Europe and Northern Asia, such finds are much more numerous than in Western Europe. Animal figurines are distinguished by high skill of execution and great expressiveness. Figurines of mammoth, rhinoceros, bison, horse, bear, cave lion and other animals may have been intended for use in magical rites and may have been stored in special places. For example, at many sites, figurines made of mammoth tusk are found in small storage pits under the floor of dwellings, sometimes they are found in burials (a horse from the Sungir parking lot).

In addition to mammals, birds, fish, and snakes were depicted. A whole series of sculptural images of waterfowl comes from the Siberian site of Malta: the birds are depicted in motion-they swim or fly with their wings outstretched. Also in motion are the writhing snakes etched on a large plate of mammoth tusk found at the same site. Images of fish and snakes are known on engraved plates from the sites of Western and Eastern Europe. Numerous images of birds, snakes and fish can be associated with the development of early mythological ideas about the elements of nature — air, earth, water.

Among the anthropomorphic plastics, images of women predominate — the so-called “Paleolithic Venus”, now there are about 200 of them. Male images are not numerous. Most of the statuettes depicted women in full growth, although there are also known images of women’s heads and individual body parts. Many figurines are found inside or near the dwellings. Often they are found near hearths or in specially dug holes.

European figurines depict, as a rule, nude women with emphasized female forms, often decorated with ornamented belts and ribbons, bracelets and even rings, sometimes with complex hairstyles or headdresses. The slender type of “Venus” is found mainly in Siberian sites. The famous female figures from the sites of Malta and Buret are more schematic and flattened, but their facial features are worked out. A feature of some figures is a solid ornament covering them, depicting fur clothing with a hood.

In the plastic of the Upper Paleolithic, in addition to realistic female images, there are figurines that are characterized by a high degree of generality when creating a female image — these are the famous “birds” from the Mezin site and rad Western European figurines from different sites in France and Italy.

The realism of female images, on the one hand, and on the other — the emphasis on sexual characteristics, the display of signs of pregnancy, allow us to speak about the significance of the expression of the maternal principle. It is believed that the widespread use of female figurines indicates the formation in the Upper Paleolithic era of the cult of the woman-mother and guardian of the hearth.

Female images could serve as talismans, amulets and be used to perform various magical rites.

For the manufacture of small plastic items, mainly mammoth tusk, bone, amber, and soft stone — marl were used. However, at the sites of the Pavlovsk culture (Czech Republic, Moravia), which date back to 26-24 thousand BC, figurines of women and animals made of baked clay were found, obtained as a result of very high-quality firing. In the same place, at the Dolni Vestonice site, the remains of a primitive furnace-furnace for firing ceramics and many of its fragments were found. These finds date back to about the same time. That is, this is the first evidence of the invention of ceramics by man. Another ceramic anthropomorphic figurine was found at the Siberian site of the Maina (Upper Yenisei). It is interesting that their creators, making high-quality ceramic plastics, therefore, owning high-temperature firing, did not try to make ceramic dishes.

A special type of Paleolithic art is an ornament. It is found on female figurines, jewelry, tusk and bone plates, and even on tools. Ancient ornamental motifs are extremely diverse-from the simplest figures (dots, dashes, crosses and their combinations) to the complex, artfully executed meander ornament from Mezin, the hexagonal grid from Eliseevich and the double spiral from Malta. Some of the ornaments — lines of triangles, an oblique cross and their combinations — are considered “female”, as they are decorated with female figurines and a number of bone tools, traditionally associated with women’s work in the manufacture of clothing.

Often on ornamented objects or tusks with notches, groups of elements are distinguished that repeat in certain numerical intervals — the most common groups are 2, 5, 7 and multiples of them. The presence of an ornament constructed in this way allowed scientists to put forward a hypothesis about the origin of the account (the fivefold and sevenfold systems) and the lunar calendar in the Paleolithic era.

Finds of Paleolithic art objects on the territory of Russia and Ukraine are distributed unevenly, the largest number of them are found in the sites of the Middle Don, the Dnieper region, the Desna and in Eastern Siberia.

There is no doubt that in addition to the visual arts, there were other forms of art in the Upper Paleolithic, such as music and dance. This is evidenced by the finds at the Upper Paleolithic sites of flutes and pipes, which practically do not differ from modern ones and can still play. At the Mezin site, the remains of a dwelling were examined, in which a group of large mammoth bones decorated with a red ochre painting was located near one of the walls. According to the researchers, these objects could serve as percussive musical instruments.

Cultural areas and archaeological cultures

In the Upper Paleolithic, the pace of development of human society increases, new discoveries and improvements spread faster and, at the same time, local differences in the development of material culture become more noticeable.

Table of the ratio of the main cultural areas of the Upper Paleolithic in Western and Central Europe.

Table of the ratio of the main cultural areas of the Upper Paleolithic in Western and Central Europe.

The archaeological material does not give grounds for identifying a single or single center in which the Upper Paleolithic industry originated. Most researchers assume that many archaeological cultures of the Upper Paleolithic developed in a number of areas on the basis of local Mousterian traditions. This process took place in different territories, probably about 40-36 thousand years ago.

Archaeological cultures in the Stone Age are distinguished on the basis of a typological analysis of flint and bone inventory and the technology of their manufacture. Archaeological culture for this era is characterized by a certain set of specific types of tools made in the same technological tradition, as well as similar forms (types) of dwellings and features in the visual arts (if the latter is available).

It is assumed that the differences between archaeological cultures reflect certain differences in the socio-cultural traditions inherent in different human collectives.

For a long time, most researchers recognized the stadiality of the development of the Upper Paleolithic for the entire Ecumene, while three general stages (epochs) were distinguished: Aurignac, solutre and Madeleine. Subsequently, another very long stage was added to them — perigordien.

At present, thanks to the materials of many years of research, it is generally recognized that these are not general stages of the development of material culture, but rather large cultural areas, which in some cases and in some territories of Western and Central Europe replace each other, and in other cases coexist. Within these regions, as well as throughout the Upper Paleolithic Ecumene, distinctive cultures develop. It turned out that in a fairly limited area, different archaeological cultures can coexist and develop at the same time.

Western and Central Europe

It is generally accepted that at the initial stages of the Upper Paleolithic, two main cultural areas coexist-Perigordien and Aurignac, the absolute age of which is determined at 34-22 thousand years.

The origin of the material culture of Perigordien is traditionally associated with the further development of the Mousterian variant with the Acheulean tradition, since the role of Mousterian elements in the stone industry at its initial stage is great, although it significantly decreases over time. The main distribution area is Southwestern France.

The Aurignacian culture is known in Spain, France, Belgium, and England. The most characteristic feature of the Aurignacian stone industry can be considered a special “Aurignacian” retouching, with which various types of tools were designed. Flat or spindle-shaped bone tips are widely used — this is the first stable type of bone tools. The monuments of Central Europe are somewhat different from those of Western Europe, mainly these differences are manifested in art: Western European drawings of animals are usually made in profile, and female figurines are more realistic and plastic.

Within the framework of the Early Upper Paleolithic of Central Europe, the Selet culture is distinguished, which is characterized by a combination of Upper Paleolithic and Mousterian types of products. There are even points, plates and nuclei made in a very archaic Levallois technique on some Selet monuments. The most recognizable shape can be considered a large triangular tip.

Somewhat later than the Aurignacian, the Gravettian culture appears and continues to coexist simultaneously with it, possibly inheriting the traditions of Perigordien. Gravett sites in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Austria and France date back to 26-20 millennia BC. Gravett is characterized by a rich set of tools, specific types can be considered various points, among which there are asymmetric points with a side notch and knives with a butt. Microliths and composite tools appear. Various bone products: points, awls, spatulas, jewelry. Gravett monuments are characterized by the presence of numerous examples of small plastic-figurines of women and animals, made of tusk and bone, stone or clay.

The Gravett culture is represented by a large number of monuments, which are divided into two groups, eastern and western, the question of their relationship is debatable.

The Solutrean culture is widespread in Central and Southern France, in addition, an independent center of distribution of a similar culture existed in Eastern and Northern Spain and in Portugal. In the north of Western Europe, Solutrean monuments, especially the later ones, are extremely rare.

The Solutrean culture belongs to the period between the existence of the Gravetta and Madeleine cultures, but is not related to them genetically. Radiocarbon dates indicate a relatively short period of its existence (21-19 / 18 thousand years ago). A feature of this culture is the widespread use of spearheads and knife blades. The predominant forms are those of bay-leaf or willow-leaf tips, tips with a stalk and with a side notch, made with great perfection by treating the flint on both sides with pressing retouching. This method of processing flint consisted in the fact that with the help of a bone wringer, thin scales were removed from the surface of the product; this retouching is called trickle, or “Solutrean”.

The Madeleine culture dates from the period 18-12 / 11 thousand years ago. The actual Madeleine culture is typical only for France, Belgium, Northern Spain, Switzerland and southern Germany, but its characteristic features-widespread bone processing and specific types of bone tools, peculiar features in fine plastic-are represented to varying degrees in the Late Paleolithic cultures of the entire European subglacial region from France to the Urals. In Central Europe, the development of industries takes place mainly on the Gravett basis, but even here the Madeleine impulses (influence) penetrate from the west.

The relatively favorable climatic conditions that developed in Europe at the end of the Upper Paleolithic as a result of glacier retreat and warming (13-11/9 thousand years ago) made it possible for new groups of hunters of tundra and steppe animals to move north. In Northwestern Europe, they are represented by the Hamburg and Ahrensburg cultures, and in Eastern Europe by the Sviderian culture.

The Hamburg culture is characterized by a variety of flint tools, including arrowheads with a recess and peculiar punctures. Tools made of deer horn with flint inserts were common. Fish and poultry were killed with one-sided harpoons made of reindeer horn. The dwellings were rounded and oval tents covered with deer skins.

On the monuments of the Arensburg culture, numerous flint products were found — arrowheads, scrapers, drills, etc.The most characteristic are fairly wide and short asymmetric arrowheads and darts with a petiole for fixing the product in the shaft, as well as special hoe-shaped tools made of reindeer horn.

The Svider culture is in sync with the Arensburg culture. The settlements were temporary encampments on the banks of rivers, lakes, and often on dunes. Organic materials are not preserved in the sand, so the Sviders ‘ inventory is represented only by flint products: willow-leaf and petiole tips, scrapers on plates and flakes, incisors of various shapes, etc.

Monuments similar to those of Svidersk and Arensbourg are known in the north-western territories adjacent to Russia; later, during the entire Mesolithic, these traditions can be traced throughout the entire forest zone of Eastern Europe.

Eastern Europe, Siberia and Asian regions

For Eastern Europe, Siberia and many areas of Asia, and even more so America, the scheme of development of Western European cultural areas is not implemented, but due to the active movement of various population groups due to climate changes, we can observe the influence of a particular cultural tradition in very remote areas.

Comparison table of Upper Paleolithic cultures of Eastern Europe.

Comparison table of Upper Paleolithic cultures of Eastern Europe.

Eastern Europe shows a variety of Upper Paleolithic cultures, modifying various Aurignacoid, Seletoid, Gravettian, Madeleine traditions and showing a great originality.

The most ancient are the Spitsyn, Streletskaya, and Gorodtsovskaya cultures, which were studied in the Kostenkovsko-Borshevsky district on the Middle Don. The Spitsyn and Streltsy cultures belong to the same chronological group, but their inventory is strikingly different from each other. The Spitsyn culture (36-32 thousand years ago) is characterized by the prismatic splitting technique, most of the tools are made of plates of the correct shape. There is no two-way processing. The most numerous group of tools — a variety of incisors, but a lot of scrapers with parallel edges. There are absolutely no mousterian forms of guns. Found items made of bone-lapel and awl, jewelry made of belemnite and coral.

In the inventory of the Streltsy culture (35-25 thousand years ago), on the contrary, there are a lot of Mousterian types of products, which are represented by scrapers, scrapers-knives and pointers with two-sided processing. The main billet is a flake. There are numerous scrapers, tending to a triangular shape, almost as numerous triangular points with a concave base, carefully processed on both sides — this is the most expressive form among the tools of the Streltsy culture. There are very few other types of guns.

The Gorodtsovskaya culture belongs to the second chronological group of Kostenkov monuments (28-25 thousand years ago) and, although for some time it co-existed with the Streltsy culture, it differs greatly from the latter by the features of the stone inventory. Blanks for products are both plates and flakes. Mousterian forms are present on the early monuments, but their proportion decreases markedly over time.

A brief overview of only three of these cultures shows the cultural identity of each. It should be repeated once again that in the Kostenkovsko-Borshevsky archaeological district (the village of Kostenki, Voronezh region), no less than eight independent cultural formations are distinguished on a very small territory.

The Molodovskaya culture is a good example of the long autochthonous development of the Upper Paleolithic industry associated with the Mousterian culture of the same name. The monuments of the Molodovskaya culture (30-20 thousand years ago) are located in the middle reaches of the Prut and Dniester rivers. In the course of the long existence of this industry, the manufacture of products on elongated plate blanks and plates was improved, which became smaller and smaller. In the inventory of the culture, specific types of scrapers, various incisors and points are widely represented. From the earliest stages of its existence, tools appear on microplates, the number of which is constantly increasing over time.

One of the most striking cultural formations in Eastern Europe is the Kostenkov-Avdeevskaya culture (25-20 / 18 thousand years ago), whose monuments are located in the central part of the Russian plain and are separated from each other by considerable distances — Kostenki and Gagarino on the Middle Don, Avdeevo on the Sejm, Zaraiskaya parking near Moscow. Stone tools are rich and diverse, very characteristic of large tips with a side notch, leaf-shaped points, knives with a rim. There are numerous tools made of bone-points and veneers, needles and needlemakers, small crafts. There are a lot of samples of small plastics and applied art made of tusk, bone and marl found at the sites.

The monuments of this culture have the greatest similarity with the materials of the Pavlovian culture in Moravia and a number of monuments in Poland, Germany, and Austria. This culture is part of the Kostenkov-Willetzdorf unity, Gravetgian in nature, showing a complex picture of the relationship between the cultures and monuments of Western, Central and Eastern Europe, confirmed by the similarity of inventory, residential complexes and art.

The Srednedneprovskaya cultural community occupies a vast territory in the middle part of the Dnieper basin and its tributary-the Desna River and is represented by a number of monuments (Mezin, Pushkari, Eliseevichi, Yudinovo, Khotylevo II, Timonovka, Dobranichevka, Mezhirichi, Gontsy), on which the remains of massive dwellings have been preserved. These are typical settlements of sedentary hunters, the number of commercial animals here, undoubtedly, included the mammoth. These monuments share common features in house-building, small-form art samples and ornaments, stone and bone inventory.

In the Northern Black Sea region, for the late Upper Paleolithic period, a number of cultures are distinguished — Kamennobalkovskaya, Akkarzhanskaya, Anetovskaya, whose carriers lived in different conditions than the inhabitants of the subglacial regions. The climate here was much warmer, the vegetation richer, and the largest animals were the wild horse and bison. They were the main commercial species, although the overall composition of hunting prey was much wider. Other natural conditions determined the ways of adaptation of the ancient population to them — there are no traces of massive building structures, pits for storing food supplies in the permafrost. In the stone inventory, there are many different tools made of microplates and inserts, in the Kamennobalkov culture, their number reaches 30%. The main tool kit is typical of the Upper Paleolithic, but has a unique feature for each of the cultures. For example, the inventory of the Kamennobalkov culture has a lot of similarities with the inventory of the Imereti culture of the Caucasus, which indicates the possibility of migration of the population from there to the south of the Russian plain. In Siberia, the Kokorevskaya, Afontovskaya, Maltinsko-Buretskaya and Dyuktai cultures have been studied, more information about them can be found in the additional literature.

Currently, many Upper Paleolithic cultures have been identified in Eurasia and America. The differences between them are significant, which indicates the independent development of cultures and their different origins. In some areas, autochthonous development is observed from the beginning of the epoch almost to its end. In other areas, it is possible to trace the arrival of genetically alien cultures on the territory of the distribution of one culture, interrupting the development of local traditions, and, finally, sometimes we can observe the coexistence of several different cultures — as, for example, in the Kostenkovsko-Borshevsky district (where more than 60 monuments belonging to at least eight cultures have been studied).

In cases where it is possible to trace the continuous development of archaeological culture, it turns out that it can exist for a very long time. For example, the Aurignacian culture in France and the Imereti culture in Georgia have been developing for at least 10 thousand years. Kamennobalkovskaya in the south of Russia existed for at least 5 thousand years. This indicates the successful adaptation of the Upper Paleolithic population to environmental conditions.

The study of the diversity of Upper Paleolithic cultures allows us to solve questions about the interrelationships and migrations of the ancient population and possible ways of settling certain territories.

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