Upper Paleolithic

Upper Paleolithic

The Upper Paleolithic (or Upper Palaeolithic) is the third and last subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age as it is understood in Europe, Africa and Asia. Very broadly it dates to between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago, roughly coinciding with the appearance of "high" culture (behavioral modernity) and before the advent of agriculture. The terms "Late Stone Age" and "Upper Paleolithic" refer to the same periods. For historical reasons "Late Stone Age" usually refers to the period in Africa, whereas "Upper Paleolithic" is generally used when referring to the period in Europe. In 19th century archaeology, the Upper Paleolithic was also known as the "Reindeer Age".


Modern humans (i.e. Homo sapiens sapiens) are believed to have emerged at least 130,000 years ago in Africa. Though these humans were modern in anatomy, their lifestyle changed very little from their contemporaries such as Homo erectus and the Neanderthals. They used the same crude stone tools. Archaeologist Richard G. Klein, who has worked extensively on ancient stone tools, describes the stone tool kit of archaic hominids as impossible to categorize. It was as if when the Neanderthals went to make a stone tool they weren't really concerned about its final form. He argues that almost everywhere, whether Asia or Africa or Europe, before 50,000 years ago all the stone tools are very much alike and unsophisticated. However after 50,000 years ago there is sharp increase in the diversity of artifacts. For the first time bone artifacts, and the first art appear in the fossil record in Africa. The first evidence of human fishing is also noted from artifact in places like Blombos cave in South Africa. After 50,000 years ago, firstly in Africa, it was found that he could easily sort the human artifacts into many different categories, such as projectile points, engraving tools, knife blades, and drilling and piercing tools. These new stone tool types have been described as being distinctly differentiated from each other as if each tool had a specific name. 3000 to 4000 years later this technology spread to Europe resulting in a population explosion of modern humans and also the extinction of the Neanderthals. The invaders commonly referred to as the Cro-Magnons left many sophisticated stone tools, cave art and Venus figurines.This shift from Middle to Upper Paleolithic is called the Upper Paleolithic Revolution. The Neanderthals continued to use Mousterian stone tool technology.

The earliest remains of organized settlements in the form of campsites, some with storage pits, are encountered in this period. These were often located in narrow valley bottoms, possibly in order to make hunting passing herds of animals easier. Some sites may have been occupied year round though more generally they seem to have been used seasonally with peoples moving between them to exploit different food sources at different times of the year.

Technological advances included significant developments in flint tool manufacturing with industries based on fine blades rather than simpler and shorter flakes. Burins and racloirs attest to the working of bone, antler and hides. Advanced darts and harpoons also appear in this period, along with the fish hook, the oil lamp, rope, and the eyed needle.

Artistic work also blossomed with Venus figurines, cave painting, petroglyphs and exotic raw materials found far from their sources suggest emergent trading links. More complex social groupings emerged, supported by more varied and reliable food sources and specialized tool types. This probably contributed to increasing group identification or ethnicity. These group identities produced distinctive symbols and rituals which are an important part of modern human behaviour.

The reasons for these changes in human behavior have been attributed to the changes in climate during the period which encompasses a number of global temperature drops, meaning a worsening of the already bitter climate of the last ice age. These may have reduced the supply of usable timber and forced people to look at other materials while flint becomes brittle at low temperatures and may not have functioned as a tool.

It has also been argued that the appearance of (complex or abstract) language made these behavioural changes possible. The complexity of the new human capabilities hints that humans were less capable of planning or foresight before 40,000 years and that speech changed that This suggestion has no wide acceptance, since human phylogenetic separation dates to the Middle Paleolithic (see Pre-language). Still, it must be remembered that while the latter view is better supported by phylogenetic inference, the material evidence is hard to explain thus.


50,000–40,000 BP

40,000–30,000 BP

30,000–20,000 BP

20,000–16,000 BP

16,000–12,000 BP

12,000–11,000 BP

  • 11500 BP: Oldest temple complex of the world (Göbekli Tepe).
  • 11500 BP–10000 BP: Wooden buildings in South America (Chile), first pottery vessels (Japan).
  • 11000 BP: First evidence of human settlement in Argentina.
  • 11000 BP: The Arlington Springs Man dies on the island of Santa Rosa, off the coast of California.
  • 11000 BP: Human remains deposited in caves which are now located off the coast of Yucatan


The Upper Paleolithic in the Franco-Cantabrian region:

  • The Châtelperronian culture was located around central and south western France, and northern Spain. It appears to be derived from the earlier Mousterian culture, and represents the period of overlap between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. This culture lasted from approximately 33000 BC to 27000 BC.
  • The Aurignacian culture was located in Europe and south west Asia, and flourished between 32000 BC and 21000 BC. It may have been contemporary with the Périgordian (a contested grouping of the earlier Châtelperronian and later Gravettian cultures).
  • The Gravettian culture was located around France, though evidence of Gravettian products have been found across central Europe and Russia. Gravettian sites date between 26000 BC to 20000 BC.
  • The Solutrean culture was located in eastern France, Spain, and England. Solutrean artifacts have been dated to around 19000 BC before mysteriously disappearing around 15000 BC.
  • The Magdalenian culture left evidence from Portugal to Poland during the period from 16000 BC to 8000 BC.

From the Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures:

See also


External links

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