So what exactly were the innovations of the Upper Paleolithic that have drawn attention to this period as a time of revolutionary change? For one thing, we see new tools, made from new materials—tools made using careful, multistep preparation. Modern humans still used stone (although their methods of preparation had grown more elaborate and efficient), but they often used bone and ivory as well, in sharp contrast with Neanderthals. They also used particular types of high-quality stone from distant sources, sometimes from as far as hundreds of miles away, a pattern that suggests trade. New types of light, highvelocity weapons appeared, such as javelins, atlatl darts, and eventually the bow and arrow. These weapons, which could be used at a distance, must have made bringing down big game far safer than it had been among hunters using thrusting spears. The skeletons of modern humans in this period, unlike those of
Neanderthals, are not thoroughly beat up. The weapons were no doubt used for warfare and defense, but they were primarily for hunting, and their benefits included broadening the modern humans' diet.
Moderns hunted small game and fish, in addition to the large game favored by their predecessors. This more varied diet (and perhaps safer hunting methods) led to higher population density—archaeological sites for modern humans during this period become several times more common than they had been among the Neanderthals. The moderns were able to catch fish using newly devised tools such as fishhooks, nets, and multi-barbed harpoon points. Those nets are a manifestation of another technological innovation, the use of plant fibers to make baskets, textiles, and rope as well as nets and snares.
Moderns developed new methods of preserving food, such as using drying racks and pits dug in the permafrost, which acted as natural refrigerators. They employed fire more efficiently than their ancestors had, developed hearths that had draft channels for better air flow, and began to use warming stones for cooking. Fire was used in other specialized ways as well—in lamps, for example, and to make pottery figures.
Burial—deliberate burial with clear-cut evidence of ritual— also becomes much more common in the Upper Paleolithic. The remains are often accompanied by grave goods such as tools, shells, personal items of jewelry, and red ochre. In some cases, production of those grave goods took tremendous effort. In Sungir, near Moscow, individuals were buried in clothes decorated with thousands of ivory beads whose manufacture required several man-years of effort. These findings suggests a hierarchically differentiated society, with chiefs as well as Indians.
These elaborate burials are in sharp contrast to Neanderthal burials, which show no sign of ceremony. We don't find weapons or decorative objects associated with those graves. It may be that for the Neanderthals, burial was more a way of disposing of unpleasant remains than a ritual occasion, something like flushing a goldfish down the toilet.
Modern humans began to build much more substantial protective structures. At Dolni Vestonice, located in what is now the Czech Republic, archaeologists have found the remains of five structures marked by mammoth bones, blocks of limestone, and postholes, the largest covering more than 1,000 square feet. In Russia and Ukraine, where natural shelters such as limestone caves were scarce, we see dwellings that use many mammoth bones. Building them must have involved serious effort: One such house contained some 23 tons of the bones of these large mammals.
The most striking change of the Upper Paleolithic, to modern eyes, is the birth of art. The most spectacular examples are the cave paintings, found primarily in France and Spain. Typical subjects are large animals such as bison, deer, and aurochs, but sometimes predators such as lions, bears, and hyenas are depicted. Made with carbon black or ochre, these paintings usually depict animals naturalistically. Humans, which show up rarely, often look quite strange.
The first real sculptures also appeared during this time. The most famous, the Venus figurines, such as the famous Venus of Willendorf (see page 38), may have been portable pornography. At Dolni Vestonice, researchers found ceramic figures made about 29,000 years ago, long before the invention of pottery in other parts of the world.
The art of the Upper Paleolithic was qualitatively different from the first symbolic objects seen in Africa before the expansion of modern humans: Compare the incised piece of ochre from Blombos Cave in South Africa dated about 75,000 BC5— representative of the most sophisticated symbolic objects discovered in pre-expansion Africa—with the lion-headed sculpture carved from mammoth ivory, found in Germany and dated about 30,000 BC (see pages 38 and 39).
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