During the Last Glacial Maximum northern and central Eurasia were covered with glaciers, bordered by steppe and tundra, and in both halves of the supercontinent the population would have been forced to migrate southward into warmer refuges.
The Aurignacian era came to an end, for unknown reasons, and its culture was replaced by that of the Gravettian, also defined by a distinctive set of stone tools. The Gravettian, which lasted from 28,000 to 21,000 years ago, stretched east into Russia, with southern provinces in Italy and astride the French-Spanish border. Gravettian people focused more on hunting mammoth than reindeer. They produced the well-known Venus figurines, with their dwarf heads, ample breasts and steatopygous buttocks, strangely reminiscent of the adaptation found among the San and the Andaman islanders. The figurines, recovered from sites stretching from France to Russia, clearly had some widely recognized importance in the Gravettian culture and were perhaps associated with a fertility cult. A less well known achievement is the invention of the bow—the earliest evidence of bows and arrows first appears at the end of the 124
The Gravettian culture occurred during a period of considerable cold during which much of the northern European plain was unoccupied. The era ended as the Last Glacial Maximum descended on the world. Its glaciers smothered Britain, Scandinavia and other northern latitudes, sending their occupants retreating to refuge areas in Spain, Italy and the Ukraine. Nothing is known about the collision of peoples that may have been set in train as the people of the north migrated down into the southerners' territory. But the worsening climate could have given an edge to the northerners who were adapted to the cold. The principal European culture during the post-Gravettian period is known as the Solutrean. It was centered in France and Spain and lasted from 21,000 to 16,500 years ago. Ibex, wild horse and red deer are the species whose bones are most common at Solutrean sites. The sites are more closely packed together, and some of the largest and thinnest stone tools look as if they were made for ceremonial rather than practical use. Archaeologists interpret these last two factors as a sign that people were living together in larger societies. This could have been a consequence of the fact that northwestern and central Europe had apparently been abandoned and the survivors were crowded into the southern refuges.
The Last Glacial Maximum lasted for some five thousand years. Then, as quickly as the glaciers had returned, they began their final withdrawal, yielding back the rich plains of northern Eurasia for occupation by animals and those who hunted them. From one of the refuge areas, the Perigord region of southwestern France, people spread out across the region that is now France and Germany, creating the Magdalenian culture which existed from 18,000 to 11,000 years ago. The Magdalenian tool kit, designed for reindeer hunting, is lightweight and portable. People crafted tools of particular precision and delicacy, such as bone harpoons with a row of barbs on each side. The practice of cave art continued at the Magdalenian sites of Lascaux, dated to 17,000 years ago, Niaux and Altamira.
Little is known about the lives of Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers or the reasons that led one culture to succeed another. For lack of contrary evidence, their social structure is generally assumed to have been egalitarian, without kings or leaders, as is that of contemporary hunter-gatherer societies. Archaeologists are skilled at making inferences from the few shards of stone or bones they have to work with, but such evidence can lead only so far. Rarely can they identify the people who made the artifacts they study. Geneticists have begun to supply a new dimension to the archaeology by supplying biological information to match with the archaeologists' culture. Who were the Aurignacians or Gravettians? Amazingly, geneticists have been able to develop answers as to where they came from, and who their living descendants are. The most comprehensive study so far of Europe's early population history has been carried out by Martin Richards of the University of Hudders field in Britain. With colleagues in Europe and Israel, Richards has used an ingenious technique called founder analysis to date the arrival of successive waves of immigrants into Europe from 45,000 years ago to recent times. Founder analysis depends on the idea that when people in region A send out colonists to region B, the colonists will start to clock up new mutations in their DNA that won't exist in the parent population back home in region A. So if the new mutations can be identified and counted, their number will yield an estimate of how long the colonists have lived in their new home in region B. Richards has applied the founder analysis technique to mitochondrial DNA. As discussed above, mitochondrial DNA lineages have a distinctive geographical distribution because the mutations that initiate each branch of the genealogy occurred while people were moving into new territory across the world. The lineages denoted M and N were the only ones to come out of Africa and reach India. The daughter lineages of M and some of N populated all of the eastern Eurasian land mass; the rest of N populated western Eurasia. N gave rise to a daughter lineage R, and the descendants of R, daughter lineages known as J, H, V, T, K and U, moved to occupy the Near East and Europe. Almost all Europeans belong to one or another of these six lineages or to a seventh, X, who is a direct, non-R daughter of N; hence the title of an engaging book by the population geneticist Bryan Sykes called The Seven Daughters of Eve. U, the most prolific daughter, had several sublineages of which, confusingly, K is one, and the others are labeled U1 through U6. To reconstruct the population history of Europe, Richards and his colleagues started with the principal mitochondrial lineages in Europe, then looked for the present day descendants of their source populations in the Near East. They then compared regions of the mitochondrial DNA of the U5 cluster of lineages, say, in Europe with members of the U5 cluster in the Near East. After the two groups of U5 had parted ways, each would have continued to accumulate its own mutations. So it was easy to spot the new mutations in European U5—they were the ones that didn't also appear in Near Eastern U5. Knowing the number of new mutations in European U5, and the general rate at which changes occur in mitochondrial DNA, the Richards team could then calculate how long U5 had been present in Europe. They performed the same
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