Behavioural change

A criticism sometimes made against earlier discussions of the character of the Middle-Upper Palaeolithic transition is that these have relied on very broad characterizations of archaeological evidence from the two periods, in a way which tends to exaggerate the true character of behavioural changes over the period of the hypothetical transition itself (e.g. Simek & Price 1990: 243; Clark & Lindly 1989: 634). Thus, the charge is levelled that proponents of a behavioural 'revolution' at this point in the archaeological sequence are contrasting average patterns of behaviour in the two periods, or at worst, in the words of Lawrence Straus, comparing 'the Mousterian with the Magdalenian' (Straus 1983).

Whether there is more than a grain of truth in these allegations could be debated. Nevertheless it is evident that any attempt to document a radical shift or 'revolution' in behavioural patterns must focus initially on a specific and preferably relatively brief time span. The aim of this section is to adopt precisely this focus by concentrating on the time range of the earlier Aurignacian industries in Europe, i.e., on industries which can now be dated securely in radiocarbon terms to well before 30,000 BP and in many cases to before 35,000 BP (Fig. 13.13: Mellars 1992b; Banesz & Kozlowski 1993). The critical issue is how far we can identify significant innovations in the archaeological records of human behaviour over this period, which are demonstrably lacking from the archaeological records of the preceding Middle Palaeolithic in the same regions. To summarize results of earlier syntheses by Kozlowski (1990), White (1989), myself (1973, 1989a,b, 1991) and others, the answer lies in a combination of the following features:

1. Improved blade technology. The existence of blade technology in a basic morphological sense is by no means confined to the Upper Palaeolithic - as discussed fully in Chapter 3. However, there are indications that the scale of blade technology increased sharply not only in quantitative terms in the earlier Aurignacian industries of Europe, but also in the specific techniques of blade production - particularly those involving the use of soft as opposed to hard hammer techniques and probably also indirect 'punch' techniques (Boéda 1989, 1990; Kozlowski 1990; Pelegrin 1990; Rigaud 1993). In most areas of Europe there is a striking contrast between the relative poverty of blade technology in the final stages of the Mousterian and the rapid proliferation of blade production in the earliest stages of the Aurignacian (Kozlowski 1990).

2. New forms of stone tools. In an earlier paper I commented 'the generation of qualitatively new artefact forms seems to be specifically associated with the earliest phases of the Upper Palaeolithic succession throughout all regions of Western Eurasia' (Mellars 1989b: 341; see also Mellars 1973: 257). In the case of the earlier Aurignacian industries, this is reflected in the appearance of forms such as elegantly fluted carinated and nosed scrapers, new and more complex types of burins (including multifaceted and eventually classic busqué forms), extensively edge-re-touched blades (including distinctively strangulated forms) and - above all - a proliferation of small, carefully retouched blade-lets of both 'Font Yves' smaller 'Dufour' forms (Fig. 13.1: de Sonneville-Bordes 1960; Bosinski 1990; Bánesz & Kozlowski 1993). While it could be argued that some of these features (especially the proliferation of bla-delets) might be attributed to the emergence of new forms of blade technology, several of

Figure 13.1

Aurignacian stone and bone artefacts from sites in western France. After Bordes 1968a.

Figure 13.2 Early Aurignacian bone and ivory artefacts from the early Aurignacian levels of the Vogelherd cave, southern Germany (nos 1-5) and Mladec, Czechoslovakia (no. 6). After Hahn 1977.

the other distinctively Aurignacian forms (classic nosed and carinated scrapers, busqué burins etc.) are rarely, if ever, manufactured from blade as opposed to flake blanks (Mel-lars 1989b). How far the appearance of typical end-scrapers and burins can be regarded as an explicitly Upper Palaeolithic feature is more debatable (see Chapter 4). Both of these types, however, appear in much larger numbers and usually in much more classic forms in the early Aurignacian industries of Europe than in any of the preceding Middle Palaeolithic industries in the same regions (Mellars 1989b; Anderson-Gerfaud 1990; Rigaud 1993).

3. Bone, antler and ivory technology. The appearance of complex, standardized and extensively shaped bone, antler and ivory artefacts is a striking feature of early Aurignacian sites throughout Europe (Hahn 1977; Banesz & Kozlowski 1993). The tools appear in a remarkable diversity of forms, ranging from the classic split-base and bicon-ical or lozangic bone/antler/ivory points, to more enigmatic types such as perforated antler batons, delicate, perforated bow-like forms, bone tubes, etc. (Figs 13.1, 13.2). The technology involved in the production of these tools was equally complex, ranging from initial cutting and grooving of the original blanks (in some cases demonstrably involving groove and splinter techniques), through to finer sawing, grinding and polishing of the finished tools (Mellars 1973: 258-9; 1989b; Knecht 1993). The element of imposed form is arguably even more explicit in these bone and antler tools than in the shapes of the associated stone tools. No one would seriously question that the proliferation of this complex, tightly controlled bone, antler and ivory technology is a radical innovation in the technological records of Europe, without parallel in the preceding Middle Palaeolithic industries of the region (Camps-Fabrer 1976; Vincent 1988; Rigaud 1993).

Figure 13.3 Perforated deer tooth fom the early Aurignacian levels of La Souquette, southwestern France. After White 1989.

4. Personal ornaments. The appearance of various types of personal ornaments is a further hallmark of early Aurignacian sites across Europe (Hahn 1972, 1977; White 1989, 1993). As discussed in the preceding chapter, these vary from simple perforated animal teeth (Fig. 13.3) and marine shells, to more elaborate beads laboriously manufactured from either ivory (as at Spy and Vogelherd) or hard stones such as steatite and serpentine (as in several of the French sites). As White (1989, 1993) and others have emphasized, these personal ornaments seem to be an invariable component of early Aurignacian sites across Europe and frequently occur in remarkable quantities - for example the 800 or so beads of stone and ivory recovered from the three adjacent sites of Abri Blanchard, Castanet and La Souquette in the Castelmerle valley of southwestern France. With the exception of the few dubious and extremely

Figure 13.4 Animal figurines carved from mammoth ivory from the early Aurignacian levels in the Vogelherd cave, southern Germany.

isolated occurrences discussed in Chapter 12, such decorative items appear to be lacking from well documented Middle Palaeolithic contexts throughout Europe.

5. Art and decoration. The appearance of complex and sophisticated representational art provides the most dramatic reflection of the 'explosion7 of symbolic expression associated with the earliest stages of the Upper Palaeolithic in Europe. The art is now documented from a range of Aurignacian sites in both western and central Europe, and varies from simple engraved outlines of either animals or female vulvar symbols, as at La Ferrassie, Abri Blanchard, Belcayre, Abri Cellier etc. in western France, to the more elaborate and beautiful statuettes of animals meticulously carved out of mammoth ivory from the sites of Vogelherd (Fig. 13.4), das Geissenklosterle and Hôhlenstein-stadel in southern Germany (Delluc & Delluc 1978; Hahn 1972,1977,1984,

Figure 13.5 Lion-headed human figure of mammoth ivory from the early Aurignacian levels in the Hdhlenstein-Stadel cave, southern Germany.

1993a; Bosinski 1990). Equally striking are the phallic carvings recorded from the Abri Blanchard and Vogelherd and the recently discovered ivory statuette of a male human figure equipped with a lion's head from the earlier Aurignacian levels of the Hohlen-stein-Stadel cave (Fig. 13.5). Viewed as a whole, this art could hardly be described as crude, uniform, or proto-typical. Most of these discoveries were associated securely with the earlier Aurignacian levels in the different sites and can hardly be younger than ca 32-34,000 BP.

A proliferation of more abstract decorative motifs is a further widespread feature of early Aurignacian sites across Europe (Hahn 1972, 1977, 1993a). Again, the forms vary from relatively simple, regularly-spaced notches along the edges of bone or ivory fragments (e.g. Fig. 13.2), to more complex arrangements of dots, lines, crosses or other motifs carefully incised on larger fragments of bone or stone. Marshack (1972, 1985 etc.) has seen these engravings as an indication of either sophisticated numerical notation systems or even simple lunar calendars. Regardless of interpretations, these artefacts are not only abundant in Aurignacian contexts but still without convincing parallels from the preceding Middle Palaeolithic sites of Europe (cf. Fig. 12.4; Chase & Dibble 1987; Bednarik 1992, with comments).

6. Expanded distribution and trading networks. The most impressive indication of wide distribution networks for scarce or valued commodities in early Upper Palaeolithic contexts is provided by the occurrence of far-travelled marine shells in early Aurignacian sites throughout Europe - for example the frequent occurrence of shells from the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts in early Aurignacian levels in the Perigord region (Fig. 13.6: Mellars 1973: 267; Taborin 1990, 1993), or the shells from the Black Sea coast at sites in the Kostenki region of south Russia (Hahn 1977: map 5), in some cases indicating their trans-

Kostenki Russia
Figure 13.6 Upper: Perforated sea shells, from the early Aurignacian levels of La Souquette, southwestern France. After White 1989. Lower: sources of sea shells found in Aurignacian levels in southern France, deriving from both the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. After Taborin 1993.

portation of over distances of 500 km or more. Once again, movement of either shells or any other materials on this scale is without parallel from Mousterian sites in Europe.

Whether there was a similar increase in the range or efficiency of distribution networks for flint supplies in the early Upper Palaeolithic is perhaps more debatable. As discussed in Chapter 5, there is certainly evidence that especially high-quality raw materials were transported across the landscape in substantially larger quantities, and apparently on a more organized scale, in the Aurignacian sites of southwestern France than in any of the Mousterian sites of the same region (Fig. 5.20) - especially apparent in the distribution of high-quality Bergerac flint to sites in the Brive region, or to sites in the southern Perigord region between the Lot and the Dordogne (Demars 1982, 1990; Turq 1993). A similar sharp increase in frequencies of imported, high-quality flints has been recorded in early Aurignacian levels in Bulgaria, southern Germany and northern Spain (Kozlowski 1982; Hahn 1977; Hahn & Owen 1985; Straus & Heller 1988: 115-18). There can be little doubt that the overall scale on which lithic raw materials were transported, if not the maximum distances, increased significantly during the earlier stages of the Upper Palaeolithic compared with earlier Mousterian contexts.

The preceding paragraphs have focused on areas where major changes in human behavioural patterns can be documented most easily and directly from the 'hard' archaeological evidence. As I have discussed elsewhere (1973,1982,1989a) one could argue for equally significant changes in several other aspects of human organization, such as the densities of populations in some of the more ecologically favourable areas such as southwestern France, central Europe and northern Spain (marked by a sharp increase in numbers of occupied cave and rock-shelter sites), an increase in the maximum sizes of human residential groups (indicated by an increase in the spatial extent and intensity of occupation residues in some of the larger sites) and almost certainly a shift towards a more sharply focused pattern of animal exploitation - reflected in both the highly specialized composition of the faunal assemblages recovered from several early Aurignacian sites (Abri Pataud, La Gravette, Roc de Combe, Le Piage etc.: see Fig. 7.4) and the apparent tendency for sites to be more densely clustered along some of the major migration routes of reindeer and other species such as the valleys of the Vezere and the Dordogne (see Chapter 7). Since the interpretation of these social and economic aspects of the evidence has generated more controversy than the direct artefactual evidence discussed above (e.g. Chase 1987; Clark & Lindly 1989), it is perhaps best to leave these issues for the present discussion.

Several aspects of the evidence outlined above should be emphasized. First is the wide range of the different types of behaviour involved. The earlier stages of the Aurignacian in Europe provide explicit evidence for radical changes in at least five or six separate aspects of behaviour: the technology and typology of stone tool production; the production of bone, antler and ivory artefacts; the emergence of varied and complex personal ornaments; the 'explosion' of representational art and associated abstract ornamentation; and the emergence of greatly expanded networks for the distribution of marine shells and in some cases high-quality raw materials. All these innovations are in place and well documented in the archaeological records of some of the earliest Aurignacian sites in Europe, certainly well before 30,000 BP, and probably before 35,000 BP. In short, we have evidence for a remarkable package of cultural and behavioural innovations which appear relatively suddenly within the archaeological records of Europe over a time span of at most 5-10,000 years and - within individual regions - probably over a much narrower time range of ca

1-2000 years. Regardless of how these developments are interpreted in broader social or cognitive terms, it is this package of innovations which justifies speaking of a major revolution in human behaviour coinciding closely with the conventional transition from the Middle to the Upper Palaeolithic stages in Europe.

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