The Aterian of North Afrca, and the Solutrean of the Iberian peninsula:was there contact between them in the upper Paleothic

The Aterian of North Africa, and the Solutrean of the Iberian peninsula-was there contact between them in the upper Paleothic?

En Espanol desafortunadamente… Anyone who feels like translating the finer details let me know.
We present a state of the question on the North African Aterian, examining different hypotheses that posit some kind of relationship of this technocomplex with the Solutrean of the Iberian Peninsula, via the Strait of Gibraltar. Despite the fact that palaeoenvironmental conditions of the Strait area during the last glaciation would have allowed the movement of humans in several moments, the current archaeological record, besides some techno-typological similarities, does not allow us to conclude any kind of Aterian contribution in the formation of the peninsular Solutrean industries. Furthermore, some reflections about the evolution of the lithic industries from the Initial Upper Palaeolithic are made, pointing out the necessity of undertaking a theoretical and methodological renovation, in order to gain a better understanding of the processes of technological evolution in the Upper Paleolithic, and their relationships with prior contexts.



7 responses to “The Aterian of North Afrca, and the Solutrean of the Iberian peninsula:was there contact between them in the upper Paleothic

  1. Ok, here goes my excerpt:

    Intro: In the past it was common to think that Paleolithic developements in Iberia were influenced or caused by North African arrivals. Later the opposite position became overwhelmingly dominant and the Gibraltar Strait was concieved more as a barrier than anything else. Today we witness some review of this paradigm, because some elements appear to exist at both sides of the strait forcing to hink in some sort of contact. These are (UP only mentioned here):

    – Taforalt harpoon (looks Magdalenian- Camps, 1974)
    – Revision of rock art at both sides of the straits: some North African rock art may be UP and the parallels between Coa and the Upper Egyptian art are outstanding (Balbin & Alcolea, 2005; Huyge et al, 2007)

    But the main issue (for them) is the relation between Aterian and Solutrean, which the paper discusses.


    Extended by NW Africa though some argue that has offshots at the Nile too. Nowadays Aterian is considered a MP culture, rooted in local Mousterian, having some elements that would put it in the evolutive path towards UP (transitional industry).

    Boradly it’s an industry mostly on flakes, with Levallois operative systems, plus scrappers, denticulated and racloir tools. It also has some UP-like tools: some scrapper types, burins, biface leave-like pieces and the characteristic back-tipped (pedunculated?) tools. There is little bone indsutry and few decorative elements too.

    Chronology, earlier believed to be 40-20,000 BP, has been extensively reviewed in the last decades pushing it back to 70-60,000 BP [does not mention the recent dating to 90,000 BP]. The authors think it has been too radical to supress all the 40-20,000 BP datations and ask for caution here.

    The authors think that this should not affect to the Mousterian-Levallois origins of the techno-complex.

    Regional variability and possible chronological implications difficult to evaluate (most digs are old).

    Human type: archaic H. sapiens, very robust crania with strong browridges.


    It’s certainly possible to cross it with simple technology. Nowadays is 13km wide but in the LGM could be as little as 5 km, with small islands.


    1. The OOA model (via West Asia) has almost negated the possibility of Transmediterranean contacts or migrations. This is a too extremist claim on the eyes of the authors. Cooperation between North African and European scholars has brought this debate again to the forefront in recent years.

    2. Review of the evolution of paradigms on Transmediterranean relations. Doesn’t explicitly discard a Iberomaurusian [Oranian] relation with Iberian cultures but does discard any role of Capsian in Europen UP. But the main interest for the authors here is the hypothesis of Solutrean being of Aterian origin, whcih once was mainstream among Spanish Prehistorians, and was upheld by the diffusionist (migrationist) paradigm of the mid-20th century. This paradigm decayed as the Solutrean appeared as a “French” [Aquitanian] culture by C-14 datations but has been recalled since the 1980s, as some Iberian datations are similarly old.

    3. Today the revival of an Aterian origin of Solutrean is based on:

    – Solutrean being of later date than Aterian
    – The coincidence of bifacial retouch and pedunculated tools [the latter only found in the Southern Iberian Gravetto-Solutrean, AFAIK]
    – The crossing of Gibraltar Strait as a real possibility, especially in the LGM.

    (will continue)

  2. (continuing)


    1. Debénath (1986, 1994) proposes a Migration into Tunisia from Sicily c. 25-22,000 BP (origin of Iberomaurusian) that is coincident with the beginning of Iberian Solutrean c. 21,000 BP at Mallaetes.

    2. Ramos (1998) thinks more in terms of cultural exchange and less of population movements.

    The main criticisms of either model come from the questioning of the recent dates of Aterian mentioned before.

    The authors anyhow think that the Debénath model lacks in a very important chronological error [the one I mentioned in brackets above]: that the pedunculated points of Iberian Solutrean only appear in a late moment(c. 19-18,000 BP).

    They also argue that the alleged relation between Italian Epigravettian and Iberomaurusian is very doubtful. Such a huge demographic migration would need of a very solid archaeological record to be seriously considered and this does not exist. Additionally there is no clear Gravettian in Sicily and the distance between Sicily and Tunisia would be too large (c. 150 km) for UP people to cross.

    Instead they argue that the research of M. Tiffagom on the Solutrean of Iberian facies, suggesting that a late Aterian pulse would have influenced it, seems more valid (Otte and Noiret, 2002, Tiffagom, 2005). The two main points are:

    – Pedunculated points in the Iberian Solutrean
    – Presence of Levallois techs in it as well

    They citicise it though because it still has reminiscences of diffusionism, negating any autonomy to local sud-Iberians, not just in regard to the alleged Aterian influences but also to the Gravettian ones. [What the heck? South Iberia had a very strong Gravettian substrate, clearly noticeable in the local Solutrean].


    They argue that the Levallois retouch: remained in early UP Iberian industries, no surpise therefore to find it in Solutrean. They contend that, in contrast to the standarization of neatly distinct early, middle and late UP blocs, each one with their own specific typology, the reality is full of outsider types in all layers, more often than not disregarded by the researchers as “substrate tools”. They also argue that the Levallois tech is extremely pervasive chronologically speaking and that it can be found as late as in the Iron Age. They contend that using it as reference in the UP context (it is originally a MP classification element) is “off side” [football terminology].

    They argue that UP research should use and actually is using more and more a combined technological/typological approach instead of the typological one alone. They also mention a long list of cases in the Franco-Cantabrian region where Levallois tech and discoidal objects are found.

    Finally they argue that Levallois tech is more and more percieved as an “open”, very diverse and only gradually receeding method. They conclude that the use of Levallois could well be a local developement.


    While pedunculated points are generally rare in European UP, there is the precedent of the Font Robert points (Gravettian) anyhow. They argue that is also a very efficient kind of point, and that therefore is bound to be extended by mere functional demand.

    They mention that the Portuguese (Estremadura) sequence shows marked continuity in this aspect. This is the only Iberian region where a proto-Solutrean horizon has been described.

    They also contend based on the Gravetto-Solutrean continuity [that I have mentioned elsewhere] a North African origin can be disregarded.


    They list the following leave-like industries: Aterian, Solutrean, Clovis, Szletian, Bohunician, late North European Mousterian (Lincombian, Ranisian and Jermanowician), South African findings (Blombos Cave, Still Bay) and the Lupemban of the Congo basin. If we put all these together we’d get a chronology from 50,000 (African sites) to 15,000 BP (Clovis). They show clear scepticism of all these technologies being related and argue instead for convergent evolution.


    1. The Strait of Gibraltar was open for crossing by humans.

    2. The alleged connections between Iberian and North African technocomplexes are most problematic.

    3. The Aterian-Solutrean alleged connection also suffers from these problems and cannot be sustained with the current data. Evolutive convergence across Earth is the most likely answer.

    4. The previous does not preculde necesarily the existence of contacts across the Strait. But they don’t show as result any aculturation. In Southern Iberia we witness Gravettian as direct antecessor of Solutrean.

    5. Levallois flake tech is not prove of anything except of the dominance of the typological systematics, that emphasize UP blade types, ignoring the rest.

    6. They welcome the revitalization on the debate of the Gibraltar conenction debate, hopefully disposessed of the colonialist and post-colonial prejudices of the past.

  3. My own personal comment:

    Interesting discussion. Nevertheless I miss the adressing of what for me is still a contentious issue: wether Oranian (Iberomaurusian) is or not related to Southern Iberian Gravetto-Solutrean. As I have argued before there are elements that could suggest that, including precisely the pedunculated arrow points and the all covering “Solutrean” retouch tech, much more similar than any of the two with the “primitive” Aterian back-tipped points.

    Additionally Oranian presents a markedly coastal distribution that is concordant with the habitats of Iberian Gravetto-Solutreans. Plus we can’t ignore the issue that several North African mtDNA clades (U6, H and V) are subsets of what is found in Iberia.

    Unlike Aterian, whose reviewed dates would end c. 60,000 BP, Oranian starts precisely when it should if it effectively is derived from Iberian GS. The parallels between rock art both sides of the Mediterranean cannot be obviated either.

  4. I don`t think that there can be any doubt about a connection between, Solutrean and Aterian civilisations; if one can call them as such.
    Probably one being the extension of the other.
    Further more, it would have been relatively easy for either civilisation to cross the Straits of Gibraltar at that time; the oceans of the world were a lot lower than they are today. Also there have been DNA studies that prove a connection between North Africa and Iberia before the Islamic invasion of Spain. Probably dating back to these aforementioned civilisations.

  5. Thanks immensely for that translation and your own observations Luis.

    “palaeoenvironmental conditions of the Strait area during the last glaciation would have allowed the movement of humans in several moments”.

    What does that mean? Could humans have walked across the strait at times? You mention “in the LGM could be as little as 5 km, with small islands” but do the authors mean even more closely connected.

  6. Could humans have walked across the strait at times?

    No. They could have boated across it easily, maybe even swimmed through it (though beware of the currents and the sharks), but cerainly not “walked” through it.

    The Strait of Gibraltar has never ever been fully closed. It has been wider or narrower but that’s it.

  7. Now that levallois,mousterian type points,crested blades and unifacial barbed and shouldered points and pedunculates similar to aterian pieces have been found in the deep southeastern USA,maybe an Aterian origin for Clovis should be considered?

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