Tag Archives: Early upper paleolithic Europeans

The Women of Brassempouy: A Century of Research and Interpretation

The Women of Brassempouy: A Century of Research and Interpretation

The discovery of female figurines at Brassempouy in the 1890’s would launch more than a century of debate and interpretation concerning Paleolithic representations of women. The figurines emerged from the ground into a colonial intellectual and socio-political context nearly obsessed with matters of race. This early racial interpretive frame would only be replaced in the mid 20th century, when prehistorians turned to questions such as fertility and womanhood.

The first figurines were discovered in 1892 under rather tortured circumstances in which their very ownership was the subject of a heated dispute between Edouard Piette and Emile Cartailhac. Their toxic relationship would lead Piette, in his subsequent excavations, to be extremely precise about issues of stratigraphic and spatial provenience. Piette’s publications and archives enabled Henri Delporte to confirm the Gravettian attribution of the figurines and have allowed the present author to create a map of their spatial distribution within the site.

Technological and microscopic analysis of the Brassempouy figurines resolves some lingering questions about the sex of certain of the figurines and suggests an original context of figurine fabrication and the abandonment of unsuccessful sculpting attempts.

Just a pdf I found while surfing, with some interesting info on some of the statuettes.

35,000 year old figurine from Germany


From Hohle Fels in south west Germany and I just love it. Okay, so she looks a bit like a spatchcocked chicken with knockers and stretch marks, but it’s still brilliant. Link

Reconstruction of an early European skull


By Dr Richard Neave. I believe (though I can’t find anything saying this specifically) this is the Peştera cu Oase 2   crania from Romania (edit: John Hawkes also says it this one), which is 40,000 years old and was found by potholers. I can’t find any other crania of this age or date from Romania, so by a process of elimination this would be it. They don’t know if the skull is male or female.

Peştera cu Oase 2 crania.

First of all let me comment my objection to this recon is entirely to do with the really dark skin colour of the head. My main point is that even Southern Africans have a skin colour a lot lighter than this. Modern humans were also resident across North Africa from about 130k ago, and into the near East from about 100k ago- 60k prior to the entry into Europe, so the reason behind the UV-resistant equatorial skin tone escapes me as that area (equator) was left behind about 90k prior to entering Europe. The Khoisan people in the area believed to be where humans evolved are much lighter. I’m also a little unsure as to why he made the nose quite so flared, as the shape seems half way betwen European and African. But then, I have seen some Irish guys with nostrils like that.

Also needing to be taken into consideration is that the European hair colour mutations for fair/brown and red hair date back to over 80k, and that the red hair genes at least  will have had a lightening affect on skin tone. Lighter eye colours also lighten skin colour, and although blue is recent and fairly limited in distribution, other eye colours are much older and wider distributed, even as far as the Ainu and the Hmong.

On the other hand; it has the brow ridges, heavy jaw and wider nose you typical of more archaic samples, as seen in this 26,000 year old ivory head from Europe. The average prognathism in the Paleolithic samples is greater than in modern populations, and probably has a lot to do with the much larger teeth humans had prior to the Neolithic farming revolution.

Judging from the scant art objects the Europeans had straight hair. So.. give him hazel brown eyes and dark brown hair and a lighter Khoisan-ish skin tone and you’d probably be close to an accurate reconstruction of the face.

40,000 years old human occupation at Mamontovaya Kurya

Human presence in the European Arctic nearly 40,000 years ago
Pavel Pavlov1,2, John Inge Svendsen2,3 & Svein Indrelid4

The transition from the Middle to the Upper Palaeolithic, approximately 40,000–35,000 radiocarbon years ago, marks a turning point in the history of human evolution in Europe. Many changes in the archaeological and fossil record at this time have been associated with the appearance of anatomically modern humans1, 2. Before this transition, the Neanderthals roamed the continent, but their remains have not been found in the northernmost part of Eurasia. It is generally believed that this vast region was not colonized by humans until the final stage of the last Ice Age some 13,000–14,000 years ago3, 4. Here we report the discovery of traces of human occupation nearly 40,000 years old at Mamontovaya Kurya, a Palaeolithic site situated in the European part of the Russian Arctic. At this site we have uncovered stone artefacts, animal bones and a mammoth tusk with human-made marks from strata covered by thick Quaternary deposits. This is the oldest documented evidence for human presence at this high latitude; it implies that either the Neanderthals expanded much further north than previously thought or that modern humans were present in the Arctic only a few thousand years after their first appearance in Europe.

An excellent Dons Maps article on this., and the pdf it uses for information. There is some debate as to whether the occupants were Neanderthals or humans.

Variability of the Upper Palaeolithic skulls from Předmostí

Variability of the Upper Palaeolithic skulls from Předmostí near Přerov (Czech Republic): Craniometric comparison with recent human standards

J. Velemínskáa, , , J. Brůžekb, c, P. Velemínskýd, L. Bigonia, A. Šefčákováe and S. Katinaf

One of the largest skeletal series of the Upper Palaeolithic period from Předmostí was destroyed during the Second World War, but the study of this material continues up to the present. The discovery of Matiegka’s original photographic documentation on glass plates [Velemínská et al., 2004. The use of recently re-discovered glass plate photo-documentation of those human fossil finds from Předmostí u Přerova destroyed during World War II. J. Nat. Mus. Nat. Hist. Ser. 173, 129–132] gives an opportunity to perform a new and detailed craniometric analysis of five adult skulls in their lateral projection.

The craniometric data were analysed using specialised Craniometrics software, and the analysis included morphological and dimensional comparisons with current Central European norms. The aim of the study was not only to monitor the skull shape as a whole, but predominantly, to evaluate the size and shape of various parts of the splanchnocranium.

The Upper Palaeolithic skulls are significantly longer, and male skulls are also higher than the current norms. The crania of anatomically modern humans are characterised by two general structural features: mid-lower facial retraction and neurocranial globularity. The height of the face of the Palaeolithic skulls corresponds to that of the current Central European population. The face has a markedly longer mandibular body (3–4 SD), while female mandibular rami are shorter. The skulls are further characterised by a smaller gonial angle, the increased steepness of the mandibular ramus, and the greater angle of the chin. These changes in the size and shape associated with anterior rotation of the face produce a strong protrusion of both jaws, but the sagittal inter-maxillary relationships remain unchanged. The observed facial morphology is similar to the Czech Upper Palaeolithic skulls from Dolní Věstonice.

This study confirms the main diachronic changes between skulls of Upper Palaeolithic and present-day human populations.

It seems the ancient Europeans had big strong jaws. I have an example of one of the skulls here…

26,000 year old face carved in mammoth ivory.

From Dolni Vestonice, site of many fine paleolithic finds. It’s thought to be a female face.

The Russian Sunghir burials and skull reconstructions

The Sunghir site is a paleolithic site in Russia about 190km East of Moscow, dated to approximately 25,000 years BP.

The adults (female and male) from Sunghir. Note the very strongly developed jawlines. The lady has a somewhat Asian look to her cheekbones. The man was sixty years old when he died, ancient by paleolithic standards.

The boy (13) and a girl (8) from the site. More detailed information about them is found here at this excellent site, right down to the DNA investigation of the remains ans isotope analysis of bones (which as always shows a very high proportion of meat in the diet).

The Burials

The Sunghir site is well known because of the style of the burials. The deceased were buried wearing very heavily beaded clothing.

The burial of the male. Counted in the grave were 2,936 ivory beads. He is also wearing armlets of ivory, that showed traces of red and black paint. An artists reconstruction of his outfit below.


Artist: Illustration © Libor Balák

And the double burial of the children, buried head to head. It’s thought they were siblings. They were aged 8 and 13, and they were even more heavily beaded than the man: the boy had 4,903 beads, the girl 5,274 beads.

Artist: Illustration © Libor Balák

This is one of the sites where it’s thouight the people were possibly wearing woven cloth as well as hides. The children were also buried with decorated ivory spears. A small horse pendant can be seen next to the boys shoulder.

These people seemed heavily into beaded decoration, and it’s estimated that each bead, using a production line technique, took more than an hour to complete. I can’t help wondering if possibly beads could have been used as a form of currency. A predictable number of hours labour went into them, this could have made their use as a currency possible.

A great place for more artists impressions of the Sunghir people and more detailed information on the artifacts and bead making process, Dons Maps. there is also another good visual page here. 

In interesting snippet on how they lived..

Palaeozoologic analysis of the osteologic material from the Sunghir site revealed clear hunting specialisation – hunt for fur-bearing animals. Apparently, cold climate made it necessary to intensify this type of hunt to obtain materials for clothing. The reconstructed cloth makes it possible to see how adequate the fur was used and how ergologic the cloth was. Proceeding from the results of the biological indicators, it can be supposed that adult and subadult (preadolescent) males of the group participated in hunts. The Sunghirians’ clothes ornamented with thousands of beads show how labour-consuming this work was. This type of locomotive activity is revealed in girl’s skeleton. It allows us to suppose that the work was done by females. Besides this, carrying of the weights on the head was the work of the female part of the community also, because nor juvenile, neither man possessed this indicator.

Fire pits, tens of fireplaces, agglomerations of bones, the places of bone and flint processing show high human activity at the site. Nevertheless, the fact that only surface dwellings existed across the site can be considered as the evidence of its seasonal use. Placed on the surface or slightly deepened dwellings of Anosov-Mesin type with the socle of large mammoth bones or more complex constructions of Kostjonky-Avdeevo type reveals long usage duration, and consequently a settled life of the groups. Opposite to them, the Sunghir inhabitants were mobile, ready to move in one or another direction, following the needs of night’s lodging, preys’ processing and obtaining necessary tools. The fact is notable, that the settlement was located on height eminence, far from natural streams. Probably there were springs, serving as sources of drinking water. The tools with the traces of their usage in gathering were found at the site.

Apparently, the Sunghirian group utterly used the patterns of the landscape and was actively adapted to the climatic factors of the environment.

Neanderthals and the modern human colonization of Europe

Neanderthals and the modern human colonization of Europe

Extract from article, 2004.

Another scrapbook item.

Paul Mellars
Department of Archaeology, Cambridge University, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3DZ, UK

The fate of the Neanderthal populations of Europe and western Asia has gripped the popular and scientific imaginations for the past century. Following at least 200,000 years of successful adaptation to the glacial climates of northwestern Eurasia, they disappeared abruptly between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago, to be replaced by populations all but identical to modern humans. Recent research suggests that the roots of this dramatic population replacement can be traced far back to events on another continent, with the appearance of distinctively modern human remains and artefacts in eastern and southern Africa.

Colonization of Europe from about 40,000 years ago.

Neanderthal–modern human interactions

Any model of this kind implies that there must inevitably have been numerous episodes of contact—and therefore potential interaction— between the expanding populations of modern humans and the indigenous Neanderthal populations across Europe. There is insufficient space here to review all of the related discussion that has emerged in the recent literature17,19,39–41. One point which now seems clear, however, is that the appearance of a number of apparently modern features of technology among some of the final Neanderthal communities of central and western Europe (notably the simple bone tools and a number of grooved or perforated animal-tooth pendants found in the Chatelperronian levels at Arcy-sur-Cure in Central France17,39,42) can be shown to coincide closely with the appearance of early Aurignacian populations in the nearby regions of central Europe, and probably with those along the Mediterranean coast.

 Early Aurignacian carved ivory animal and human figures from sites in southern Germany. a–c, Vogelherd Cave; d, Hohlenstein–Stadel Cave. The carvings represent the head of a cave lion (a), a horse (b), a mammoth (c) and a male human figure with the head of a cave lion (d).
review article

Such patterns of behavioural interaction and technological transfer between the local Neanderthal and intrusive anatomically modern populations are precisely what we would predict on the basis of examples of recent ethnic contact situations40, regardless of the respective cultural and cognitive capacities of the two populations. Whether the ability of the final Neanderthals to adopt some of these new patterns of technology can be taken to imply that they had brains effectively identical to those of the incoming modern
populations is currently a topic of lively but inconclusive debate. All that can be said is that if the evolutionary trajectories of the Neanderthal and modern populations had been separate for at least 300,000 yr—as all available genetic and anatomical evidence suggests—then the possibility of some divergence in neurological structures over this period cannot be ruled out. Equally, the possibility of some small degree of interbreeding between the two populations cannot be excluded on the basis of either the current anatomical or DNA evidence1,10 and would again seem plausible in anthropological and demographic terms.

However we visualize this situation, the reality is that all traces of distinctively Neanderthal patterns of mitochondrial DNA, as well as the distinctive anatomical features of Neanderthals, disappeared relatively rapidly from European populations. This probably reflects a straightforward case of direct competition for space and resources between the two populations, in which the demonstrably more complex technology and apparently more complex organization of the anatomically modern populations would have given them a strong competitive advantage over the Neanderthals. Some of the rapid climatic oscillations that have been documented over this time range may also have played a critical part in this
demographically competitive situation.

Ancient carved ivory portrait of a Cro Magnon man.

From Brno in Chzechoslovakis, found 1891.

This carved head in ivory is dated to about 26,000 years old. It seems to depict a man with very heavy brows, long straight hair. it’s thought that he may have been the top of a staff, with his long hair curled around it.

A link to more detailed information is here.

The earliest modern European skulls.

Peştera cu Oase 2 and the cranial morphology of early modern Europeans

Between 2003 and 2005, the Peştera cu Oase, Romania yielded a largely complete early modern human cranium, Oase 2, scattered on the surface of a Late Pleistocene hydraulically displaced bone bed containing principally the remains of Ursus spelaeus. Multiple lines of evidence indicate an age of ≈40.5 thousand calendar years before the present (≈35 ka 14C B.P.). Morphological comparison of the adolescent Oase 2 cranium to relevant Late Pleistocene human samples documents a suite of derived modern human and/or non-Neandertal features, including absence of a supraorbital torus, subrectangular orbits, prominent canine fossae, narrow nasal aperture, level nasal floor, angled and anteriorly oriented zygomatic bones, a high neurocranium with prominent parietal bosses and marked sagittal parietal curvature, superiorly positioned temporal zygomatic root, vertical auditory porous, laterally bulbous mastoid processes, superiorly positioned posterior semicircular canal, absence of a nuchal torus and a suprainiac fossa, and a small occipital bun. However, these features are associated with an exceptionally flat frontal arc, a moderately large juxtamastoid eminence, extremely large molars that become progressively larger distally, complex occlusal morphology of the upper third molar, and relatively anteriorly positioned zygomatic arches. Moreover, the featureless occipital region and small mastoid process are at variance with the large facial skeleton and dentition. This unusual mosaic in Oase 2, some of which is paralleled in the Oase 1 mandible, indicates both complex population dynamics as modern humans dispersed into Europe and significant ongoing human evolution once modern humans were established within Europe.