8. The Neolithic Expansion

8.3 Europe

8.3.1 Cro Magnon Man

Cro-Magnon man was tall, had square jaws, was white with a lot of hair covering his body, and had arched feet. He appeared at the beginning of a thaw during the latest glaciary period, about 35,000 years ago. There are indications that he was present before the Neanderthals.

The Neanderthal challenge was not met with active competition and warfare. Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon hunters lived quiet, peaceful lives. Their skeletons reveal that they suffered from spondylose, spondylarthritis, deformation of the toe and scoliosis, diseases due to inactivity and lack of exercise: they very literally spent most of their time seated. Accidents and deaths due to violence are noted only from the moment metal became known.

If Neanderthal was a hunter in cold regions, he was much more pacific in countries like Italy and Palestine, where he nourished himself mainly on easy to catch tortoises and shellfish. His rate of reproduction was extremely low and there was no pressure on him for evolvement: all his needs were provided for. The arrival of H. sapiens did initially not change much: sapiens did not disturb the former occupant of the land and nourished himself on the same game. A greater rate of reproduction was apparently the cause first for the elimination of Neanderthal and second for depletion of easily obtainable food resources and evolvement toward more efficient game hunting. The slight thaw occurring 35,000 years ago was enough to completely eliminate the Mousterian culture and its representative man.

Ice covered Scandinavia and Northern England as well as the North Sea and Germany (fig. 8.7).


Figure 8.7. Western Europe, some 20,000 years ago, had approximately today’s Mediterranean coastline but the English Channel and the North Sea did not exist. Glaciers were extensive in the Pyrenees, Alps, and covered most of Ireland, Scandinavia, Northern England and Northern Germany. The heartland of Paleolithic cave art was Western Europe, south of the Loire River.

Other ice caps covered the Alps and the Pyrenees. Since the sea level was thereby lowered by about 100 meters, some coasts were largely uncovered. The British channel did not exist. Sardinia and Corsica were linked. As a consequence of this, the maritime winds were deviated south so that Spain and Italy received much more abundant rainfalls than today. The living conditions around the Mediterranean were in general equal to those now enjoyed in France, Germany and Great Britain. North of the Alps and the Pyrenees, Europe was much colder and arid than today. The living conditions there were similar then to the living conditions in Siberia and Canada today. The difference lies in the length of days and nights: in Canada, Sweden, Siberia, the nights in winter and the days in summer are very long, which is not so much the case in France, Germany, Hungary, the British Isles. In Central Europe and North of the Himalayas, Man faced an arid steppe with biting cold in winter and some mild warm days in summer. Europe, North Africa and the Near East were somewhat tempered through maritime warm currents and were the most hospitable parts of the world, for people at an elementary level of cultural development.

Most economies based on the exploitation of resources that do not involve any production of food, will force those dependent on them to migrate, either because animals themselves migrate or because resources become hopelessly depleted due to overhunting or to termination of plant collection or to exhaustion of a quarry, etc. Considering populations that are few in numbers, deprived of any domestic animal, ignorant of the wheel, the pursuit of food must have been thorough. Yet, the animals hunted by Upper-Paleolithic Man lived in a cold climate and were very prone to migrate when the weather turned inclement. The base camps of the hunters were established along the mountain passes necessarily taken by the aurochs, buffaloes, reindeer, mammoths migrating from the Russian and Siberian plains toward the temperate plains of Hungary and Romania.

The plateau existing in Southwest France was not as exposed to the winter frosts as the plains of Russia. Mammoths and rhinoceroses inhabited that plateau. The rivers (Dordogne and affluents) were replete with salmon moving up to spawn. The region offered a multitude of shelters. An economy based on the exploitation of these resources would last as long as the resources would last but, in the meantime, provided a reasonable degree of sedentariness to the population. It allowed a sizable increase of the population and a certain amount of time freed from the preoccupation to obtain food.

8.3.2 The Upper-Paleolithic

One great subject of debate 12 is the contribution of Neanderthal to the progress of humanity. Was Neanderthal capable of abstracting and symbolizing, was he able to talk, was there a cultural osmosis between the Mousterian Neanderthals and the sapiens sapiens Pre-Aurignacians? Was art a cultural Big Bang that occurred 35,000 years ago or was it a slow evolution, initiated thousands of years earlier13?

In 1994, the archeologist Chauvet discovered a cave occupied about 32,000 years ago by modern humans. If the dating is correct, the wall paintings it contains show that many representational techniques thought to have been invented much later, as shading and perspective, were in use soon after modern humans arrived in Europe. They could have learned it from ancient sources that have not yet been discovered. Maybe African. This early mastering of representational art, perhaps inherited from the Neanderthals, was lost and had to be reinvented during the 25,000 years that span the upper-Paleolithic period. This evolutive trend maintained itself in some parts of Africa until about 2000 years ago. It was at the roots of the hieroglyphic script and ideograms. Chatelperronians

The industry named after Chatelperron flourished about 35,000 years ago and presented characters of superior behavior proper to the Upper Paleolithic period. Yet, although it was carried by a man definitely sapiens, the stone tools in use were Mousterian in nature, stemming directly from the culture supplanted. There was a mingling of the Mousterian culture with the newly developing one. The new man continued to carry further the Mousterian culture.

No art forms have been found associated with this early culture, either in the form of portable arts such as argilous tablets or small sculptures or in the form of parietal art. This lack of artistic interest was also characteristic of the Paleo-Indians. Aurignacians

The first culture that developed successfully (figure 8.8) was that of the Aurignacians. This culture seems to have been born in the Near East, about 35,000 years ago and extended from Afghanistan through Crimea and Syria, towards Romania, Hungary, South Germany, France and Northern Spain (Cantabria).


Figure 8.8. The “Venus of Lespugue” is supposed to be late Aurignacian. It distinctly shows a stylization of the head. This stylization was continued during the succeeding Gravettian Period.

History’s oldest example of representational art is associated with Aurignacian tools and dates 32,000 years ago.

The parietal reproduction of tri-dimensional forms is difficult and requires observation and research that are true conquests of science. The first tri-dimensional representations are crude (fig. 8.9 and 8.10).

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Figure 8.9. The first parietal art found during the Aurignacian times, 30,000 years BC, in the “La Ferrastié” cave, is very crude. The signs are supposed to be sexual symbols.

Figure 8.10. The Venus of Laussel was certainly made at a more recent period than the early Aurignacian period. She may be Gravettian. The image represents reality very crudely.

Figure 8.11. It is only a hypothesis that holds that abstract signs are symbolic of the sexes and have evolved from earlier depictions of female and male figures of sexual organs. Two groups of symbols are shown for the female and three groups for the male, in the normal Aurignacian form, with the subsequent evolution during Gravettian and Magdalenian times. Gravettians

The Gravettians originated in Austria and extended towards the North East, in Russia along the rivers Don, Dneiper and affluents, and down across central Europe, southern Germany and France, to Cantabric Spain. Contrary to the Aurignacians, who depended on caves and overhanging rocks for shelter, the Gravettians built houses, dug pits in the ground and had tents made of hides. Gravettian art extended from Spain to Russia and the great cave paintings begin to appear in France. They are the producers of naked, fat, swollen female figures, with head and extremities stylized and often reduced in size (fig. 8.12).


Figure 8.12. The Venus of Vistonice is representative of Gravettian art, 23,000 years BC. Head and extremities are stylized.

The artists used colors. The Gravettians continued the Aurignacian tradition of parietal art. This primitive style I thus went on for about 4,000 years, with an evolution toward a refinement of the techniques and delineation of the different characteristics proper to each animal species (fig. 8.13).


Figure 8.13. The “Abri Labattut” contains parietal art dating from Gravettian times. Technique shows a refinement over prior art. The depicted horse has four legs.

This culture was maintained as a tradition in Russia, Central Europe, Italy and Spain until about 11,000 years ago. In France, the Solutreans replaced the Gravettians. The Solutreans

The Solutrean culture seems to have been born in Southern France about 23,000 years ago, during the height of the third advance of the Würm glaciation. Its geographic range remained surprisingly limited to Southern France and Northern Spain and it lasted only 4,000 years. The Solutreans showed a remarkable ability to master flint working techniques (fig. 8.14).


Figure 8.14. Solutrean tools demonstrate artisanal virtuosity. The large biface has its base chipped into a neat semi-circle. The point has two basal semi-circles. The laurel-leaf blade, in the center, has been given a stemmed base.

The Solutrean art evolved to what is known as the archaic style (style III). The representation of animals retains a primitive flavor. Care for detail and proportion are usually neglected but line is handled in a sensitive way and control over the sculptural and painting techniques is achieved.

At the end of the Solutrean, about 18,000 years ago, a cold dry spell, preceded by a mild climate, struck Southern France. Game animals may have become scarcer. The population became smaller and more nomadic, and the Solutreans, after 4,000 years of existence, were replaced in Europe by the Magdalenians.

The Solutreans could have then moved to the New World. The elegant tools made by the Solutreans present remarkable analogies with the slender blades made in America by the Clovis people who thrived in southwestern North America about 12,000 years ago (see fig.7.16). No antecedents of the Clovis people are found in Alaska and Siberia, suggesting that they came not from Asia via Beringia, but from somewhere else. Technological parallels indicate that they could come from northern Spain. There is a 5,000 years gap between the Solutreans and the Clovis people but the gap may be resolved by the discovery of deposits at Meadowcroft Rock shelter, in Pennsylvania, dated at 16,000 years ago. The range of tools developed by the Solutreans is much richer than that found at the Clovis sites. Contrary to the Solutreans, the paleo-Indians were artistically inactive but this impoverishment may be explained by the stress of the journey. The similarity of the tools may be a case of technological convergence, because the Solutreans left no evidence of boating. However, boats were perhaps not needed. At the height of a glaciation, with the level of sea 125 meters lower than today, the distance between the Old and the New World was less than today and not an invincible challenge. An abundance of fowl and fish along the seashore all the way from Europe to America would have allowed the journey. The resourcefulness of primitive humans, down to the Pithecanthrops, has been demonstrated already in the South East, with Pithecantrops in Australia, so that this argument is acceptable. Magdalenians

The variety of their hunting and fishing instruments was amazing. They showed a remarkable development of parietal and portable art. In the end, the paintings escaped the faithful representation of a particular animal in a particular situation to represent, sometimes with a great economy of means and a few lines, the idea of a human female (fig. 8.15) or an animal (fig. 8.16).

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Figure 8.15. For seasoned artists, as were the Magdalenians living 11,000 years ago, a few lines suffice to draw women (“Angles-sur-l’Anglin”) or animals (“Teyjat”). The classic period (style IV) shows hunters able to faithfully represent reality with, in the end, a tendency to abstraction. This tendency is present at the beginning of the Upper-Paleolithic art.

Figure 8.16. This representation of an auroch, in the “Niaux” cave, demonstrates the accuracy of the artist. His art is realistic and depicts a particular animal at a particular moment.

From 4,000 to 11,000 years ago, the sedentary Magdalenians flourished on a diet of meat and fish in a periglaciary environment. Slowly and inexorably, the weather became warmer. The climatic modification was small and the ecological changes introduced in France, Spain and Italy were minimal but enough to radically impoverish an extremely vulnerable economy. The rhinoceroses, mammoths, horses, reindeer, salmon were replaced with deer and elk. A forest that offered poor vegetal resources replaced the tundra. The Magdalenians faced adverse conditions beyond their power to surmount. By 6,000 BC, they were gone, leaving no descendants but the Azilians in the Dordogne and probably also the Vascons. The upper-Paleolithic representational art may be the roots of the hieroglyphic script.

Cro-Magnon man is still among us. His square jaws and heavy bones are recognized among the populations of the Canary Islands, of the mountains of Morocco and Algeria (the Berbers), of Northern Spain (the Basques) and among the populations of Southern Scandinavia and certain regions of Germany (see fig. 8.18).

8.3.3 The Neolithic period

During the hunting phase, the sustenance of the family and tribe escaped feminine hands. This abandonment by woman of her role of prime provider of food for the family was demanded by the invasion of less propitious lands and seems to have been an essential element for further developments. The neothermal climatic challenge was taken constructively by two cultures, both residing at the far-ends of the climatic phenomenon. The Vascons

An analysis of the mitochondrial DNA of the Basques 14, population now confined to the French and Spanish piedmont of the Atlantic side of the Pyrenees (see figure 8.17) indicates that Cro-Magnon, of which they are the closest representatives, were spread before the last glaciation over the whole of Europe and North Africa. These early settlements were restricted to isolated niches in North Africa and South Spain, Ukraine, Serbia, Sicily and Germany.

Figure 8.17. During the glaciary period, 20,000 years ago, the Basques (the Magdalenians?) occupied the South of France and North of Spain. In the first century AD, the vascon language was still currently spoken within the red area of the map. The Basques were combated by the Saracens and by Carolus Magnus (battle of Roncevaux, 778). Today, the Basques are confined to the gulf of Gascony (dark color).


The glaciation occurring 20,000 years ago forced Cro-Magnon to retreat to Southwest France and Northeast Spain, from where they proceeded to a recolonization of North Africa (the Berbers) and Europe, as soon as the taw permitted, about 15,000 years ago. The Basques count with a base 20 (two times 20 for 40, three times 20 for 60, etc.). Some Berbers (the Tachelhit) also do. A third wave of colonization, always starting from the Basque country, occurred 8,000 years ago, with the occupation of Scandinavia.

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Figure 8.18.Left:the Dalique type is found in the South of Scandinavia and some regions of Germany (here: Hesse). A mixing of Cro-Magnon features with the Nordic type is apparent. The Atlanto-mediterranean type from Tenerife has also distinct Cro-Magnon features. Of course, mixings with other races occurred. The Basques were and still are excellent navigators, hence it is not a surprise to find them on islands.

The language of the Basques is not Indo-European, but it is also not evident that they spoke only one single language in the course of time. The re-colonization of Europe and North Africa by the Vascons, occurring at different periods, are marked by linguistic elements characterizing geographic features. The primitive human cultures carried by Cro-Magnon named the geographic elements that they encountered by their common name: a river was called “River” (Is, ur and ibar), a mountain was called “Mountain” (mendi), a valley was “Valley” (aran). The roots of their language are found all over Europe15. For example the root “Is“, meaning brook or water, is found in France (Isère), Germany (Isaar), Belgium (Yser), the Czech Republic ( Yeser), Italy (Isella) and Spain (Izura in the Basque country) (fig 8.19). “Ur” and “Is” are well established. “Al-/alm, “ Sal-/salm” and “var/ver” are without any equivalent in the language spoken by contemporary Basques. If we retain these five vascon linguistic elements meaning “water, river or brook”, the Vascons occupied the whole of Europe before the arrival of the Celts and Germans.

Figure 8.19: Hundreds of rivers and brooks all over Europe have a name including one of the five vascon linguistic elements meaning “water”, “river” and “brook”.


In Northern Europe, the glaciers retreated, the forests moved up and pushed back the tundra plains. The Maglomesian (Vascon?) populations of Holland, Belgium, Northern Germany, Britain and the Danish Peninsula responded to the arrival of the forest in a very positive way. In order to cope with the new environment, the stone axe (celt) was evolved (fig 8.20).


Figure 8.20. The Neolithic celt. This axe, found in Switzerland, is a sharpened stone fixed in a piece of deer antler, itself introduced within a hole drilled in a piece of wood.

The stone axe does not stem from the Paleolithic biface. This new invention is a great stone mounted on a piece of wood or bone, cut and sharpened on a mill. The sharpening of the stone blade constitutes the essence of the Neolithic tool and from this process comes the name “Neolithic”. In a forested environment, the axe permitted the felling of trees, the installation of small clearings and the construction of wooden houses and boats. Exploitation of quarries for minerals and of wood for kilns is dependent on this Neolithic instrument. It promises the realization of future inventions as the ox-managed plough, the wheel and cart. The Natouflians

In Palestine and Syria, aridity appeared where abundant rains had regularly watered the plains. The land did not turn at once from paradise to a hot furnace but a slight reduction in the amount of annual precipitations was enough to upset the ecological balance. The drying of the sea-leveled regions was disastrous but rain precipitation was still substantial in the mountains. The Neolithic hunters were forced to leave the Piedmont for more hilly country where the animals at hand were sheep, goats, oxen and boars. These animals showed no propensity to migrate and the hunter, careful enough not to deplete his reserves, became reasonably sedentary. The habit acquired by these hunters to haul home the quartered food in the animal’s own hides, reinforced this sedentarism. Also, these animals could be domesticated, which is not the case for gazelles, zebras, giraffes, foxes, antelopes, mammoths, etc., and once brought under control, nomadism was reduced even further. The construction of permanent homes of clay or mud, as opposed to tents or caves, reinforced the sedentarism by allowing the growth of a stable village according to availability of food and no longer to breeding space in a cave.

Communities feeding themselves by killing large numbers of wild sheep and wild cattle were present in the Near East 11,000 years ago (Malhaka, Mureybet, Natuf). Some villages went on feeding that way (Suberde) while other villages, within the same environment, turned to incipient cultivation and animal domestication. At that time, wheat and barley grew in a wild state near Jericho, where the Natouflians resided by a well or spring, about 10,000 years ago. The village extended over 2.4 hectares and comprised 3,500 inhabitants. They lived near a swift river and had built a small wall to protect themselves from floods, not from human enemies. These only appeared around 6,000 BC and were very likely nomads. The Natouflians, among other villages that were sedentary though relying on animal protein for food, initiated the use of grains. They evolved stone tools designed to cut the graminees. Even if they did not at that time grow barley and wheat, at least they began to incorporate them into their diet.

The Natouflians were ignorant of the axe while the Vascons (Maglomesians?) were ignorant of wheat but invented the axe. The Neolithic period is thus a response of certain Near East people to worsening survival conditions by a change of diet and a turning to a vegetal source of energy. It was also a general redefinition of attitudes towards a changing environment, which was possible at the end of the last glaciation because the intellectual equipment of the men having to confront changes was precisely ripe at that time.


12. Science, 282, 1451-1454, 1998: Art: Evolution or Revolution.

13. F. Bordes : le Paléolithique dans le Monde. Hachette, Paris, 1968. P. J. Ucko et A. Rosenfeld: L’Art Paléolithique . Hachette, Paris, 1966

14. Torroni A. et al.: A signal from Human mtDNA, of postglacial Recolonization in Europe. Am. J. human Genetics 69: 844-852, 2001

15. Venneman T.: Etymologie populaire et recherches sur les noms géographiques, in Beiträge zur Namenforschung, 34: 269, 1999

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