Category Archives: Solutrean

Grotte Chauvet’s Aurignacian dates strongly questioned

The famous rock art of the Cave of Lions (Grotte Chauvet, Ardèche) seems now not to be of such an early date as was claimed by Valladas et al. in 2001 but rather from the Gravettian and Solutrean periods, with more solid dates between 26,000 to 18,000 BP.
Jean Combier & Guy Jouve, New investigations into the cultural and stylistic identity of the Chauvet cave and its radiocarbon dating. L’Anthropologie 2014. Pay per view → LINK [doi:10.1016/j.anthro.2013.12.001]


The discovery of Chauvet cave, at Vallon-Pont-d’Arc (Ardèche), in 1994, was an important event for our knowledge of palaeolithic parietal art as a whole. Its painted and engraved figures, thanks to their number (425 graphic units), and their excellent state of preservation, provide a documentary thesaurus comparable to that of the greatest sites known, and far beyond what had already been found in the group of Rhône valley caves (Ardèche and Gard). But its study – when one places it in its natural regional, cultural and thematic framework – makes it impossible to see it as an isolated entity of astonishing precocity. This needs to be reconsidered, and the affinities that our research has brought to light are clearly incompatible with the very early age which has been attributed to it. And if one extends this examination to the whole of the Franco-Cantabrian domain, the conclusion is inescapable: although Chauvet cave displays some unique characteristics (like every decorated cave), it belongs to an evolved phase of parietal art that is far removed from the motifs of its origins (known from art on blocks and on shelter walls dated by stratigraphy to the Aurignacian, in France and Cantabrian Spain). The majority of its works are therefore to be placed, quite normally, within the framework of the well-defined artistic creations of the Gravettian and Solutrean. Moreover, this phase of the Middle Upper Palaeolithic (26,000–18,000) coincides with a particularly intensive and diversified local human occupation, unknown in earlier periods and far less dense afterwards in the Magdalenian. A detailed critique of the treatment of the samples subjected to AMS radiocarbon dating makes it impossible to retain the very early age (36,000 cal BP) attributed by some authors to the painted and engraved figures of Chauvet cave.


Maps of lamp usage in Paleolithic SW Europe

Illustration by Arturo Asensio
Decorating Altamira Cave
As I have briefly mentioned before David Sánchez has a most interesting series of articles (in Spanish language) these days, at his blog Noticias de Prehistoria – Prehistoria al Día, dealing with the usage of oil lamps in SW Europe (France, Iberian Peninsula) in the Upper Paleolithic. If you are familiar with Spanish language (or willing to use an online translator), you can read them at the following links: PART 1, PART 2 and PART 3 (update: part 4 is now also online).
To be most synthetic I will essentially borrow the excellent maps which shall give us a glimpse of the spread and time frame of this illumination fashion in the region:

Lamps found in France with chronology and type of site (Beaune & White 1993)
Lamps found in Iberia (by David Sánchez)

It must be mentioned, following the original articles, that the lamps of Iberia have all been found inside caves (while in France the locations are more diverse) and also nearly all them belong to the Magdalenian period. The exceptions are Bolinkoba (8), which is from a Solutrean chronology, La Trinidad de Ardales (1), which has no context, and a possible ill-documented lamp from Lezetxiki (14), originally argued to be of either Aurignacian or Mousterian context. 
Even if you don’t understand Spanish, I would suggest to take a look at the original articles for the many illustrations of a varied array of lamps.

Echoes from the past (Sep 24)

And all the rest of the cool stuff in short headlines:

Archaeology and hominin evolution:
Robust australopithecines were indeed relatives, shows CT scan ··> SD.
Neanderthals also exploited seafood resources, as early as H. sapiens ··> El Neandertal tonto ¡qué timo![es].
Looters and bureaucracy destroy a Solutrean site in Andalusia (Higueral-Guardia cave). Sadly enough, it was a lot easier for looters to access the unprotected cave illegally than for archaeologists to do so legally ··> Pileta de Prehistoria[es].
What more classical troglodyte imagery than skulls on sticks? Sadly archaeology had never produced such artifacts… until now: Epipaleolithic Swedes had them ··> Pileta de Prehistoria[en].

Fascinating ‘Nazca lines’ found in Arabia ··> Live Science.

More Neolithic remains from Yesilova (Izmir, Turkey) ··>  Daily News.
Remember the first pampooty shoe (or abarka) found in Areni 1 cave (Armenia)? It has now also produced a skirt ··>
Bronze Age’s stone anchors from the Black Sea ··> Novinite.

Fscinating 3D reconstructions of Stonehenge, Woodhenge, etc. ··> The Heritage Journal.

Stanton Drew reconstruction
Cahokia Mounds researched in some depth finally ··>  BND.
Clay disks from Alaska ··> Art Daily.
A. thaliana
Bronze Age haploid DNA from North China yields no surprises (mtDNA: D4, D*, M7c, A4, F1b, G1a, M9a, M10 and M8z; Y-DNA: N1c and O3) ··> Dienekes.
First Aboriginal Australian genome sequenced ··> Dienekes.
Epigenetic evolution: Arabidopsis thaliana does it all the time, what about humans? ··> SD.
Other sciences:
Quite impressive stuff these days:
Speed of light may not be the ultimate speed limit: neutrinos found going faster. It also challenges the unidirectionality of time ··> Al Jazeera, BBC.
LHC, where the barriers of science are broken
Dark matter challenged by dwarf galaxies ··> BBC.

Dwarf galaxy getting cocky

Special thanks to Stone Pages’ Archaeo News section.


Video: ‘Côa o rio das mil gravuras’ (‘Côa the river of a thousand engravings’)

Video documentary on this fascinating affluent of the Douro river and its many Prehistoric engravings, of Middle and Late Upper Paleolithic age. It is in Portuguese mostly (with some fragments in French or English), however it is very worth watching even if you do not understand the language because of the engravings themselves and the beautiful context they are found at. Each part spans some 15 mins:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Found via Pileta de Prehistoria.


Posted by on September 12, 2011 in Iberia, Magdalenian, Portugal, rock art, Solutrean, Upper Paleolithic


Solutrean-style retouch 75,000 years ago in South Africa

Blombos point
Since I started reading about the MSA (Middle Stone Age, the main African Middle Paleolithic stone industry) I have been under the impression that it had Solutrean affinities.
Well, now it is confirmed that at least some MSA crafters, those from Blombos Cave, South Africa, effectively used this technique some 35,000 years before it was known in Europe.


Pressure flaking has been considered to be an Upper Paleolithic innovation dating to ~20,000 years ago (20 ka). Replication experiments show that pressure flaking best explains the morphology of lithic artifacts recovered from the ~75-ka Middle Stone Age levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa. The technique was used during the final shaping of Still Bay bifacial points made on heat-treated silcrete. Application of this innovative technique allowed for a high degree of control during the detachment of individual flakes, resulting in thinner, narrower, and sharper tips on bifacial points. This technology may have been first invented and used sporadically in Africa before its later widespread adoption.

Very few stones types (obsidian, jasper, high quality flint) can be retouched this way without previous thermal modification (heating the stone appropriately). This was the technique used at Pinnacle Point, not far from Blombos in that very same time. The technological sophistication is such that it has been compared to metallurgy.
While Pinnacle point offered the first evidence of stone preparation through heating in order to improve knapping, Blombos has the first one of pressure retouch. Other evidence of the so-called modern behavior (symbolism, art, etc.) is also abundant in the South African MSA. Even food processing is known from that time in nearby Mozambique.

Source: Science Daily.

Solutrean points (or casts):

< From Don’s Maps:  

A cast of a Solutrean “laurel leaf” spear point, over 13 inches long. These delicate and beautiful implements were prepared by delicate flaking across the surface. Many are so large and delicate that they could never have been actually used, and may have been status objects.

Photo: Man before history by John Waechter

< From Lithic Casting Lab:


Francois Bordes wrote that “The majority of these specimens (Volgu cache) were chipped by direct percussion; but for the finer ones, indirect percussion or pressure has been used.” Jacques Bordaz wrote that “The obvious fragility of some of the specimens (Volgu cache) suggest rather a ritual use, or perhaps they were simply examples of some knapper’s bravura.”

< From Wikipedia.

A more complete toolkit from Solutré-Pouilly.

Another culture that used the same technique later on was Clovis culture in Holocene North America.


Revisiting Bocquet-Appel 2005: the population of Europe in the Paleolithic.

Something I want to do in this new blog is to revisit some areas that I have explored in the past, hopefully with an improved approach. One of the key elements in understanding European Prehistory as a whole is the demographics of Paleolithic Europe.  Nothing better surely than this excellent survey of archaeological density and corresponding population estimates:
The paper evidences the demographic growth, specially after the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), when it really explodes (from 5900 to 28,700 – average figures). 
But maybe even more interesting is the demographic tendencies of the various regions. Most outstandingly, the Franco-Cantabrian region comprises almost half of the all Europeans early on, reaching to 2/3 in the LGM.
Second is the Danube region, with 20-25% in the early period and a marked decrease in the LGM. Third is the related Rhine region with 6-9%, sharply declining to near zero in the LGM. 
These three regions are fused in the latest map (Late UP, Magdalenian), including together 95% of all Europeans some 15-10,000 years ago. These would be then something between 11,000 and 73,000 individuals, average: 29,000 (more than 27,000 in the Magdalenian area). 
Fig. 5 (2nd part). Population estimates for LGM (top) and Late UP (bottom)

Less important regions are East Europe (4% in the Gravettian era, declining after that) and Iberia (7% in the LGM, much less in the next period). Italy is not mentioned but does indeed show some sparse continuity (Gravettian/Epigravettian).
You can easily compare these maps and those of the patterns of R1b1b2a1a2; it seems clear to me that the best possible explanation for its subclades’ dispersion patterns is at the post-LGM stage.