The Upper Paleolithic (or Upper Palaeolithic) also called the Late Stone Age is the third and last subdivision of the Paleolithic
or Old Stone Age
. Very broadly, it dates to between 50,000 and 12,000
years ago (the beginning of the Holocene
), according to some theories coinciding with the appearance of behavioral modernity
in early modern humans
, until the advent of the Neolithic Revolution
Anatomically modern humans
(i.e. ''Homo sapiens'') are believed to have emerged in Africa around 300,000 years ago, although it has been argued by some that these lifestyles changed relatively little from that of archaic humans
of the Middle Paleolithic
, until about 50,000 years ago, when there was a marked increase in the diversity of artefacts
This period coincides with the expansion of modern humans
from Africa throughout Asia and Eurasia, which contributed to the extinction of the Neanderthals
The Upper Paleolithic has the earliest known evidence of organized settlements
, in the form of campsites, some with storage pits. Artistic work
blossomed, with cave painting, petroglyph
s, carvings and engravings on bone or ivory. The first evidence of human fishing is also found, from artefacts in places such as Blombos cave
in South Africa. More complex social grouping
s emerged, supported by more varied and reliable food sources and specialized tool
types. This probably contributed to increasing group identification or ethnicity
The peopling of Australia
most likely took place before c. 60 ka
was peopled after c. 45 ka.
Anatomically modern humans are known to have expanded northward into Siberia
as far as the 58th parallel
by about 45 ka (Ust'-Ishim man
The Upper Paleolithic is divided by the Last Glacial Maximum
(LGM), during about 25 to 15 ka. The peopling of the Americas
occurred during this time, with East and Central Asia populations reaching the Bering land bridge
after about 35 ka, and expanding into the Americas by about 15 ka.
In Western Eurasia, the Paleolithic eases into the so-called Epipaleolithic
from the end of the LGM, beginning 15 ka. The Holocene glacial retreat
begins 11.7 ka (10th millennium BC
), falling well into the Old World Epipaleolithic, and marking the beginning of the earliest forms of farming
in the Fertile Crescent
Lifestyle and technology
Both ''Homo erectus
'' and Neanderthals used the same crude stone tools. Archaeologist Richard G. Klein
, who has worked extensively on ancient stone tools, describes the stone tool kit of archaic hominid
s as impossible to categorize. He argues that almost everywhere, whether Asia
, Africa or Europe
, before 50,000 years ago all the stone tools are much alike and unsophisticated.
Firstly among the artefacts of Africa, archeologists found they could differentiate and classify those of less than 50,000 years into many different categories, such as projectile points, engraving tools, knife blades, and drilling and piercing tools. These new stone-tool types have been described as being distinctly differentiated from each other; each tool had a specific purpose. The early modern humans who expanded into Europe, commonly referred to as the Cro-Magnon
s, left many sophisticated stone tools, carved and engraved pieces on bone, ivory
, cave painting
s and Venus figurines
The Neanderthals continued to use Mousterian stone tool
technology and possibly Chatelperronian
technology. These tools disappeared from the archeological record at around the same time the Neanderthals themselves disappeared from the fossil record, about 40,000 cal BP.
Settlements were often located in narrow valley bottoms, possibly associated with hunting of passing herd
s of animals. Some of them may have been occupied year round, though more commonly they appear to have been used seasonally; people moved between the sites to exploit different food sources at different times of the year. Hunting was important, and caribou/wild reindeer
"may well be the species of single greatest importance in the entire anthropological
literature on hunting."
["In North America and Eurasia the species has long been an important resource—in many areas ''the'' most important resource—for peoples' inhabiting the northern boreal forest and tundra regions. Known human dependence on caribou/wild reindeer has a long history, beginning in the Middle Pleistocene (Banfield 1961:170; Kurtén 1968:170) and continuing to the present....The caribou/wild reindeer is thus an animal that has been a major resource for humans throughout a tremendous geographic area and across a time span of tens of thousands of years." Ernest S. Burch, Jr]
"The Caribou/Wild Reindeer as a Human Resource"
''American Antiquity'', Vol. 37, No. 3 (July 1972), pp. 339–368.
s included significant developments in flint tool
manufacturing, with industries
based on fine blade
s rather than simpler and shorter flake
s and racloir
s were used to work bone, antler and hides
. Advanced dart
s and harpoon
s also appear in this period, along with the fish hook
, the oil lamp
, and the eyed needle
. Fishing of pelagic
fish species and navigating the open ocean is evidenced by sites from Timor
The changes in human behavior have been attributed to changes in climate, encompassing a number of global temperature
drops. These led to a worsening of the already bitter cold of the last glacial period
(popularly but incorrectly called the last ice age
). Such changes may have reduced the supply of usable timber
and forced people to look at other materials. In addition, flint becomes brittle at low temperatures and may not have functioned as a tool.
Changes in climate and geography
The climate of the period in Europe saw dramatic changes, and included the Last Glacial Maximum
, the coldest phase of the last glacial period
, which lasted from about 26.5 to 19 kya, being coldest at the end, before a relatively rapid warming (all dates vary somewhat for different areas, and in different studies). During the Maximum, most of Northern Europe was covered by an ice-sheet
, forcing human populations into the areas known as Last Glacial Maximum refugia
, including modern Italy and the Balkans
, parts of the Iberian Peninsula
and areas around the Black Sea
This period saw cultures such as the Solutrean
in France and Spain. Human life may have continued on top of the ice sheet, but we know next to nothing about it, and very little about the human life that preceded the European glaciers. In the early part of the period, up to about 30 kya, the Mousterian Pluvial
made northern Africa, including the Sahara
, well-watered and with lower temperatures than today; after the end of the Pluvial the Sahara became arid.
The Last Glacial Maximum was followed by the Allerød oscillation
, a warm and moist global interstadial
that occurred around 13.5 to 13.8 kya. Then there was a very rapid onset, perhaps within as little as a decade, of the cold and dry Younger Dryas
climate period, giving sub-arctic conditions
to much of northern Europe.
rise in temperatures also began sharply around 10.3 kya, and by its end around 9.0 kya had brought temperatures nearly to present day levels, although the climate was wetter.
This period saw the Upper Paleolithic give way to the start of the following Mesolithic
As the glaciers receded sea levels rose; the English Channel
, Irish Sea
and North Sea
were land at this time, and the Black Sea a fresh-water lake. In particular the Atlantic coastline was initially far out to sea in modern terms in most areas, though the Mediterranean coastline has retreated far less, except in the north of the Adriatic
and the Aegean
. The rise in sea levels continued until at least 7.5 kya (5500 BC
), so evidence of human activity along Europe's coasts in the Upper Paleolithic is mostly lost, though some traces have been recovered by fishing boats and marine archaeology
, especially from Doggerland
, the lost area beneath the North Sea.
thumb|upright=1.25|Layer sequence at Ksar Akil
in the [[Levantine corridor, and discovery of two fossils of ''[[Homo sapiens]]'', dated to 40,800 to 39,200 years BP for "Egbert",
and 42,400–41,700 BP for "Ethelruda".
* Numerous Aboriginal stone tools were found in [ravel
sediments in Castlereagh
, Sydney, Australia. At first when these results were new they were controversial; more recently dating of the same strata has revised and corroborated these dates.
* Start of the Mousterian Pluvial
in North Africa.
* Occupants of the Fa-Hien Lena cave
, Sri Lanka
had developed bow and arrow
technology 48,000 BP (though the earliest known bow and arrow technology dates to about 65,000 BP from Sibudu Cave
, South Africa
* Earliest evidence of modern humans found in Europe, in Southern Italy. These are indirectly dated.
* Earliest mathematical artifact, the notched Lebombo bone
, a possible tally stick or lunar calendar, dated to 44,000–43,000 BP in Eswatini (Swaziland)
, southern Africa
* Oldest-known mining in archaeological record, the Ngwenya Mine
in Swaziland, at about 43,000 years ago, where humans mined hematite
to make the red pigment ochre
* Earliest directly dated figurative cave art
of mankind at Leang Bulu' Sipong
on Sulawesi, Indonesia.
* Ornaments and skeletal remains of modern humans, at Ksar Akil
. These are directly dated.
* Denisova hominin
s live in the Altai Mountains
(Russia, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan)
* First human inhabitants in Perth
, Australia, as evidenced by archaeological findings on the Upper Swan River.
* During this time period, Melbourne
, Australia was occupied by hunter-gatherer
[Isabel Ellender and Peter Christiansen, ''People of the Merri Merri. The Wurundjeri in Colonial Days'', Merri Creek Management Committee, 2001 ]
* Early cultural centre in the Swabian Alps
, oldest depiction of a human being (Venus of Hohle Fels
), beginning of the Aurignacian
figure created in Hohlenstein-Stadel
, one of the earliest figurative art. It is now in Ulmer Museum, Ulm
* The first flutes
appear in Germany.
* Most of the giant vertebrates and megafauna
in Australia became extinct.
* Fishing of pelagic fish species at Jerimalai shelter
* Examples of cave art
in Spain are dated from around 40,000 BP, making them the oldest examples of cave art yet discovered in Europe (see: Caves of Nerja
). Scientists theorise that the paintings may have been made by Neanderthals
, rather than by ''homo sapiens
* Wall painting with horses, rhinoceroses and aurochs is made at Chauvet Cave
, Ardéche gorge, France. Discovered in December 1994.
*Evidence for continued Neanderthal presence in the Iberian Peninsula at 37,000 years ago was published in 2017.
studies support human presence in the Chek Lap Kok
area (now Hong Kong International Airport
) from 35,000 to 39,000 years ago.
, Yataghyeri, Damjili
caves in Azerbaijan
* First evidence of people inhabiting Japan
[Prehistoric Archaeological Periods in Japan](_blank)
Charles T. Keally
* Kostenki XVII, a layer of the Kostenki (Kostyonki) site
, on the middle Don River
, was occupied by the early upper paleolithic Spitsyn culture
* First ground stone
tools appear in Japan.
* End of the Mousterian Pluvial
in North Africa.
* The area of Sydney
was occupied by Aboriginal Australians
during this time period, as evidenced by radiocarbon dating
Geoffrey Blainey; A Very Short History of the World; Penguin Books; 2004; ]
In an archaeological dig in Parramatta
, Western Sydney
, it was found that the Aboriginals used charcoal
, stone tools and possible ancient campfires.
* First human settlement in Alice Springs
, Northern Territory
* Kilu Cave
in the Solomons
is evidence for the first human settlement of an oceanic island
and for navigating the open ocean.
* Last eruption of the Ciomadul
volcano in Romania
* Venus of Dolní Věstonice
(Czech Republic). It is the oldest known ceramic in the world.
* Venus of Willendorf
, Austria, created. It is now at the Natural History Museum, Vienna
* The Red Lady of Paviland
lived around 29,000–26,000 years ago. Recent evidence has come to light that he was a tribal chief
* Human settlement in Beijing
, China dates from about 27,000 to 10,000 years ago.
* Start of the second Mousterian Pluvial
in North Africa.
* Venus of Petřkovice
is created at Petřkovice in Ostrava
, Czech Republic. It is now in Archeological Institute, Brno
* Last Glacial Maximum
: Venus of Brassempouy
, Grotte du Pape, Brassempouy
, France, created. It is now at Musée des Antiquités Nationales, Saint-Germain-en-Laye
*Artifacts suggests early human activity occurred at some point in Canberra
, Australia. Archaeological evidence of settlement in the region includes inhabited rock shelter
s, rock art
, burial places, camps and quarry sites, and stone tools and arrangements.
* End of the second Mousterian Pluvial
in North Africa.
* Last Glacial Maximum
. Mean sea level
s are believed to be ''lower than present'', with the direct implication that many coastal and lower riverine valley archaeological sites of interest are today under water.
* Spotted Horses, Pech Merle
, France are painted. Discovered in December, 1994.
* Ibex-headed spear-thrower
, from Le Mas-d'Azil
, France, is made. It is now at Musée de la Préhistoire, Le Mas d'Azil.
-bone village in Mezhyrich
* Spotted human hands are painted at Pech Merle
, France. Discovered in December 1994.
* Oldest Dryas stadial
* Hall of Bulls at Lascaux
in France is painted. Discovered in 1940. Closed to the public in 1963.
* Bird-Headed man with bison and Rhinoceros, Lascaux
, is painted.
* Lamp with ibex design, from La Mouthe cave, Dordogne
, France, is made. It is now at Musée des Antiquités Nationales, Saint-Germain-en-Laye
* Paintings in Cosquer Cave
are made, where the cave mouth is now under water at Cap Margiou, France.
* Bison, Le Tuc d'Audoubert, Ariège
move across North America, then southward through Central America.
* Pregnant woman and deer (?), from Laugerie-Basse, France was made. It is now at Musée des Antiquités Nationales, St.-Germain-en-Laye
* Older Dryas stadial
searched for big game near what is now the Hovenweep National Monument
* Bison, on the ceiling of a cave at Altamira
, Spain, is painted. Discovered in 1879. Accepted as authentic in 1902.
* Younger Dryas
* Beginning of the Holocene extinction
* Wooden buildings in South America (Chile
* First pottery vessel
* First evidence of human settlement in Argentina
* The Arlington Springs Man
dies on the island of Santa Rosa, off the coast of California, United States.
* Human remains deposited in caves which are now located off the coast of Yucatán, Mexico.
* Creswellian culture
settlement on Hengistbury Head
, England, dates from around this year.
*Evidence of a massacre near Lake Turkana
indicates upper paleolithic warfare
The Upper Paleolithic in the Franco-Cantabrian region
culture was located around central and south western France, and northern Spain. It appears to be derived from the Mousterian
culture, and represents the period of overlap between Neanderthal
s and ''Homo sapiens
''. This culture lasted from approximately 45,000 BP to 40,000 BP.
culture was located in Europe and south west Asia, and flourished between 43,000 and 36,000 BP. It may have been contemporary with the Périgordian
(a contested grouping of the earlier Châtelperronian and later Gravettian cultures).
culture was located across Europe. Gravettian sites generally date between 33,000 and 20,000 BP.
culture was located in eastern France, Spain, and England. Solutrean artifacts have been dated c. 22,000 to 17,000 BP.
culture left evidence from Portugal to Poland during the period from 17,000 to 12,000 BP.
*Central and east Europe:
**33,000 BP, Gravettian
culture in southern Ukraine.
**30,000 BP, Szeletian
**22,000 BP, Pavlovian
**13,000 BP, Ahrensburg culture
(Western Germany, Netherlands, England)
**12,000 BP, Epigravettian
*North and west Africa, and Sahara:
**32,000 BP, Aterian
culture (Algeria, Libya)
**12,000 BP, Ibero-Maurusian
(a.k.a. Oranian, Ouchtatian), and Sebilian cultures
**10,000 BP, Capsian
culture (Tunisia, Algeria)
*Central, south, and east Africa:
**50,000 BP, Fauresmith
**30,000 BP, Stillbayan
**12,000 BP, Lupembian
**11,000 BP, Magosian
culture (Zambia, Tanzania)
**9,000 BP, Wiltonian
*West Asia (including Middle East):
**50,000 BP, Jabroudian
**40,000 BP, Amoudian
**30,000 BP, Emireh culture
**20,000 BP, Aurignacian
**12,000 BP, Kebarian
, Athlitian cultures
*South, central and northern Asia:
**30,000 BP, Angara
**11,000 BP, Khandivili
*East and southeast Asia:
**50,000 BP, Ngandong
**30,000 BP, Sen-Doki
**16,000 BP, Jōmon period
starts in Ancient Japan
**12,000 BP, pre-Jōmon ceramic
**10,000 BP, Hoabinhian
culture (Northern Vietnam)
**9,000 BP, Jōmon
**40,000 BP, Whadjuk
culture (Perth, Australia)
**35,000 BP, Wurundjeri
culture (Melbourne, Australia)
**30,000 BP, Eora
culture (Sydney, Australia)
**30,000 BP, Arrernte
culture (Alice Springs
, Central Australia
* Late Glacial Maximum
* Neolithic Europe
* Behavioral modernity
* Cro-Magnon 1
* Cultural universal
* Gilman, Antonio (1996). "Explaining the Upper Palaeolithic Revolution". Pp. 220–239 (Chap. 8) in ''Contemporary Archaeology in Theory: A Reader''. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
External linksThe Upper Paleolithic Revolution
Libor Balák at the Czech Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Archaeology in Brno, The Center for Paleolithic and Paleoethnological Research