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J Archaeol Res

DOI 10.1007/s10814-006-9008-1

The Emergence of Ornaments and Art:

An Archaeological Perspective on the
Origins of “Behavioral Modernity”

João Zilhão

C Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Abstract The earliest known personal ornaments come from the Middle Stone Age of
southern Africa, c. 75,000 years ago, and are associated with anatomically modern hu-
mans. In Europe, such items are not recorded until after 45,000 radiocarbon years ago, in
Neandertal-associated contexts that significantly predate the earliest evidence, archaeolog-
ical or paleontological, for the immigration of modern humans; thus, they represent either
independent invention or acquisition of the concept by long-distance diffusion, implying
in both cases comparable levels of cognitive capability and performance. The emergence
of figurative art postdates c. 32,000 radiocarbon years ago, several millennia after the time
of Neandertal/modern human contact. These temporal patterns suggest that the emergence
of “behavioral modernity” was triggered by demographic and social processes and is not a
species-specific phenomenon; a corollary of these conclusions is that the corresponding ge-
netic and cognitive basis must have been present in the genus Homo before the evolutionary
split between the Neandertal and modern human lineages.

Keywords Art . Modern humans . Neandertals . Ornaments


Over the last quarter century, it has become clear that the ancestry of present-day human
populations can be traced back to African people of the late Middle Pleistocene. In this con-
text, the long-lasting geographical segregation between Neandertals and African “moderns”
and the ultimate replacement of the former by the latter have led many scholars to accept
the notion that the two taxa should be given species status. This view has been challenged
in recent years, especially by the finding of early European modern human fossils bearing
archaic traits, which suggests extensive admixture with Neandertals at the time of contact
(Trinkaus, 2005). This suggestion is consistent with recent genetic studies of the nuclear

J. Zilhão ()
Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Bristol,
43 Woodland Road, Bristol BS8 1UU, United Kingdom
J Archaeol Res

genome of living populations, which indicate that we carry genetic material inherited from
Eurasian (in particular, east Asian) populations that had differentiated hundreds of thousands
of years before the mid-Late Pleistocene out-of-Africa dispersal of early modern humans
(Templeton, 2002, 2005).
Given that hybridization between closely related species is well known among mammals
in general and primates in particular, the evidence for admixture does not necessarily imply,
however, that significant biological differences, perhaps at the species level, did not exist
between Neandertals and modern humans. Moreover, under the paradigmatic view that
species must differ in behavior as much as in morphology (Henshilwood and Marean, 2003),
that evidence also does not suffice to exclude the possibility that significant behavioral
differences, with attendant cognitive implications, separated anatomically “modern” people
from coeval “archaic” humans. In fact, the notion that such a separation existed underlies
speculations that certain features of complex human culture that are undocumented in the
archaeological record of the Middle Pleistocene—such as art or ritual burial—must have
emerged as a by-product of the biological processes involved in the speciation of the African
sapiens (Klein, 1998, 2003; Mellars, 2005; Stringer and Gamble, 1993). The assumption
is that the absence of those features reflects the lack of the required cognitive capabilities
and that it is only after the acquisition of the latter by the first “modern humans” that the
corresponding behavioral correlates could be externalized in archaeologically visible ways.
At the empirical level, this approach initially tended to date such an acquisition to the
time of the transition from the Middle to the Upper Paleolithic, the latter being defined as a
package of cultural traits appearing rather suddenly and at about the time when, in Europe,
Neandertals were replaced by moderns. Among the listed traits, aspects of subsistence, settle-
ment, and lithic technology used to feature prominently in different versions of the definition
of the Upper Paleolithic (for instance, Mellars, 1973; White, 1982). Recently, however, a
wide consensus seems to have been achieved that logistically organized hunting, as well as
the reliance on blade technology or the long-distance procurement of raw materials, are to
be found at different times and places during the Middle Paleolithic, and in unquestionable
association with “archaic” humans (Bar-Yosef, 2004; Bar-Yosef and Kuhn, 1999; Burke,
2004; Marean and Kim, 1998; Révillion and Tuffreau, 1994). On the other hand, the first
evidence for carefully shaped bone tools, shell ornaments, and abstract markings is now
known to come from the Middle Stone Age (MSA) of southern Africa, not from the Upper
Paleolithic of Europe (Henshilwood et al., 2001, 2002, 2004).
In this context, Henshilwood and Marean (2003), following up on Wadley (2001), argued
for a modern human behavior different from that of the Neandertals, to which they proposed
the designation of “fully symbolic sapiens behavior”; in the archaeological record, it would
manifest itself “when artifacts or features carry a clear symbolic message that is exosomatic—
for example, personal ornaments, depictions, or even a tool clearly made to identify its
maker.” In this review, I use Henshilwood and Marean’s definition to assess the distribution
in space and time of the earliest evidence for behavioral “modernity” (ornaments and art),
and the extent to which the human groups involved in the production of such early evidence
were biologically “modern” or “archaic.” In particular, I discuss the different explanations
that have been proposed for the fact that both ornaments and art are known among such
unquestionably anatomically “nonmodern” populations as the late Neandertals of Europe.
In the following, calendar dates derived from the oceanic or ice-cap records or obtained
by thermoluminescence (TL), electromagnetic spin resonance (ESR), and uranium–thorium
(U–Th) methods are given in years or thousands of years (ka) BP, and radiocarbon dates are
expressed in years or thousands of years (ka) 14 C BP. The recognition that oscillations in
the production of atmospheric 14 C at this time were not as dramatic as once thought makes
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preliminary calibration possible, and it is now well established that, in this time range,
radiocarbon underestimates true calendar ages by three to five millennia (Fairbanks et al.,
2005; Hughen et al., 2004; Shackleton et al., 2004; Weninger and Jöris, 2005). Because the
relative ordering of the events is not affected, and to keep the discussion of chronological
issues within reasonable limits, only uncalibrated ages are used here for the 30–45 ka 14 C
BP interval.

Temporal and geographical patterns


As shown by different authors (Barham, 2002a, b; Henshilwood et al., 2001; McBrearty and
Brooks, 2000; Villa et al., 2005), many of the innovations traditionally associated with the
European Upper Paleolithic are now known to appear significantly earlier in Africa. This is
the case in particular with bone tools (such as the harpoons from Katanda, Congo, and the
awls from Blombos, South Africa), but it also applies to such features of lithic technology as
the manufacture of geometrics (the lunates of the South African Howieson’s Poort industry)
and the production of bladelets from prismatic cores (documented in level RSP of the Sibudu
rockshelter, South Africa). Enough reliable dating evidence is now available to place these
developments before c. 50 ka BP and, in some cases, even before c. 70 ka BP. However,
these innovations did not form a package of co-occurring traits and did not become a stable
feature of human culture once they appeared. Instead, for many thousands of years thereafter,
they were abandoned as piecemeal and suddenly as they were first introduced, and the same
applies to ornaments and abstract markings.
Where the latter are concerned, the key evidence comes from the seaside cave site of
Blombos, southern Cape (d’Errico et al., 2003a, 2005; Henshilwood et al., 2002, 2004). This
site features a sequence where the uppermost MSA level (M1) belongs to the Still Bay culture,
characterized by foliate points, and is separated from the surficial Late Stone Age (LSA)
deposits by a thick sterile sand dune. This stratigraphic configuration precludes contamination
from overlying, later occupations as an explanation for the presence of personal ornaments
and decorated pieces of ochre in level M1, dated to 74.9 ± 3.8 ka BP by optically stimulated
luminescence (OSL), and to 74 ± 5 ka BP by TL (Tribolo et al., 2005). The number of
utilized pieces of ochre is in excess of 8000, and two of them, in the shape of crayons, bear
unequivocal abstract designs (engraved cross-hatched motifs) on one of the facets. Level
M1 also yielded personal ornaments, all perforated shells of the marine mollusk Nassarius
kraussianus (Fig. 1). Forty-one such items have been described so far; all were found in
clusters of 2–17 beads showing similar size, color, wear, and perforation type, suggesting
that each cluster may correspond to a single beadwork item.
In the South African culture-stratigraphic scheme, the Still Bay is replaced by the
Howieson’s Poort industry, which Tribolo et al. (2005) TL-dated to 56 ± 3 ka BP at
Klasies River Mouth (southern Cape) and to 55–65 ka BP at Diepkloof (western Cape).
These results are consistent with the AAR (amino acid racemization) and ESR ages in the
c. 60–70 ka BP interval obtained for the corresponding levels of the Border Cave sequence,
northern Kwazulu-Natal, by Miller et al. (1999), Grün and Beaumont (2001), and Grün
et al. (2003). The latter also discuss (and reject) the possibility that the securely provenanced
human remains found in this cave—the near complete infant skeleton BC3, and the largely
complete lower jaw BC5—could represent intrusions of later Pleistocene or even Holocene
age. Indeed, direct ESR dating of an enamel fragment from BC5 yielded a result of 74 ± 5 ka
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Fig. 1 African personal ornaments: (a) modern Nassarius kraussianus shell; (b) N. kraussianus shell bead
from MSA level M1 of Blombos (after Henshilwood et al., 2004, modified); (c) ostrich eggshell bead from the
MSA site of Loiyangalani (after Hathaway, 2004, modified). Marine shells used as ornaments in the IUP and
the Early Ahmarian of the Near East: (d–f) perforated Nassarius gibbosula beads from layer H of Üçağizli
(after Kuhn et al., 2001, modified)

BP, which is consistent with similar results for faunal samples from the same levels. This
evidence in turn strengthens the hypothesis that the BC3 burial—whose grave pit is reported
to have been entirely cut into the underlying MSA deposits and to have had its lip lying below
an ash horizon at the very base of the Howieson’s Poort levels—also was in situ. Given its
stratigraphic position and accompanying dating evidence, it is thus quite possible that this
burial was broadly contemporary with the Still Bay occupation of Blombos. A perforated
Conus bairstowi sea shell was reportedly associated with the BC3 skeleton and may have
been a bead worn by the dead infant, in which case Border Cave would add a further ritual
dimension to the use of personal ornaments at this time.
For the next 30,000 years, however, no similar finds are known in either Howieson’s
Poort or post-Howieson’s Poort, later MSA contexts. Secure evidence for ornaments turns
up again only in eastern Africa, where the rockshelter of Enkapune ya Muto, Kenya, yielded
ostrich eggshell beads in an early LSA context, with fragments from bead manufacture
directly dated to c. 37–40 ka 14 C BP (Ambrose, 1998). McBrearty and Brooks’s (2000)
review of the African evidence mentions similar finds in Boomplaas, in association with
statistically identical (in the range of 42 ka 14 C BP) dates on charcoal, but in an MSA not
LSA context, as is also the case at the recently reported but as yet undated Tanzanian site of
Loiyangalani (Hathaway, 2004). An ostrich eggshell fragment (but no beads) was found in the
burial pit containing skeleton 1a from Nazlet Khater, in Upper Egypt, dated on associated
charcoal to c. 38 ka 14 C BP (Vermeersch, 2002). These sites are all located far from the
coast, which could explain the absence of marine shell beads in the inventories. However, at
least where Boomplaas is concerned, the distance in question (c. 80 km) is identical to that
which separates Border Cave from the sea. The scant evidence available indicates that only
perforated marine shells were in use c. 75 ka BP, and only ostrich eggshell beads were in use
c. 40 ka BP; thus, changes through time in mobility patterns, exchange systems, or cultural
preferences also may have been involved.
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In a secure Howieson’s Poort context from Diepkloof, Parkington et al. (2005) found
abstract markings on small fragments of ostrich eggshells thought to have been used as water
flasks. They noted that, although the fainter marks could result from use wear, the deeper
ones were clearly intentional and, in a few cases, formed compositions akin to the abstract
designs made on the Blombos ochre crayons. The patterns, however, are said to be more
suggestive of intentional marking to denote ownership than of “artistic” decoration.
In Africa, the earliest figurative art is represented by the much later painted slabs from
Apollo 11 Cave in Namibia (Vogelsang, 1998; Wendt, 1974, 1976; Fig. 2). As argued by
Wendt, these hand-sized slabs are not exfoliated fragments of wall paintings but mobiliary
art. Their diverse geological nature and their shape are not consistent with the local bedrock,
although similar slabs can be found in nearby slopes. Moreover, in at least two instances, the
representations occupy the center of the slab, implying a pre-existing frame, and, in some
cases, traces of color also could be observed on the face opposite that containing the figures.
On three of the slabs, such figures can be identified and portray what seem to be a rhinoceros,
a zebra, and a large animal, probably a feline with “human”-like hind legs.
The site features an approximately 2-m-thick MSA-to-LSA sequence, and the slabs were
recovered toward the upper part of the deposits, some 50 cm below the surface, at the
interface between the latest MSA and the earliest LSA level. Conventional radiocarbon
results for associated charcoal samples date these slabs to c. 26–28 ka 14 C BP, with the
Pta-1040 result (26,300 ± 400 BP)—obtained on a single large piece of carbonized wood—
representing in all likelihood the best approximation of their chronology. In any case, the
stratigraphic consistency of the series leaves no doubt that the slabs date to between c. 18
and c. 34 ka 14 C BP [only sample Pta-1032 is anomalous, probably due to the incorporation
of younger material brought down by rodents nesting in adjacent sediments (Wendt, 1974,
p. 36)].
McBrearty and Brooks (2000) remark that the dates are anomalously young for an MSA
context and argue that the Apollo 11 art is significantly older based on the 59 ka BP
ostrich eggshell AAR age obtained by Miller et al. (1999) for the site’s MSA deposits, in
agreement with a direct AMS radiocarbon date of >41 ka 14 C BP for a single ostrich eggshell
fragment. As Miller et al. caution, however, this apparent discrepancy does not invalidate the
radiocarbon chronology, because the ostrich eggshell samples they analyzed were collected
in deposits from the mouth of the cave, where the MSA sequence may be abbreviated by
comparison to that observed in the area further inside from where the slabs came. Moreover,
as Miller et al.’s dating work also shows, individually dated eggshell fragments moved up
and down the sequence as a result of intensive human occupation combined with very slow
sedimentation rates (∼2 cm/millennium); thus, they cannot be relied on as a tool to date, by
association, the different archaeological levels. Finally, the radiocarbon results obtained for
the immediate context of the painted slabs are not “unexpectedly young”; in the region, the
MSA lasts until c. 20 ka 14 C BP (Deacon and Deacon, 1999), and the “anomaly” diagnosed
by McBrearty and Brooks (2000) most likely resides in their expectations, not in any real
problems with the dating of the site.
The only securely provenanced human remains from this time range in southern Africa are
those recovered from the SAS member of Klasies River Mouth, dated to c. 100 ka BP. Their
taxonomic affinities are controversial. As Trinkaus (2005) sums up, the problem is that the
dearth of comparable material precludes adequate assessment of whether the Klasies River
Mouth remains are “modern” or simply a southern African equivalent of late archaic humans,
antedating the dispersal into the region of the anatomically “modern” populations that had
differentiated in eastern Africa during the later Middle Pleistocene. The more complete
Border Cave material, however, compares well with the present-day San (Rightmire, 1984).
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Fig. 2 Top: slab from the late MSA levels of Apollo 11 cave (Namibia), representing a predatory big cat.
Bottom: stratigraphic sequence in the 1972 extension to the main trench excavated in 1969; the provenience of
the radiocarbon samples collected in this extension is indicated (dotted contours; note that sample Pta-1040
corresponds to a single, large piece of wood charcoal), as is the exact location of the three painted slabs found
in situ during its excavation (black filled contours); layer 3 = layer D of the main trench (Early LSA), layer
4 = layer E of the main trench (Latest MSA) (after Wendt, 1974, modified)

If BC3 and BC5 are indeed in situ finds, then people who were fully modern in their
anatomy had evolved in (or dispersed into) southern Africa by c. 75 ka BP, and the personal
ornaments and abstract designs from Blombos level M1 are indeed representative of their
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The Near East before c. 50 ka BP

Although conceivable, the notion that two shell beads from the cave of Skuhl in northern
Israel (Vanhaeren et al., 2006) are of oxygen isotope stage (OIS) 5 age is controversial and,
as discussed in the following section, at present is not the most parsimonious reading of the
evidence. McBrearty and Brooks (2000) also mention the presence of perforated shells in
association with Homo sapiens in nearby Qafzeh Cave, c. 100 ka BP. However, as recently
shown by Taborin (2003), the perforations in these items (Glycymerys shells) are natural,
and they were used as recipients for ochre, not as ornaments. Processing of ochre at the site
is particularly important in level XVII, which contained five intentional burials. On the basis
of this context, Hovers et al. (2003) argue that the Qafzeh ochre reflects color symbolism,
but use wear analyses of broadly contemporary South African MSA material show that ochre
could have served more practical functions (e.g., in the tanning of hides and the production
of hafting pastes), and that even when the abandoned pieces have a crayon shape, symbolism
(for instance, related to body painting) is not necessarily involved (Wadley, 2005; Wadley
et al., 2004).
The occupation of the Near East by early modern humans at that time is part of a
northeastern extension of African environments and ceases with the return of cold conditions
during OIS-4, after c. 75 ka BP. Human remains dated to OIS-4 and to the earlier part of
OIS-3 (after c. 59 ka BP) come from the sites of Amud and Kebara in Israel and Dederyieh
in Syria, and all are of Neandertals; the youngest in chronology is the nearly complete adult
skeleton buried in level B1 of Amud. The level is dated by TL and coupled ESR/U-Th to
c. 53 ka BP (Kaufman, 2002; Rink et al., 2001; Valladas et al., 1999), which provides a
terminus post quem for the burial itself and, hence, for the replacement of Neandertals by
modern humans in the region.
From the point of view of lithic technology and adaptation, the cultural remains associated
with OIS-5 moderns and OIS-4 Neandertals in the Near East are virtually indistinguishable
(Shea, 2003). Where symbolic artifacts are concerned, if unambiguous evidence for personal
ornaments is lacking, the regional evidence for “art” and abstract design before the Upper
Paleolithic is equivocal at best: a “figurine” from Berekhat Ram, an Acheulian open air site
in the Golan Heights, and two engraved cortical faces of flint artifacts from Qafzeh and
Quneitra, another Golan Heights open air site of late Middle Paleolithic age.
The Berekhat Ram figurine is a 3.5-cm-long piece of basalt whose shape evokes the
female body and is vaguely reminiscent of the well-known Venus figurines of the Gravettian
(Soffer et al., 2000). A recent study by d’Errico and Nowell (2000) confirms some level of
deliberate human modification (abrasion and grooving) but does not reject the hypothesis
that it served mere utilitarian purposes. In any case, the object dates to >200 ka BP and,
therefore, if symbolic, it relates to “archaic” not “modern” people (the same applies to the
natural pebble from the Middle Acheulian site of Tan Tan, Morocco, described as a figurine
by Bednarik, 2003a). The Qafzeh piece is part of the c. 100 ka BP context of the site’s early
Homo sapiens burials and consists of a broken Levallois core, 6.2 cm long, that bears a set
of incised lines on its cortical face. The analysis of these lines by d’Errico et al. (2003a)
concluded that they could not be a simple by-product of tasks performed on that surface
with cutting tools (such as butchering), but it produced no evidence that they represent a
deliberate composition or part of some abstract design. The same applies to the Quneitra
object, a tabular piece of flint cortex of broadly the same size and aspect and bearing four
concentric semicircles surrounded by vertical lines (Marshack, 1996); the site is ESR-dated
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to 40–55 ka BP, which means that, depictive or not, this “image” could relate to either the
latest Neandertal or the earliest “modern” OIS-3 populations of the region.

The Near East after c. 50 ka BP

From level 1, at the bottom, to level 4, at the top, the Israeli open air site of Boker Tachtit in
the Negev desert (Marks, 1983; Marks and Ferring, 1988) provides a detailed picture of the
regional technological transition from the Middle to the Upper Paleolithic. Level 4 is identical
to levels XXI–XXV of the long sequence at the Lebanese rockshelter of Ksar ‘Akil, the other
key site for the transition in the Levant (Bergman and Stringer, 1989; Marks and Ferring,
1988). Typologically, these assemblages are characterized by the Emireh point—“elongated,”
triangular, morphologically “Levallois” items that, in the southern Levant, often bear ventral,
thinning retouch of the base. In the northern Levant, the so-called chamfered pieces also are
index fossils of this assemblage type. For lack of a better term, these occurrences at present
are considered part of a single Near Eastern “transitional” technocomplex designated as
Initial Upper Paleolithic (IUP) (Bar-Yosef, 2000; Kuhn, 2002, 2003).
Two conventional charcoal dates for basal level 1 of Boker Tachtit place it at approximately
47 ka 14 C BP, in spite of their large standard deviations, but no precise chronology is available
for uppermost level 4. The latter must in any case date to >35 ka 14 C BP given the radiocarbon
result of 35,055 ± 4100 14 C BP (SMU-579), obtained on a charcoal sample from which
humates could not be extracted, which means the result is probably a minimum age only
(Marks, 1983) (Table 1). No dates are available for levels XXI–XXV of Ksar ‘Akil, but the
contemporaneity with the Negev site suggested by the lithics is consistent with a conventional
result of c. 44 ka 14 C BP obtained for the immediately underlying Middle Paleolithic level
XXVI (Bergman and Stringer, 1989).
The southern Turkish cave site of Üçağizli (Kuhn, 2002, 2003; Kuhn et al., 2001) provides
a better fix on the chronology of the Near Eastern IUP. Levels G and H, with a lithic industry
identical to that in Ksar ‘Akil level XXI, yielded a consistent series of accelerated mass
spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon results on charcoal, placing their deposition in the 36–
41 ka 14 C BP interval. At Üçağizli, as elsewhere in other stratified Near Eastern occurrences,
the IUP is followed by the Early Ahmarian, a fully Upper Paleolithic technocomplex. At
Ksar ‘Akil, such Early Ahmarian assemblages are found in levels XVI–XX, which are
stratigraphically and technologically very close to the preceding IUP (Kuhn, 2003). These
indications of continuity are further strengthened by the resemblance between the industry
from uppermost level 4 of Boker Tachtit and that contained in the nearby single-level site of
Boker A, which is clearly of Early Ahmarian affinities (Jones et al., 1983; Monigal, 2003).
Two conventional charcoal results of > 33.5 ka 14 C BP are available for Boker A, which agree
with the single finite date of 37,920 ± 2810 14 C BP (SMU-578), also on charcoal. Given the
large standard deviation of the latter, the three results are consistent with the stratigraphic
evidence that places the Early Ahmarian after the IUP and, hence, with a radiocarbon age
approximately in the 36–35 ka 14 C BP range or younger. Technologically, the Early Ahmarian
features a single platform, soft-hammer production of blades and bladelets extracted from
prismatic cores in the framework of a continuous reduction system, and typologically it is
characterized by the so-called El-Wad points, which are made on long, slender bladelets or
small blades and laterally bear direct inverse or alternate retouch extending along at least
one of the blank’s edges.
At Kebara Cave in northern Israel, the Early Ahmarian levels (Units III–IV) yielded
somewhat older dates (as early as c. 43 ka 14 C BP) (Bar-Yosef, 2000; Bar-Yosef et al.,
1996). However, the results are widely scattered, and only one (of 35,600 ± 1600 14 C BP,
Table 1 Radiocarbon dates for the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition in the Near East

Site Provenience Material Method Lab no. Result BP Culture

Üçağizli F charcoal AMS AA35260 34000 ± 690 IUP

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F charcoal AMS AA37624 35020 ± 740 IUP

G charcoal AMS AA37626 39100 ± 1500 IUP ( = Ksar Akil XXI)
H charcoal AMS AA37623 33040 ± 1400 IUP ( = Ksar Akil XXI)
H charcoal AMS AA35261 35670 ± 730 IUP ( = Ksar Akil XXI)
H charcoal AMS AA27995 38900 ± 1100 IUP ( = Ksar Akil XXI)
H charcoal AMS AA27994 39400 ± 1200 IUP ( = Ksar Akil XXI)
H charcoal AMS AA37625 41400 ± 1100 IUP ( = Ksar Akil XXI)
Ksar Akil IV [layer 9a] charcoal AMS OxA-1803 30250 ± 850 Aurignacian
VI [layer 10 lower] charcoal AMS OxA-1804 31200 ± 1300 Aurignacian
VI [layer 11bm] charcoal AMS OxA-1805 32400 ± 1100 Aurignacian
VI charcoal conventional MC-1192 32000 ± 1500 Aurignacian
VII–VIII (6–7m) shell conventional GrN-2195 28840 ± 380 Aurignacian
XXVI dark clay (charcoal?) conventional GrN-2579 43750 ± 1500 Mousterian
Kebara I charcoal conventional Pta-4268 32200 ± 630 Aurignacian
I subsurface charcoal conventional Pta-4247 22900 ± 250 Aurignacian
I base charcoal AMS OxA-3974 34510 ± 740 Aurignacian
II top charcoal AMS OxA-3975 33920 ± 690 Aurignacian
II, in burrow charcoal conventional Pta-4263 31400 ± 480 Aurignacian
II, in burrow charcoal conventional Pta-4269 28700 ± 450 Aurignacian
IIf (Q16d, 4.70m, “hearth”) charcoal AMS OxA-1230 36000 ± 1600 Aurignacian
IIf above hearth charcoal AMS Gif-TAN-90151 32670 ± 800 Aurignacian
IIf hearth charcoal AMS Gif-TAN-90028 34300 ± 1100 Aurignacian
IIf hearth charcoal conventional Gx-17276 42800 ± 4800 Aurignacian
IIIB charcoal AMS OxA-3976 43500 ± 2200 Early Ahmarian
IIIB charcoal conventional Pta-4267 36100 ± 1100 Early Ahmarian
IIIBf charcoal AMS OxA-3977 > 43800 Early Ahmarian
IIIBf charcoal AMS Gif-TAN-90037 > 42500 Early Ahmarian

Table 1 Continued

Site Provenience Material Method Lab no. Result BP Culture

IIIBf charcoal AMS Gif-TAN-90168 > 41700 Early Ahmarian
IIIBf (Q16d, 5.38m, charcoal AMS OxA-1567 35600 ± 1600 Early Ahmarian
IVB charcoal conventional Pta-5002 42500 ± 1800 Early Ahmarian
IVB charcoal conventional Pta-4987 42100 ± 2100 Early Ahmarian
IVB (adjacent to burrow) charcoal AMS OxA-3978 28890 ± 400 Early Ahmarian
IV–V in Q16b/Q15d charcoal conventional Pta-5141 43700 ± 1800 Mousterian/Early
Ahmarian interface
V charcoal AMS OxA-3979 > 44000 Mousterian
V charcoal AMS OxA-3980 > 44800 Mousterian
Vw charcoal AMS Gif-TAN-90030 > 46900 Mousterian
V (Q16a/b, 6.17m) charcoal AMS OxA-1568 38000 ± 2100 Mousterian
Boker Tachtit 4 charcoal (no humates conventional SMU-579 Early Ahmarian
removed) > 35055 ± 4100
1 charcoal conventional GY-3642 > 34950 IUP (Emiran)
1 charcoal conventional SMU-184 > 45570 IUP (Emiran)
1 charcoal conventional SMU-259 46930 ± 2400 IUP (Emiran)
1 charcoal conventional SMU-580 47280 ± 9050 IUP (Emiran)
Boker A 1 charcoal conventional SMU-260 > 33420 Early Ahmarian
1 charcoal conventional SMU-187 > 33600 Early Ahmarian
1 charcoal conventional SMU-578 37920 ± 2810 Early Ahmarian
Umm el Tlel II2b charcoal AMS GifA-93212 32000 ± 580 Aurignacian
XII ( = II4?) charcoal conventional Gif-90040 30790 ± 760 Aurignacian + Ahmarian
III2a’ charcoal AMS GifA-93216 34530 ± 750 IUP
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OxA-1567; Hedges et al., 1990) was obtained on a hearth sample (in Unit IIIBf); significantly,
it agrees well with the chronometric and stratigraphic evidence from Üçağizli, Boker A, and
Ksar ‘Akil. The excavators report problems with the integrity of the charcoal lenses from
where the Kebara samples came, and the dated material may well include a significant
component derived from underlying Middle Paleolithic Unit V. This hypothesis is consistent
with the fact that in the western part of the south profile the Upper Paleolithic levels fill a
1.5-m-wide erosional channel cut into the Mousterian deposits; such a major unconformity
may also explain why no IUP contexts were recognized at Kebara.
The available chronostratigraphic evidence therefore places the IUP of the Near East
approximately in the 36–44-ka 14 C BP interval and the Early Ahmarian in the subsequent
two millennia, c. 36–35 ka 14 C BP. It was at some time during these ten millennia that
personal ornamentation, abundantly documented in the corresponding levels of the key
sites of Ksar ‘Akil and Üçağizli (Fig. 1), first appeared in the region; the earliest actual
evidence is that from level H of Üçağizli, for which available dates average c. 39 ka 14 C BP.
According to Kuhn et al. (2001), all such items, in both sites and in both the IUP and the
Early Ahmarian, are perforated marine shells, mostly from only three species—Nassarius
( = Arcularia) gibbosula, Columbella rustica, and Glycymeris sp., although the latter, as
discussed for Qafzeh, are more likely to represent containers rather than actual ornaments.
Excluding them from the counts, 194 beads were recovered in IUP levels XXI–XXIV of Ksar
‘Akil, 75% N. gibbosula and 11% C. rustica; the corresponding figures for Early Ahmarian
levels XIV–XVIII are 364, 53%, and 36%, respectively. The published count for the IUP
levels of Üçağizli is 108, but the total is now several hundred, 90% of which belong to a
single species, N. gibbosula (Kuhn, personal communication, 2005).
The only evidence concerning the authorship of the IUP and the Early Ahmarian is
“Egbert,” a juvenile modern human skeleton uncovered in 1938 at Ksar ‘Akil, at a depth of
11.46 m below datum; this elevation indicates that the bones pertain to the Early Ahmarian
strata between level XVI and the base of level XVIII (Bergman and Stringer, 1989). The
skeleton is now lost (only a cast of the skull is preserved in the Natural History Museum of
London), so direct dating is impossible, and the hypothesis that this was an intrusive burial
from overlying occupations cannot be tested. As pointed out by Mellars (2004), however,
the thickness of the deposits (the bones appear to have come from more than 1 m below the
surface of the uppermost unquestionable Early Ahmarian deposits, level XVI) argues against
that possibility. No counterparts of the Ksar ‘Akil human remains exist for the IUP, but it
is not unreasonable to assume, on the basis of the apparent continuity in lithic technology
between the latest IUP and the Early Ahmarian, that the people who manufactured the latter
also made the former. However, it cannot be excluded that Neandertals also were involved;
the lesson from the Near Eastern record of OIS-5 and OIS-4 is that no necessary correlation
exists between archaeological culture and physical “types,” and this caveat must hold as well
when interpreting the evidence from early OIS-3.
Vanhaeren et al. (2006) argue that the two perforated N. gibbosula found at Skhul are from
layer B (which contained the remains of ten anatomically modern humans) and, therefore,
that their age should be in the range of 100–135 ka BP. They further argue that another
such bead from Oued Djebbana (Algeria), the type site of the North African Aterian, is of
similar age. If their arguments are correct, personal ornamentation emerged at least 25,000
years earlier than suggested by the evidence from Blombos. As they acknowledge, however,
the chronology of the Aterian and Skhul’s layer B is controversial. The Aterian is currently
estimated to fall in the 35–90 ka BP range (Debénath, 2000; Wrinn and Rink, 2003), whereas
the U-Th chronology (Grün et al., 2005) and the morphology of the skeletons (Stringer, 1998)
indicate that two periods are represented in layer B of Skhul, which yielded several dates
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in the 30–50 ka BP interval. Because an overlap with the chronology of the IUP is clear in
both cases, and because the IUP features large amounts of the bead type in question, it is
quite possible, and at least cannot be excluded at present, that the perforated N. gibbosula
from Skhul and Oued Djebanna, instead of being of the proposed OIS-5 age, are in fact
contemporary with those from Üçağizli and Ksar ‘Akil.

Russia and central Asia

IUP-like assemblages are known in the Altaı̈ and other parts of central Asia in association
with dates as early as c. 43 ka 14 C BP. Given the arguments in favor of an association of
the Near Eastern IUP with modern humans, it is conceivable that such occurrences represent
a further range extension of the latter into more northern latitudes, but the issue remains
controversial (Krivoshapkin and Brantingham, 2004; Rybin, 2004). Because the directly
dated human material (mandible and postcrania) from Tianyuandong (near Beijing, China)
documents people with a modern anatomy in the Far East c. 35 ka 14 C BP (Trinkaus, 2005),
in broad contemporaneity with Ksar ‘Akil’s “Egbert,” it makes sense to assume that the
intervening regions of central Asia and the Altaı̈ also were settled by modern humans at that
time. Conversely, if Neandertals still inhabited the Near East c. 50 ka BP, as suggested by
the Amud data, any spread of modern humans into central Asia via a Near Eastern route can
have occurred only at a later date. In sum, the replacement process must have taken place in
central Asia somewhere between c. 50 and c. 35 ka BP but, as in the Near East, constraining
it with greater precision is impossible at present.
In any case, one can certainly expect modern human groups dispersing out of Africa
to have carried with them the social organization and corresponding sociofacts that their
ancestors had developed. A rather convincing indication that an influx of ultimate African
origin is involved in the East Asian process is provided by the presence of ostrich eggshell
beads in the Mongolian site of Dörölj 1 (Jaubert et al., 2004), dated to c. 32 ka 14 C BP.
A clear connection with cultural developments in the Near East also is apparent a few
millennia earlier in sites west of the Urals. For instance, a perforated Columbella shell,
modern representatives of which are confined to the Mediterranean basin, was recovered
in cultural layer IVb (well dated by AMS on charcoal samples to c. 36.5 ka 14 C BP) of
Kostenki 14 (Markina Gora), now situated more than 700 km from the shores of the Black
Sea (Sinitsyn, 2003, 2004). Although the technological and typological features of the lithic
assemblage recovered therein are of a full Upper Paleolithic nature, its cultural affinities
remain unclear, and an isolated tooth is reportedly of modern human affinities. Sinitsyn also
describes an apparently shaped piece of mammoth ivory recovered in this level as “the head
of a female figurine”; he acknowledges, however, that “the surface is covered with traces
of natural damage” and that the object is “an obviously unfinished product broken during
manufacture.” Thus, as with the Berekhat Ram figurine, the art may well be “in the eye of
the beholder.”
At an even earlier date, bone tools and ornaments are reported by Derevianko and Rybin
(2003) from IUP-like contexts in Denisova cave (layer 11) and Kara-Bom (Horizon 5), but
the actual anatomical affinities of the manufacturers of these assemblages are unknown,
and the ornaments (animal tooth pendants and bone beads) are not of the kind seen in the
Near East at that time (when only marine shell beads were in use). Moreover, the exact
stratigraphic provenience of the finds is not devoid of ambiguity. A major discontinuity
separates OIS-3 layer 11 of Denisova from the immediately overlying OIS-2 level 9, and
the contact between the two is significantly disturbed. Because the range of ornaments from
level 11 is identical to that found in both level 9 and the pockets containing level 9 lithics that
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penetrated deeply into level 11 (Derevianko and Shunkov, 2003, Fig. 7), their association
with the IUP is questionable. At Kara-Bom, the material (namely, one perforated bovid tooth
and a pear-shaped bone bead) was found in a small “depression” that contained significant
amounts of goethite pigment; this feature was located 1 m away from a hearth excavated in
1987 by Okladnikov in his Stratum 3, now correlated with the lower part of “lithological
level 6,” which contains Occupation Horizons 6 and 5. These occupations are both AMS
dated on charcoal to c. 43 ka 14 C BP, but no more than approximately 30 cm above and
in the same lithological unit is the significantly younger Occupation Horizon 4 (c. 34 ka
C BP). The excavation plan (Derevianko and Rybin, 2003, Fig. 8) makes it clear that the
depression with the pigment and the ornaments was beyond the boundaries of the lithic
scatter associated with the hearth, and the nature of the finds is strongly suggestive of a
cache. Stratigraphically, this cache was excavated into the hearth level and, therefore, the
two are not necessarily coeval; all that can be securely said is that the dates for Horizons 6
and 5 provide a terminus post quem, and those for Horizon 4 a terminus ante quem.


Symbolism in the Lower and Middle Paleolithic?

As in the Near Eastern, Russian, and central Asian regions reviewed above, the evi-
dence for symbolic artifacts before the Upper Paleolithic in European regions west of the
Russian/Ukrainian plains also is ambiguous. Where the Lower Paleolithic is concerned,
claims have been made that a small ensemble of animal bone remains from the open air site of
Bilzingsleben (Germany), dated to > 300 ka BP, are marked with motifs that carry a symbolic
meaning (Bednarik, 2003b; Mania and Mania, 1988; Meller, 2003). The markings—groups
of fine strokes whose broadly parallel disposition indicates that they are unlikely to derive
from ordinary utilitarian activities such as butchering or cutting—are clearly anthropic; the
best piece, a percussion tool manufactured from a spall of elephant tibia, bears two groups of
marks, one with 7 strokes and another with 14, forming a suggestive rhythmical arrangement.
However, unlike the ochre pieces from Blombos, it is not evident that these markings were
made to obtain a predesigned graphic composition with a specific even if elusive meaning.
Where the Middle Paleolithic is concerned, two important objects come from the Hungar-
ian open air site of Tata, dated to > 70 ka BP (Moncel, 2003). One is a silicified nummulite
crossed at right angles by engraved lines on both sides, forming “ + ” motifs fully inscribed
in the object’s circular outline (Bednarik, 2003b). The other is an ivory plaque carefully sep-
arated from a mammoth molar, shaped, beveled, and rubbed with red ochre. The edge-wear
polish indicates long-term use, and the overall shape evokes the sacred “churinga” (stones
or wooden boards associated with the wanderings of mythological ancestors) of Australian
Aborigines (Marshack, 1976, 1989). It is not obvious, however, that the engraving on the
nummulite is “decorative,” and a utilitarian explanation for the “churinga” (bone tool used
in the framework of ochre-processing tasks?) cannot be excluded either. Representational
status has been claimed for a flint nodule featuring a natural tubular perforation into which a
bone splinter is wedged (Marquet and Lorblanchet, 2003); this “Neandertal face,” however,
is most likely an unmodified pierre-figure, and natural process cannot be ruled out as an
explanation for the wedged bone (Pettitt, 2003).
Clear evidence for complex abstract thinking involving graphic modification of objects
in connection with ritual activities comes from the Mousterian graveyard of La Ferrassie in
France (Defleur, 1993; Peyrony, 1934) (Fig. 3). Seven individuals (one fetus, two infants, two
children, and two adults) were buried in the Ferrassie Mousterian levels of this rockshelter;
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Fig. 3 La Ferrassie: Above: Plan and profile of the burial of individual 6, a 3–5-year-old child; below
left, detail of the lower face of the stone slab that covered the burial pit, decorated with cupules virtually
identical to those found in blocks scattered in the habitation levels of the Evolved Aurignacian at the top of
the stratigraphic sequence (see Fig. 10). Below right: Engraved bone found with the adult skeleton in burial 1
(after Peyrony, 1934, modified)

available dating evidence from southwestern France as a whole suggests that occurrences
of this assemblage type all date to the c. 65–70 ka BP interval (Mellars, 1996). The La
Ferrassie 1 individual, an adult male, was buried in a shallow pit together with a cylindrical
bone fragment decorated with four sets of parallel incisions; the La Ferrassie 6 individual, a
3–5-year-old child, had three flint tools (a point and two very large sidescrapers) carefully
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placed on top of his dead body, which had been interred in a deep pit covered by a limestone
slab whose inferior face was decorated with cupules.
La Ferrassie thus suffices to establish a level of symbolic expression among European
Neandertals at least identical to that seen in the African lineage at the same time; however,
the fact that no counterparts of the Blombos beads have ever been found in the Middle
Paleolithic of Europe is a major difference between the two continents, and one that is all
the more significant because of Europe’s comparatively much longer and more intensive
research history. Moreover, their absence from the hundreds of Middle Paleolithic cave
and rockshelter sites with favorable preservation settings excavated in Europe over the last
150 years precludes taphonomic explanations; thus, it is legitimate to conclude that, in this
case, the absence of evidence should indeed be considered as evidence of absence.

Upper Paleolithic culture-stratigraphic framework

The earliest Upper Paleolithic of Europe corresponds to a diverse array of cultural entities
featuring lithic technologies that, in one way or the other, fit at least some aspects of the
technological definition of the period and are often collectively designated as “transitional.”
In the Franco-Cantabrian region there is the well-known Châtelperronian, where blade pro-
duction is oriented toward the production of blanks for curve-backed Châtelperron points and
knives. In Italy and Greece, there is the Uluzzian, a flake-based industry that also features
some production of non-Levallois blade blanks but is mostly defined by the manufacture of
standardized backed microliths—thick arched pieces, truncations, lunates, and some trapeze,
all trimmed with sur enclume retouch. In Bulgaria there is the Bachokirian, where the Up-
per Paleolithic cachet is mostly due to the preponderance of endscrapers that are made on
Levallois blade blanks. In Moravia and southern Poland there is the Bohunician, charac-
terized by the production of morphologically Levallois points obtained by non-Levallois
methods. Finally, in different parts of central and northern Europe, from southern England
to Poland, there is the Szeletian (and its German cousin, the Altmühlian), characterized
by the production of blattspitzen, which are carefully flaked, thin, fully bifacial foliate
points, plano-convex or, more typically, biconvex in cross section; these foliate point com-
plexes come after the Bohunician and then evolve to such unifacial blade point industries
as the so-called Lincombian of England and the Jerzmanovician of eastern Germany and
In the wake of the extensive taphonomic critique of the evidence by d’Errico et al. (1998),
Zilhão and d’Errico (1999, 2003a, b), Rigaud (2001), Bordes (2002, 2003), Teyssandier
(2003), and others, suggestions of a long-term contemporaneity between these earliest “tran-
sitional” Upper Paleolithic entities of Europe and the Aurignacian, based on radiocarbon
dates and on patterns of putative interstratification (Bernaldo de Quirós, 1982; Bordes and
Labrot, 1967; Champagne and Espitalié, 1981; Gravina et al., 2005), have now been largely
abandoned (Zilhão et al., 2006). In particular, the most vocal proponent of that notion
has himself recently conceded (Mellars, 2006) all the major points made by Zilhão and
d’Errico (1999, 2003a, b) on the issues of interpretation raised by the application of radio-
carbon to this time range. Once the numerous sources of error are adequately filtered, a
clear picture emerges (Zilhão, 2006a, b, c). (1) The “transitional” technocomplexes either
underlie or predate the earliest occurrences of the Aurignacian anywhere in Europe. (2)
The development of these technocomplexes took place in the interval between c. 45 and c.
35 ka 14 C BP, whereas the earliest Aurignacian dates to no more than c. 36.5 ka 14 C BP
(Table 2). (3) The slight chronometric overlap is an inevitable consequence of the poor
precision of dating techniques and of the fact that the Châtelperronian is almost entirely
Table 2 Radiocarbon dates for the Châtelperronian (AMS only) and the Protoaurignacian (AMS on bone, AMS and conventional on charcoal)a

Site Level Material Method Lab number Result BP Culture

Klissoura 1 V, hearth 42 organic residue of hearth conventional Gd-10714 > 31100 Uluzzian
V, hearth 53 organic residue of hearth conventional Gd-10715 > 30800 Uluzzian
V, hearth 42 burnt bone AMS GifA-99168 40010 ± 740 Uluzzian
Abri Dubalen EBC2 bone AMS GifA-101045 36130 ± 690 Châtelperronian
Châtelperron B5 bone AMS OxA-13622 39150 ± 600 Châtelperronian
B5 bone AMS OxA-14320 39240 ± 380 Châtelperronian
B5 bone AMS OxA-13621 40650 ± 600 Châtelperronian
Grotte du Renne IX bone AMS OxA-3465 45100 ± 2800 Châtelperronian
X bone AMS OxA-3464 33820 ± 720 Châtelperronian
Xa–Y11 bone (mammoth) AMS OxA-8450/Ly-893 25820 ± 280 Châtelperronian
Xb1–Y10 bone (horse) AMS OxA-8451/Ly-894 38300 ± 1300 Châtelperronian
Xb1–Y10 bone (reindeer) AMS OxA-9122/Ly-1055 33400 ± 600 Châtelperronian
Xb2–Y11 bone (mammoth) AMS OxA-8452/Ly-895 34450 ± 750 Châtelperronian
Xc–Y11 bone (mammoth) AMS OxA-8453/Ly-896 33400 ± 600 Châtelperronian
Caune de Belvis [7] bone AMS AA-7390 35425 ± 1140 Châtelperronian
Combe Saunière X bone AMS OxA-6503 38100 ± 1000 Châtelperronian
Grotte XVI B bone AMS GifA-95581 35000 ± 1200 Châtelperronian
B bone AMS AA-2997 38100 ± 1670 Châtelperronian
B bone AMS AA-2674 > 39800 Châtelperronian
La Quina, aval 4 bone AMS OxA-10261/Ly-1367 35950 ± 450 Châtelperronian
Roc-de-Combe sq. K9, level 8 bone AMS Gif-101264 39540 ± 970 Châtelperronian
sq. K9, level 8 bone AMS Gif-101266 40000 ± 1300 Châtelperronian
sq. K9, level 8 bone AMS Gif-101265 45100 ± 2100 Châtelperronian
Roche-au-Loup 5 [b] charcoal conventional Gif-2414 > 40000 Châtelperronian
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Table 2 Continued

Site Level Material Method Lab number Result BP Culture

Krems-Hundsteig brown layer with hearths charcoal conventional KN-654 35500 ± 2000 Protoaurignacian
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Grotta di Fumane A2, near hearth S14 charcoal AMS UtC-2048 36500 ± 600 Protoaurignacian
A2 base, hearth S14 charcoal AMS UtC-2688 36800/ + 1200/ − 1400 Protoaurignacian
A2 base, hearth S14 charcoal AMS OxA-8052 34120 ± 460 Protoaurignacian
A2 base, hearth S14 charcoal AMS UtC-2689 35400/ + 1100/ − 1300 Protoaurignacian
A2 base, hearth S14 charcoal AMS UtC-2690 34200 ± 900 Protoaurignacian
A2 base, hearth S14 charcoal AMS OxA-8053 33640 ± 440 Protoaurignacian
Riparo Mochi east trench 1959; G, Cut charcoal AMS OxA-3590 34680 ± 760 Protoaurignacian
east trench 1959; G, Cut 59 charcoal AMS OxA-3591 35700 ± 850 Protoaurignacian
east trench 1959; G, Cut 60 charcoal AMS OxA-3592 34870 ± 800 Protoaurignacian
Esquicho-Grapaou SLC 1b charcoal conventional MC-2161 34540 ± 2000 Protoaurignacian
Isturitz U27, level 4d burnt bone AMS GifA-98232 36510 ± 610 Protoaurignacian
V1 26, level 4d burnt bone AMS GifA-98233 34630 ± 560 Protoaurignacian
Morin 8 charcoal AMS GifA-96263 36590 ± 770 Protoaurignacian
a Resultsfor l’Arbreda are not included because of uncertainty regarding the stratigraphic/artifactual associations of the dated samples and, where Fumane is concerned, only
samples from levels A1–A3 and collected inside the drip line are included (for a discussion, see Zilhão and d’Errico, 1999, 2003a).

J Archaeol Res

dated on samples of bone that were not pretreated with the recently developed ultrafiltra-
tion technique (Bronk Ramsey et al., 2004) and thus are underestimated (the key site of
the Grotte du Renne is a particular case in point). (4) At the continental scale, it remains
possible that the Jerzmanovician/Lincombian may have emerged or survived in the northern
European plains at the time of the earliest Aurignacian settlement of European regions to the
south, and it is certain (contra Jöris et al., 2003) that the Middle Paleolithic continued until
much later in Iberian regions south of the Cantabro-Pyrenean mountain range (Zilhão, 1993,
2000, 2006a).
Recent technological studies in France (Bon, 2002; Bordes, 2002; Chiotti, 1999; Lucas,
2000) have also confirmed traditional typology-based views of Aurignacian systematics.
Moreover, the evidence now clearly shows that the so-called Protoaurignacian, originally
defined by G. Laplace and Italian authors (Palma di Cesnola, 1993) and generally considered
to be a cultural/geographic Mediterranean “facies” of the “classical” Aurignacian (Bon,
2002), corresponds instead to a chronological “phase.” In fact, results from the recent
re-excavation of the key cave site of Isturitz (Normand and Turq, 2005), in good accord
with the revised stratigraphy of Le Piage (Bordes, 2002), suggest that in France, as well
as in Italy and Spain, this Protoaurignacian stratigraphically and chronometrically precedes
the classical Early Aurignacian or Aurignacian I. The former is characterized by Font-
Yves points and long, slender Dufour bladelets of Demars and Laurent’s (1989) Dufour
subtype, which are extracted from unidirectional prismatic cores in the framework of a single,
continuous reduction sequence for both blades and bladelets. The latter is characterized by
split-based bone points and by the use of carinated “scrapers” as specialized cores for
the extraction of straight or curved bladelet blanks that remain largely unretouched. In
the subsequent Evolved Aurignacian or Aurignacian II, the preferred types of bladelet
cores are thick “burins” (carinated or busked) and thick-nosed “scrapers,” which generate
characteristic small, twisted blanks retouched into a particular Roc-de-Combe subtype of
Dufour bladelets; other types of points made of ivory, bone, or deer antler emerged in this
later facies, all with massive bases, mostly featuring flat or oval cross sections and an overall
lozengic morphology—the Mladeč (Lautsch) points.

Late Neandertals, early moderns, and their cultural associations

The chronostratigraphic framework for the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition in Europe
and its correlation with Near Eastern developments proposed in Fig. 4 provide the background
for the discussion on the cultural associations of the human remains from the period. The
early-mid Upper Pleistocene evidence from the Near East cautions against the establishment
of biunivocal correspondences between hominid taxa and archaeological cultures, but such
reservations do not apply in the same way to the geographical cul-de-sac of the Old World
represented by the European continent, where the Neandertal lineage is unanimously agreed
to have differentiated and evolved. As a result, it is legitimate to assume that until a time when
the presence of modern humans is first and unambiguously documented in the continental
fossil record by diagnostic skeletal remains, Neandertals are considered to be the human
actors responsible for the features of the archaeological record.
At present, the earliest such modern human material is the complete mandible recovered
in the cave site of Oase (Romania), directly dated to c. 35 ka 14 C BP (Trinkaus et al., 2003a,
b, 2006). The cave sites of Muierii and Cioclovina, also in Romania, have produced slightly
later modern human material (in the c. 29–30 ka 14 C BP range), and the age of the large
ensemble from the Moravian site of Mladeč has now been conclusively established by the
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Fig. 4 Chronostratigraphic correlation scheme between key Early Upper Paleolithic stratified sequences of
Europe and the Near East

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direct dating of human teeth from four different individuals to c. 31 ka 14 C BP (Trinkaus,

2005; Wild et al., 2005). Direct dating of other modern human fossils from central Europe
traditionally considered to be of early Upper Paleolithic age has shown that, in fact, they all
are of Magdalenian, Mesolithic, or even later prehistoric times (Conard et al., 2004a; Smith
et al., 1999; Svoboda, 2003; Svoboda et al., 2002; Terberger and Street, 2003a, b).
In western Europe, the only diagnostic modern human remains likely to predate c. 30 ka
C BP are at present the juvenile mandibles from La Quina Aval and Les Rois (Trinkaus,
2005). The Les Rois sequence belongs entirely to the Evolved Aurignacian, whereas the La
Quina material comes from level 3 of the old excavations, at the interface between the site’s
Early and Evolved Aurignacian levels; a sample from the former, collected in the context of
modern testing work, yielded an AMS bone date of 32,650 ± 850 14 C BP (OxA-6147/Ly-
256) (Dujardin, 2001) that provides a good terminus post quem for the mandible. The dental
material from the Aurignacian I levels of Brassempouy, dated to c. 32 ka 14 C BP, also may
be of modern human affinities, but the issue remains controversial (Bailey and Hublin, 2005;
Henry-Gambier et al., 2004). In any case, the conclusion is that, given the stratigraphic and
dating context, none of these French fossils is older than c. 33 ka 14 C BP.
Conversely, nowhere in Europe north of the Ebro River basin have Neandertal remains
been found for which an age postdating 36 ka 14 C BP can be suggested on firm grounds.
Two putative exceptions for which direct radiocarbon dates of c. 28–29 ka 14 C BP have
been reported: the material from level G1 of the Croatian cave site of Vindija (Smith
et al., 1999) and the infant skeleton from the cave of Mezmaiskaya in the northern Caucasus
(Ovchinnikov et al., 2000). Where the latter is concerned, the excavators convincingly argued
that the skeleton was found below intact Mousterian deposits reliably dated to > 36 ka 14 C
BP and that the direct date for the infant was therefore simply a minimum age, the burial
being significantly earlier (Golovanova et al., 1999). Where Vindija is concerned, several
lines of reasoning also indicated that the results were minimum ages (Zilhão, 2006b), and this
inference has now been vindicated by redating of the original samples (Higham et al., 2006).
This evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that after c. 35 ka 14 C BP the archaeological
record of Europe (except parts of the Iberian Peninsula) is entirely related to the activity of
anatomically modern people; by the same token, it also implies that one can legitimately
assume that the technocomplexes of the earliest Upper Paleolithic (i.e., those predating the
Protoaurignacian) were manufactured by Neandertals (Fig. 5).
Sound evidence for this scenario is available for the Châtelperronian, given the unques-
tionably Neandertal affinities of (1) the individual buried in level EJOPsup of the St.-Césaire
rockshelter, TL-dated to 36.5 ± 2.7 ka BP (average of six measurements on burnt flints), and
(2) the fragmentary dental and cranial material from the Châtelperronian levels of the Grotte
du Renne at Arcy-sur-Cure (Bailey and Hublin, 2006; Hublin et al., 1996; Lévêque and
Vandermeersch, 1980). This conclusion has recently been strengthened by the direct dating
to c. 38–41 ka 14 C BP (i.e., in the time range of the Châtelperronian) of the diagnostic
Neandertal remains from the El Sidrón cave in Asturias, at the western end of the Franco-
Cantabrian region to which the Châtelperronian is confined (Fortea et al., 2003; Lalueza
et al., 2005). Human remains associated with the Uluzzian are limited to two deciduous
teeth found in level E of the Cavallo cave, which are similar to Neandertal teeth in size,
cusp morphology, and taurodontism; this latter feature, in particular, is often present in Ne-
andertal deciduous molars but has never been observed in early modern human juveniles,
suggesting that the most parsimonious interpretation of this scarce material is that it belongs
to Neandertals as well (Churchill and Smith, 2000).
In central Europe, several important Neandertal fossils, most notably the two individuals
from the type site itself, are directly dated to c. 39–40 ka 14 C BP, but no direct evidence exists
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Fig. 5 Key sites documenting the archaeological associations of late Neandertals and early European moderns
(in Iberian regions south of the Ebro basin, Neandertals survived until well after the time of contact elsewhere
in Europe). Above: Latest reliably dated Châtelperronian, late Micoquian, and Uluzzian sites (circles); sites
with Neandertal remains reliably directly dated to < 40 ka 14 C BP (triangles); sites with Neandertal remains
in Châtelperronian, late Micoquian, Szeletian, Uluzzian, or late (reliably dated to < 40 ka 14 C BP) Middle
Paleolithic archaeological contexts (squares). 1. Caune de Belvis; 2. Abri Dubalen (Brassempouy). 3. Grotte
XVI and Roc-de-Combe; 4. Saint-Césaire; 5. Châtelperron; 6. Grotte du Renne; 7. Kleine Feldhofer Grotte
(Neander valley); 8. Sesselfelsgrotte; 9. Vindija; 10. Cavallo; 11. Klisoura 1; 12. Lakonis I. Below: Reliably
dated Protoaurignacian and Early Ahmarian sites (circles); sites with modern human remains reliably directly
dated to within five millennia of the time of contact (triangles); sites with modern human remains in Evolved
Aurignacian and Early Ahmarian archaeological contexts (squares). 13. Lagar Velho; 14. Morin; 15. Isturitz;
16. Les Rois and La Quina; 17. Esquicho-Grapaou; 18. Riparo Mochi; 19. Krems-Hundsteig; 20. Mladeč; 21.
Muierii and Oase; 22. Ksar ‘Akil; 23. Kebara; 24. Boker A

J Archaeol Res

about the biological affinities of the people behind the earliest pre-Aurignacian, “transitional”
Upper Paleolithic technocomplexes of the region. The same applies to the Balkans and the
lower Danube basin, where the youngest diagnostic Neandertal fossil is the taurodont tooth
found in uppermost Unit 1a of the long stratigraphic sequence excavated at the rockshelter
of Lakonis I in Greece (Harvati et al., 2003) for which charcoal dates between c. 44 and
c. 38 ka 14 C BP have been obtained. Thus, it cannot be excluded that in European regions
situated east of the Rhone and beyond the Adriatic, modern humans may have been involved,
at least in part, in the production of the Upper Paleolithic aspects of material culture dated to
the critical time period between c. 39 and c. 35 ka 14 C BP. Two lines of reasoning, however,
suggest that this is highly unlikely.
First, given the long and intensive history of Paleolithic research in Europe and the large
number of fossil human remains recovered in the continent over the last 150 years, the
probability that putative modern human populations predating the Protoaurignacian could
have remained undetected until the present must be considered rather low. If, as argued
above, we accept that the absence of personal ornaments from the European record before c.
40 ka 14 C BP should be considered as evidence of absence, given the circumstances, we must
then derive a similar conclusion from the pattern of temporal distribution of the remains of
early modern humans. Second, it seems reasonable to assume that the dispersal of modern
humans into the European continent must have entailed some level of population disruption,
signs of which should be visible in the archaeological record in terms of settlement patterns
and features of material culture. The evidence, however, suggests total continuity in both
realms across the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition at least until the Protoaurignacian.
Where Greece is concerned, for instance, the fact that the earliest Upper Paleolithic is
the Uluzzian suggests that its makers are the same as those behind the Uluzzian of Italy,
i.e., Neandertals. Although Panagopoulou et al. (2002–2004) compare the lithic assemblages
in the uppermost levels of Lakonis I to the IUP with “elongated points” of the Near East,
those assemblages seem to be quite similar to the penecontemporaneous Micromousterian
in Unit VII of Klisoura 1, which underlies this site’s Uluzzian and is in clear technological
continuity with it. In Germany, the continuity between the Micoquian and the Altmühlian is
such that scholars to this day discuss whether the latter should not be considered a simple
functional variant of the former (Bosinski, 1967, 2000–2001; Hopkinson, 2004; Richter,
2002; Uthmeier, 2000).
More recently, it has been argued, on the basis of perceived similarities with the
Bachokirian and the Near Eastern IUP, that the Bohunician is a proxy for the arrival of
modern humans in central Europe, with the lower and middle reaches of the Danube basin
thus forming, after c. 39 ka 14 C BP, a wedge of early modern human settlement deeply pen-
etrating the surrounding Neandertal world (Bar-Yosef and Svoboda, 2003; Škrdla, 2003a,
b; Tostevin, 2003). Further support for this view has been claimed on the basis that, un-
like Gleń and Kaczanowski (1982), who had suggested that the human teeth from Bacho
Kiro presented Neandertal affinities, Churchill and Smith (2000) concluded that aspects
of size, shape, and crown morphology aligned this material more with modern humans
than with the Neandertals. This conclusion, however, was meant to apply only to the
Aurignacian material because the single human remain found in the Bachokirian levels
of the site is a taxonomically undiagnostic left mandibular fragment with deciduous first
The rationale to model the Bohunician as a cultural manifestation of modern humans
assumes that it represents an intrusion into the local sequence of a Levantine technology
of the Boker Tachtit type and that the Near Eastern IUP was the work of moderns, not
Neandertals. The last is reasonable (although unproven), but recent research has shown that
J Archaeol Res

the apparent break observed in the Moravian sequence is a simple byproduct of the fact
that a gap of at least five and possibly as much as ten millennia currently exists between
the Bohunician and the preceding Middle Paleolithic. The two multilevel workshop sites
of Piekary IIa and Ksi˛ecia Józefa (Sitlivy et al., 1999a, b, 2004; Valladas et al., 2003)
near Krakow, Poland, document the emergence of fully Upper Paleolithic, prismatic blade
reduction strategies (at first alongside traditional Levallois flake reduction, in the end to the
exclusion of any traditional Middle Paleolithic prepared core methods) throughout the time
interval between c. 53 ka BP and c. 40 ka 14 C BP. Thus, there is no need to look for the
roots of the Bohunician any further than its own area of distribution (which encompasses
both Moravia and southern Poland).
The directly dated Oase mandible proves that modern humans were present in at least
eastern Europe at the time of the Protoaurignacian. Another powerful argument in favor of
linking the latter with modern humans is that a significant transformation of Europe’s cultural
geography occurred at that time. Before, the pattern was one of regional diversity, featur-
ing different early Upper Paleolithic “transitional” industries rooted in different regional
variants of the Middle Paleolithic. With the Protoaurignacian, the pattern became one of
homogeneity across vast regions of southern Europe and of mid-latitude central and western
Europe. Such a pattern of homogeneity actually extended as far as the Near East. There is
remarkable similarity between the Protoaurignacian and the Early Ahmarian, not only in
technology but also in typology and index fossils; the so-called El-Wad points of the Early
Ahmarian are exactly the same thing as the Font-Yves points of the Protoaurignacian (Belfer-
Cohen and Goring-Morris, 2003). Also, in both regions, a similar Aurignacian I with split-
based points and carinated “scrapers”/cores follows the Early Ahmarian/Protoaurignacian
(Fig. 4). Because these two technocomplexes both date to c. 35–36.5 ka 14 C BP and because
the cultural roots of the Early Ahmarian are found in the Near Eastern IUP, it does make
sense to construe the Protoaurignacian as the spilling off of Near Eastern cultural devel-
opments into adjacent Europe, in connection with the penecontemporaneous dispersal of
modern humans into the continent and the coincident disappearance of Neandertals from the
fossil record.
It is also conceivable, however, that the process involved is one of diffusion, not migration,
or a combination of both. For instance, Neandertal groups establishing contact with moderns
in the Near East might have found that the Early Ahmarian/Protoaurignacian’s improved
standardization of lithic barbs and points was a beneficial technological development; con-
sequently, they might have decided to adopt the system, further spreading it across their own
exchange networks. In this way, the lithic technology of the Protoaurignacian could have
expanded into remote parts of the Neandertal world well in advance of the actual arrival
of anatomically modern people in those areas. Conversely, it is no less conceivable that
the Protoaurignacian was invented among Neandertals and, once contact between the two
populations occurred, followed by regular exchanges, was eventually adopted by Near East
moderns under the guise of the Early Ahmarian. Thus, it is perfectly possible that the Pro-
toaurignacian was made by the Oase moderns in Romania, by the grandchildren of the Sidrón
Neandertals in Cantabrian Spain, and by variously mixed modern/Neandertal populations in
intermediate regions.
In sum, the combined weight of the physical anthropological, archaeological, strati-
graphic, and radiometric evidence suggests that (1) the Châtelperronian and contemporane-
ous earlier Upper Paleolithic technocomplexes of southern, central, and eastern Europe are
the cultural product of anatomically Neandertal populations, (2) the Early Aurignacian and
the Evolved Aurignacian are the cultural product of anatomically modern populations, and
(3) the Protoaurignacian is related to the Early Ahmarian and dates to the time of contact be-
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tween Neandertals and moderns throughout most of Europe. Given the potential complexity
of the cultural and biological interactions that may have been involved in the phenomenon
and the fossil evidence for extensive admixture in at least some parts of Europe at the time
of contact between Neandertals and moderns (Trinkaus, 2005), the biological affinities of
the people who manufactured the Protoaurignacian cannot at present (and may well never)
be resolved in simple dichotomic terms.

Ornaments before the Aurignacian

In Europe, the earliest personal ornaments are those found in Bachokirian, Uluzzian,
Altmühlian, and Châtelperronian contexts, i.e., given the above, among late Neandertals
(Fig. 6). Where the Bachokirian is concerned, three items were recovered in level 11 of the
type site: a spindle-shaped bone pendant, oval in cross section and grooved at the narrow end,
and fragments of two pierced teeth from unidentified species (Kozłowski, 1982). In southern
Europe, the evidence comes from sites in Greece and Italy. The Uluzzian level (Layer V) of
the Klisoura 1 sequence, in Greece, yielded more than two dozen Dentalium beads belonging
to two different species (Koumouzelis et al., 2001a, b). In Italy, only the Grotta del Cavallo,
in the southern region of Apulia, yielded ornaments; all were tubular fragments of Dentalium
in the lowermost Uluzzian (level EIII) but perforated Cyclonassa neritea and Columbella
rustica shells also were recovered in the uppermost Uluzzian (levels EI and D) (Palma di
Cesnola, 1993). Because clear Aurignacian intrusions have been identified among the lithics
of Cavallo level D (Gioia, 1990), it is quite possible that these perforated gastropods likewise
represent an Aurignacian contamination and that, as in Greece, Dentalium tubes were the
only shell ornaments of the Italian Uluzzian.
In central Europe the evidence is restricted to the perforated shell of a fossil gastropod
provenanced to geological deposits in the Vienna basin and recovered in level 2 of the
long, multilevel, open-air loess site of Willendorf II (Felgenhauer, 1956, 1959; Hahn, 1993).
This level is overlain by charcoal lenses dated to c. 39.5–41.7 14 C BP (Damblon et al., 1996;
Haesaerts and Teyssandier, 2003; Haesaerts et al., 1996) and features a clear Upper Paleolithic
but non-Aurignacian (Teyssandier, 2003) blade debitage. Thus, this level probably relates
to the contemporary “transitional” entities documented in the nearby regions of Moravia
and southern Poland. The Altmühlian level of the cave site of Ilsenhöhle, Ranis, in eastern
Germany (Hülle, 1977) yielded a needle-like bone point and, most importantly, an ivory
disc with a central hole that may have been worn as a pendant (of which only a drawing
survives). In Belgium, a broken ivory ring found in the 19th-century excavations of the Trou
Magrite in all likelihood belongs to this northern European, late Neandertal tradition of
ivory working. The excavations produced a mixed collection where at least three different
components can be recognized (late Mousterian, blattspitzen/Szeletian-like foliate point
industries, and Aurignacian). In the framework of the widespread notion that any ornaments
found in OIS-3 contexts must be Aurignacian by default, the Trou Magrite ring has been
generally considered to be of that age (Lejeune, 1984, 1987; Moreau, 2003; Otte, 1979);
however, its size, manufacture technique, and cross section are quite similar to those of
identical objects from the French Châtelperronian (see below).
The bulk of the evidence concerning personal ornamentation among late Neandertals
comes from the French Châtelperronian and was reviewed by d’Errico et al. (1998) and
Zilhão and d’Errico (1999). Even if old excavations, where the possibility of postdepositional
disturbance and contamination cannot be excluded, are removed from further consideration,
the number of sites is still quite significant: Caune de Belvis, Saint-Césaire, Quinçay, and
J Archaeol Res

Fig. 6 Ornaments of the earliest Upper Paleolithic of Europe. Above: Central and eastern Europe: left,
perforated fossil gastropod from level 2 of Willendorf II, Austria; center, spindle-shaped bone pendant
from level 11 (Bachokirian) of the type site; right, perforated ivory disc from horizon 2 of the Ilsenhöhle
(Ranis), Germany (after Felgenhauer, 1956–1959; Hülle, 1977; Kozłowski, 1982). Below, pierced and grooved
pendants from the Châtelperronian levels of the Grotte du Renne (France): (a–d) fox canines; (e–f) reindeer
phalanges; (g–j) bovid incisors; (k) red deer canine; (l) fossil belemnite (after Zilhão and d’Errico, 1999,

Grotte du Renne (Arcy-sur-Cure). Level 7 of the Caune de Belvis cave in Mediterranean

France yielded a rather poor context with diagnostic Châtelperron points and two beads made
on fossil Turritella temprina shells (Taborin, 1993). The Quinçay rockshelter (Lévêque,
1993) is particularly important because contamination from overlying, later occupations can
be excluded as a potential explanation for the ornaments recovered in the Châtelperronian
levels because no such later occupations exist. The ensemble comprises six perforated teeth—
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Fig. 7 Grotte du Renne (France). Left: Ivory rings: top, the complete fish-tailed ornament from Aurignacian
level VII; bottom, the more complete of the two pieces from Châtelperronian level Xb (after White, 2002).
Right: Châtelperronian bird bone tubes decorated with regularly spaced notches (after Zilhão and d’Errico,
1999, modified)

three fox canines, one wolf canine, and two red deer canines. All were perforated by the
same technique documented at the Grotte du Renne, i.e., by first abrading the root, then
piercing the thinned surface with a puncture blow or a series of pressure removals, and
finally smoothing and enlarging the hole (Granger and Lévêque, 1997). The fact that the
Saint-Césaire burial contained several Dentalium beads (Lévêque, personal communication,
1998) adds an unequivocal ritual dimension to the use of ornaments by Châtelperronian
For the key site of the Grotte du Renne (Figs. 6 and 7, Table 3), Taborin (2002) and
White (2002) recently resurrected the hypothesis that all the ornaments in Châtelperronian
levels VIII–X are intrusions from overlying Aurignacian level VII. d’Errico et al. (1998) had
already suggested that this was the case with three ivory beads from level VIII, identical to
those in level VII, and the same probably holds for a small ivory ring fragment from level
VIII, whose cross section (oval) and finishing (polished on the external faces) are identical
to those of five other fragments and the one complete, well-known fish-tailed ring from
the Aurignacian. However, the large majority of the ornaments (26) comes from level X,
more than 70 cm below the base of the Aurignacian, which yielded only four (seven if
you add those that are probably intrusive in level VIII). This distribution renders completely
untenable the notion that the ornaments in level X represent downward migration, particularly
because no evidence of a similar displacement has ever been documented in the realm of
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Table 3 Ornaments from the Châtelperronian levels of the Grotte du Rennea

Level Species Type Modification

VIII fox canine perforated

VIII horse incisor grooved
VIII Hyaena incisor grooved
VIII reindeer incisor grooved
IX fox canine grooved
IX reindeer incisor grooved
IX reindeer phalange perforated
IX reindeer/red deer canine perforated
X Bayania lactea fossil shell perforated
X Bayania lactea fossil shell perforated
X bear incisor grooved
X belemnite fossil perforated
X bovid incisor grooved
X bovid incisor grooved
X bovid incisor grooved
X bovid incisor grooved
X fox canine grooved
X fox canine perforated
X fox canine grooved
X fox canine perforated
X fox canine perforated
X fox canine grooved
X ivory ring (fragment) grooved
X ivory ring (fragment) grooved
X marmot incisor grooved
X marmot incisor grooved
X reindeer incisor grooved
X reindeer metacarpal left grooved
X reindeer phalange perforated
X reindeer phalange grooved
X rhinoceros molar fragment grooved
X Rynchonella fossil grooved
X wolf canine (upper left) grooved
a Not included are four small ivory ring fragments from level VIII, in all likelihood actually belonging to the
immediately overlying Aurignacian level VII, as well as a naturally perforated crinoid fossil, an unmodified
bear canine, and a unmodified tubular stalactite fragment.

that level’s most abundant material culture item, the lithics. White (2002) further argues in
favor of the contamination hypothesis that the fish-tailed ring from level VII and the two
large angular rings of ivory with a rectangular cross section found in sublevel Xb are in
fact finished product and rough-outs, respectively, of a single chaı̂ne opératoire where the
last production stage would consist of the thinning and shaping of the rough-outs through
abrasion and polishing. The simple fact that, according to Taborin (2002, Tables LII–LIII),
one of the supposed rough-outs is 50% thinner than the supposed finished product (3 mm vs.
4.6 mm) suffices to expose the inconsistency of the argument, which is further apparent in
that White eventually concludes that his analysis “clearly showed that all surfaces of these
objects [the Châtelperronian rings], including the interior ones, were polished and abraded,
which suggests that the rings were indeed the intended product, not simple by-products.”
J Archaeol Res

Protoaurignacian ornaments

Even if significant and unquestionable, the number of Châtelperronian and other pre-
Aurignacian occurrences that yielded securely associated ornaments is small. The opposite
is true of the Protoaurignacian and subsequent phases of the Aurignacian, where the presence
of personal ornaments, often in very large amounts, is commonplace. Because the primary
concern here is with the origins of the behavior, only the Protoaurignacian is discussed in
detail; Vanhaeren (2002) and Vanhaeren and d’Errico (2006) provide a comprehensive re-
view of the distribution of Aurignacian ornaments across Europe, including the later phases
of the technocomplex.
In Italy, the rockshelters of Fumane and Mochi yielded very large collections of Protoau-
rignacian ornaments. At Mochi G (Kuhn and Stiner, 1998), most ornaments are marine shell
beads; the dominant taxon is Cyclope neritea (29% out of a total of 240). Stiner (1999) also
reports one pierced incisor of a small carnivore (fox or wild cat) and four carved beads made
of bone and soft stone, whose shapes mimic that of red deer canines and whose sizes are
very similar to those of the marine shells perforated for ornament use. Because a 50-cm-
thick Early Aurignacian level (stratum F) overlies the 1-m-thick Protoaurignacian sequence
(stratum G), and some level of uncertainty in the differentiation between the two must have
been inevitable at the time of digging (a split-based bone point, for instance, was found
in two fragments, one in cut 50 at the top of stratum G, the other in cut 49 at the base of
stratum F), it cannot be excluded that the nonshell ornaments in the Mochi G collection
relate to the subsequent Early Aurignacian occupation of the site. In fact, as noted by Stiner
(1999), nonshell, basket-shaped beads are characteristic of the classical Aurignacian I of the
Périgord, a point also made by White (1989, 1993) and Vanhaeren (2002). The situation
reported at Fumane is similar (Broglio and Gurioli, 2004; Broglio et al., 2002). More than
650 marine shells were recovered in the excavated sequence, half of them perforated, and,
in spite of the stratigraphic inversion of the results, the direct radiocarbon dates on three
such shell ornaments from different species prove contemporaneity with the Aurignacian
occupation. Assigned to some 53 different taxa, the large majority of the shells are Homa-
lopoma sanguineum (also well represented in Mochi G, where they correspond to 16% of
the total). Three red deer incisors, grooved for suspension around the tip of the root, are
the only nonshell ornaments from Fumane; their exact provenience, however, is unknown.
Given the evidence that the site was also used in later Aurignacian times (a split-based point
was found at the top of the sequence, and all radiocarbon dates from charcoal in its upper
half—levels D3–D6—are in the 30.3–32.3 ka 14 C BP age range), their association with the
Protoaurignacian remains to be demonstrated. Finally, at Castelcivita, the only ornaments
were Homalopoma beads (Vanhaeren, 2002).
In France, the single-level rockshelter of La Laouza, in the Mediterranean, yielded a
Protoaurignacian bead assemblage composed entirely of marine shells (Taborin, 1993), 17
of which are perforated: Cyprea lurida (2), Shpaeronassa mutabilis (3), Trivia europea (2),
Hinia reticulata (2), and Nassarius gibbosula (8). “A few” Dentalium are also mentioned.
Other reportedly Protoaurignacian occurrences in the same area are those in the Roth-
schild rockshelter (Fig. 8) and in Unit II of the Grotte Tournal (Bon, 2002; Sacchi, 1996;
Taborin, 1993; Tavoso, 1987). The former, in particular, yielded an assemblage of nearly
400 beads, of which greater than 90% were marine shells; the remainder were different
mollusk fossils. Finally, at the same latitude but on the opposite Atlantic coast, new excava-
tions in the St. Martin chamber of the Isturitz cave exposed a complete Protoaurignacian–
Aurignacian I–Aurignacian II sequence (Normand and Turq, 2005); because only a re-
duced area of the lowermost levels could be excavated, the evidence concerning personal
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Fig. 8 Protoaurignacian beads from the Rothschild rockshelter (France): (a) pierced red deer canine; (b)
steatite bead; (c) Theodoxus fluviatilis; (d) Cyclope neritea; (e) Trivia europaea; (f) Sphaeronassa mutabilis;
(g) Hinia reticulata; (h, i) Dentalium; (j) Littorina obtusata; (k) Nassarius ( = Arcularia) gibbosula; (l)
Nucella lapillus; (m) Aporrhaı̈s pespelecani (after Barge, 1983)

ornaments is sparse: pierced Littorina shells, two pierced incisors of a herbivore, and a bead of
Given that the material from El Pendo is not in situ (Montes et al., 2005), a pierced
red deer canine from level 7 (Aurignacian I) of the Morin cave (González Echegaray and
Freeman, 1971) is the one ornament securely associated with all of the Aurignacian in
Cantabrian Spain. In contrast with their recurrence and abundance in contemporary French
and Italian sites, the absence of shell beads is particularly striking where Protoaurignacian
level 8 of Morin is concerned, because the exploitation of marine and estuarine resources is
documented by remains of edible mollusks throughout the site’s levels 9 to 5 (Madariaga,
1971). Ornaments also are rare in the Aurignacian of northern Catalonia; only one pierced
Trivia pulex, three Dentalium fragments, and four other shell fragments of marine species,
including one Homalopoma sanguinea, were recovered in basal Protoaurignacian level H of
L’Arbreda (Maroto, 1994).
The data from Mochi suggest clear continuity between the Protoaurignacian and the Early
Aurignacian, the latter retaining the same kinds of beads previously in use, for the most part
perforated marine shells. The evidence reviewed by Vanhaeren (2002), however, shows
that the range of types becomes much broader in the Early Aurignacian. In the Aquitaine
basin and western Pyrenees, where sites are numerous and often excavated over extensive
areas, antler, bone, and ivory beads (especially basket-shaped ones), as well as pierced
animal teeth (especially fox canines, followed by red deer canines, incisors of bovid, horse,
beaver, and reindeer, and wolf canines), are the most common items. As exemplified by
the rich assemblage from the Castanet rockshelter, personal ornaments at that time included
marine shell beads (both Mediterranean, such as Homalopoma sanguina, and Atlantic, such
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as Littorina obtusata), perforated fossil mollusks (Turritela sp.), basket-shaped bone and
ivory beads, soft stone (manganese and hematite) beads, and pierced animal teeth (reindeer
incisors) (Taborin, 1993; Vanhaeren, 2002). That more than simple geography (i.e., distance
to marine shell sources) is involved in this new pattern is indicated by the fact that in the
Aurignacian I level of Fossellone cave, an Italian site located in the Latium littoral, all
ornaments were made of hard mammal tissue (pierced canines of fox and red deer and beads
of deer antler) or of soft stone (steatite beads); shell beads were entirely absent (Vanhaeren,

Earliest figurative art

The c. 40 ka 14 C BP levels of Piekary IIa yielded two pieces of ochre with abstract de-
signs reminiscent of the Blombos material (Sitlivy et al., 2004). d’Errico et al. (2003b)
document regular markings in about one third of the 50 bone awls from the Grotte du
Renne’s Châtelperronian levels, and in three of the five bird bone tubes from the same levels
(Fig. 7). Given their arrangement and distribution, the only explanation is deliberate decora-
tion. However, as in Africa or Asia, figurative representations are entirely unknown for that
Numerous ochred cryoclastic fragments, including six slabs painted with motifs described
as zoomorphic in one case and anthropomorphic in another, are reported from the Fumane
sequence and have been evoked to support figurative art in a Protoaurignacian context
(Broglio and Gurioli, 2004; Broglio et al., 2002, 2003, 2004; Floss, 2005). However, it
is not clear that the motifs really are figures; they are more suggestive of an extension to
the inhabited space of the symbolic marking of objects with abstract signs documented in
preceding times in both Africa and Europe. More importantly, the painted stones all come
from either the uppermost Aurignacian levels or the immediately overlying collapse (Broglio
and Gurioli, 2004, p. 99); they are Aurignacian II, not Protoaurignacian, as are the dates for
the site’s D3–D6 levels from where the slabs reportedly come.
The Austrian site of Stratzing (a.k.a. Galgenberg or Krems-Rehberg) yielded an anthro-
pomorphic statuette carved out of amphibolic schist, the “Galgenberg Venus” (Neugebauer-
Maresch, 1996, 1999). This piece comes from an Evolved Aurignacian context, documented
by the lithic assemblage and a nearby hearth dated to c. 31.8 ka 14 C BP. In the Swabian
Alb of Germany, the famous lion–man statue from the cave site of Hohlenstein-Stadel was
recovered in spit 6, dated by four samples to c. 31–32 ka 14 C BP (Conard and Bolus, 2003),
in good agreement with the nosed “scrapers” and bone points with a simple base in the
artifact assemblage (Hahn, 1977). The cave site of Vogelherd yielded ten figurines, of which
a felid comes from the backdirt of the 1931 excavations, and the others (a bovid, a horse, two
mammoths, three felids, an anthropomorph, and an unidentified quadruped) from levels IV
and V (Conard, 2003). The associated radiocarbon results (Table 4) cluster in the c. 32–33 ka
C BP interval, although some are slightly older and others much younger; this scatter is
easily understandable given the coarse nature of the stratigraphic work performed at the time
(Conard et al., 2004).
Thus, where the chronology of this art form is concerned, the key sites of southwestern
Germany are those excavated with modern techniques, Hohle Fels and Geissenklösterle. In
the former (Conard, 2003), all the art (a lion–man, a bird, and the head of a horse) comes
from levels IId/base, III, and IV, dated to c. 30–31 ka 14 C BP by 11 of 12 AMS dates. In
the latter, all finds come from the uppermost Aurignacian in Archaeological Horizon (AH)
II; Conard et al. (2004b) provide ample evidence of a clear horizontal stratigraphy inside
Table 4 Radiocarbon dates associated with the sculpted figurines of the Aurignacian of Austria and Germany (AMS on bone, AMS and conventional on charcoal)

Site Level Material Modification Method Lab number Result BP

Geissenklösterle IIa horse scapula impact + cutmarks AMS OxA-5707 33200 ± 800
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IIa hare tibia AMS OxA-5160 33700 ± 1100

IIa reindeer? humerus AMS OxA-4594 36800 ± 1000
IIb mammoth rib impact AMS KIA 8960 29800 ± 240
IIb horse humerus impact AMS KIA 8958 31870 + 260/ − 250
IIb mammoth cranium AMS OxA-5708 32300 ± 700
IIb hare pelvis AMS OxA-5162 33200 ± 1100
Hohle Fels IId (base) mammoth/rhino rib AMS KIA 8964 29560/ + 240/ − 230
IId (base) reindeer antler AMS KIA 8965 30010 ± 220
IIe horse pelvis impact + cut marks AMS KIA 16040 30640 ± 190
IIIa reindeer femur impact + cut marks AMS KIA 16038 29840 ± 210
IIIa Pinus charcoal AMS KIA 18877 30170/ + 250/ − 240
IIIa bone AMS OxA-4601 30550 ± 550
IIIa Pinus charcoal AMS KIA 18876 31010/ + 600/ − 560
IIIa small ungulate femur impact AMS KIA 16039 31140/ + 250/ − 240
IIIb Pinus charcoal AMS KIA 18878 29780/ + 330/ − 310
IV reindeer metapodial AMS OxA-4600 31100 ± 600
IV unidentified charcoal AMS KIA 18879 31160/ + 1530/ − 1280
IV horse femur tool (retoucher) AMS KIA 16036 33090/ + 260/ − 250
Hohlenstein-Stadel 19 m, spit 6 reindeer humerus impact AMS KIA 8951 31440 ± 250
20 m, spit 6 reindeer ulna + wolf AMS ETH-2877 32000 ± 550
20 m, spit 6 reindeer radius fresh break AMS KIA 13077 32270/ + 270/ − 260
Krems-Galgenberg main cultural level charcoal conventional KN-4141 28210 ± 500
main cultural level charcoal conventional KN-3941 28400 ± 700
main cultural level charcoal conventional KN-3940a 29260 ± 460
main cultural level charcoal conventional KN-3942 29900 ± 600
main cultural level charcoal AMS 14C ETH-6023 29950 ± 370

Table 4 Continued

Site Level Material Modification Method Lab number Result BP

main cultural level charcoal conventional GrN-15641 30670 ± 600
main cultural level charcoal conventional GrN-15642 31190 ± 390
main cultural level, near statuette charcoal conventional GrN-16135 31790 ± 280
main cultural level; T49 hearth charcoal AMS 14C ETH-6025 31230 ± 430
main cultural level; T49 hearth charcoal AMS 14C ETH-6024 31450 ± 440
Vogelherd ? brown bear canine root incised pendant AMS KIA-19542 29620 ± 210
IV bovid/horse femur fragment cutmarks AMS KIA-8966 13015 ± 55
IV long bone fragment cutmarks AMS KIA-8957 26160 ± 150
IV top Homo, Stetten 2, cranium AMS KIA-19537 3980 ± 35
IV/V reindeer metatarsal cutmarks AMS PL0001340A 13630 ± 410
IV/V horse tibia cutmarks + fresh AMS PL0001339A 32180 ± 960
IV/V bovid/horse rib cutmarks AMS PL0001342A 34100 ± 1100
V reindeer long bone impact AMS KIA-8969 32500 + 260/ − 250
V horse long bone impact AMS KIA-8970 33080 + 320/ − 310
V bovid/horse long bone cutmarks AMS PL0001337A 35810 ± 710
V base Homo, cranium AMS KIA-20967 4910 ± 25
V base Homo, mandible AMS KIA-20969 4985 ± 30
V base Homo, mandible AMS KIA-19538 4715 ± 35
V base Homo, vertebra AMS KIA-19539 4735 ± 30
V base Homo, humerus AMS KIA-19540 4995 ± 35
V ML tibia impact AMS KIA-8968 31790 ± 240
V ML horse tibia cutmarks AMS PL0001338A 32400 ± 1700
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J Archaeol Res

Fig. 9 Distribution of the ivory figurines and flutes from Archaeological Horizon II (Evolved Aurignacian) of
the Geissenklösterle cave (Germany), plotted against the horizontal and vertical position of the dated samples
(the grid is in square meter units) (after Conard et al., 2004b, modified). Note the close association of the art
with the ash lens in level IIb, and the radiocarbon age of the bones sampled therein, all of which fall in the ca.
29.8–32.3 ka 14 C BP range; the sculptures of a mammoth and a bear come from overlying level IIa

this level, with the ivory sculptures of a bison and a human and two flutes coming from an
in situ ash deposit (subunit IIb) dated to 30–32 ka 14 C BP, whereas a mammoth and a bear
come from the overlying, postdepositionally disturbed (Hahn, 1988) subunit IIa (Fig. 9). A
limestone fragment spalled from the cave wall recovered in subunit IIIa was once thought to
preserve a painted black V-shape, but it now is seen as corresponding to natural processes or
incidental human agency (Conard and Uerpmann, 2000).
Counterparts of the German and Austrian animal and human figurines are currently
unknown in France and Spain. A piece of horse frontal bone bearing an incomplete zoomor-
phic representation (hindquarters of a horse), reportedly found in Aurignacian deposits of
the Hornos de la Peña cave, is of uncertain provenience (Arias and Ontañón, 2004), and
the claims for mobiliary figurative art in El Castillo level 18 are unsupported (Zilhão and
d’Errico, 2003b). However, in rockshelters of the Périgord, engraved blocks containing in-
complete animal figures and signs, as well as pigment-bearing rock fragments spalled from
wall and roof, were recovered in stratified deposits during early 20th-century excavations at
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Fig. 10 Decorated blocs from the Aurignacian levels of the La Ferrassie rockshelter (France). Above:
Zoomorphic figures and vulvas associated with cupules, (Evolved) Aurignacian IV. Below: Sculpted animal
head with deeply engraved vulva figure on the opposite side, (Evolved) Aurignacian III (after Peyrony, 1934)

Belcayre, Blanchard, Castanet, Cellier, and La Ferrassie (Fig. 10); whenever the stratigraphic
information is secure, they come from levels containing lithic assemblages characteristic of
the regional Evolved Aurignacian (Aurignacian II or III of the traditional Périgord sequence)
(Delluc and Delluc, 1978, 1991). The basal Early Aurignacian level of Blanchard also yielded
the distal fragment of a bovid horn core with a modified tip; the Dellucs, following Breuil,
see a phallic representation. The interpretation of this object as figurative art, however, is
questionable and has indeed been viewed with skepticism since the beginning, notably by
such art experts as S. Reinach (Delluc and Delluc, 1979).
The parietal art in two Ardèche caves is of the same Evolved Aurignacian age. Chauvet
yielded five direct dates between 29.7 and 32.4 14 C BP for charcoal collected in the black
pigment used to paint animal figures of rhinoceros, horse, aurochs, and giant deer (Valladas
et al., 2001). Although reasonable reservations have been advanced (Pettitt and Bahn, 2003;
Züchner, 1999, 2001), the Aurignacian chronology obtained for these paintings is consistent
with their similarity with the German figurines in both style and motifs. Additional support
for this conclusion comes from the indirect dating to the same period of the engravings
(two felines and a bear) identified by Pales and Vialou (1984) in the nearby cave of Aldène.
Stylistically and thematically close to Chauvet (Sacchi, 2001), an Aurignacian age for these
figures is supported by the radiocarbon date of 30,260 ± 220 14 C BP (Beta 188 750) obtained
on charcoal from a remnant of the sediment fill that sealed access to the engraved gallery
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(Ambert et al., 2005). At Chauvet, the black panels yielded evidence of an earlier phase of
artistic activity (Baffier and Feruglio, 2005) but, as these authors point out, the time elapsed
since the first episodes of decoration is difficult to evaluate. Given that the rock surfaces
were extensively prepared before the execution of the figures, it is to be expected that earlier
representations would have been almost completely obliterated, even if made only a few
years, decades, or centuries before.
In Cantabrian Spain (Fortea, 2000, 2001, 2002), the cave of El Conde and the rockshelter of
La Viña feature a parietal decoration of deep vertical grooves covered by Gravettian deposits.
At El Conde, bone from a remnant of such deposits, dated to c. 24 ka 14 C BP, provides a
terminus ante quem for the art, and arguments based on the manual field of the artist and
the topographic relation between the archaeological strata and these engravings suggest they
might well be of Aurignacian age. An early Gravettian chronology, however, cannot be
excluded. Direct dating of black punctuations superimposed on two yellow bulls from the
Peña de Candamo cave yielded results of c. 32–34 ka 14 C BP for two samples analyzed at
the Gif laboratory; however, two samples sent to a different laboratory, Geochron, yielded
significantly younger results, in the 15–16 ka 14 C BP range. Because other figures from
the same panel, the Muro de los Grabados, were dated by both labs to between c. 9 and c.
23 ka 14 C BP, it would seem that the most parsimonious explanation for the results in the
Aurignacian time interval is contamination from unidentified sources.
One of the most widespread misconceptions of the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition
resides in the commonplace notion that “the first modern humans in Europe were in fact
astonishingly precocious artists” (Sinclair, 2003). As this review shows, however, the doc-
umented artistic skills of the people of the Protoaurignacian and of the Early Aurignacian
are no more “astonishing” than those documented in late Neandertal cultural contexts and
consist simply of the same kinds of patterned markings applied to bone and ivory tools
with decorative or functional purposes. The earliest figurative art of Europe is of Evolved
Aurignacian age (c. 32 ka 14 C BP or later), i.e., “art” did not emerge among modern human
Europeans until at least three radiocarbon millennia after their first fossil representatives (the
Oase people) are documented in the continent and until after some five radiocarbon millennia
after the appearance of the first potential archaeological indicator (Protoaurignacian lithic
assemblages) of the immigration.

Explaining late Neandertal ornaments

Imitation (or acculturation)?

In the ethnographic present, personal ornaments play the role of conveyors of the social
identity of persons—group membership, gender, and individual life-history characteristics
(age, marital status, etc.) (Wobst, 1977). The visual display of such information is targeted at
encounters with strangers or people infrequently met, because, as pointed out by Kuhn et al.
(2001), “without some history of contact or interaction, the meaning of the visual symbols
would be opaque to the viewer,” and “there is no need to use material symbols to identify
one’s affiliation or identity to family and very close acquaintances.” Thus, the emergence
of ornaments in the archaeological record probably reflects the crossing of demographic
thresholds above which long-distance interaction networks involving alliance, exchange, or
mating were necessary.
Working with such symbolic systems of personal presentation and representation ob-
viously requires cognitive capabilities unknown among our closest living relatives, the
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chimpanzees. The evidence reviewed above makes it clear that in Europe those systems
predate by several millennia any evidence, archaeological or paleontological, for the immi-
gration of anatomically modern people into the continent. This fact carries the following
implications: (1) Measured by the same standards used for modern humans of the African
MSA, European Neandertals were behaviorally “sapiens” people. (2) If there is a biuni-
vocal correspondence between a species and its behavior, then European Neandertals and
African moderns belonged to the same species. (3) If Neandertals are a separate species on
the strength of their morphological particularities, then “fully symbolic sapiens behavior”
emerged independently among different human species, and the biological/genetical foun-
dations for that behavior must have existed in the human genus before the split between the
African and European lineages. Whichever alternative is preferred, the corollary is that ex-
planations of the emergence of “behavioral modernity” as a simple by-product of a putative
speciation event in the late Middle Pleistocene of Africa are refuted.
Reconciling such explanations with the empirical data would be possible only under
the hypothesis that the ornaments recovered in Neandertal contexts reflect the “aping,” or
“imitation without understanding,” of behaviors observed among nearby, coeval modern
human populations (Hublin et al., 1996; Mellars, 1999; Stringer and Gamble, 1993). The
demonstration of the illusory nature of the putative Aurignacian/Châtelperronian interstrat-
ifications (Bordes, 2002; Zilhão et al., 2006) has effectively eliminated the single piece of
evidence upon which such a notion could be supported. At the time of the Châtelperronian,
the geographically closest area inhabited by modern humans was the Near East (if the IUP
from Boker Tachtit, Ksar ‘Akil, and Üçağizli was indeed manufactured by modern humans).
This is too far away for close contact acculturation but leaves open the possibility of long
distance, “bow wave” diffusion, along the lines suggested by Hublin (2000), McBrearty and
Brooks (2000), and Mellars (1999, 2005), to explain the cultural innovations documented
among Eurasian Neandertals after c. 100 ka BP.
In the biological and cultural geography of Eurasia before the time of the Protoaurignacian,
what long-distance diffusion from the Near East to western Europe effectively means is that
before arriving in Neandertal France, such innovations would have to travel across vast
expanses of terrain where only other Neandertals lived, i.e., through exchange networks
uniting those different Neandertal populations, from the French Charente in the west to
the closest potential Neandertal/modern contact zones in the Black Sea and the eastern
Mediterranean (Fig. 5). It is clear, however, that the practice of wearing beads could not have
survived the innumerous episodes of information exchange necessarily involved in such a
process if the individuals transmitting and receiving the information did not fully understand
its underlying meaning. The implication is that long-distance diffusion is a viable explanation
only if one accepts that cognitive abilities are equivalent at the two ends of the chain, i.e.,
among both the modern human sources and the Neandertal recipients. Such an acceptance,
however, generates two major logical inconsistencies for bow wave diffusion. First, the
model was suggested as a way to bring the empirical evidence for symbolic artifacts among
Neandertals in line with the notion that because they were not modern, they must have lacked
the cognitive capabilities required for their use in a fully symbolic social context, whereas,
in reality, it carries the implication that they did have those capabilities. Put another way, it
requires the exact kind of behavior whose putative absence it proposed to explain!
Second, the model is based on the notion that Neandertals and moderns were separate at the
species level, their differentiation having been driven by isolation through distance, followed
by the establishment of long-lasting barriers to gene flow (Hublin, 1998). However, if such
barriers existed, how could they have been only biological, not cultural as well? If burials and
ornaments represent the acquisition by Neandertals of innovations gradually developed in
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Africa over tens of thousands of years, how can such a level of contact be reconciled with the
notion that after c. 300 ka BP Neandertals had become isolated to the point of evolving into
a separate species? Clearly, either Neandertals were a different species, and the implication
is that symbolism emerged independently among them; or their symbolic artifacts were a
by-product of diffusion from Africa, and then they cannot have been a different species. You
simply cannot have it both ways, i.e., complete biological isolation, leading to speciation,
but at the same time complete cultural interconnectedness, leading to long-distance diffusion
of innovations!
At the empirical level, “long-distance diffusion” faces the additional problem that it also
proposes to explain the practice of ritual burial among Neandertals. However, the earliest,
uncontroversial instance of burial so far known is not that of a modern human but that of the
Tabun C1 Neandertal woman. Bar-Yosef and Callander (1999) argue that this is an intrusive
interment from overlying level B, but the fact that the loose right hand and wrist bones
recovered in level C are mirror images of the same left bones in the articulated skeleton
(Kaufman, 2002; Trinkaus, 1993) is not consistent with their hypothesis, nor is the direct
dating by ESR of tooth enamel sampled from the human skeleton itself, which indicates an
age between c. 112 and c. 143 ka cal BP (Grün and Stringer, 2000).

Independent invention?

Since long-distance diffusion requires that Neandertals had the same cognitive capabilities
as moderns, as a potential explanation for the facts it is not intrinsically superior to the
alternative view of independent invention put forward by d’Errico et al. (1998), Zilhão and
d’Errico (1999), Zilhão (2001), and d’Errico (2003). Choosing between the two, therefore,
should be based solely on their respective empirical merits. And although future research
may change the picture, the data currently available are more consistent with independent
invention than with long-distance diffusion.
In fact, one of the most striking features of the record for early ornaments is that in
the IUP of the Near East it is entirely made up of perforated shells, for the most part
marine gastropods. Dentalium tubes are absent from the IUP, and they are not represented
in the subsequent Early Ahmarian either. In contrast, Dentalium tubes are the only securely
documented ornaments in the Uluzzian, where marine gastropods are entirely absent. This
contrast is puzzling because Uluzzian sites have the same coastal location as those from
the Near Eastern IUP, and, if the ornaments had been introduced to their cultural context
through diffusion from the latter, one would expect that the same kinds of objects had been
selected for the purpose. For instance, that some 90% of the shell beads in the IUP levels
of Üçağizli and Ksar ‘Akil are Nassarius is a strong argument in favor of the notion that
this technocomplex stands for a cultural tradition of ultimate African origin: The earlier,
south African beads from Blombos are all made from another, nearly identical species of
that genus (Fig. 1). That the makers of these ornaments were selecting for a particular shape
and that this similarity of appearance is culturally meaningful are also suggested by the
fact that the other gastropod used at Ksar ‘Akil, Columbella rustica, is of broadly similar
That traditions relating to the choice of ornaments are long-lasting is further indicated by
the fact that in the long Protoaurignacian-to-Epigravettian sequence of the Mochi rockshelter,
people consistently favored a very narrow range of shell sizes and shapes, “suggesting some
kind of shared aesthetic, yet one that lasted more than 20,000 years” (Stiner, 1999). Thus,
where sites in interior locations are concerned, if the earliest Upper Paleolithic of Europe was
related to diffusion from the Near East, one might further expect that fossil shells of similar
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appearance to those used for ornamental purposes in the IUP would be considered as adequate
replacements and sought after in the appropriate geological exposures, or, alternatively, that
imitations of appropriate shape and size carved out of bone and ivory would replace the
lacking marine shells. This expectation, however, is not met by the empirical evidence.
Small, basket-shaped bone and ivory beads became common only in the Aurignacian I and
are unknown before the Protoaurignacian. In European sites contemporary with the IUP,
the known instances of the use of fossils are in level 2 of Willendorf II and in lowermost
level X of the Grotte du Renne’s Châtelperronian sequence. In the former the evidence
consists of a fossil gastropod of elongated shape, and at the latter (Table 3) it consists of
a grooved Rynchonella, a perforated belemnite, and two pierced Bayania lactea. Just as
Dentalium beads are tubes, not basket-shaped shells, so is the Grotte du Renne material
hardly evocative of Nassarius. Rynchonella are brachiopods (totally unrelated to mollusks)
with a clamlike but unhinged external shell (and the Grotte du Renne fossil, being an internal
mould, is a spherical object with no opening); belemnites are an extinct relative of the squid
with internal bullet-shaped shells; and Bayania lactea are an Eocene gastropod with an
elongated external shell.
These interior sites, moreover, differ from those in Africa and the Near East in that most
ornaments are pierced or grooved bones and teeth; such animal products were not used in
Africa and are unknown in the Near East before the Aurignacian I. That these differences
were not dictated by availability factors is further suggested by the fact that African moderns
of the MSA and the earliest LSA in interior geographical settings of South Africa and Kenya
made their beads out of ostrich eggshell (Ambrose, 1998; Wadley, 1993, 2001), not out of the
bones and teeth of the animals living in their environments. Thus, if long-distance diffusion
was operating, it can only have been that of the concept, not of the objects themselves or of
their images, which again refutes any notions that the ornaments found among Neandertals
represent simple “copying,” or “imitation without understanding.” In any case, given that
no evidence for comparable diffusion processes exists in other realms of the archaeological
record, and given the evidence in favor of considerable isolation between Africa and Europe
represented by the fact that the latter harbored populations sufficiently distinct anatomically
to be considered by some as a different species, the most parsimonious explanation is that
ornaments emerged in the two continents as part of separate, independent cultural trajectories
toward “fully symbolic sapiens behavior.”
This view also is supported by the remarkable difference apparent between the African
and the European records when possible explanations for the exact social function of per-
sonal ornaments in these early symbolic societies are duly considered. Before c. 30 ka 14 C
BP, and with a single potential exception (the Conus bairstowi shell from Border Cave),
African and Near Eastern ornaments are exclusively small disk-shaped ostrich eggshell beads
or perforated basket-shaped Nassarius shells of comparable size (Fig. 1); as noted above,
at Blombos, all shells were found in clusters, suggesting that they may have been used in
the same way as ostrich eggshell beads, i.e., as individual parts arranged to form composite
beadworks. d’Errico and Vanhaeren (2005) have suggested, on the basis of the ethnographic
evidence, that the homogeneity and lack of regional differentiation of these items indicate
that they may have been exchange media used in gift-giving systems; in contrast, the large
diversity of bead types and the pattern of marked geographic variation that, from the begin-
ning, characterize early European bead assemblages (both Aurignacian and pre-Aurignacian)
suggests they were markers of ethnic, social, and personal identity.
Such a difference in function is more consistent with independent origins than with
long-distance diffusion and further strengthens the argument that, by comparison with the
preceding modern human cultural traditions documented in the Near East and in Africa, the
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Protoaurignacian displays features of both continuity and discontinuity. The latter is apparent
in the few instances of perforated teeth and Dentalium tubes found in Protoaurignacian
contexts (level G of Mochi, Rothschild, or La Laouza). Such items became widespread in
the subsequent Early Aurignacian of France [for instance, for Dentalium, Pataud, Tuto de
Camalhot, La Ferrassie, Cellier, Blanchard, Castanet or Caminade (Taborin, 1993)], where
the abundant perforated Nassarius and other similar shells, as well as the bone, antler,
and ivory beads imitating their shape, represent the element of continuity. By the same
token, it is impossible to deny that the most parsimonious explanation for the animal tooth
pendants and Dentalium tubes of the Protoaurignacian and the Aurignacian I is that they
represent a signature of continuity with such preceding Neandertal-associated cultures as
the Châtelperronian and the Uluzzian. This interpretation of Protoaurignacian ornament
assemblages as reflecting the blending of two separate traditions is consistent with and lends
further support to the biological evidence for significant interaction between Neandertals
and modern humans at the time of contact, resulting in extensive admixture in at least some
regions of Europe (Trinkaus, 2005).


Shennan’s (2001) study of the relation between innovation and demographic growth showed
that the probability that innovations are retained is low when group size is small, because
the probability that their effects are advantageous as opposed to deleterious also is low.
The situation changes markedly when population increases, either through local demo-
graphic growth or through merger between previously isolated groups, and especially so
when long-distance contact is established, because that effectively enlarges the population
on a scale proportional to the square of the distance radius. Since both the archaeological
and the genetic evidence are consistent with significant population increase in Africa once
the cold and arid conditions pertaining throughout OIS-4 came to an end, Shennan con-
cludes that the most parsimonious explanation for the fact that cultural innovations with
occasional precedents became fixed and widespread only after that time is demography, not
One does not need to go any further than this model to explain the European patterns.
The increase in the number of sites and the major northward expansion of the human
range document population expansion (and ensuing increased interaction) among OIS-3
Neandertals and suffice to explain why they eventually developed the practice of personal
ornamentation at about the same time it was re-emerging in Africa and expanding into
the Near East. Moreover, it also is clear that Shennan’s line of reasoning also provides a
convincing explanation for the emergence of sculpted figurines and rock art in Evolved
Aurignacian times. Although the possession of artistic skills is often portrayed as proof
of the decisive cognitive advantage that gave moderns the edge over Neandertals in their
competition for Europe, the evidence reviewed in the preceding sections shows that figurative
art is as conspicuously lacking from cultural contexts conceivably related to those modern
human pioneers (the Protoaurignacian and the Early Aurignacian) as it is from the cultural
contexts of late Neandertals. Even if widely used, the argument of the cognitive superiority
of “those wonderful Cro-Magnon artists” as sufficient explanation for the demise of the
Neandertals is therefore completely inadequate if not grossly misleading.
The European record suggests that it was not until Evolved Aurignacian times that the
need was felt for systems of social identification/differentiation extending beyond the indi-
vidual to include the landscapes and resources claimed as territory by the different groups
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to whom people advertised their allegiance through the use of body ornaments. As dis-
cussed by Gamble (1983) and Gilman (1984), the need for such systems can easily be
explained as a consequence of adaptive success, with technological innovation leading to
demographic growth and implying both increased intergroup competition and increased reg-
ulation of that competition. In such a context, it is easy to understand the adaptive value
of the emergence of ceremonial behaviors addressing issues of property and rights over
resources and of the development of myths and religious beliefs relating such rights to real
or ideal ancestors. As the ethnographic record abundantly documents, that is what rock art
primarily stands for—embodying places with economic, ideological, or social significance
(Bahn and Vertut, 1997; Layton, 1992). Sculpted figurines, in turn, are likely to have rep-
resented manifestations of the same phenomenon in the personal and domestic arenas of
The emergence of these cultural traits obviously requires the capability for symbolic
thinking, and their emergence is often equated (as in Henshilwood and Marean’s definition)
with that of the underlying capability. However, this can hardly be the case. McBrearty and
Brooks (2000) and d’Errico (2003) have supplied plenty of evidence for the emergence of
sophisticated behaviors among both the African and European lineages throughout the late
Middle and the early Upper Pleistocene, well before beads were first in use. Where Europe
is concerned, it suffices to evoke the practice of ritual burial documented at La Ferrassie and
that of body painting, using manganese crayons, documented in the MTA of Pech de l’Azé
I (Soressi et al., 2002).
Often overlooked is also the evidence for symbolic thinking yielded by utilitarian artifacts.
The German site of Königsaue, for instance, yielded unique evidence for the mastering of
complex fire technology by Micoquian (late Middle Paleolithic) Neandertals. Chemical
analysis of two fragments of birch bark pitch used for the hafting of stone knives and
directly dated to > 44 ka 14 C BP showed that the pitch had been produced through a several-
hour-long smoldering process requiring a strict manufacture protocol, i.e., under exclusion
of oxygen and at tightly controlled temperatures (between 340 and 400◦ C) (Koller et al.,
2001). The Königsaue pitch is the first artificial raw material in the history of humankind,
and this unique example of Pleistocene high-tech clearly could not have been developed,
transmitted, and maintained in the absence of abstract thinking and language as we know
them; it certainly requires the enhanced working memory whose acquisition, according to
Coolidge and Wynn (2005), is the hallmark of modern cognition. Another example of the
development and learning of such complex technological traditions are the 400,000-year-old
wood throwing spears from Schöningen (Thieme, 1997), whose shape mimics that of the
javelins used in field-and-track competitions and implies the empirical understanding of the
basic laws of ballistics.
One must therefore conclude that the explanation for the emergence of ornaments and
figurative art resides in the realm of cultural, demographic, and social processes, not in that
of paleogenetics or paleoneurology. Because the particulars of nucleotide arrangements in
the DNA of fossil humans are themselves mute where issues of intelligence are concerned,
and given that soft tissue does not fossilize (which places speculations as to the nature and
consequences of putative functional reorganizations of the inner workings of the human mind
outside the field of testable scientific propositions), this is a rather fortunate conclusion for
paleoanthropology. It also is one that is consistent with the notion that the “hardware” for
“behavioral modernity” must have been in place as soon as the size and shape of the brain
case entered modern ranges of variation, and the cultural record documents behaviors that
require language, i.e., symbolic thinking by definition. The paleontological record (Lee and
Wolpoff, 2003; McHenry and Coffing, 2000) concurs in suggesting that such a rubicon had
J Archaeol Res

already been crossed by c. 400 ka BP. The rest—including ornaments and art as much as
writing and computers—is history.

Acknowledgments The research and initial drafting for this article were performed during a 2003–2004
research stay at the University of Cologne, in the framework of a Humboldt Foundation Research Award. I
am particularly grateful to Nicholas Conard, Martin Porr, Ludwig Reisch, Jürgen Richter, Thorsten Uthmeier,
Gerd-Christian Weniger, Bernhard Weninger, Andreas Zimmermann, and Christian Züchner for making my
stay in Germany pleasant and productive. The ideas expressed here also benefited from exchanges with and
information provided by many other colleagues. I am particularly grateful to Diego Angelucci, Javier Baena,
Paul Bahn, Ion Băltean, Ofer Bar-Yosef, François Bon, Jean-Guillaume Bordes, Alberto Broglio, Miguel
Cortés, Francesco d’Errico, Francine David, Javier Fortea, Dominique Henry-Gambier, Michèle Julien, Ivor
Karavanić, Janusz Kozłowski, Stephen Kuhn, Claire Letourneux, Jose Manuel Maı́llo, António Monge Soares,
Ramón Montes, Anna Pazdur, Catherine Perlès, Paul Pettitt, Daniel Richter, Curtis Runnels, Valery Sitlivy,
Olga Soffer, Jiřı́ Svoboda, Nicholas Teyssandier, Erik Trinkaus, Marian Vanhaeren, Alexander Verpoorte,
Paola Villa, and Ralf Vogelsang for the information provided on request. Last but not the least, T. Douglas
Price originally invited me to write this review, and I must thank him for his patient wait. As usual, any errors
or omissions are my own.

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