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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures

 

Asturian Culture (Epi-Palaeolithic / Mesolithic) (Iberia)
c.7250 - 4500 BC

The Asturian is a Southern European late Epi-Palaeolithic and Mesolithic stone and bone industry which is linked to the shell-midden sites of northern Iberia (specifically modern Spain). The Asturian lithic industry is crude, with a high proportion of heavy duty tools, including a unifacial pick. When compared to the preceding Azilian, it exhibits a relatively high proportion of serrated artefacts and a relatively low proportion of backed bladelets.

The Asturian was identified as a distinct culture after excavations by Vega del Sella at the cave of El Penicial in Asturias in Spain in 1914. It was a highly localised culture, specifically in the central part of the Bay of Biscay's southern coast, while the former Azilian had encompassed a greater area of the same coastline.

There was some initial debate about whether Asturian chronology even post-dated that of the Azilian, but agreement that it does now seems to be virtually universal. The transition between the two is still unclear, with a potential gap of up to half a millennium or down to almost nothing (circa 7250 BC is the mid-point between these two dating extremes).

In Cantabrian Spain the cultural transition from Azilian to Asturian stone tools takes place throughout Europe's post-ice-age, preboreal period (up until about 7000 BC), accompanying the transition from glacial to fully temperate climatic conditions. Research in recent years has provided more information about the economy of these hunter-gatherer societies. However, key aspects are still little understood, such as the use of wild plants. The latest finds of lithic hunting weapons and shells which were used as tools do, though, open up new perspectives in the study of the Asturian.

The role played by the shell-middens in their cultural context is still one of the key issues which needs to be fully addressed. Recent excavations have confirmed that there were occupations inside the middens, which at other times were mere accumulations of waste. Open-air settlements outside the caves also existed.

Towards the end of the Asturian, the Neolithic Farmer culture revolution was being introduced into eastern Iberia. A southern strand of this revolution was introduced into the western Mediterranean by island-hopping and coastal-hugging migrants from the Illyrian coast and Italy, all part of the Linear Pottery culture. They entered Early France from the Mediterranean coast and also expanded from there into eastern Iberia by about 4700 BC.

Mesolithic stone tools

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from External Links: Mesolithic Culture of Europe (PDF, Vidya Mitra Integrated E-Content Portal), and The Mesolithic 'Asturian' culture (North Iberia), one century on, Miguel Ángel Fano (Science Direct, as published in Quaternary International, Vol 515, 10 May 2019), and The Mesolithic of Iberia (Encyclopaedia.com).)

c.6000 - 5000 BC

The Asturian has probably long since succeeded the Azilian by now, even if the precise timeline is not yet clear. One set of Asturian burials can be dated to the sixth millennium BC. An elderly female is excavated from the Molino de Gasparín shell midden in in 1926. She is found in an extended position, with three picks laid on stones by her head. A mound covers the body, while on top of that mound a fire has been lit.

Between 1985-1990 seven people, buried in three features, are excavated in the Los Canes cave (Asturias in modern Spain). The cave contains no traces of habitation from this period, suggesting that it has been used only for funerary purposes.

Asturian stone tool
Pottery was used in this region from about 4900 BC, and stone tools throughout, such as the example shown here

One of the bodies - a very gracile female - offers an extensive picture of dental problems, with caries, abscesses, and alveolar resorption (receding gums) affecting the upper jaw. The suggestion is that towards the end of the period diets become richer in carbohydrates, specifically plant foods.

5000 - 4700 BC

As the Asturian appears to begin to fade in the north-west, the Neolithic Farmer culture revolution is being introduced into the east of Iberia.

In the form of the Linear Pottery culture, this revolution enters the western Mediterranean, island-hopping and coastal-hugging from the Illyrian coast and Early Italy. It enters Early France from the Mediterranean coast and expands from there into eastern Iberia by about 4700 BC.

 
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