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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Epigravettian Culture (Upper Palaeolithic / Upper Mesolithic) (Southern Europe)
c.19,500 - 8000 BC
Incorporating the Pebble Gravettian, Ságvárian Culture, & Tardigravettian Culture

This Upper Palaeolithic and Upper Mesolithic culture was one which emerged in Southern Europe shortly before the Solutrean was succeeded across much of the north by the Magdalenian culture. To its west was the Azilian, with these all forming some of the last of Europe's Palaeolithic cultures.

The Epigravettian led the way into the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) in its core territory in the Carpathian Basin. It was originally named the Tardigravettian to reflect its late appearance after the fading of the primary Gravettian culture, it was renamed 'Epigravettian' to emphasise its independent emergence around three and-a-half millennia after the recognised end of the Gravettian.

Essentially it was the Gravettian culture after the Gravettian had ceased to be a universal European culture and was being superseded in the north and west by other cultures which included the Solutrean, Magdalenian, and Azilian. However, lithic (stone) assemblages do not contain Gravettian or even Magdalenian characteristics, therefore making this a culture in its own right.

The Epigravettian has been divided into three main phases which consist of the 'Early Epigravettian' (about 19,500-14,000 BC), the 'Evolved Epigravettian' (14,000-12,000 BC), and the 'late' or 'Final Epigravettian' (12,000-8,000 BC). Those phases have since been further subdivided and reclassified.

The fading 'Late Epigravettian' people helped to feed the beginnings of cultures in early Mesolithic Eastern Europe: the Iron Gates of the Balkans, the Shan Koba of Crimea (possibly), and the Tsarinka of the Ukrainian coast and inland steppe.

Some attempts have been made to divide away some Epigravettian finds into cultures of their own. These include the Pebble Gravettian / Ságvárian Culture in the Carpathian Basin (the latter name for the Ságvár type site in Hungary), or the Kašovian or Grubgrabian. While such attempts have generally been unsuccessful, the terms still find occasional use (especially in Hungary).

Homo Neanderthalis

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Settlement of the European North: Possible Linguistic Implications, Christian Carpelan, from The Magdalenian Settlement of Europe, Quaternary International Volumes 272-273 (2012), from A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry, David K Faux, and from External Links: The Genetic History of Ice Age Europe (Nature 2016), and The Epigravettian chronology and the human population of eastern Central Europe during MIS2, György Lengyel (Lead Author, Quaternary Science Reviews Volume 271, 1 November 2021, available via Science Direct), and Early Mesolithic (Indo-European.eu).)

c.19,500 BC

At the beginning of the Epigravettian, which to an extent succeeds the Gravettian, the 'Early Epigravettian' is characterised by a low frequency of armature tools (those which are supposed to be related to the process of hunting game), such as backed blade/lets, backed truncated blade/lets, and retouched blade/let points.

Venus of Willendorf
The Venus of Willendorf is perhaps one of the best known of all the Venus figurines which were created by the people of the Gravettian culture, with this one being produced around 24,000 BC

At the same time there is an abundance of domestic tool types (those which would be used for general tasks), such as end-scrapers, burin, or edge-retouched tools. All tools are frequently constructed from flakes.

Mammoth hunting is rare in this region between about 22,000-16,000 BC, with much of the mammoth population seemingly absent during the local 'Last Glacial Maximum' when the ice sheets reach their greatest extent, covering a large swathe of western Poland, for example.

Human occupation in places such as Poland, Slovakia, and areas of Austria has been and remains, early on in this period, scant or non-existent due to the ice and harsh conditions. The Carpathian Basin, however, remains populated throughout as it retains favourable conditions for survival.

Tatra Mountains
The Tatra Mountains are part of the Carpathian mountain chain, and today the 'Higher Tatra' section forms part of the border with Poland

c.18,200 BC

Archaeological finds of molluscs in windblown or glacial-created mineral-rich silt (known as loess malacofauna) in Hungary from this date reveal a cold climate until about 16,600 BC. This is followed by temperate conditions until 14,200 BC, correlating with the dominance of a steppe-tundra landscape.

c.15,400 BC

Having succeeded the Solutrean culture to the north of the Epigravettian, the Magdalenian at this time has seen, in the area between the Rhine and the headwaters of the Danube, a significant increase in the number of archaeological sites.

There is far less activity in Epigravettian areas, or towards the east of the Magdalenian apart from around the Black Sea coast. The Epigravettian provides the only human population for the Carpathian Basin until at least 12,700 BC.

Early Epigravettian points
Early Epigravettian points from the Grotta del Cavallo site in southern Italy, showing proximal fragments of shouldered points from level B-IIb of the 1963 excavations

c.14,000 BC

From around this point the warming post-glacial climate melts the northern glaciers, releasing their combined meltwater in a torrential surge which flows south into the Caspian basin. The late Ice-Age Caspian balloons into a vast interior sea which has been designated the Khvalynian Sea.

c.13,000 BC

Within Epigravettian regional influence is today's Romania and Serbia. About this time the Iron Gates culture begins to emerge here as a development of the Epigravettian. The more distant Shan Koba culture may possibly also be influenced by the Epigravettian.

c.12,000 BC

The 'Final Epigravettian' is characterised by an abundance of armatures, types which are usually absent in the 'Early Epigravettian', such as backed points and curved backed points. These tools are predominantly constructed from blades and bladelets.

Anetivka stone tools
Representatives of the Anetivka late Palaeolithic flint-knapping technology managed to survive and progressively evolve during the Dryas III-Preboreal with no substantial changes to their traditional basis of tool production

Regional variations are starting to emerge on the culture's eastern fringes, alongside the Shan Koba, the Iron Gates, and also the cultures of the Trialetian. Shortly after this point the Anetivka tradition makes itself known along the Southern Bug in Ukraine.

c.10,000 BC

FeatureThe most recent ice age is now fast fading in its intensity. As the ice recedes northwards, the people of the Magdalenian expand to follow it (see feature link).

Those of the Epigravettian in their abundant Carpathian Basin territory do not, although their fading influence towards the Black Sea steppe area may serve to generate elements of the new Kobuleti and Shpan cultures.

Map of Mesolithic Europe 8000 BC
Although culturally and technologically continuous with Palaeolithic cultures, Mesolithic cultures quickly developed diverse local adaptations for special environments, as this map shows (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.8000 BC

In the western centre of Europe the Sauveterrian culture has already made itself known. In Iberia the Azilian continues, but weakly. Immediately to the west of the Epigravettian region, the Montadian continues while Cyprus the Akrotiri culture has already emerged thanks to Near East influences.

Epigravettian-led cultures continue to thrive, including the Iron Gates in the Eastern European Balkans, the Shan Koba, Kizil-Koba (I), and Tash-Air in Crimea, and the Kobuleti culture and Trialetian group of cultures in Georgia.

The Ukrainian steppe has the Bilolissya, Molodova-Kichkine, Shpan, Sursko-Dnieper, and Tsarinka, and others. The Volga has the Seroglazovka. The similar Anetivka is now succeeded by the Kukrek.

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