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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Early Europe

The pre-history of Europe is a long and largely uncertain period in which small windows of opportunity to view events can be gained through archaeology. Masses of material are found each year by archaeologists, and a system was long ago needed to help organise all these findings.

FeatureThe system which has evolved to catalogue the various archaeological expressions of human progress is one which involves cultures. For well over a century, archaeological cultures have remained the framework for global prehistory. The earliest cultures which emerge from Africa are perhaps the easiest to catalogue, right up until human expansion reaches the Americas. The task of cataloguing that vast range of human cultures is covered in the related feature (see link, right). Archaeological cultures remain the framework for global prehistory.

Europe's earliest cultures which came out of Africa via the Near East are perhaps the easiest to catalogue. These early cultures include the transitional Bohunician, Szeletian, and Uluzzian cultures, the modern-human-intruded Châtelperronian, and the near-universally widespread Aurignacian and Gravettian (the former being contemporary with the Baradostian culture of the Near East, and the latter with Venus figurines as one characteristic feature), plus the Solutrean (which was characterised by finely-made microliths).

IndexThe last two are especially interesting as they chart human progress after around 25,000 BC, roughly around the time at which the most recent ice age was building to a peak (much more severely in Europe than in Central Asia and Siberia) and around the time that the last of Europe's Neanderthals were dying out. Now modern humans had no cultural competition except from other humans, provided of course that they could survive another fifteen thousand years of ice age (see the 'Prehistoric World' index for information on pre-modern human Earth, via the link on the right).

Once the ice had retreated and Europe had become a much more hospitable place, human cultures became increasingly regionalised, or at least confined to areas less expansive than the entirety of Europe.

The Magdalenian culture of circa 17,000 to 12,000 BC includes the well-known cave art of Lescaux (in France) and Altamira (in Spain), with the earliest dated sites being in France. These people were the classic 'reindeer hunters', although roe deer and horse amongst other animals were also hunted.

However, this is where complexity begins to appear, with the uncertain Badegoulian Interlude (around 18,000-14,000 BC) causing some debate. Such complexity only increases as human populations increase. Cultures become increasingly regional in order to define differences in archaeological terms. A potentially pan-European cultural framework soon becomes divided into distinctive Northern Europe and Southern Europe. Around the emergence of the Mesolithic, a culturally distinct Eastern Europe also emerges.

Sadly, identifying humans on ethnic and linguistic terms is even harder, if not entirely impossible before a certain level of recentness is reached. The linguistic side of identification really comes into its own with the appearance of proto-Indo-Europeans in the fifth and fourth millennia BC.

Homo Neanderthalis

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry, David K Faux, and Investigating Archaeological Cultures: Material Culture, Variability, and Transmission, Benjamin W Roberts & Marc Vander Linden (Eds).)


King list Bohunician Culture
(c.48,000 - 35,000 BC)

The Bohunician was one of Europe's earliest modern human cultures, alongside two other transitional cultures, the Szeletian and Uluzzian.

King list Châtelperronian Culture
(c.43,000 - 39,000 BC)

This period gained its name from the site of la Grotte des Fées in Châtelperron, Allier, in France, one of five early stone tool industries.

King list Aurignacian Culture
(c.38,000 - 29,000 BC)

Coinciding with the last glaciation, this culture includes sites from across Europe and Asia, with surviving Neanderthals fading in Iberia.

King list Gravettian Culture
(c.29,000 - 22,000 BC)

Gravettians and Aurignacians were descended from the same ancient founder population, while the Pavlovian culture was an eastern subset of the Gravettian.

King list Solutrean Culture
(c.22,000 - 17,000 BC)

The tools of the Solutrean employed techniques which had not been seen before and which apparently were not discovered by other groups (or rediscovered) for millennia.

King list Magdalenian Culture
(c.17,000 - 12,000 BC)

Europe's population expanded rapidly within this culture, while the Badegoulian Interlude can be viewed as an early phase, and the Villabruna Cluster emerged late.

King list Southern European Cultures
(c.17,000 BC)

Around 17,000 BC human populations increased and a southern differentaion emerged in southern France which eventually extended into Iberia.

King list Northern European Cultures
(c.14,000 BC)

Cultural complexity appeared and increased as human populations increased, with a clear division between north and south emerging.

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