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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Early Southern 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 transitional ones such as the Bohunician, which covers part of the earliest occupation of modern humans in Europe.

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.

Subsequently, cultural complexity appears and increases as human populations increased. What had been a single human culture across Europe eventually divided in two which - at least at first - can be equated to Northern Europe and Southern Europe. In the south a series of cultures proceeded through the Azilian, Montadian, Romanelli, and Sauveterrian, by which time many more regional variations and localised cultures had emerged and Eastern Europe had the first of its own.

Homo Neanderthalis

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by David Reich (Harvard Medical School), from A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry, David K Faux, from Investigating Archaeological Cultures: Material Culture, Variability, and Transmission, Benjamin W Roberts & Marc Vander Linden (Eds), 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), and from External Link: The Genetic History of Ice Age Europe (Nature 2016).)


King list Epigravettian Culture
(c.19,500 - 8000 BC)

The Epigravettian led the way into the Mesolithic in its core territory in the Carpathian Basin, originally being named the Tardigravettian ('Late Gravettian').

King list Azilian Culture
(c.17,000 - 7500 BC)

The Azilian was a much simplified, Southern European form of the Magdalenian with nowhere near the richness of that culture (especially its art).

King list Eastern European Cultures
(c.13,000 BC)

The late Palaeolithic Epigravettian culture sparked the appearance of a series of local cultures during Eastern Europe's Mesolithic period.

King list Montadian & Romanelli
(c.12,000 - 7000 BC)

A series of interesting Epi-Palaeolithic industries occurred in the Mediterranean area during the Azilian, which included the Montadian and Romanelli cultures.

King list Cyprus Cultures
(c.10,000 BC)

Hunter-gatherers become active on Cyprus, especially at two pre-Neolithic sites at Nissi Beach, plus Ayia Napa, and on the Aspro water causeway in the Akamas.

King list Sauveterrian Culture
(c.8500 - 6500 BC)

The presumed uniformity of this complex was based, in particular, on the presence of needle-like backed points and triangular microliths.

King list Italy Cultures
(c.8000 BC)

Cave drawings on Sicily were created around this time, with the proto-Sicani people being given credit for the work by some modern experts.

King list Asturian Culture
(c.7250 - 4500 BC)

The highly localised 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.

King list Iberia Cultures
(c.2800 BC)

It was the European Bell Beaker horizon which really put ancient Iberia on the archaeological map as far as modern cultural development was concerned.

King list Castro Culture
(c.900 - 27 BC)

The most notable characteristics of this north-western Iberian culture are the walled oppida and hill forts which are known as 'castro'.

King list Tartessian Culture
(c.900 - 400s BC)

The archaeological name of Tartessian which is used to classify this particular Iberian Late Bronze Age culture comes from the port city of Tartessos.

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