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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Magdalenian Culture (Upper Palaeolithic) (Europe)
c.17,000 - 12,000 BC
Incorporating the Badegoulian Interlude & the Villabruna Cluster

An Upper Palaeolithic (Late Old Stone Age) culture which encompasses several sub-strands, this succeeded the Solutrean to dominate much of Europe. Some genetic features of the even-older Aurignacian culture which had survived the Gravettian seemed to resurface in this culture. The Epigravettian had already emerged to the east.

This was in the form of the 'Red Lady of El Mirón' cave in northern Spain - a member of the Magdalenian archaeological culture. Europe's population expanded rapidly once this culture got going, with art also expanding massively to show that human expression was flourishing.

The Badegoulian Interlude (around 18,000-14,000 BC) is often viewed as being an early phase of the Magdalenian. In France the second part of the Upper Palaeolithic witnessed an abrupt change in the development of technological traditions. Solutrean industries disappeared and were replaced by very different Badegoulian assemblages.

The Badegoulian has been re-evaluated as a specific archaeological 'culture' thanks to evidence which suggested that it was atypical and discordant, without clear links to the preceding and following cultures. Despite this, without denying the differences which exist between the Badegoulian and the Magdalenian, it has been demonstrated that the Badegoulian truly gave root to the Magdalenian.

Christian Carpelan outlined a scenario for the emergence of proto-Uralic/Finno-Ugric-speaking groups which was related to the most recent ice age. The European population to the north of the Alps retreated to the south-east and south-west due to the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), which has been dated around 22,000-17,000 BC (calibrated dates) and which coincides with the Solutrean culture.

This south-east/south-west split is proposed to have created eastern and western blocs. The western bloc represented (amongst others) the Magdalenian culture(s) which began to repopulate the depopulated territories from around 15,400 BC (calibrated).

The later Hamburg culture appears to have been an extension of the Magdalenian cultures. The eastern bloc represented much of the widespread Gravettian technological complex (which was displaced in southern France by the Magdalenian cultures).

FeatureMost of the discussion here seems to centre upon place rather than specific cultures, although it is suggested that 'people from the west infiltrated the [eastern bloc] region, which was already inhabited by groups representing the eastern bloc' (see feature link).

The Villabruna Cluster emerged about 12,000 BC as the genetic features of Europeans and Near Easterners became more closely related to each other, hinting at an expansion from the south-eastern part of Europe and coinciding with the end of the last expressions of the Baradostian culture and the beginning of the Zarzian in the Near East. Multiple, large-scale movements of people which displace previous groups can be seen in this period.

Unfortunately this population expansion and movement came to an end as the cool, near-glacial climate warmed at the end of the Fourth (Würm) Glacial Period (around 10,000 BC), and herd animals became scarce. The Magdalenian was succeeded by the Azilian of Southern Europe (in Spain and southern France), by the later-appearing Sauveterrian of Northern Europe (between northern France and Central Europe), by the Epigravettian in the central south, and by the Shan Koba in Eastern Europe's Crimea.

The Azilian was much simplified, with a poverty of art. The richness of Magdalenian culture seemingly owed much to the abundance of food, allowing time for leisure and the development of religion and aesthetics but later times destroyed this abundance.

Homo Neanderthalis

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by David Reich (Harvard Medical School), 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 What is left of the Badegoulian 'interlude'? (Science Direct).)

c.15,400 BC

Having succeeded the Solutrean culture, 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.

The people who are using these seasonal settlements are from the Western European ice age refuges in France or Italy, now expanding outwards with the retreat of the ice. Large, open-air campsites are known from Lake Neuchatel, and the Neuweid and Paris basins, and these are matched by substantial rock shelter occupations in the Rhine-Danube watershed, the uplands of southern Germany, Thuringia, and Belgium.

FeatureThere is far less activity to the south (of the Epigravettian culture) and east, apart from around the Black Sea coast (around a millennium before the flood which produces today's much bigger Black Sea - see feature link).

Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, England
Towards the very end of the Magdalenian culture, habitation in the British Isles would become possible for the first time in several thousand years, and Magdalenian groups made some of the first homes in the caves of Cheddar Gorge in Somerset

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.

For the next two thousand years the northern shoreline stands near Saratov on the middle River Volga and Orenburg on the River Ural, restricting east-west movement south of the Ural Mountains.

The Khvalynian Sea separates the already noticeably different late-glacial forager cultures which prosper to the east and west of the Ural Mountains (for the latter see, especially, the Elshanka culture onwards).

c.10,000 BC

FeatureThe most recent ice age is now fast fading in its intensity. As the ice recedes northwards, anatomically modern human hunter-gatherers reach Britain. Their arrival may be as much as the eighth such wave of settlement over the course of 700,000 years, but the first to last any appreciable time. (see feature link)

By this date so-called 'Aborigines' have been in Australia for at least fifty-five thousand years, greatly outlasting the human occupation of the British Isles.

Gough's Cave human bones
The 2017 report on the Gough's Caves bones helped to strengthen the case for cannibalism in the cave some twelve thousand years ago during the early post-glacial occupation of Britain by modern humans

FeatureThese early arrivals in Britain largely live in caves. Gough's Cave in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, is one such site for these people (see feature link). It is a fairly dry place which makes a good camp, with a good food supply from the land immediately outside.

The Gorge channels animals such as horse and red deer quite close to the caves, and setting up ambushes to trap game as it goes past is relatively easy.

c.10,000 BC

By this time Europe's monolithic Magdalenian culture can certainly be divided into regional divisions. The first is the Azilian which may emerge alongside the early Magdalenian and which predominates in Southern Europe, flanked to its east by the Epigravettian.

A second division is the Federmesser group which has already solidified its influence across Northern Europe to include the Creswellian in Britain.

The Swiderian culture also appears around early Poland about a millennium after the Magdalenian fades. The later-appearing Sauveterrian flourishes in northern France and Central Europe. The Shan Koba has already emerged in Eastern Europe's Crimea.

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