History Files

European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Sauveterrian Culture (Epi-Palaeolithic / Upper Mesolithic) (Europe)
c.8500 - 6500 BC

This Epi-Palaeolithic (Late Palaeolithic) culture was one of those which succeeded the Magdalenian in northern France and across into Central Europe, although it was preceded by Northern Europe's grouping of similar areas of technology which are usually brought together under the term 'Federmesser'.

The Azilian had formed in Southern Europe as a simplified form of the Magdalenian during a period in which food was more scarce and there was less time available for exploring the expanding boundaries of art and early religion. Alongside it, in Europe's north, the Magdalenian continued to evolve into more than one regional type, including the Hamburg and Sauveterrian cultures, the latter of which began to push down into Azilian territories while the Epigravettian continued to the east.

The Sauveterrian was at first identified and described in southern France during the 1920s. Following the discovery of similar lithic assemblages in north-eastern Italy (in the Adige Valley), during the 1970s it was proposed that this culture had developed over a large territory with central areas which are represented by southern France and northern Italy.

The presumed uniformity of this complex was based, in particular, on the presence in both regions of needle-like backed points (Sauveterre points) and triangular microliths. Within the context of the important environmental changes which characterised the Late Glacial and Early Holocene periods, Sauveterrian technology was fundamental in allowing the development of a complex settlement structure, one which was characterised by a mobility system which was based on relatively short distances and with a strong logistic component.

In time the Sauveterrian came to exhibit - or archaeology came to realise it was exhibiting - two styles or technical variations which can be characterised as western ('Sauveterrien') and eastern ('Sauveterriano'). There was also a 'British Sauveterrian' which existed in the west of England, with those industries which exhibited the clearest affinities with the continental Sauveterrian occurring there and in Wales.

Strangely no examples have been identified in southern and eastern England, making its appearance farther west a bit of a mystery. Other minor regional cultures existed simultaneously across the south so it is possible that its entry point has been masked by contemporary or slightly later developments.

In time the Azilian, weak as it already was, came to be influenced by the Sauveterrian - and then dominated by it in the Iberian peninsula. The Sauveterrian itself was succeeded across most of France and western Central Europe by the Tardenoisian, although the relationship between the two is open to interpretation.

British Mesolithic tool

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Préhistoire de France, F Bourdier (Paris, 1967), from Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Moravia, Martin Oliva (Moravian Museum, 2005), from Europe in the Neolithic: The Creation of New Worlds, A W R Whittle (Cambridge University Press, 1996), from The Origins of European Thought, R B Onians (Cambridge University Press, 1988), from Sauveterrian hunter-gatherers in Northern Italy and Southern France, Davide Visentin (Doctoral thesis, Università degli Studi di Ferrara & Université Toulouse - Jean Jaurès, 2014/2016), and from External Links: Mesolithic Culture of Europe (PDF, Vidya Mitra Integrated E-Content Portal), and Technological continuity and discontinuity in the Romagnano Loc III rock shelter (NE Italy) Mesolithic series, Federica Fontana, Elisabetta Flor, & Rossella Duches (ResearchGate).)

c.8000 BC

The first human occupants of the post-glacial Northern European plains - especially those of the Ahrensburg and Hamburg cultures - had continued late-glacial hunting adaptations which focussed on reindeer and elk. The later North European groups, such as those of the Maglemosian, had increasingly focused their efforts on red deer, wild cattle, and marine mammals.

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)

Cultures in the temperate forests of Europe, such as the Azilian, Tardenoisian, Sauveterrian, and Montadian, furnish evidence of the deliberate and organised exploitation of forest resources and at a much improved and more intensive rate than ever before (see map link for a view of Europe at this time).

Harvested resources include acorns, hazelnuts, wild cattle, boar, fallow deer, red deer, and ibex. Sauveterrian assemblages are generally thought to post-date Maglemosian culture, or to be contemporary with the later Maglemosian.

Sauveterrian tools
A selection of two cores from the Sauveterrian sequence of Romagnano Loc III (Italy), both showing on-edge exploitation

c.6500 BC

Having succeeded the Azilian in Southern Europe, plus areas of the former Ahrensburg in upper Central Europe, Mesolithic Europe now begins to give way in part to the first Neolithic Farmer culture settlements. These start off in Greece around 6700-6500 BC, in the form of the Sesklo.

In Northern Europe the Maglemosian continues for another half a millennium, while in Iberia the Asturian has already been flourishing for most of a millennium.

c.2800 - 2000 BC

A shift to drier conditions has been taking place since about 3300 BC. As a result the steppe has been growing and the steppe people have kept on increasing their herds, feeding them by moving them more often.

Around this time the population build-up and changing conditions generates a flood of migration into Central Europe and northern Italy, part of the Yamnaya horizon.

It is these West Indo-Europeans who pick up the influence of the originally-Iberian Bell Beaker horizon. They do so enthusiastically, turning it into a true Bell Beaker culture across central, southern, and Western Europe.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.