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Aurignacian Culture

Perhaps one of the oldest cultures in prehistoric Europe is the artistically inclined Paleolithic Aurignacian culture, dated roughly 47,000 to 41,000 BP (years before present or 39,000 to 45,000 BC). The name’s designation came about by archaeologists examining a certain site in the commune of Aurignac in what is today the Haute-Garonne region of southwestern France.

Perhaps the most famous and widely recognized iconic figure of the culture is the “Lion Man” an anthropomorphic ivory statue depicted as an erect man with the head of a cave-lion, thought to be an extinct species of lion that existed in Europe at the time. Archaeologist Robert Wetzel discovered the statue in pieces in the Holhenstein-Stadel cave in the Swabian Alps of Germany in 1939. However, once World War II broke out, excavations halted, and Robert donated the pieces and other artifacts to the Museum of Ulm, in Ulm Germany. There, the pieces collected dust until several decades later a museum worker rediscovered the statue and pieced it together for the first time. In 1954, Robert Wetzel returned to Holhenstein-Stadel cave and worked there until his death in 1961, recovering many Paleolithic artifacts and several remains of Neanderthal.

Ivory figurines. A: Cave Lion head. B: Horse. C: Mammoth. D: The Holhenstein-Stadel "Lion man"

Although many studying the Aurignacian believe the artwork and artifacts are strictly the work of modern cro-magnon man, there is actually little hard evidence of anatomically modern humans found alongside such remains of the culture in Europe. The prolific amounts of Neanderthal bones found amidst the Holhenstein-Stadel cave, as well, would seem to suggest that even Neanderthals might have been the primary characters that fashioned such artifacts. However, since there is a deep-seated bias over the complexity of the Neanderthal man, due to his apparent brutish appearance and stocky gait, many scholars think that that is simply not possibly, even though consistently, the cubic brain capacity of Neanderthal skulls measures higher than that of modern Homo sapiens. 

The only known undisputed associations of typical Aurignacian artifacts with modern humans is the Egbert skeleton found in what is now modern Beirut in Lebanon. There, Levantine Aurignacian industries overlay the skeletal remains, which dated to 40,000 to 45,000 years old. Hence, the Levantine type probably represents the oldest root of the culture and the origins of the Aurignacian in the middle-east. The only other modern human remains linked to the Aurignacian culture in Europe are located at the Mladec Cave deposit in the modern Czech Republic. Five individuals there dated to roughly 31,000 to 32,000 years old. Three skeletons, described as “robust” by P. Mellars in “Evolutionary Anthropology” Vol 15, found in the Pestera cu Oase cave in Romania, are not directly associated with the Aurignacian layer, but seem to coexist in the same rough “geographic” horizon. The apparent robustness of the specimens may in fact be indicative of a later cross-breeding and subsequent sharing of culture between Neanderthals and Aurignacian cro-magnons from the Levant, as a number of scientists have voiced in recent years a possible intermingling of the two separate branches of humanoids which might explain what could be essentially called a “breeding-out” of Neanderthal man in Paleolithic times.  

An artist illustration by Libor Balak of an Aurignacian burial in Sunghir Russia. Over 2,936 ivory beads were counted amongst the burial, which included ivory armlets that showed traces of red and black paint.

The Aurignacians are renowned for their art, which often included elaborate ivory beaded burial outfits, many pendants, bracelets, and three-dimensional sculptures and the enigmatic Batons de Commandement. No one as yet knows the function (or lack there of) of these “batons” to the current day. The cave art the Aurignacians devised often depicted now-extinct European wholly Mammoths, wholly rhinoceros, and horses. Some of these paintings also seem to show the first anthropomorphic human figures, which suggests the first use of psychedelic substances, such as Psilocybin mushrooms, by prehistoric shamans. By ingesting the mushroom, a shaman was then able to enter into the dream-state and subsequently “transform”, in magico-religious terms, into an astral being, such as the lion-headed man sculpture discovered by Robert Wetzel, that could ascend into the heavens and act as guardians of the deceased’s journey through the afterlife.

The science writer and researcher Andrew Collins, in his seminal book, “The Cygnus Mystery”, tries to explain how this sudden leap in artistic expression and advancement by the Aurignacians and the use of hallucinatory drugs to gain access to the cosmic world, is the result of genetic mutations in human DNA which “broadened” the intellectual capacities of early humans. Proof for such jumps in radiation bombardment is evident in Greenland ice cores measuring distinct hikes in Beryllium particles, and simultaneously shows a major spike exactly around the year 40,000 BP, the beginnings of the Aurignacian in the Levant. The first officially labeled musical instrument in history , carved from the hollow-wing bone of a giant vulture, was found alongside small pieces of ivory flutes in Hohle Fels Cave in 2009, which might have seen use as a ritualistic “psycho-pomp”, a magico-religious device that allowed one’s astral counterpart to fly (as per the Vulture’s supernatural abilities magically locked within the wing-bone) into the darkest regions of the Milky Way galaxy rift, seen as the symbolic center of the cosmos, the home of all departed souls.

Another sign of greater sophistication unknown until the inventive Aurignacians, is their marked standardization of bone and antler tools, and blades fashioned from prepared cores rather than crude flakes.

 

 

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Catal Huyuk: Origins of Civilization

Cultures Index

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