Research Paper: Archaeological Interpretations of Upper Paleolithic

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[. . .] The question posed is how many numbers of types are needed to label an assemblage as Aurignacian? (Bar-Yosef, 2002, p.372)

It is reported that the use of one morph-type such as the carinated narrow cores from which bladelets were removed and known as rabot in the French Aurignacian cannot justify being named as assemblages Aurignacian. It is reported that this type of core reduction strategy is illustrated from "various geographically and temporally isolated sites such as the 20 Ka Upper Paleolithic layers in the Caucasus and 17-15 Ka Kebaran assemblages in the Levant." (Bar-Yosef, 2002, p.372) In the eastern Mediterranean costal ranges the presence of the Levantine Aurignacian is reported to be upon the bases of "the assemblages that contained carinated nosed scrapers." (Bar-Yosef, 2002, p.372) It is reported that the utilization of the classification systems which are traditional combined with attribute analysis are necessary for documentation and reporting of excavation and survey results although the naming of the industries should be done with caution and avoided should be "…hasty, unfounded long-distance correlations that without justification suggest expansions of prehistoric cultures or migrations." (Bar-Yosef, 2002, p.372)

II. Problems in Interpreting Paleolithic Cave Art Subjects and Form

There are reported to be many problems in interpreting "the organization of animals and symbols in Paleolithic cave paintings. One known is that the conditions in which the cave paintings are now viewed are "radically different from conditions under which they are likely to have been produced." (Perception, 2006, p.719) The paintings in caves were produced and then viewed in "dark-adapted conditions under torchlight, which gives a warm, yellow-orange light." (Perception, 2006, p.719) Pigments in cave paintings are reported as being "predominantly red and black, with less use of yellow, brown, and white." (Perception, 2006, p.719) Torchlight would result in yellow appearing more like orange with red being paler and browner in appearance both of which are a better representation of the colors of animal hides, which are painted on the cave walls.

Ernst Gombrich (1989-2001) in his reference to the various modes of representation of space as the 'riddle of style' asked the question of why "is it that different ages and different nations have represented the visible world in such different ways?" This is stated to be true although there is little change in human genetics for the past forty thousand years. Stated is "Objects would have been seen as having specific sizes and locations; they could be approached and grasped or avoided; some, like other animals, moved and their motion through space could be predicted." (Perception, 2006, p.719) It is reported that one aspect that has failed to remain unchanging over time is reported to be "how objects are represented pictorially." (Perception, 2006, p.719)

It is stated that there have been radical changes of style in the depiction of objects over the last 30,000 years in recorded art however, cave painting may be held as the longest retained style over the longest period with few changes occurring across thousands of years and with examples that are similar discovered over wide geographical areas. In addition, cave paintings cannot be considered as progressing from simple to complex chronologically as "many of the oldest works appear to us as more sophisticated than painting made thousands of years later." (Perception, 2006, p.719)

III. Examination of the Hidden Meaning of Forms

The work of Fritz and Tosello (2007) examines the hidden meaning of forms and states that Paleolithic art, and most particularly cave art is difficult to examine. This is because engraved figures accomplished with flint tools are not very visible following thousands of year's effects of erosion. In order to decipher these required are variations in light although it is preferably subtle and often very low light and this results in difficulty in camera recording of the engravings. In addition, underground photography is difficult and does not result in the hoped for outcomes. Problems are also experienced when the images are viewed in situ and in the challenges presented in reproducing the images. (Fritz and Tosello, 2007, paraphrased) It is reported that there were great difficulties with the first parietal imagery reproduction however, the tracings in the 1950s were completed with indelible ink and felt tip pens and on sheets of polylene plastic that were translucent and then held very close to the walls of the cave. (Fritz and Tosello, 2007) There was a methodological change of a significant nature during the 1970s, which happened in France when tracing began being done through tracing the picture taken of the actual work of art however, the result is stated to be an optical distortion inherent in the transformation of the three dimensional cave wall into a photograph that is only two dimensional. (Fritz and Tosello, 2007, paraphrased) The difficulty in the reproduction of the cave walls resulted in criticism of the use of this methodology. The process of recording cave art is reported to have been compared to archaeological excavation because it is the recording of the cave art, just as the archaeological excavation that provides meaning to the material that is discovered however, the nature of the cave wall images remains as undiscovered material. (Fritz and Tosello, 2007, paraphrased)


There has been great difficulty in the analysis of both representation in form and the dating of time of Paleolithic art and as well the spread of Paleolithic tool production techniques due to limitations in traditional and radiocarbon dating techniques and methodologies. This study has reviewed material relating to data of Paleolithic items and cave art and has found that are there ambiguities existing which serve to leave questions remaining about the date of Paleolithic spread of these production techniques.


Just as in any other are of study, there are varying opinions on how items should be properly dated and the creators of the items designated. This is especially true in regards to Paleolithic tool production and cave paintings due to the regional differences in Paleolithic archaeological finds. This study has examined these various methodologies and findings in studies and noted the questions that still remain in this area of study which includes questions related to how long the Neanderthals actually survived in Eurasia as well as the identity of prehistoric cultures, and the question of whether prehistoric migrations or climatic changes caused the cultural changes. This study has also noted topics of debate which include whether the Upper Paleolithic transition was a major evolutionary event on a global basis or whether it was a gradual event and whether that driving change was biological or cultural in nature or even both of these and finally whether the Upper Paleolithic archeological finds are markers for the ability of modern culture and the point in time at which the archaeological documents may be interpreted as emerging modern behavior.


Bar-Yosef, O. (2002) The Upper Paleolithic Revolution. Annu. Rev. Ahtropolog. 2002.


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APA Format

Archaeological Interpretations of Upper Paleolithic.  (2011, December 1).  Retrieved March 26, 2019, from

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"Archaeological Interpretations of Upper Paleolithic."  1 December 2011.  Web.  26 March 2019. <>.

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"Archaeological Interpretations of Upper Paleolithic."  December 1, 2011.  Accessed March 26, 2019.