Palaeolithic Savagery

[V. Gordon Childe. Chapter 2 (28-47)].

First period — human history — still interwoven with natural history. Emergence of man + first tools = 500,000 years ago. `…man became human by labour.’ (28).

Age — assigned > beginning of Pleistocene epoch (precedes Holocene — began 10,000 years ago). Only towards close of middle Pleistocene — c. 140,000 years ago = first true homes = Neanderthals.

Neanderthalers + other middle Palaeolithic contemporaries > credited with positive contributions to human culture. Wider, more varied and differentiated equipment than predecessors. [See Levallois. Hawkes = 124-5, 131-3, 145, 182, 212, 216, 225, 2391.

European Neanderthalers = hunters (woolly rhinoceros, mammoths etc) and ‘…such big game could not be pursued profitably by isolated families.’ (34). Furthermore `…their economy required some social organisation.’ (34).

They devised — socially sanctified burial rites, excavated graves — in caves the living used for homes, situated near hearths. Deliberately chosen burial positions = generally doubled up. Thus — from `…middle palaeolithic times ceremonial burial can be traced continuously…’ (35).

Further rituals = heaps of deliberately, ceremonially arranged bones, skulls. Alpine caves = cave bears. Arrangements suggest rituals performed by hunting tribes (bear spirit) ensuring of bear multiplication to hunt >

Perhaps `…proof of hunting magic, if not worship, before the last ice-age…even the rude Neanderthaler had an ideology.’ (35). Neanderthal culture + stock — vanish from Europe — close of last ice-age.

In following period — modern men appear — Europe, N & E Africa, Palestine, China. Emerge differentiated — distinct varieties.

modem men enhances the plausibility of the theory that direct ancestors of modem Homo sapiens had been evolving earlier in the pleistocene.’ (36).

Modem men appear — upper palaeolithic — enormously better equipped than lower/middle palaeolithic times. New equipment = ….from the first differentiated by divergent social traditions, diubtless in response to varying environments, we can, henceforth distinguish several cultures corresponding to several social groups.’ (36).

Upper Palaeolithic Cultures

= best defined types. Chatelperronian (France). [Hawkes 138-9, 241].

Aurignacian (Hither Asia, Crimea, Balkans, Central Europe, and in France after Chatelperronian). [Hawkes 139, 186, 241, 279].

Gravettian (north Pontic zone, succeeds Aurignacian in Central Europe and France. Spreads thus > England, Spain). [Hawkes 141, 143, 155, 200, 242, 264, 307].

Aterian (Africa). [Hawkes 145, 246-247].

Capsian (later in North Africa). [Hawkes 104, 147-148, 247, 321].

Subsequent local cultures appear = Solutrean, Magdelanian in western Europe. None of these social groups coincide with races! Thus — Grimaldians + Cro-Magnon = Gravettian culture.

Common = all upper palaeolithic societies = use of bone, ivory tools. Plus — distinctive traditions in flint-work. Aterians still employed Levallois techniques (plus other societies — China, Africa, Siberia). Common — all upper palaeolithic societies in Old World = burin (graver).

Economically — upper palaeolithic societies = savage. Livelihood = hunting, fishing, collecting. However — methods/equipment > revolutionary improvement.

Europe = several hunting communities > sub-arctic climate. Vast herds — mammoths, bison, reindeer, wild cattle, horses = organised hunts. 3

Dordogne + slopes – Pyrenees, Cantabrian mountains = cave dwellings = Aurignacians + Gravettians – hunted on nearby plains. Magdelanians caught fish. [Hawkes 143, 186-187, 189, 207, 224, 235, 243, 2761.

Upper palaeolithic hunting tackle = enriched by many fresh inventions. Aterians, Capsians + European, Asian contemporaries = bow/arrow. Bow = ‘…first composite mechanism devised by man.’ (38). Also – spear throwers (Magdelanians).

Therefore men were ‘„.no longer content to extemporise tools to meet immediate needs, but had the foresight to make tools for making tools – secondary and tertiary tools…’ (38). Mastery – wood, stone + bone, antler, ivory + polishing.

Pursuit of large gregarious animals – Aurignacians, Gravettians – rquired `…the cooperation of a group larger than the natural family…’ (39).

Some sexual division of labour – deducible. Indications – interchange of products between distinct communities [examples 391. Upper palaeolithic groups – not entirely isolated. Upper palaeolithic societies – spiritual equipment.

Dead Grimaldians + Cro-Magnons = interred with greater ceremony than Neanderthalers. Graves = food, implements, ornaments. Bones – reddedned – ochre.

Restoration of skin colour (ochre) = symbolic. This ‘…confusion of the symbol with the thing symbolised lies at the root of “sympathethic magic”.’ (40). Tenacity – tradition of ochre sprinkling – lasted 20,000 years.

Magic rites – ensure food supply, promote multiplication of game, secure success in chase. Gravettians = carved figures of women (ivory, stone), modelled figures of women (clay, ash) = Venuses.

Emphasised – sexual characters. Used – fertility rituals. Thus – grasped generative function of women – magical extension > plants, animals.

France – Gravettians + Magdelanians = elaborated other rites. Cave pictures rhinoceros, mammoth, bison, reindeer. All = food. Portraits not symbols. Magic art. Artists liberated from hunt [women].

Specialised craftsmen. Productive ritual. Emergence — first specialists. Supported social surplus of foodstuffs. Thus the ‘…economic prerogatives of the specialised magician are based upon socially sanctified superstition.’ (41). Surplus — appropriated by magician.

When forest invaded steppe (in France) = close of last ice-age. Magic = no avail. Bison, reindeer, mammoth > vanished. The Magdalenians with them.

Tundra shifted north — reindeer migrated. Men followed. Hunters further south migrated > Holstein (every summer) — killed reindeer. First catch > thrown in lake. This = sacrifice — to some spirit (of herd?).

Sacrifice indicates ‘…some correlative conception of spirits to be placated and conciliated…reached…at least 10,000 years ago.’ (42). Thus in Old Stone Age savagery we = …can discern the germs of religion, the propitiation by a collective social sacrifice of spirits, conceived as having human emotions and desires, in contrast to the vaguer and impersonal forces that magic is supposed to “control”, often for individual rather than social ends.’ (42).

Same duality of motive = establishment of hunting equipment — life-like carvings, engravings animals (Gravettians, Magdelenians). Similarly ‘Art and fashion are as definitely rooted in the Old Stone Age as magic and superstition.’ (43). In Ice Age Europe — savagery = dazzling culture production > supported a substantially increased population.

Early Holocene

Mesolithic (archaeological). Instead of Gravettian + Magdelenian cave dwellers > small scattered groups in forest glades, sea shores, river banks. Hunting — game, fowl, fish. Thus ‘…mesolithic societies leave an impression of extreme poverty.’ (43).

Mesolithic sites — Portugal, France, Baltic, Crimea = bones of dogs first found. Dogs hunting — red deer, wild boar, hares etc. Mesolithic Europe — dog = partner in man’s food quest.

Mesolithic societies — wooded plains — English Pennines > Urals. First — devise equipment dealing with timber, forest. Forest/timber working = ‘…the outstanding factor differentiating the holocene from the pleistocene environment.’ (44).

Mesolithic forest folk — blades of flint, stone on wedges of antler. Created regular carpenters kit adzes, gouges. Transport = sledges.

Palaeolithic savages did advance beyond Old Stone Age — but remained savages. But — some societies `…by an economic revolution, emerged from savagery and progressed much faster.’ (44).

Inherent defects of savagery as an economy

Savagery `…led to an impasse — a contradiction — and, had that contradiction never been surmounted, Homo sapiens would have remained a rare animal — as the savage in fact is.’ (45).

Pataeolithic savagery = biological limitations + a magic superstructure. Spiritual culture `…what sort of ideology effectively lubricates the operations of a food-gathering economy.’ (45). Thus — savage ideological survivals seemed to clog the workings of barbarian and civilised economies.

Contemporary savage tribes — generally `…groups of clans which, being more stable, overshadowed or even replace the family as an institution…clansmen are regarded as related in virtue of mystical descent from a totem “ancestor”: (45).

Totem = generally — edible animal, insect, plant. But = important in the tribal economy. More rarely — a natural phenomenon. Descent — sometimes male, sometimes female line. Kinship system — determines mutual rights/duties of clan-members, in particular — who may marry whom. Such a kinship system = frequently classificatory. [Kinship paragraph = p 461].

Ideology of Savagery

Expressed — words (spells) + imitative actions (rites) > that symbolise changes in the real world that society wishes to bring about.

Each totem clan performs periodically “…dramatic ceremonies supposed to ensure the multiplication of the ancestral animals or plants…the symbol confused with the result.’ (46).

Thus the ‘…impersonation of the totem by clansmen might lead to the personification of the ancestor. The word-book to a dramatic ceremony may become myth.’ (46).

From Savagery to Barbarism

The origin of agriculture — most important neolithic development. In mesolithic (somewhere between 9000-8000 BC) — groups of people (Asia Minor) began to adopt practice of cultivating plants + domesticating animals = source of food + raw materials.

Thus = agricultural revolution — great fertile river valleys — Nile, Mesopotamia. From savagery to barbarism — man moved forward to — active, purposeful control and ultimate mastery of nature.

This stage = larger settlements, more permanent. The first farming communities. First agricultural evidence = Natufians —lived in caves of Mount Carmel (Palestine) + neighbourhood of Lydda.

Natufians = Neanderthal characteristics. May be — intermediate stage in development > Cro-Magnon man (Homo sapiens).

Natufians = no pottery, no ground stone axes, no domestic animals. Not really Neolithic — but more settled than earlier or contemporaneous Palaeolithic communities. Hunting + fishing.

Beginning — live on grain — sickles — cutting siliceous grasses. Ancestors of wheta and barley. Grasses = grain supplement. Finally — learned to plant seeds, tended > reaped. Transferred grain fields > their villages.

The Old Stone Age

First, oldest — primitive cultures. Devised/used — stone implements = Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age). Three cultural elements of importance = (1) hand-axe industries, (2) flake industries, (3) blade industries. Not a progressive sequence. (1) and (2) overlap = oldst. (3) marks new level in making flint tools. 7

Late Palaeolithic = modem man = Chatelperronian, Aurignacian, Gravettian, Magdelenian cultures. But —older cultures still persisted alongside newer. Later Palaeolithic cultures — overlapped, interpenetrated.

The New Sone Age

Between Old Stone Age and New Stone Age = mesolithic period. Mesolithic = circa 12000 > 8000 BC = painted pebbles, tiny flint flakes (often set in bone).


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One response to “Palaeolithic Savagery

  1. Peregrine Hodson

    Thank you for some interesting and illuminating thought on the Upper Palaeolithic. I have made some lithic discoveries which I would like to discuss with you. Could I send you some pix? All the best- Peregrine Hodson 07855852721

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