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The Upper Paleolithic period of tool making encompasses a number of industries that overlap. It was dominant from about 40,000 to 12,000 years ago and appears to have developed simultaneously in Africa and in Asia. The early industries are associated with both Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis, while the later belong solely to Home sapiens.

In this period, there is a greater variety and complexity of tools (in design and materials used) and regional styles. This period also marks a very important part of human development, namely the production of purely decorative objects. Tools from the Upper Paleolithic include normal blades, barbed points, end scrapers, burins (chisel-like stones for working bone and ivory), bone points, ivory beads, tooth necklaces, and abstract animal or human figurines. This greater specialization implies an increased refinement in the objects these tools were used to produce, such as sewn clothing, which emerges during this time.

Art develops, in the form of painting, sculpture and the decoration of practical items. This is often viewed not as the occurrence of art for art’s sake, but rather the Paleolithic art is seen as man’s attempt to control his environment through symbols and representations of that environment.

The Upper Paleolithic is divided into five industries (the Perigordian being made up of two distinct industries):

Aurignacian: (40,000 to 28,000 years ago) This industry is associated with both Homo sapiens and Neanderthals. Tools include split-based spear points made of bone and engraving tools. The blades and points are finer than in previous industries.

Perigordian: This term is given to the period that followed the Mousterian industry, was contemporary in part with the Aurignacian, and was succeeded by the Solutrean. It is divided into two parts.

Châtelperronian: (40,000 to 34,000 years ago) The first half of the Perigordian stage. This is a variant of the Aurignacian industry that was associated with and Homo neanderthalensis in Europe and Africa. Tools included bone points, awls, and burins, plus perforated or incised mammal canines and incisors and ivory beads and pendants. The hybrid nature of this industry (coupling Homo sapien and Neanderthal technologies) implies that there was trade between the two species or imitation of Homo sapien technology by the Neanderthals.

Gravettian: (28,000 to 22,000 years ago) The second half of the Perigordian stage. Bevel based bone points are added during this industry. More notable are the Venus figurines and the ivory beads that appear in burial sites that indicate more sophisticated religion.

Solutrean: (22,000 to 19,000 years ago) This industry is marked by graceful leaf-shaped points (willow leaf, laurel leaf and shouldered). Flint stoned were heated and cooled to control the shattering. Some of these points are so fine as to be useless as tools and are believed to be luxury items. Materials were apparently chosen for beauty as well as usefulness, and jewelry and art were produced.

Magdalenian: (18,000 to 12,000 years ago) Projectiles defined this industry, with increased use of small flakes for arrows and spear points, and also barbed harpoons. The atlatl (a device for throwing a spear with greater force) comes into use. During this time, humanity’s greatest tool, symbolic representation, becomes widespread in the form of paintings and sculpture. The people who utilized this technology were reindeer hunters during the last Ice Age.

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