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Stratum Plus. 2000. № 1

L. B. Vishnyatsky (St.-Petersburg, Russia)

«The Upper Paleolithic Revolution»: its Geography, Chronology, and Causes

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Pages: 245-271

The author starts with a general overview of archaeological data pertaining to the problem of the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition in the regions from Siberia to Iberia. These data are used then to criticize the extremities of the so called «acculturation hypothesis». The subsequent analysis of the principal approaches to the explanation of the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition shows that most of them either are at variance with the available evidence (biological and accumulationist models) or refer to such causes of change which themselves remain unexplained (technological, sociological, and linguistic models). The only approach that seems to be devoid of these shortcomings is the ecological one, assigning the major part to demographic factors. There are three fundamental facts that can shed a very important light on the transition problem, but have not yet been fully explored in the existing interpretative theories. First, it was exactly by the end of the Middle Paleolithic time that the Old World oecumene had acquired a shape close to the present one, and almost all areas with tolerable environments were occupied. Second, as it can be inferred from archaeological, archaeozoological, and genetic data, the appearance of the earliest UP was preceded by (and perhaps accompanied with) a demographic explosion. Third, and most significant, the distribution of the earliest UP strictly coincides with the distribution of the «classic» Neanderthals (the Levant, the Zagros, the Caucasus, the Balkans, West and Central Europe, the South Russian Plain, Crimea, Southern Siberia), while the regions where no Neanderthals are known either have not yielded any true UP at all (East/Southeast Asia, Australia) or yielded rather late UP/LSA (Indian subcontinent, most of North Asia), even despite the long presence of anatomically modern humans (Subequatorial Africa). It can thus be argued that the technological and other changes marking the transition took place there and only there where the expanding modern populations met Neanderthals (and vice versa) and where the former and the latter had to compete for vital resources. Neither the available chronological data nor what we know about the association between different early UP industries and hominid morphotypes give grounds to believe that the UP culture(s) was brought to Europe (as well as Near East, South Siberia, etc.) from elsewhere. Rather there was a series of broadly coeval local transitions prompted by the need to intensify the resource procurement under stress conditions when escaping to free lands was no longer possible. So understood, the «UP revolution» signifies the end of the extensive phase in the evolution of culture and the transition to the intensive mode of development.

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