ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT OF AURIGNACIAN OSSEOUS
TECHNOLOGY IN WESTERN EUROPE:
a Review of Current Knowledge
The exploitation of osseous materials is one of the main innovations associated with the advent of the Upper Paleolithic in Europe. The concept of the Aurignacian, as defined by Abbé Breuil, was used for a long time as a strong argument in favor of a cognitive revolution: its “sudden” appearance was linked to the rapid and systematic diffusion of the Aurignacian culture and the widespread distribution of split-based points in Europe, and upheld the idea of a clear biological and conceptual rupture with the Middle Paleolithic. Since then, several factors have contributed to undermining this model. Renewed studies of Aurignacian osseous technology in Western Europe contribute to the ongoing redefinition of the mechanisms behind the construction of the Upper Paleolithic in Europe.
Early Aurignacian osseous production was by no means limited to split-based points, and involved a wide variety of activities. The production of the different materials was already well structured and centered around three main spheres: reindeer antlers were mainly used for arms, bone for the fabrication of domestic equipment and ivory was mostly reserved for ornaments.
Although osseous technology was identified in some “transitional” groups, it spread and was durably integrated into techno-economical systems during the Aurignacian. It developed gradually in Europe and based on currently available knowledge, appears to have emerged in the Protoaurignacian societies of Western Europe. The emergence of this new technical domain seems to result from the transfer of wood working techniques to osseous materials, undoubtedly partly linked to a sudden shift in environmental conditions in Europe around 40000 BP. The evolution of osseous production during the course of the first phases of the Aurignacian provides evidence of profound techno-economic changes, which, backed up by data from lithic studies, reveals powerful sociological changes during the transition between the Middle and Upper Paleolithic.