Something remarkable happened during the Upper Paleolithic. Culture appeared in the form of art. This is the first evidence of not just complex cultural behavior but the emergence of symbols and abstract thinking. The Upper Paleolithic was a time of great transition. The Neanderthals disappeared from Europe by 33,000 years ago, and modern humans inherited a world unto themselves.
In recent years, the notion of a “Creative Explosion” has given way to the recognition of a long history of development of abstract human behaviors. Long before we humans left Africa, there is no doubt that things really got cooking. Stone tools of the Upper Paleolithic were primarily blade-based technology, stone pieces that are twice as long as they are wide, and generally having parallel sides. People created an astonishing range of formal tools, implements created to specific, wide-spread patterns. In addition to stone lithics, bone and antler, shell and wood were also used, including the first eyed needles presumably for making clothing about 21,000 years ago.
The Upper Paleolithic is perhaps best known for the abundance of cave art, wall paintings and engravings of animals and abstractions created in caves such as Altamira, Lascaux and Coa. Mobile art, including the famous Venus Figurines and sculpted batons of antler and bone carved with representations of animals, also appear in this period, but it is the debate that has raged for twenty years about the Slovenia artifact that most provokes argument. This 50,000 year old bone fragment from a cave bear might just be a flute manufactured by a premodern human, possibly a Neanderthal. Visit the Music of Sound website to check out the Divje Babe artifact for yourself.