Gravettian - into the Big Freeze

Image Source. The Venus of Brassempouy.

The Gravettian overlaps the late Aurignacian, dating from circa 33,000 years ago, and surviving until 20,000 years before present. This included the coldest peak of the last Ice Age, the Last Glacial Maximum around 24,000 years ago until 18,000 years ago. These really were Ice Age Europeans. Travel as far north as Britain must have taken place during warmer intervals. Otherwise the Gravettian is found in a band across Western Eurasia, which stretches from Portugal and the Basque region, through France, Germany, Czech republic, as far east as Georgia and South Russia.

Image Source. Female face. Ivory carving, Dolní Věstonice.

Gravettian yDNA haplogroups so far discovered are CT, I, IJK, BT, one C1a2 and one F.
Gravettian mtDNA haplogroups overwhelmingly U (mainly U2 and U5), with one M.

The Late Gravettian developed into a culture in France and Iberia, that we call the Solutrean. Meanwhile in the south east of Europe, from the Italian peninsula across the the Western Steppe, it diverged into the Epigravettian culture, which overlaps for much of its range with the Mammoth Steppe.

We identify a genetic ancestry profile in individuals associated with Upper Palaeolithic Gravettian assemblages from western Europe that is distinct from contemporaneous groups related to this archaeological culture in central and southern Europe4, but resembles that of preceding individuals associated with the Aurignacian culture. This ancestry profile survived during the Last Glacial Maximum (25,000 to 19,000 years ago) in human populations from southwestern Europe associated with the Solutrean culture, and with the following Magdalenian culture that re-expanded northeastward after the Last Glacial Maximum. Conversely, we reveal a genetic turnover in southern Europe suggesting a local replacement of human groups around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum, accompanied by a north-to-south dispersal of populations associated with the Epigravettian culture. 
A previously unknown population replacement event that was archaeologically invisible, occurring during the peak of the Ice Age.  This DNA was then passed on via the Solutrean people to the following Magdalenian people. 
Image Source. Triple Burial at the Upper Palaeolithic Site of Dolní Věstonice.

These people buried their dead more frequently in graves than did the Aurignicians.  The grave of three male teenagers at Dolní Věstonice was particularly enigmatic. The person on the left, has a hand placed over the stomach of the middle character, where red ochre had been applied. The central person had a curved spine, diagnosed as caused by chondrodysplasia calcificans punctata (CCP).  The body on the right had been placed facing down. Red ochre had also been applied to the heads of all three.

A Mirror into the Past and Present. On the Dolni Vestonice Triple Burial. 2020. Olga Viviana Nauthiz Szynkaruk
For their last journey, the individuals have been richly equipped with headdresses made of the teeth of the arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus), wolf (Canis lupus), and unidentified large predators. In the mouth of DV15, a mammoth ivory disc was placed.
Image Source. Gravettian points.

Prey appear less restrictive than for the earlier period which focused on reindeer. The Gravettians hunted deer, mammoth, hares, lions, bear, foxes. Rather than use split antlers as points, they used flint blades known as Gravettian points. There is evidence that the Gravettians had access to bows and to the spear thrower. Furthermore, they may have had the first domesticated animal, the dog.
Image Source (Flickr).  Altamira Cave Paintings. By Carlos Calamar

British Gravettian

Image Source (modified).  Find-spots in Britain of Gravettian tanged points. Northern Britain was covered by ice sheets, and the North Sea was dry, connecting Great Britain to the Continent.

Image Source. The Venus of Willendorf.


The Gravettians entered Europe in the long, slow run up to the Last Glacial Maximum, and endured much of it. Although they inhabited a vast region of Western Eurasia, their culture remained constant, albeit with some divisions between west and east. The Pavlovian Culture developed in the east as mammoth-hunters.  The Gravettians often buried their dead with much ceremony, wearing seashell beads, ivory, and animal teeth. They were successful and adaptive Ice Age hunters, preying on deer, reindeer, mammoth, fox, hare, hyena, wolf, seal, and foraged for shellfish. They lived in circular, semi subterranean shelters, but were mobile. Skilled artists with cave paintings and carved ivory. They tipped projectiles with flint blade points, and may have used bows, boomerangs and atlatls. Nets were woven, and lamps of stone used. They may have developed an early relationship with dogs.

During the Last Glacial Maximum, although their artefact culture continued, there was a population replacement event by people closer related to their Aurignician predecessors.  These later Gravettians fostered the Solutrean Culture in France and Iberia, and the Epigravettian culture of the east and south east.