The Magdalenian (also Madelenian; French: Magdalénien) cultures are later cultures of the Upper Paleolithic in western Europe, dating from around 17,000 to 12,000 years ago.[1] It is named after the type site of La Madeleine, a rock shelter located in the Vézère valley, commune of Tursac, in the Dordogne department of France.

Originally termed L'âge du renne (the Age of the Reindeer) by Édouard Lartet and Henry Christy, the first systematic excavators of the type site, in their publication of 1875, the Magdalenian is synonymous in many people's minds with reindeer hunters, although Magdalenian sites also contain extensive evidence for the hunting of red deer, horses, and other large mammals present in Europe toward the end of the last ice age. The culture was geographically widespread, and later Magdalenian sites have been found from Portugal in the west to Poland in the east. It is the third epoch of Gabriel de Mortillet's cave chronology system, corresponding roughly to the Late Pleistocene.

Homo Sapiens in Europe - magdalenian distribution map-de
Geographical rangeWestern Europe
PeriodUpper Paleolithic
Datesc. 17,000 – c. 12,000 BP[1]
Type siteAbri de la Madeleine
Major sitesCave of Altamira, Kents Cavern, Lascaux
Preceded bySolutrean
Followed byAzilian, Ahrensburg culture

Period biology

The Magdalenian epoch was a long one, represented by numerous stations, whose contents show progress in the arts and general culture. It was characterized by a cold and dry climate, the existence of humans in association with the reindeer, and the extinction of the mammoth. The use of bone and ivory for various implements, already begun in the preceding Solutrian epoch, was much increased, and the period is essentially a bone period. The bone instruments are quite varied: spear-points, harpoon-heads, borers, hooks, and needles.

Most remarkable is the evidence La Madeleine affords of prehistoric art. Numbers of bones, reindeer antlers, and animal teeth were found, with crude pictures carved or etched on them of seals, fishes, reindeer, mammoths, and other creatures. The best of these are a mammoth engraved on a fragment of its own ivory; a dagger of reindeer antler, with a handle in form of a reindeer; a cave-bear cut on a flat piece of schist; a seal on a bear's tooth; a fish drawn on a reindeer antler; and a complete picture, also on reindeer antler, showing horses, an aurochs, trees, and a snake biting a man's leg. The man is naked, which, together with the snake, suggests a warm climate in spite of the presence of the reindeer.

The fauna of the Magdelenian epoch seems, indeed, to have included tigers and other tropical species side by side with reindeer, blue foxes, Arctic hares, and other polar creatures. Magdelenian humans appear to have been of low stature, dolichocephalic, with a low retreating forehead and prominent brow ridges.


Magdalenian tools 17000 9000 BCE Abri de la Madeleine Tursac Dordogne France
Magdalenian tools and weapons, 17,000–9,000 BCE, Abri de la Madeleine, Tursac, Dordogne, France
Pincevent tent
Magdalenian people dwelt not just in caves, but also in tents such as this one of Pincevent (France) that dates to 12,000 years ago.

The culture spans from approximately 17,000 to 12,000 BP, toward the end of the last ice age. The Magdalenian tool culture is characterised by regular blade industries struck from carinated cores. Typologically, the Magdalenian is divided into six phases which are generally agreed to have chronological significance. The earliest phases are recognised by the varying proportion of blades and specific varieties of scrapers, the middle phases marked by the emergence of a microlithic component (particularly the distinctive denticulated microliths), and the later phases by the presence of uniserial (phase 5) and biserial 'harpoons' (phase 6) made of bone, antler, and ivory.[2]

There is extensive debate about the precise nature of the earliest Magdalenian assemblages, and it remains questionable whether the Badegoulian culture is, in fact, the earliest phase of the Magdalenian. Similarly, finds from the forest of Beauregard near Paris often have been suggested as belonging to the earliest Magdalenian.[3] The earliest Magdalenian sites are all found in France. The Epigravettian is a similar culture appearing at the same time. Its known range extends from southeast France to the western shores of the Volga River, Russia, with a large number of sites in Italy.

The later phases of the Magdalenian are also synonymous with the human re-settlement of north-western Europe after the Last Glacial Maximum during the Late Glacial Maximum. Research in Switzerland, southern Germany,[4] and Belgium [5] has provided AMS radiocarbon dating to support this. Being hunter gatherers, Magdalenians did not simply re-settle permanently in north-west Europe, however, as they often followed herds and moved depending on seasons.

By the end of the Magdalenian, the lithic technology shows a pronounced trend toward increased microlithisation. The bone harpoons and points have the most distinctive chronological markers within the typological sequence. As well as flint tools, the Magdalenians are best known for their elaborate worked bone, antler, and ivory that served both functional and aesthetic purposes, including perforated batons. Examples of Magdalenian portable art include batons, figurines, and intricately engraved projectile points, as well as items of personal adornment including sea shells, perforated carnivore teeth (presumably necklaces), and fossils.

The sea shells and fossils found in Magdalenian sites may be sourced to relatively precise areas of origin, and so have been used to support hypothesis of Magdalenian hunter-gatherer seasonal ranges, and perhaps trade routes. Cave sites such as the world-famous Lascaux contain the best known examples of Magdalenian cave art. The site of Altamira in Spain, with its extensive and varied forms of Magdalenian mobiliary art has been suggested to be an agglomeration site where many small groups of Magdalenian hunter-gatherers congregated.[6]

In northern Spain and south-west France this tool culture was superseded by the Azilian culture. In northern Europe it was followed by different variants of the Tjongerian techno-complex. It has been suggested that key Late-glacial sites in south-western Britain also may be attributed to the Magdalenian, including the famous site of Kent's Cavern, although this remains open to debate.

Besides La Madeleine, the chief stations of the epoch are Les Eyzies, Laugerie-Basse, and Gorges d'Enfer in the Dordogne; Grotte du Placard in Charente and others in south-west France.

See also

Preceded by
17,000–9,000 BP
Succeeded by


  1. ^ a b Dates given vary somewhat: [1], [2], Britannica.
  2. ^ (Sonneville-Bordes & Perrot, 1954–56)
  3. ^ (Hemmingway 1980)
  4. ^ (Housley et al. 1997)
  5. ^ (Charles 1996)
  6. ^ (Conkey 1980)
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Madelenian" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 283–284.
  • Charles, R. (1996): Back into the North: the Radiocarbon evidence for the Human Recolonisation of the North Western Ardennes after the Last Glacial Maximum. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 62: 1-17.
  • Conkey, M.J. (1980): The identification of prehistoric hunter-gatherer aggregation sites: the case of Altimira. Current Anthropology 21: 609-630.
  • Hemingway, M.F. (1980): The Initial Magdalenian in France. British Archaeological Reports International Series 90. 2 Vols.
  • Housley, R.A, Gamble, C.S., Street, M. & Pettit, P. (1997): Radiocarbon Evidence for the Lateglacial Human Recolonisation of Northern Europe. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 63.
  • Lartet, E & Christy, H. (1875): Reliquae Aquitanicae: being contributions to the archaeology of Périgord and adjoining provinces of Southern France. Williams & Norgate. London.
  • Sonneville-Bordes, D. de & Perrot J. (1954–1956): Lexique typologique du Paléolithique supérieur. Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique Française 51: 327-335, 52: 76-79, 53: 408-412, 53: 547-549.
  • Straus, Lawrence Guy (1992) : Iberia Before the Iberians. University of New Mexico Press.

External links


The Azilian is a name given by archaeologists to an industry in the Franco-Cantabrian region of northern Spain and southern France. It probably dates to the period of the Allerød Oscillation around 14,000 years ago (uncalibrated) and followed the Magdalenian culture. It can be classified as part of the Epipaleolithic or the Mesolithic periods, or of both.

Archaeologists think the Azilian represents the tail end of the Magdalenian as the warming climate brought about changes in human behaviour in the area. The effects of melting ice sheets would have diminished the food supply and probably impoverished the previously well-fed Magdalenian manufacturers, or at least those who had not followed the herds of horse and reindeer out of the glacial refugium to new territory. As a result, Azilian tools and art were cruder and less expansive than their Ice Age predecessors - or simply different.

Diagnostic artifacts from the culture include Azilian points (microliths with rounded retouched backs), crude flat bone harpoons and pebbles with abstract decoration. The latter were first found in the River Arize at the type-site for the culture, the Grotte du Mas d'Azil at Le Mas-d'Azil in the French Pyrenees (illustrated, now with a modern road running through it). These are the main type of Azilian art, showing a great reduction in scale and complexity from the Magdalenian Art of the Upper Palaeolithic.


The Brillenhöhle (German: Brillenhöhle, literally spectacles cave) is a cave ruin, located 16 km (9.94 mi) west of Ulm on the Swabian Alb in south-western Germany, where archaeological excavations have documented human habitation since as early as 30,000 years ago. Excavated by Gustav Riek from 1955 to 1963, the cave's Upper Paleolithic layers contain a sequence of Aurignacian, Gravettian and Magdalenian artifacts. In 1956 the first human fossils were discovered within a fireplace in the center of the cave, a discovery which made important contributions to the foundational understanding of the Magdalenian culture of central Europe.

Cap Blanc rock shelter

The abri de Cap Blanc is a prehistoric limestone rock shelter with Magdalenian animal sculptures. It is in the Marquay commune on the right bank of the Beune River, a few kilometers west of Eyzies-de-Tayac, in Dordogne.

Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain

Under the name Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain (Cueva de Altamira y arte rupestre paleolítico del Norte de España) are grouped 18 caves of northern Spain, which together represent the apogee of Upper Paleolithic cave art in Europe between 35,000 and 11,000 years ago (Aurignacian, Gravettian, Solutrean, Magdalenian, Azilian).

They have been collectively designated a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 2008.

Chief among these caves is Altamira, located within the town of Santillana del Mar in Cantabria. It remains one of the most important painting cycles of prehistory, originating in the Magdalenian and Solutrean periods of the Upper Paleolithic. This cave's artistic style represents the Franco-cantabrian school, characterized by the realism of its figural representation. Altamira Cave was declared a World Heritage Site in 1985.

In 2008 the World Heritage Site was expanded to include 17 additional caves located in three autonomous regions of northern Spain: Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country.

Cave of Altxerri

The Cave of Altxerri (in Spanish "Cueva de Altxerri", and in Basque Altxerriko leizea or Altxerriko koba) is located in the municipality of Aya (Gipuzkoa) in the Basque Country (Spain).

The original grotto preserves rock paintings and engravings which have been dated from the end of the Upper Magdalenian period, within the Upper Paleolithic; the pictures situated in an upper gallery, known as Altxerri B, have been dated in a 2013 study as the oldest stone paintings in Europe, with an estimated age of 39,000 years.Its artistic style forms part of the so-called Franco-Cantabrian School, characterized by the realism of the figures presented.

Altxerri houses one of the largest sets of rock engravings of the area. It contains around one hundred and twenty engravings of which ninety-two are of animals. The bison is the best-represented animal, with a total of fifty-three engravings. Other animals present in the cave are the reindeer, with six engravings, four deer and goats, three horses and aurochs, two saiga antelope, a wolverine, a fox, a hare and a bird.

It was declared a World Heritage Site in 2008, together with sixteen other caves situated in Northern Spain, as part of the group known as the Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain.

Creswellian culture

The Creswellian is a British Upper Palaeolithic culture named after the type site of Creswell Crags in Derbyshire by Dorothy Garrod in 1926. It is also known as the British Late Magdalenian. The Creswellian is dated between 13,000–11,800 BP and was followed by the most recent ice age, the Younger Dryas, when Britain was at times unoccupied by humans.

El Mirón

El Mirón is a municipality located in the province of Ávila, Castile and León, Spain. According to the 2006 census (INE), the municipality has a population of 198 inhabitants. The number increased to 207 in 2012.The name came into attention upon the discovery an Upper Paleolithic (Magdalenian) skeleton in 2015 from the El Mirón Cave. The skeleton was that of a woman and is coated with ochre (a red pigment), hence she is nicknamed The Red Lady of El Mirón. The woman is about 35 to 40 years of age, and was buried around 18,700 years ago.

El Mirón Cave

The El Mirón Cave is a large cave in the upper Asón River valley towards the eastern end of Cantabria in northern Spain, near the border of the Basque Country. It is an archeological site in Ramales de la Victoria. It is known for a skeleton belonging to a woman nicknamed The Red Lady of El Mirón. She is estimated to have died around 18,700 years ago, during the Upper Paleolithic (Magdalenian). The skeleton is examined to that of someone between 35 and 40 years. Her bones were coated with ochre, a red iron-based pigment, hence, her name.

The cave was discovered in 1903 by amateur archaeologists Hermilio Alcalde del Río and Lorenzo Sierra. It contains a rich collection of Upper Paleolithic art. Among the prominent arts are those of an engraving of a horse and possibly one of a bison. The first systematic excavation started only in 1996. The team of archaeologists, led by Lawrence Straus of the University of New Mexico and Manuel González Morales of the University of Cantabria, made a discovery of a number of prehistoric remains. The Red Lady was discovered in 2010. The cave contains a large limestone block towards the rear. A narrow space running through the block was the location of the skeleton..

European early modern humans

European early modern humans (EEMH) in the context of the Upper Paleolithic in Europe refers to the early presence of anatomically modern humans in Europe. The term "early modern" is usually taken to include fossils of the Ahmarian, Bohunician, Aurignacian, Gravettian, Solutrean and Magdalenian, extending throughout the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), covering the period of roughly 48,000 to 15,000 years ago, usually referred to as the Cro-Magnon. The earliest sites in Europe dated 48,000 years ago are Riparo Mochi (Italy), Geissenklösterle (Germany), and Isturitz (France). The upper limit of 15,000 marks the transition to the European Mesolithic, depending on the region also given in the range of 12,000 to 10,000 years ago.

Use of "Cro-Magnon" is mostly to times after the beginning of the Aurignacian proper, c. 37 to 35 ka. Genetically, EEMH form an isolated population between 37 and 14 ka, with significant Mesolithic admixture from the Near East and Caucasus beginning around 14 ka. The description as "modern" is used as contrasting with the "archaic" Neanderthals who lived within Europe from 400,000 to 37,000 years ago.

The term EEMH is equivalent to Cro-Magnon Man, or Cro-Magnons, a term derived from the Cro-Magnon rock shelter in southwestern France, where the first EEMH were found in 1868. Louis Lartet (1869) proposed Homo sapiens fossilis as the systematic name for "Cro-Magnon Man". W.K. Gregory (1921) proposed the subspecies name Homo sapiens cro-magnonensis. In literature published since the late 1990s, the term EEMH is generally preferred over the common name Cro-Magnon, which has no formal taxonomic status, as it refers neither to a species or subspecies nor to an archaeological phase or culture.Another known remains of EEMH can be dated to before 40,000 years ago (40 ka) with some certainty: those from Grotta del Cavallo in Italy, and from Kents Cavern in England, have been radiocarbon dated to 45–41 ka. A number of other early fossils are dated close to or just after 40ka, including fossils found in Romania (Peștera cu Oase, 42–37 ka) and Russia (Kostenki-14, 40–35 ka). The Siberian Ust'-Ishim man, dated to 45 ka, was not geographically found in Europe, and indeed is not part of the "Western Eurasian" genetic lineage, but intermediate between the Western Eurasian and East Asian lineages.The EEMH lineage in the European Mesolithic is also known as "West European Hunter-Gatherer" (WHG). These mesolithic hunter-gatherers emerge after the end of the LGM ca. 15 ka and are described as more gracile than the Upper Paleolithic Cro-Magnons. The WHG lineage survives in contemporary Europeans, albeit only as a minor contribution overwhelmed by the later Neolithic and Bronze Age migrations.

Federmesser culture

Federmesser group is an archaeological umbrella term

including the late Upper Paleolithic to Mesolithic cultures of the Northern European Plain, dating to between 14,000 and 12,800 years ago (the late Magdalenian). It is closely related to the Tjongerian culture, as both have been suggested.

It includes the Tjongerian sites at Lochtenrek in the Frisian part of the Netherland, spanning the area of Belgium, the Netherlands, northern France, northern Germany and Poland (Tarnowian and Witowian cultures). It is also closely related to the Creswellian culture to the west and the Azilian to the south. The name is derived from the characteristic small backed flint blades, in German termed Federmesser ("quill knife"). It is succeeded by the Ahrensburg culture after 12,800 BP.

Grotte du Bichon

Grotte du Bichon is a karstic cave in the Swiss Jura, overlooking the Doubs river at an altitude of 846 m, some 5 km north of La Chaux-de-Fonds. It is the site of the discovery of the skeleton a hunter-gatherer of the Azilian (late Upper Paleolithic to early Mesolithic), dubbed "Bichon man" (homme de Bichon), a young male about 20 to 23 years old, carbon dated to 13,770–13,560 years ago (95% CI). The skeleton was discovered in 1956, about 15 m from the cave entrance, intermingled with the bones of a female brown bear, nine flint arrowheads and traces of charcoal. In 1991, flint chips were found embedded in the bear's third vertebra, without indication of healing, suggesting the interpretation that the bear was wounded by arrows, retreated into the cave, and was pursued by the hunter, who made a fire to fumigate the bear from the cave, but was killed by the dying animal.A genetic analysis of the man showed membership in the "West European Hunter-Gatherer" lineage known from younger fossils of the European Mesolithic. He was a bearer of Y-DNA haplogroup I2a and of mt-DNA haplogroup U5b1h. Y-DNA haplogroup I2a probably arose in Europe prior to the Last Glacial Maximum. Morphologically, his skull was described as relatively long, with a low face and subrectangular eye-sockets. He would have weighed just above 60 kg (130 lb) at a height of 1.64 m (5 ft 5 in). He was relatively slender, but muscular (based on muscle attachments visible on the skeleton), with a pronounced lateral asymmetry suggesting right-handedness. Study of carbon and nitrogen fractionations suggests a largely meat-based diet.


Hohlenstein-Stadel is a cave located in the Hohlenstein cliff (not to be confused with the Hohle Fels) at the southern rim of the Lonetal (valley of the Lone) in the Swabian Jura in Germany. While first excavations were started after the second half of the 19th century, the significance of some of the findings was not realized until 1969. The most significant finding was a small ivory statue called the Löwenmensch, which is one of the oldest pieces of figurative art ever found.

The name of the cliff is derived from a combination of Hohlenstein meaning "hollow rock" and Stadel meaning "barn". The Hohlenstein cliffs are made of limestone which was hollowed out by natural causes to create caves. The Stadel is one of three caves in the area that are of important paleontological and archaeological significance. The other two are Die kleine Scheuer (Small barn) and the Bärenhöhle (Bears' cave). In 2017 the site became part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Caves and Ice Age Art in the Swabian Jura".

Las Caldas cave

Las Caldas Cave and the surrounding partial nature reserve (Reserva Natural Parcial de la Cueva de las Caldas) is a protected area covering 45 hectares within the Nalón Valley in the Municipality of Oviedo in the vicinity of the towns of La Piñera and Las Caldas.

The cave itself has a length of about 600 m and has three entrances. The main cavity is around 5 m high and contains a subterranean river. The cave has no particular geological significance but it is important for the wildlife and archaeological sites from the Solutrean and Magdalenian periods located there.Bats living in the cave include the medium mouse-eared bat, cave bat, greater horseshoe bat, lesser horseshoe bat and Natterer's bat.

Archeological excavations in the cave have become one of the most important Upper Paleolithic sites in the Asturias region. Finds from the cave are of exceptional quality and include amongst others:

the Venus of Las Caldas, a Magdalenian antler carving with an ibex's head and a woman's legs and genitals, that may be either a Venus figurine or decorated atlatl-type device

paleolithic rock art

two stylised overlapping female profiles on an engraved rod dating from the Middle Magdalenian.

a stone plaque displaying a woman's stylised profile,

a whale and 2 bisons engraved onto a sperm whale teeth,

a high quality unused rock-crystal laurel leaf point,

engraved horse teeth,

a horse bone carved with bison heads.


Laugerie-Basse is an important Upper Paleolithic archaeological site within the territory of the French commune Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil in Dordogne. It is known for several works of art from the Magdalenian.


Raymonden is a prehistoric cave near Chancelade in the French département Dordogne. The cave was inhabited during the Upper Paleolithic and contained, besides lots of artefacts, a human skeleton.


Rochereil is a prehistoric cave near Lisle in the French département Dordogne. Besides around 4000 stone and bone artifacts it contained the tomb of an adult human, the perforated skull of a two-year-old child and fossilized bones of two adolescent individuals.


Santimamiñe cave, Kortezubi, Biscay, Basque Country, Spain, is one of the most important archaeological sites of the Basque Country, including a nearly complete sequence from the Middle Paleolithic to the Iron Age.Its complete sequence includes the following cultures:







AzilianPlus unclassified remains of the Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Bronze and Iron ages.

It is best known for its mural paintings of the Magdalenian period, depicting bisons, horses, goats and deers.

Its excellent location over the Urdaibai estuary was probably most important in its continued habitation, first by Neanderthals and later by Homo sapiens.

Since 2008, it is one of the caves included as a World Heritage Site within "Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain".


Tursac is a commune in the Dordogne department in Nouvelle-Aquitaine in southwestern France. Abri de la Madeleine is the site of Magdalenian prehistoric finds.

Venus of Monruz

The Venus of Monruz (also Venus of Neuchâtel, Venus of Neuchâtel-Monruz) is a Venus figurine of the late Upper Paleolithic, or the beginning Epipaleolithic, dating to the end of the Magdalenian, some 11,000 years ago.

It is a black jet pendant in the shape of a stylized human body, measuring 18 mm in height. It was discovered in 1991, at the construction of the N5 highway, at Monruz in the municipality of Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

The Venus figurines of Petersfels from a site near Engen, Germany, bear remarkable resemblance to the Venus of Monruz. Especially the biggest of them, called Venus from Engen may have been done by the same artist. It is also made of jet, and also dates to the Magdalenian - to ca. 15,000 years ago. The sites of discovery of the two figurines are about 130 km apart,.

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