Human Evolution

, Volume 14, Issue 1–2, pp 139–149 | Cite as

Iberia: bridge or cul-de-sac? implications of the Iberian record for the debate on the middle to upper palaeolithic transition

  • Straus L. G. 


Recent discoveries and dating of materials from Spain and Portugal for the period between c. 40–30 kya highlight the fact that the Iberian Peninsula is a microcosm of the complex mosaic of conditions that characterized the middle to upper palaeolithic and Neanderthal to Cro-Magnon transitions. They would tend to suggest that the replacement of one way of life by another was suggest that the replacement of one way of life by another was far from rapid, abrupt or simple, and they call into question the “out of Africa” invasionist scenario. Although Iberia seems to have been a “bridge” between Africa and the rest of Europe during certain times (notably at the time of the first colonization(s) of Europe, perhaps in the late Lower Pleistocene, as suggested by the discoveries at Atapuerca), at other times it seems to have been cut off from Africa. Despite the presence of Aurignacian technology in Cantabria and Catalonia since 40 kya, the continued persistence of Neanderthals and of Mousterian technology for over 10 ky in southern Iberia would seem to belie the superiority and African origin of upper palaeolithic Cro-Magnon. Furthermore, even in northern Spain, where the taxonomic identity of the makers of the early Aurignacian remains unknown, the nature of the technological transition was variable: abrupt in Catalonia and gradual in Cantabria. Added to the rest of the record, which includes Neanderthals apparently making Châtelperronian tools in France, Szeletian tools in Hungary and later Aurignacian tools in Croatia, a complete lack of any fossils in definite association with early Aurignacian anywhere, evidence of subsistence and technological change during the Mousterian in certain regions of Europe, scant evidence for cultural differentiation between Neanderthals and early anatomically modern humans (Skhul & Qafzeh) in Israel, growing (albeit limited) evidence for middle palaeolithic artistic or ornamental activity, and evidence for considerable, on-going change in technology and subsistence during the upper palaeolithic, the Iberian record strongly argues for a long, uneven transition from middle to upper palaeolithic lifeways- not a simple, abrupt invasion of Europe out of Africa.

Key words

Iberia Spain Portugal upper palaeolithic middle palaeolithic Neanderthal Homo sapiens sapiens 


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Copyright information

© International Institute for the Study of Man 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Straus L. G. 
    • 1
  1. 1.Dept. of AnthropologyUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA

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