Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 236–255 | Cite as

After the Deep Freeze: Confronting “Magdalenian” Realities in Cantabrian Spain And Beyond

  • Lawrence Guy Straus


The Magdalenian culture-stratigraphic unit in Western Europe, despite being a construct of nineteenth-century prehistoric archeologists, does have reality as a continuous network of human inter-relationships, whose ecologically transcendent range expanded through the course of the Late Last Glacial, in many ways reminiscent of Braudel’s histoire de la longue durée—in this case lasting some 9,000 calendar years. At the scale of the moyenne durée, the Magdalenian underwent several reorganizations [represented by its Initial, Lower, Middle, Upper, Final, and Epi-Magdalenian (i.e., Azilian, Federmesser) stages]—with distinctly regional manifestations and inter-regional connections—that in part can be understood in light of environmental/resource changes and variations at the scales of millennia and natural regions. At the scale of the courte durée, we are dealing with the adaptations of local and regional hunter-gatherer bands and the peculiarities and vicissitudes of their circumstances measured by forager group territories and centuries. Numerous, diverse concrete archaeological manifestations of territories and inter-group contacts support the growing consensus about the social reality of the Magdalenian phenomenon and the changes and variations that characterized it within a range that ultimately stretched from Portugal to Poland during the last millennia of the Pleistocene. Here, the focus is on Cantabrian Spain as one of the core or source areas of the Magdalenian cultural tradition that arose out of the Solutrean experience some 20,000 calendar years ago (about a millennium later than in France) and that was intimately linked to the process of human recolonization of upland and northerly regions of western and ultimately central Europe during the course of Greenland Stadial 2 and early Greenland Interstadial 1. Finally, archaeological and paleobiological indicators clearly point to major breaks in human adaptations and ways of understanding the human place in the universe a few centuries after the onset of Holocene conditions in Vasco-Cantabria, i.e., the development of Mesolithic cultures about 11,000 calendar years ago.


Magdalenian Cantabrian Spain Western Europe Late Last Glacial Upper Paleolithic adaptations 



My sincere thanks to Valentine Roux and Marie-Agnès Courty for their invitation to and hospitality at the very stimulating Arkeotek Workshop in Nanterre in January 2011 and for their comments on several drafts of this paper. The paper also profited greatly for the suggestions of Françoise Audouze and two anonymous reviewers. While I may not have agreed with or followed all of their diverse recommendations, the paper has evolved greatly as a result.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anthropology, MSC01 1040University of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA

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