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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

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.

Azilian pebbles

Painted, and sometimes engraved pebbles (or "cobbles") are a feature of core Azilian sites; some 37 sites have produced them. The decoration is simple patterns of dots, zig-zags, and stripes, with some crosses or hatching, normally just on one side of the pebble, which is usually thin and flattish, and some 4 to 10 cm across. Large numbers may be found at a site. The colours are usually red from iron oxide, or sometimes black; the paint was often mixed in Pecten saltwater scallop shells, even at Mas d'Azil, which is far from the sea. Attempts to find a meaning for their iconography have not got very far, although "the repeated combinations of motifs does seem to some extent to be ordered, which may suggest a simple syntax". Such attempts began with Piette, who believed the pebbles carried a primitive writing system.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Azilian" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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