When most of us think about the Paleolithic, if we think about it at all, we think of our “Stone Age” ancestors clad in fur against the Ice Age cold, leaving their brightly painted caves to hunt mammoth. As a teenager in 1989, I visited the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian and bought one of my first books specifically about the Paleolithic in the gift shop, Paul Bahn and Jean Vertut’s gorgeous Images of the Ice Age. Through no fault of the authors, the book reinforced my childhood view of “deep” human history being a time populated by mammoths and men — humans like us.
As true as it may feel, the Upper Paleolithic is hardly ancient in the grand scheme of things, representing as little as one quarter of our species’ existence, and a minuscule fraction of the time our genus Homo has walked the earth. Nevertheless, the Upper Paleolithic, as remote as it may seem to all of us living in the post-Neolithic Holocene, still somehow feels like “our” Stone Age — a time we can relate to, with its art, complex technology, and nearly global scale.
Quibbles with perceptions of antiquity aside, it’s hard to argue that the Upper Paleolithic wasn’t beautiful. The books in my Upper Paleolithic reading list reflect the beauty and complexity of the time when we finally became us.
- Images of the Ice Age by Paul G. Bahn & Jean Vertut (1988)
- The Cave Beneath the Sea: Paleolithic Images at Cosquer by Jean Clottes & Jean Courtin (1994)
- Dawn of Art: The Chauvet Cave (The Oldest Known Paintings in the World) by Jean-Marie Chauvet, Eliette Brunel Deschamps, Christian Hillaire, with an introduction by Paul Bahn and epilogue by Jean Clottes (1995)
- Kebara Cave, Mt. Carmel, Israel, Part I: The Middle and Upper Paleolithic Archaeology edited by Ofer Bar-Yosef & Liliane Meignen (2008)
- Cave Art by Jean Clottes (2010)