The Gravettians were the most successful human survivors of the last ice age. They provided most of the DNA for modern Europeans. They were nomads from the Black Sea region who made their homes mammoth skin tents held together by salvaged mammoth bones on the open treeless land. These people developed spear throwers to kill the large mammoths and they tamed wolves like dogs to protect their encampments from intruders and to help them hunt. Food was scarce in the last glacial maximum and survival depended on food, shelter, and intelligence as well as some innovation.
The Gravettians existed from about 33,000 to about 17,000 years ago. At one point these people were replaced by the Solutreans in France and Spain but they continued elsewhere. Their origins are unclear and they seem to have appeared throughout Europe at about the same time. They were known for their Venus figurines and they were first identified by archaeologists at a site known as La Gravette in Southwestern France.
The Gravettians invented what is known as the “Gravette Point.” It was a small pointed blade with a straight blunt back. They used these points for hunting horses, bison, reindeer, and mammoths. They also used nets to hunt small game.
Traditionally, archaeologists divide these people into two groups. The Western Gravettians found in Spain, France, and the UK and the Eastern Gravettians found in Russia and Central Europe. It was the eastern group that specialized in hunting the big mammoths and so they’ve been given the name “mammoth hunters.”
The Gravettians were a strong and innovative people. They had to be because they survived the last ice age. They had warm clothing made from animal hides including hats adorned with shells. Trousers were made from animal skin and also adorned with shells. They were also artistic as demonstrated by their carved Venus figurines and other artistic objects. The appear to have used every part of the great mammoth. They made hide boots to keep their feet warm and tunics along with capes all adorned with shells.
The Gravettians were somehow able to soften and straighten mammoth tusks. These had a variety of used apparently. Because of the harshness of the cold climate everything needed to be fashioned and made to precision and extremely reliable. Clothes, boots, sledges, weapons….everything had to be made well because the very lives of these people depended on it, literally. A hand exposed to the cold arctic air would become frostbitten within minutes. Death was ever around them lurking in the cold and ice. One wrong move meant certain death.
It appears that these people also took pride in themselves as figurines of them show them with neatly combed and trimmed hair, decorative belts, and well made clothing.
The Eastern Gravettians included a people known as the Pavlovian Culture. This culture existed in an area known as Moravia which is in northern Austria and southern Poland. This culture existed roughly between 29,000 — 25,000 years ago. They had a sophisticated stone tool technology and survived on the edge of the ice sheets during the last ice age. They too were mammoth hunters and built their homes out of mammoth bones and skin. They also employed weaving to make clothing and, in fact, a textile impression pressed into wet clay is the oldest proof we have for the existence of weaving by humans!
The Gravettians were survivors! They learned how to endure one of the toughest times in our planets geologic history. They were strong and intelligent. They had to be or they would not have survived and had they not then no one of European heritage would be alive today.