The Azilian is an archaeological culture of the Epipaleolithic of Western Europe. It was initially defined by Édouard Piette in 1889 from the industries discovered in the Mas-d”Azil cave in Ariège. In this deposit, layers with numerous painted pebbles and flat harpoons are interspersed between the Magdalenian and Mesolithic levels.
The Azilian begins around 14,000 years before present (AP). It straddles the cool Alleröd interstadial and, from 12,900 years BP, the last glacial phase of the Recent Dryas. Early in the period, reindeer begin to give way to deer. Deer antlers are used to make flat harpoons, often coarse and perforated with an elongated notch at the base.
The Early Azilian is characterized by a clear increase in back points; burins decrease in favor of short scrapers, and the blades show a still quite neat and calibrated cutting. The Late Azilian is marked by unstandardized cut supports, armatures calibrated by retouching, numerous back points and rare burins.
Contrary to the assertions of Piette (1895), the perforated harpoon is not an absolute marker.
Backed points are obtained by abrupt retouching. Shaped like a penknife blade (as described by Édouard Piette), these pieces have since been known as Azilian points and are considered to be throwing weapon points.
The lack of precision in the initial definition has led prehistorians from different countries to recognize Azilian industries in many different contexts from Cantabrian Spain to Switzerland, Scotland (Obanian), Italy (Romanellian), the Netherlands (Tjongerian), Romania (Clisurian) and the Crimea (Shan Koba culture).
The Azilian is more or less contemporary with the Federmesser culture of northern Europe. These industries, dated from about 14,000 to 11,600 years ago, share some common features (painted or engraved pebbles), but some local variants have been given specific names or are simply referred to as Epipaleolithic.
The Mas-d”Azil (reference site, Ariège), the Bois Ragot (Gouex, Vienne), the Tourasse (Saint-Martory, Haute-Garonne), the Scilles and Gouërris (Lespugue, Haute-Garonne), the Bichon and the Monruz site in Neuchâtel (canton of Neuchâtel, Switzerland), Hauterive-Champréveyres (lake of Neuchâtel, Switzerland).
Azilian art was long considered to be characterized by the abandonment of figurative drawing in favor of abstraction, but a plate dated to about 12,000 years ago AP discovered in Angouleme, engraved with four superimposed animal drawings (one of which is surrounded by the characteristic rays of Azilian art), attests to the continuity with Magdalenian art.