The Aurignacian period (40,000 to 28,000 years ago) is an Upper Paleolithic stone tool tradition.

Ancient Upper Paleolithic

The bearers of most or all Upper Paleolithic technologies were H. sapiens. The oldest remains of modern humans from 43-45,000 years ago have been discovered in Italy and in Britain. Some locally developed transitional cultures in Central Europe, Chatelperronian use clearly Upper Paleolithic technologies at very early dates and there are doubts about who their carriers were: H. sapiens or Neanderthal man. Nevertheless, the definitive advance of these technologies was made by the Aurignacian culture. By 37,000 BP, the Aurignacian culture and its technology had extended through most of Europe. The last Neanderthals seem to have been forced to retreat during this process to the southern half of the Iberian Peninsula. The first but scarce works of art appear during this phase.

Middle Upper Paleolithic

Around 32,000 years ago, the Gravettian culture appeared in the Crimean Mountains (southern Ukraine). By 24,000 BP the Solutrean and Gravettian cultures were present in the southwestern region of Europe. The Gravettian technology/culture has been theorized to have come with migrations of people from the Middle East, Anatolia, and the Balkans. They might be linked with the transitional cultures mentioned before, because their techniques have some similarities and are both very different from Aurignacian ones but this issue is very obscure. The Gravettian also appeared in the Caucasus and Zagros mountains. It soon disappeared from southwestern Europe, with the notable exception of the Mediterranean coasts of Iberia.

The Solutrean culture, extended from northern Spain to south-east France, includes not only a beautiful stone technology but also the first significant development of cave painting, the use of the needle and possibly that of the bow and arrow. The more widespread Gravettian culture is no less advanced, at least in artistic terms: sculpture (mainly venuses) is the most outstanding form of creative expression of these peoples.

Late Upper Paleolithic

Around 19,000 BP, Europe witnesses the appearance of a new culture, known as Magdalenian, possibly rooted in the old Aurignacian one. This culture soon supersedes the Solutrean area and also the Gravettian of Central Europe. However, in Mediterranean Iberia, Italy, the Balkans and Turkey, cultures continue evolving locally. With the Magdalenian culture, Paleolithic development in Europe reaches its peak and this is reflected in art, owing to previous traditions of paintings and sculpture.

Epi-PaleolithicAround 12,500 BP, the Würm Glacial age ends. Slowly, through the following millennia, temperatures and sea levels rise, changing the environment of prehistoric people. During this time, Ireland and Great Britain become islands, and Scandinavia is separated from the main part of the European Peninsula, known as Doggerland. Nevertheless, Magdalenian culture persists until circa 10,000 BP, when it quickly evolves into two microlithist cultures: Azilian, in Spain and southern France, and Sauveterrian, in northern France and Central Europe. Though there are some differences, both cultures share several traits: the creation of very small stone tools called microliths and the scarcity of figurative art, which seems to have vanished almost completely, being replaced by abstract decoration of tools.

In the late phase of this epi-Paleolithic period, the Sauveterrean culture evolves into the so-called Tardenoisian and influences strongly its southern neighbour, clearly replacing it in Mediterranean Spain and Portugal. The recession of the glaciers allows human colonization in Northern Europe for the first time. The Maglemosian culture, derived from the Sauveterre-Tardenois culture but with a strong personality, colonizes Denmark and the nearby regions, including parts of Britain.