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Les Faons aux Oiseaux

TitleLes Faons aux Oiseaux
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2002
JournalLe Propulseur
Publication LanguageFrench

J. Whittaker: [In French] Of about 100 Upper Paleolithic European spearthrowers, 7 from France represent the “fawn with birds” motif [a hornless ungulate peering backward over its shoulder at the hook, which is usually interpreted as showing a bird pecking at a fecal pellet emerging from the anus.] All are from Pyrenees and dating to the middle Magdalenian, C14 dated 15,340-13,280 BP. There are two complete (Mas d’Azil and Bedheilhac) and five partial. The facial and back markings indicate Rupicapra [Chamois], not fawns or wild sheep, although they lack the small horns of chamois. The bird interpretation has never been convincing [very true!]; the hooks actually resemble hooks on other spearthrower forms, and Bandi (1988) has convincingly argued that they represent a birth. Perforations and traces of resin suggest additional decoration.
The fragmentary specimens seem to be the same as the two whole, but the quality of representation varies, so they are not the work of one artist. The similarities here and in other Paleolithic art show strong cultural rules producing stereotyped representations. Only spearthrowers have the birthing chamois motif, and if we have 7 surviving, there must have been many.
All are male type spearthrowers, and all are carved of reindeer antler. Only Mas d’Azil is complete enough to show how a wooden handle might have been attached by three perforations, and since it is only 30 cm long, there must have been one, since ethnographic spearthrowers average around 69 cm. Replication experiments show that a lot of time was required, although with practice one gets better with stone tools. Soaking the antler in warm water makes it easier to work. Burins and other stone tools can leave a smooth finish, or the antler can be polished with fine sand or ochre, which is visible on the Bedeilhac specimen. The pieces studied are relatively heavy, around 60 gm, and perhaps helped counterbalance the spear. However, they also seem fragile, especially those with perforations separating the legs, and may have been less functional than decorative or ritual. [Strength is hard to estimate, and may not matter too much if the spear is not too heavy. Emmanuel is one of the modern French using replicas of Mas d’Azil with heavy spears. Pascal Chavaux is another, and says he has broken some throwers.]