© Antropark 2006
Illustrations and text © Libor Balák
Antropark Home Page
Translated and modified by Vít Lang after discussions with the author.
This is the website of the Czech Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Archaeology in Brno, The Center for Paleolithic and Paleoethnological Research
era of the great European cultures of the Northern-type hunters
WORLD OF THE GRAVETTIAN CULTURE
Middle Upper Palaeolithic, 35,000-24,000 years ago (30,000 – 20,000
radiocarbon years before present).
Gravettian of Italy
zoomorphic mask (a
reconstructional transformation of a tablet)
Gravettian of Italy is renowned above all for its figurines and burials. Buried people
often have archaeologically preserved appliqués, their caps being decorated
above all. Exceptionally there were also found some minor body decorations and
sometimes imaginative and complicated necklaces, which are unknown to North of
Italy. The Alps separated Italy from the colder part of Europe, which influenced
the existence and evolution of the Italian Gravettian. The climate here was
substantially less harsh than that in more northern parts of Europe. The
Gravettian of Italy existed 35,000 – 24,000 years ago (30,000 – 20,000 RCYBP),
and its prominent influence continued here for several successive millenia after
A small, stone zoomorphic
mask with a third eye
in the forehead. The tiny sculpture (several centimetres long) leads us to the
sphere of mysticism and mythology, which is unknown and mysterious to us.
mythological motive of a snake and a woman (a
reconstructional transformation of a sculpture)
The unity of polarity
of the two bodies. The front view tells us that the first body is obviously a
woman, whereas the second one is not a man, but a snake with a parted toothed
mouth and apparently slanting eyes on both sides of the head. The belly of the
snake bears notches that correspond to long transverse plates characteristic of
bellies of the snakes. This apparently mythological
motive of a snake and a woman
appears in probably all mythologies of the world including Australia and Asia.
The Old Testament told about Eve and the snake as well. The psychoanalyst Carl
Gustav Jung considered the snake one of the common archetypes. Various forms of
the unity of polarity were unearthed in other Gravettian archaeological sites of
boy from Arene Candide
(a reconstructional transformation of the burial)
The boy, buried in a
cave, wore a cap with hundreds of shells sewn on it. The objects on his
shoulders and his incredibly long stone blade are mysteries to us. The climate
of the Italian Gravettian was substantially warmer in comparison with the other
Gravettian sites in Europe. There were no mammoths and reindeer. Deer were the
main source of furs. A lot of awls found here testify to the fact that clothes
were sewn here.
For other material
concerning the appearance of the Gravettian people see
Gravettian of western Europe
portrait of the Lady of Brassempouy (a
reconstructional transformation of the carving)
Gravettian of western Europe spread from Wales in the British Isles through Belgium to southern
France. The term Gravettian comes from one of the archaeological sites in
France, and is applied to the cultures that produced - among other objects -small
pointed blades with specifically blunt backs. The Gravettian sites and female
figurines called Venuses – some of them very famous - have been known since
the nineteenth century. Some of the Venuses convey very important information on
the fashion of the era, for example the well-known Lady of Brassempouy.
Lady with a horn (a
reconstructional transformation according to the relief)
This French Venus
involuntarily shows us that it was possible to wear surprisingly long hair in
western Europe and that a horn was used for drinking, as it was common during
later periods. The whole figure was originally covered with red ochre.
Lady with a headdress
(a reconstructional transformation according to the relief)
Another relief shows a
segmented headdress, which is a unique matter among the Gravettian material.
of sculptures and their partial reconstruction
archaeologists do not unearth sculptures that look like those from the films
about Indiana Jones or the Treasure Hunters. In most cases, they find just
broken fragments of archaic works of art. Even these fragments can surprise you.
For example, the sculpture on the left reminds of a hairdo of Ancient Egypt or a
headgear of old Japan. The fragment on the right with a strange circle under the
chest may represent crossed hands or a very thick decorative belt.
For other material
concerning the appearance of the Gravettian people see the website
THE GRAVETTIAN OF CENTRAL EUROPE
Gravettian of Central Europe – the Pavlovian
and Kostenki-Willendorf cultures
The Gravettian of Central Europe has been treated separately and is located at www.iabrno.cz/agalerie/pavlova.htm
GRAVETTIAN OF EASTERN EUROPE
from Sungir (an
applied reconstructional transformation)
Gravettian of eastern Europe
enjoys a worldwide reputation for an incredibly rich archaeological material
including many expressive Venuses that mostly have short hairstyles. Incredibly
rich, unique burials are also well-known. The dream of every archaeologist, who
is involved in the Gravettian studies, is to discover and explore such a site as
Kostenki on the Don River. The Kostenkian, Kostenki-Avdeevo and Kostenki-Streletskaya
cultures are the examples of the cultures of the eastern European Gravettian.
archaeological discovery, which profoundly changed our view of the prehistoric
Excavations of the
Upper Palaeolithic site by the brook of Sungir, not far from Moscow, yielded a
fantastic and unexpected burial, approximately 29,500 years old (25,000 RCYBP).
The site is connected with the legendary archaeologist and sculptor M. M.
devised a methodology of making a portrait according to a skull, which is now
used worldwide by criminologists) and the archaeologist, specialist in the
Palaeolithic, O. N. Bader.
original publication dealing with the discovery
The front page of the
original book on the Upper Palaeolithic site of Sungir by O.N.Bader. (The
title of the publication was Sungir, antropologicheskoe issledovanie)
of the publications on Sungir
archaeologists involved in the Gravettian studies also published their unique
discoveries in other Russian books.
Portraits of a man and children from Sungir made according to their skulls
Mikhailovich Gerasimov worked out the portrait of the man, and his colleagues
made the portraits of the children. They were unicolour, made of gypsum and
metal, and that is why they were incomprehensible and unattractive and, as a
result, these amazing reconstructions remained unnoticed by both the mass media
and the public.
These original Russian
reconstructions were modified so as to look lifelike and authentic in order to
present them on the Antropark website.
portrait of an elderly man from Sungir (a
reconstructional portrait according to a skull)
The portrait shows
neither hair nor a beard, because these are always very specific and can change
the appearance of a man substantially. The man was tall and broad- shouldered.
People with a similar appearance can be surely found now in every part of Europe.
of the children from Sungir (reconstructional
portraits according to the skulls and the original unique material from the
double burial of the children)
The portrait of the boy
approx. 13 years old The
portrait of the girl 8-9 years old
Each of the children
had very specific individual features. The boy had a smaller nose and a
prominent mouth, the girl had a classically shaped face.
from Sungir (a
reconstructional transformation of the unique grave)
transformation of the unique grave of a man from Sungir into a lifelike
ethnographic material - Arctic clothing, 29,500 years old (25,000 RCYBP).
O. N. Bader noticed
that the beads on the trousers of the man from Sungir reminded of the trousers
worn by the Indians of northwest America (the Indian trousers are depicted on
reconstructional transformation of the unique children’s
double burial of Sungir
transformation of the burial as it probably looked like during the burial act.
The burial is celebrated for thousands of laboriously handmade beads, made of
skeletons of Mesozoic cephalopods and an extraordinary rich collection of ivory
objects including chemically straightened ivory lances. This double burial of
the children is also a very illustrative and emotive entrance into the real
world 29,500 years ago (25,000 RCYBP) and belongs to the most important
archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century.
and a he as the unity of polarity in Russia - for the second time (a
reconstructional transformation of a mythological concept according to a
In Russia, relatively
not far from Sungir, there is another well-known Gravettian site called Gagarino.
It is interesting that one of the sculptures found there shows a woman/girl
and a man/boy in a way similar to that of Sungir. The bodies are united by the
heads, but turned to the opposite directions. Here we could see again the
mystical concept of the unity of polarity.
dwelling of the people of Sungir (a reconstructional imitation close to an artistic competent imagination)
imitation of the production of belemnite beads in a dwelling of the Gravettian
people of Sungir. The Sungir site was not interesting just because of the
clothes and outfits of the buried people, but also due to the fact that the
dwellings of the settlement did not have the usual oval or circular ground plans.
The dwellings were rather oblong, and thus they reminded of the large houses of
the Indians of the American Northwest or the large log cabins of Siberia.
lord of the world” (the
first pictorial reconstructional project of Antropark, 1998)
The weapon, which the
depicted hunter holds in his hand, was so effective that he could feel himself
as a lord of the world during his hunting expeditions.
A hunter from Sungir in
the festive clothing with a coat, armed with an ivory lance made of an
artificially straightened mammoth tusk.
The magical picture “The lord of the world“ painted in 1998 is the most
frequently published reconstruction of more than 100 reconstructions created for
Antropark. The picture was shown in several programmes of the Czech TV, TV Nova
and in the Reflex weekly. It was also used as a poster in the exhibition “The
World of Karel Absolon”
For other materials
concerning the appearance of the Gravettian people, see the website
Kostenkian and Kostenki-Avdeevo cultures
dwelling of Kostenki (a
reconstructional imitation, the decorative straps are made according to the
unearthed figurines of Kostenki)
on the Don River is
another famous archaeological site. The Gravettian climate there was arctic. The
reconstructional imitation shows us the interior of a dwelling, where there was
no need to wear warm clothes. Notice the typical decoration of the chests with
diagonal and horizontal stripes, which can be seen in a series of Venus
figurines, also characterized by short haircuts. Note also the long shovels with
decorated handles behind the kneeling figure.
handles of shovels
The imaginative handles
of the shovels can
give us an idea of how the other products of the Gravettian of eastern Europe,
for example skies, sledges, carriers for children, bags, cases for tools,
weapons and other things could look like.
the Venuses of Kostenki
transformation fully respects the hairdo and the horizontal decorative stripes.
The Venuses of the Kostenkian culture bear fantastic and unique information on
the then decorations. The Gravettian Venuses almost always depicted dignifiedly
standing women, and with the exception of cubistically shaped Venuses these
figurines were made with much attention, so we can see the decorations and even
geometrized decorations. Only the Gravettian Venuses bear information on the
ethnographic grooming of female bodies.
culture of the Malta and Buret archaeological sites
– Surprisingly, this culture of Eastern Siberia has a lot of things in
common with the European Gravettian cultures, even if it is younger – about
18,000 years old (about 15,000 RCYBP). The Cullture of the Malta and Buret sites
is highly praised, the most famous artefacts being many specific woman figurines
– Venuses. These Venuses were carved of reindeer’s
antlers and are thus rod-shaped. You can see a lot of imaginative hairstyles in
these Venuses. Some of the Venuses do not represent naked bodies. You can
recognize the cut and decorations of their clothing, e.g. transverse stripes and
of Malta and Buret (a
reconstructional transformation of a figurine)
The picture of arctic
from the artefacts found in Malta and Buret shows the originality and decoration
of the clothing. Each of the Venus figurines from the Malta and Buret sites
differs a little from the others.
For other, more detailed
information on the appearance of the Gravettian people, see the website
imaginative complicated hairstyle (a reconstructional transformation according to a fragment of a figurine)
material from the Malta and Buret sites is rich in samples of different
hairstyles – straight cut hair, plaits, chignons, elaborate French plaits,
sometimes with nice little buns above the forehead.
For other material on
hairstyles see the website
level of the Gravettian industry - design, workmanship, and artistic quality
We can see an excellent
workmanship in the small artefacts (pins,
decorative plates, figurines of water birds) made of hard, durable material (ivory,
antlers) from the Malta and Buret sites. These artefacts suggest us of the
quality of the objects that did not remain (e.g. boats, oars, sledge, ski,
winter boots, bags, baskets, etc.)
The quality of the
Gravettian products was dictated by the harsh arctic conditions. Everything had
to be light, ingenious, well made and, above all, extremely reliable. Nobody
surely wanted to lose a glove during a several days long expedition. This would
have surely meant a frostbite and loss of several fingers. Unreliable boots or
sledges would have certainly meant death. That is why archaeologists find so
many proofs of the meticulous work of the Gravettian designers, craftsmen and
artists, all these skills often represented probably one and the same person.
of the Gravettian people - persona
The Gravettian people look like people who were very particular about their appearance to make favourable impression on each other and on foreigners as well. The figurines show us neat hairstyles and imaginative headgears, some of them quite unconventional. We can also see decorative body belts and decorations in figurines and also in burials.
metamorphosis of a Pavlovian hairstyle from Central Europe. Notice also the
classical and peaceful woman’s face.
metamorphosis of a typical Kostenki- type cut of eastern Europe, which we
can see in many figurines.
For other materials on
hairstyles see the website
Illustrations © Libor Balák
Translated and modified by
Vít Lang after discussions with the author.
© Antropark 2005