© 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

The era of the great European cultures of the Northern-type hunters


The Middle Upper Palaeolithic, 35,000-24,000 years ago (30,000 – 20,000 radiocarbon years before present).


The Gravettian of Italy

A zoomorphic mask (a reconstructional transformation of a tablet)  

The 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 that period.

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. 


A 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 Europe.


The 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  the website   



The Gravettian of western Europe

A portrait of the Lady of Brassempouy (a reconstructional transformation of the carving)  

The 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.  


The 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. 

 The 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. 


 Fragments of sculptures and their partial reconstruction  

Generally, the 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 – 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



A man from Sungir (an applied reconstructional transformation)  

 The 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. 

The archaeological discovery, which profoundly changed our view of the prehistoric people   

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. Gerasimov (he 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.


The 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)


 One of the publications on Sungir  


The Russian 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

Mikhail  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.


A 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.


 Portraits 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. 


A man from Sungir  (a reconstructional transformation of the unique grave)  

The reconstructional transformation of the unique grave of a man from Sungir into a lifelike ethnographic material - Arctic clothing, 29,500 years old (25,000 RCYBP).


The trousers  

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 the left).   


A reconstructional transformation of the unique childrens double burial of Sungir  

The reconstructional 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.  


A she and a he as the unity of polarity in Russia - for the second time (a reconstructional transformation of a mythological concept according to a sculptural group)


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.  


In a dwelling of the people of Sungir (a reconstructional imitation close to an artistic competent imagination)  

The reconstructional 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.


“The 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



The Kostenkian and Kostenki-Avdeevo cultures

In a dwelling of Kostenki (a reconstructional imitation, the decorative straps are made according to the unearthed figurines of Kostenki)  

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.


Decorated 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.


One of the Venuses of Kostenki  

The reconstructional 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.



The 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 reindeers 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 denoted crotches.



Clothing of Malta and Buret (a reconstructional transformation of a figurine)  

The picture of arctic clothing reconstructed 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


An imaginative complicated hairstyle (a reconstructional transformation according to a fragment of a figurine)

The archaeological 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   


The 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.


 Appearance 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.

A reconstructional metamorphosis of a Pavlovian hairstyle from Central Europe. Notice also the classical and peaceful woman’s face.


Typical eastern cut  

A reconstructional  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    

www.volny.cz/antropark  kontakt antropark@seznam.cz 

Illustrations © Libor Balák

Translated and modified by Vít Lang after discussions with the author.

© Antropark 2005