© 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 GRAVETTIAN OF MORAVIA – THE PAVLOVIAN  and the Willendorf-Kostenkian  

Moravia, northern Austria and southern Poland, about 33,500 – 27,500 years ago (29,000 – 23,000 radiocarbon years before present).  The era of the great European cultures of the Northern-type hunters

The Pavlovian is a noteworthy variant of the Gravettian culture. Its centre was located in Moravia, and the culture reached northern Austria and southern Poland. Its name is derived from Pavlov, a village on a slope of the Pavlov Hills, next to Dolní Věstonice in southern Moravia. Another important Pavlovian site is Předmostí, now a part of the town of Přerov.


The typical features of the Pavlovian are:

The world-renowned archaeological discoveries began at the end of the nineteenth century. The Pavlovian sites provided the worlds largest number of skeletons of modern humans from the Palaeolithic era.

The Pavlovian culture is remarkable for a lot of inventories and a wide range of diverse technologies. Some of them, such as the production of ceramic figurines in kilns, the fibre-based technology, grinding of plant food and others, were documented in the Pavlovian sites for the first time in the past of modern Homo sapiens. The number and the variety of unearthed items are also remarkable. For example, the ceramic Venus of Věstonice has a worldwide reputation, but in fact, she was not the only ceramic Venus unearthed in the surroundings of Dolní Věstonice. She was only the best preserved. There have been found fragments of other Venuses, made by the same technology, looking similar to the Venus of Věstonice. The Venuses were probably produced in series, which may indicate more extensive usage of these figurines. Besides these ceramic Venuses, there were also dug up several carved artefacts depicting, often in an abstract form, typical women’s shapes.

 The best known Moravian Venuses can be considered a form of the geometrised art.  Nevertheless, the depictive art is also present, for example, the ivory female head from Dolní Věstonice.

 A portrait of a woman from Dolní Věstonice (a coloured portrait, originally created by Gerasimov in one colour)

M. M. Gerasimov created the model of the woman’s head from Dolní Věstonice according to the skeletal material already in 1970s. The white colour of gypsum or the colour of the metal surface of the model made it too academic, unable to appeal to the general public. The work was exhibited in Prague in late 1970s. The public was embarrassed because, as the magazine Pionýr wrote, the woman looked too modern. The editor apparently expected to see a dishevelled woman with a low forehead and a receding chin as these people had been depicted in outdated books (e.g. in The Mammoth Hunters by Eduard Štorch). The picture is just an improvement of the original work and can be considered a praise for Gerasimov. The original work was excellent from both the professional and sculptural point of view.

For other material on the appearance of the Gravettian people see the website.   


A permanent winter habitation of the Pavlovian people in Předmostí (a reconstructional imitation)

Acknowledgement: I am grateful to the firm Mertastav from Předklášteří for the support of the realization of this laborious reconstruction. 

Permanent winter habitation of the Pavlovian people had to meet many requirements. There had to be a good view of the landscape from the site, but it did not have to be situated on the top of a hill and not facing south (to avoid melting snow by the sun rays during the day and freezing the snow and water during the night). There had to be a river nearby, and the sea level of such a site had to be in certain limits. Winter dwellings were permanent, their basements and walls were probably made of stones and mammoth bones, sometimes joined by moulded soil. Roofs were made of wood and isolated with turf and maybe also reed, which was available in the arctic conditions.


Plastering walls with moulded soil (a reconstructional transformation)

Some archaeological findings suggest that inner walls were covered with wicker and textiles. (There were unearthed lumps of plaster and imprints of textiles and wickerwork on them).  It is logical that the Pavovian people used boats, sledges and skis for transport. They may have also employed domesticated small wolves, which were approximately by one third smaller than wolves today.


 A temporary habitation (a reconstructional imitation)



The older reconstructional imitation of a temporary Pavlovian habitation shows leather-covered tents and a typical deposit of mammoth bones. However, such material as leather is suitable only for summer mobile tents.  On the other hand, permanent dwellings were insulated properly. For example, the basements of the walls made of bones found in some sites of eastern Europe are one metre thick. This testifies to the thickness of the insulation of the permanent winter dwellings. 



Spear points for cutting and sawing (a reconstructional transformation)  

I. One of the most powerful weapons of the hunters and trackers were spears and arrows with microlithic points (small blades and even tiny saws). 


Hunting of small animals in tundra

II. Each hunter had to be above all an excellent tracker, who could read in the landscape, was able to find the recent tracks of an animal and approach it as near as possible.


An arrow point with a saw  

III. The hunter shot an arrow, which pierced the animal’s body. The animal was either killed on the spot or, if not, when moving, the saw of the point made its injury fatal. What remained was to track the animal. A bow was ideal for individual hunting.   



A point made of ivory (a reconstructional transformation)


Mammoth hunting with a special point

 The Pavlovian people were one of the best hunters in the world. Their teeth give evidence that they never starved. They were able to hunt down any animal they needed to – from arctic foxes, hares, and wolves to the largest terrestrial animals of their times. They probably used a wide range of various weapons. Archaeological findings show us many points, from tiny stone points to large ivory ones. There is also evidence of the production of nets, and it is logical to assume that the nets were (besides other usages) utilized for hunting smaller animals.  


Mammoth hunting on a slope (an older conception)

An older conception of mammoth hunting on the slopes of the Pavlov Hills. Hunting of young mammoths was proven, their bones and teeth were unearthed in the Pavlovian sites. Their meat was tenderer than that of adult mammoths, similar to present-day veal. 


Hunters flaunt themselves during a hunt for the most prestigious animals (a reconstructional imitation)

The reconstructional imitation of the mammoth hunting shows an unusual situation, when hunters flaunt themselves during a prestigious occasion. In their common life they did not risk their lives so much.  The weapons of the Pavlovian hunters were unique, very efficient and reliable.  Long points with round transverse sections pierced the large animal’s body, and because of the effect of leverage, they injured the animal seriously. Other wounds were inflicted by the movement of the hurt animal, and the result of it was almost immediate serious internal injury, which could be compared to that caused by a shock wave made by today’s firearms. Although the struck mammoth had only a small hole in the skin, its internal tissue was badly damaged, the mammoth lost its energy fast and died in a short time.  It means that the depicted mammoth is not some invulnerable demon, but a fatally hurt animal that will collapse any moment.  


In a dwelling (an older reconstructional imitation)

Huge supplies of meat were smoked in the dwelling. Mammoth bones and probably mammoth fat served as a fuel. The interior of the dwelling was the world in itself, where there were no arctic conditions and it was possible to take off one’s clothes. So the Pavlovian people could be practically naked in their dwellings, similarly to the Inuits. 

By a clay hearth (an older reconstructional imitation)

The Pavlovian people ate not only meat, but also less abundant plant foods. For example, roots of reeds could be ground by stones, and it was possible to prepare gruel or to bake bread using a hearth or just in embers. 


Faithful companions (an older reconstructional imitation)

Domesticated small wolves were faithful companions of the Pavlovian people in their work and leisure time, during hunting expeditions, and they could also guard dwellings. People kept similar little wolves also in eastern Europe, in Mezin (now the Ukraine). Genetic analyses suggest that the domestication of the dog occurred before the era of the Northern hunters.




The large grave for secondary burial in Předmostí (a reconstructional imitation)

          It was Moravia that yielded the largest collection of bones of the Palaeolithic modern Homo sapiens. Every single burial and bone material of the Gravettian people is extremely scarce and inestimable. The Gravettian people did not practically bury the dead below the ground, although there were many rituals and ways of burying. Mostly disabled people, people with pathological features or peculiar individuals were put into a shallow hole in the frozen ground and covered up with earth. It is possible that some of the burials were in fact secondary burials, when only bones were buried. Such a secondary burial is depicted in the picture above. This is a reconstructional imitation of the burial in Předmostí, where Karel Maška found the remains of 19 Gravettian people under these stones in the nineteenth century. 

Primary burials (a reconstructional imitation)

Primary Gravettian burial sites looked probably like this. The dead were put above the ground or on the ground, and only some of the human bones were sometimes put into shallow holes.


 The unique triple burial of Dolní Věstonice (a reconstructional transformation)

     It is important to notice that primarily buried human bodies were mummified in the permafrost and remained practically unchanged for centuries. Unfortunately, there are no large areas containing Palaeolithic burials, and that is why our knowledge of the Palaeolithic is so scarce. This picture depicts one of the exceptional group burials, which was probably carried out according to the then mythology, when buried people were identified with important mythological persons or even heroes. The faces of the dead were covered with thick masks made of red ochre. It is noteworthy that the two persons on the left, perhaps a girl and a young man, are turned in the opposite directions, but their arms are connected. It is the same principle of the unity of polarity as in the Russian sites of Gagarino and Sungir and in Italy. The back of the hand of the third person is placed in the crotch of the individual lying in the middle, which shows that there must have been some relation between them. It is possible that they were relatives, but some mythological explanation seems to be more probable. We can hardly guess the full sense of the gesture without knowledge of the mythology. The triple burial was unearthed near the village of Dolní Věstonice in 1986.

The shaman of Brno (a reconstructional imitation)

Some 28,000 years ago (23,500 RCYBP), a 10-year-old boy began to suffer from an excruciating, even unbearable pain in his hands and legs. He suffered from periostitis, the bone illness. He did not reconcile himself with his fate, learned how to defeat his pain, grew up into a strong man and become a shaman because of his abilities and qualities. He possessed a fascinating cap sewn with some 600 shells (of the Dentalium badense), big stone pectorals, a figurine of a man, many discs made of various materials and several animal skulls. When he died, the survivors broke his drumstick, and one of its parts was placed to his grave together with the other things that he was using. It is possible that they placed the other part on the grave together with the drum. Such a custom is still alive in some Arctic communities. Although the artefacts in the burial remind of those of the Pavlovian and the burial itself was considered to be the oldest one of a shaman, the radiocarbon dating shows that it was more recent and belonged to the Kostenki-Willendorf culture. 

For other information see Antropark website.


A shaman caring for a wounded man (an older reconstructional idea)

The older reconstructional imitation depicts the dwelling of the shaman of Brno, where he heals a wounded hunter using discs. It is one of possible versions within the “corridor of the possible”. (Some consider the disc pieces a parlour game)


The figurine of a man from Brno (gradual reconstructional transformation)

This unique figurine of a man made of ivory was found in the burial of the shaman of Brno. You can see the level of the craft and the strength of time, which changes everything considerably. Even if you find the figurine on the left ugly, full of cracks and dull, it is possible to say that it is in fact incredibly beautiful and complete. The finder had to glue the small fragments of it together, as it was totally broken up when found in the nineteenth century. 




Textile impressions in fragments of fired and raw clay  

The scientists noticed unusual regular parallel lines in the fired clay unearthed in the Pavlov Hills sites. James Adovasio (working together with Olga Soffer), a specialist in prehistoric textiles, who studies Palaeolithic Indian sites in America, was the first to evaluate these lines as textile impressions. He even proved various types of twining and manufacturing of ropes. The Pavlovian sites yielded the oldest proof of the existence of textile in the past of the Homo sapiens. Fibres from nettles were probably utilized, but import of plants giving finer fibres from warmer regions could also be possible. In eastern Europe there exists a calvary unearthed near the Skhodnya River, which also bears a surface structure reminding of an imprint of a coarse textile. The calvary was studied by O.N.Bader, who was also involved in the excavations of the Sungir site. It is still unclear if it is an impression of textile made deliberately by people.

For more detailed information see the website   


Weaving in a Pavlovian dwelling (a reconstructional imitation)

The recent reconstructional imitation depicts weaving on simple personal looms. The advantage of the small looms was that they were portable. The usage of larger looms is also considered a possibility. The spindles are wooden. You can see the whole process, when fibres, yarn and textiles are made successively from the nettles. The textile was probably used for decorative purposes. 

This reconstruction was on display at the International workshop on the Gravettian in Mikulov in 2002.

Acknowledgment: I am grateful to the firms Koral and Mouka from Tišnov for the support of the realization of this reconstruction.


Grinding of a stone

Grinding of stones is one of the characteristic Pavovian technologies. It was a unique technology in those times. In Moravia, it was used mostly for adjusting hammerstones. The Venus of Willendorf of Austria was also ground using the technology.

This reconstruction was on display at the International workshop on the Gravettian in Mikulov in 2002.

Acknowledgment: I am grateful to the firms Koral and Mouka from Tišnov for the support of the realization of this reconstruction.

Making nets

Net hunting is a way of passive efficient hunting. An impression of a small knot of a net in clay was discovered together with other textile impressions from Pavlovian sites.

This reconstruction was on display at the International workshop on the Gravettian in Mikulov in 2002.

Acknowledgment: I am grateful to the firms Koral and Mouka from Tišnov for the support of the realization of this reconstruction.  

Sewing with an awl  

Sewing with an awl and sinew is quite easy, we do not even need a needle. It is enough to wet the part of a sinew, which we want to be flexible, the tip remains dry and hard. Awl –type tools are the most abundant group of bone tools. 



The Willendorf-Kostenkian is the Gravettian culture of Moravia, Slovakia, northern Austria, southern Poland and Central Russia following the Pavlovian, approximately 27,500 - 24,000 years old (23,000 – 20,000 RCYBP). The typical tool is the Kontenki-type point with a cut. The silicites from the Krakow region and attractively coloured radiolarites from the White Carpathians were distributed throughout the region.


The Venus of Willendorf (a reconstructional transformation)

Already in the nineteenth century the world-renowned Venus of Willendorf was unearthed by the Danube River. The reconstructional transformation shows various arrangements of the head (different variants of the transformation) typical of that culture, when long hair was rare.

For other materials on hairstyles see the website   

For other information see Antropark  www.volny.cz/antropark  contact antropark@seznam.cz 

Illustrations © Libor Balák

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

© Antropark 2005