Ice Age Cultures : Late Paleolithic : Magdalenian Cycle

Above, actual object; below, line rendition of all the engraved lines as determined by microscopic analysis: fork-tongued serpent with lines or markings on body; below snake, a row of schematized young birds with huge eyes; above snake, series of birds seemingly of a different species; upper right, two plant fronds.

Marshack, who comments that the serpent seems intentionally full as though perhaps carrying eggs or recently fed, writes "The composition seems to present us with new hatched chicks and plants related to the snake. These are, in a sense, air and earth aspects of the spring. What the story was that related them or what the use was of this bone we cannot know. The sculpted snakelike bone is common in the Upper Paleolithic; it here shows signs of long hand wear and polish but no marks of use as a tool, and it may, therefore, have served as a ritual ceremonial object, belonging perhaps to a shaman or sorcerer... Neither snakes nor groups of birds are common in cave art although snakes do appear. The branch or plant, however, seems to have been a specialized, meaningful motif throughout the culture and mythology, and the snake evidently played a part in a range of ceremonies or myths. It may be that animals were sacrificed, that the snake was ritualized or symbolized, and that the branch or plant was used in ceremony. The complexity of a symbolic system...cannot be explained by any single, unitary interpretation.

Ceremonial (antler; engraved).

Style or School
Magdalenian IV.

Material or Technique


From the cave of Lorthet (Haute-Pyrénées).

Repository or Site
Saint-Germain-en-Laye: Mus. des Antiquités Nationales.

Image Sources
from Marshack.* [JF 6946]

*Marshack, A., Roots (1972), pp.223-24; fig.109a,b.
Breuil, H., Poissons (1927), p.153; fig.71.
Graziosi, P., Palaeolithic (1960), p.245; pl.53c.