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Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mindJill Cook. Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind. 288 pages, numerous illustrations. 2013. London: British Museum Press; 978-0-7141-2333-2 hardback £ 25.
Paul Bahn and Paul Pettitt
Antiquity / Volume 87 / Issue 337 / September 2013, pp 905 - 908
DOI: 10.1017/S0003598X00049607, Published online: 02 January 2015
Link to this article: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0003598X00049607
How to cite this article:
Paul Bahn and Paul Pettitt (2013). Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mindJill Cook. Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind. 288 pages, numerous illustrations. 2013. London: British Museum
Press; 978-0-7141-2333-2 hardback £ 25.. Antiquity, 87, pp 905-908 doi:10.1017/
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Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind
Paul Bahn1 & Paul Pettitt2
JILL COOK. Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind. 288 pages, numerous illustrations. 2013. London:
British Museum Press; 978-0-7141-2333-2 hardback £25.
The British Museum recently hosted a major exhibition of European Upper Palaeolithic art, including over 100 items from various countries. The sub-text was the ‘modern mind’, the idea that the appearance of art in the European Upper Palaeolithic marks the emergence of cognitively modern humans. As so often, the curators chose to intersperse twentieth-century art among the prehistoric items, with the aim of making the latter more ‘accessible’ to the visiting public. This is but one feature, however, of what was widely regarded as a most successful exhibition. Here Paul Bahn and Paul Pettitt review both the exhibition itself and the lavishly illustrated catalogue that accompanied it.
In recent decades major exhibitions of Palaeolithic portable art have been held in France, Germany,
Spain, Belgium, the Czech Republic and (at the instigation of the late Alexander Marshack) the
USA. It is fitting that the British Museum should now host its own. Although art is rare in the
British Upper Palaeolithic record, its first specimen (a horse head engraved on bone from Creswell
Crags) was found as long ago as 1876—only a decade or so after the famous discoveries in the
Dordogne. The BritishMuseum houses an important collection of objects deriving from these early French excavations, which were the fruit of an AngloFrench collaboration between Henry Christy and
Edouard Lartet. One cannot but congratulate the curator and trustees for the dazzling array that gathers together many of Palaeolithic portable art’s iconic items from France, Russia and the Czech Republic.
It includes some of the earliest discoveries—the
Chaffaud deer, the La Madeleine mammoth, the
Laugerie ‘Ve´nus impudique’—and some of the most recent, such as the stunning Zaraisk bison that alone is worth the entrance price. Objects are arranged chronologically, spanning the period from the Early 1 428 Anlaby Road, Hull HU3 6QP, UK 2 Department of Archaeology, Durham University, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, UK
Upper Palaeolithic (around 40 000 years ago) to the
Final Upper Palaeolithic (around 12 000 years ago), and grouped thematically, from three-dimensional animal sculptures (Early Upper Palaeolithic) and female sculptures (Mid Upper Palaeolithic ‘venuses’) to the post-Last Glacial Maximum ‘renaissance’ of naturalistic animal depictions (Late Upper
Palaeolithic) and abstraction of the female human form (Final Upper Palaeolithic). In the limited exhibition space available, the objects are astutely presented and generally well lit, and in the catalogue they are exhaustively described, with an emphasis on where and when they were found, and on how their parent materials were worked.
Despite a world-class collection, the Palaeolithic is poorly represented in the British Museum’s permanent galleries. It is therefore delightful that many objects from the Museum’s own collections are included. The famous mammoth carving (Figure 1) and the ‘swimming’ reindeer (Figure 2) from a rock shelter at Montastruc, near Bruniquel, France, have previously been displayed as the single foci of temporary exhibitions, but this is the first display of a large selection of Continental objects together.
The lavish exhibition catalogue provides colour photographs for the first time of some of theMuseum’s other objects, of which in the past only monochrome images were available (Sieveking 1987). Is it toomuch to hope that theMuseum, having demonstrated to the public the antiquity, interest and importance of these objects, might endeavour to keep some of them on permanent display? Press reviews of the exhibition have been understandably ecstatic, although from their tone one might be forgiven for thinking that the press at large had never heard of Palaeolithic art beyond Lascaux. Where reviewers were more familiar with the material (e.g. Callaway 2013; MacClancy 2013) some reservations and disappointments were expressed—particularly that any aesthetic activity before 40 000 years ago was ignored (most notably in
Africa or by Neanderthals), as if art suddenly began
C© Antiquity Publications Ltd.
ANTIQUITY 87 (2013): 905–908 http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/087/ant0870905.htm 905
Figure 1. Spear thrower made from reindeer antler, sculpted as a mammoth. Found in the rock shelter of Montastruc,
France, c. 13 000–14 000 14C years old. c©The Trustees of the British Museum.
Figure 2. Tip of a mammoth tusk carved as two reindeer depicted one behind the other; c. 13 000 14C years old,
Montastruc, France. c©The Trustees of the British Museum. with our species in Europe 40 000 years ago. Many would now see this as an outdated view.
The initial impression of the exhibition is deflating— an old copy of the sculpted clay bison from Le Tuc d’Audoubert borrowed from a museum in Toulouse and inaccurate in both colour and texture—bearing a label stating that they were discovered by ‘Louis