The Grotte du Mas d’Azil spear thrower
I listened to a very interesting programme on Radio 4 today summarising what’s known about Palaeolithic cave and portable art. Three experts in the field gave their views, including Paul Petitt, who wasn’t shy about voicing his opinions. One contributor, when describing portable art, alluded to the famous spear thrower from Grotte du Mas d’Azil, describing it as an example of an image of defecation. But, as has been noted variously in the archaeological world, animals don’t look backwards when defecating (see public domain photo below), whereas they do when giving birth. The depiction of the Grotte du Mas d’Azil spear thrower is far better interpreted as an image of a deer giving birth, upon which a pair of birds – probably corvids – perch. This avian behaviour is commonly seen in the wild, when corvids or other birds feed on the caul etc. The humour in the image is definitely there though, since the corvids’ beaks are the hook upon which the spear would be anchored.