Bird bone engraved with animal heads

Late Magdalenian, about 12,500 years ago
From the cave of Courbet, Penne-Tarn, France

First recognized as a work of art in 1864

One surface of this bone is engraved with a reindeer head facing left towards another head. The latter is damaged by an ancient break. The complete head is decorated with small dots and the animal has its mouth open. The antler is drawn along the top of the bone.

This modest work of art was first recognized as such in 1864 by Richard Owen, Superintendent of the British Museum's Natural History Collections. He realised that the drawing had been engraved by the makers of the stone, bone and antler tools found in the cave. These people must have camped at the site before reindeer became extinct in western Europe. This was important evidence for the debate about the length of human prehistory.

It is also interesting that small pieces of Stone Age art such as this were easily and quickly accepted. It was not until the 1880s that the first decorated caves of this period were discovered. Although the caves were painted and engraved with the same animals as the bone and antler tools, it was 1902 before the wall art was accepted as genuine.

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Bird bone engraved with animal heads

  • Detail of reindeer head engraving

    Detail of reindeer head engraving


More information


A. Sieveking, A catalogue of Palaeolithic ar (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)


Length: 9.100 cm

Museum number

P&EE 1864 12-26 748 (Sieveking Catalogue no. 506)

not found on MERLIN


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