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Lamp with an engraved female figure
Late Magdalenian, about 12,500 years old
From the cave of Courbet, Penne-Tarn, France
Broken limestone lamp with a female figure engraved on the base
This broken slab of limestone has a natural hollow on one side which is blackened at the centre. This suggests that it was used to hold animal fat which was burnt like a candle to light the inside of the cave. On the other flat side, there is an engraving of a woman. This is positioned in the centre of the slab, suggesting that the lamp was broken and no longer in use when it was drawn with a flint tool.
The woman has no head or feet. She is shown from the side. The top of her body is shown as two parallel lines. At the back this line curves out to show her shapely bottom and thigh. On the front a small triangle may show her breast or, she may have her arms extended in front of her. The outline of the thigh comes together at the knee and the lower legs are indicated with open ended lines.
Such female figures are known from other late Magdalenian sites near Courbet, as well as in Quercy and Perigord in France, in south-western Germany and sites near Cologne. They show that late Stone Age people, who could paint and draw accurate representations of animals, also had the intellectual ability for abstract work, reflecting female beauty and sexuality with a confident economy of line.
J. Cook and A-C Welté, 'A newly discovered female engraving from Courbet (Penne-Tarn), France', Proceedings of the Prehistor-3, 58 (1992), pp. 29-35