The Swimming Reindeer
- The Swimming Reindeer
Tip of a mammoth tusk carved as two reindeer depicted one behind the other. The leading, more detailed figure is a female with smaller body and antlers. Finely incised notching and shading outlines the variation of colours in her coat. The following male figure has larger antlers and equally detailed carving of the ears and eyes but its body is unshaded. Both animals are depicted with their chins up, the antlers laid back, the front legs extended forward and bent at the knee and the back legs extending back. The male genitalia are clearly represented.
- Excavated/Findspot: Montastruc
- Length: 207 millimetres
- Height: 30 millimetres
- Width: 27 millimetres
Sometimes also referred to as the 'swimming reindeer' from Bruniquel. This sculpture was found and originally published as two separate pieces which were not recognized as conjoining until the 1930s. When photographed in the 1860s, one of the back legs of the male reindeer extended out and back from body but has not survived. The representation of the animals may have been determined by the tapering shape of the mammoth tusk although the interpretation that the piece depicts the animals swimming has parallels in painted art of the period. The presence of the antlers, the shading of the female coat and the male-female juxtaposition suggest this might be an autumn-winter depiction when animals migrate, cross rivers and mate.Ice Age art
2013 24 Jun-16 Sep, Spain, Santander, Fundación Botín, Ice Age Art
2013 7 Feb-26 May, London, BM Ice Age Art
2012 19 Oct-17 Dec, Worksop, Creswell Crags Museum, The Swimming Reindeer
21 October 2009
Reason for analysis
Identification of red traces on Palart 550, carving of swimming reindeer
During detailed microscopic examination by the curator (Jill Cook) small traces of red were found on the carved surface of a Late Magdalenian ivory carving of swimming reindeer (Palart 550).Analysis was undertaken of the spots in situ on the object by Raman spectroscopy using a Dilor Infinity spectroscope with a near infrared (785 nm) laser. The spots were found to be of amorphous hematite (spectra attached). This is likely to represent the presence of natural red ochre. While this may be accidental contamination from the soil, the distribution of the spots close to and within carved lines suggests it may represent the intentional use of colour to emphasise the lines, or the use of red ochre as a polishing medium.
Analysis reference number
Prehistory and Europe
Before conservation, old repairs visible. Tip of a mammoth tusk carved into the shape of two reindeer, swimming one behind the other; the leading figure, a female with smaller antlers, has a series of notches along each flank and hatched shading for her heavy coat line; the following, male, figure has larger antlers but is unshaded; on each figure the antlers are laid along the back and the legs folded beneath the body, with the exception of the left hind leg of the male which once extended behind the figure; the genitalia of each animal are sculpted in relief.
If you’ve noticed a mistake or have any further information about this object, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Object reference number: BCB12978
British Museum collection data is also available in the W3C open data standard, RDF, allowing it to join and relate to a growing body of linked data published by organisations around the world.
The Museum makes its collection database available to be used by scholars around the world. Donations will help support curatorial, documentation and digitisation projects.