- Museum number
Waterworn schist pebble decorated with four red ochre oval dots and a red line around the edge of the pebble. Lighter red colour and circular streaks within the dots suggests they were applied by crayon and possibly fake.
Height: 62 millimetres
Thickness: 6.90 millimetres
Width: 19.20 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Jones 1990
In 1891, during his excavations in the cavern of Mas d'Azil in the French Pyrenees, Edouard Piette discovered over two hundred pebbles decorated with simple dot and line motifs applied in paint prepared from the red ochre which occurs naturally at the site. These painted pebbles were found with distinctive stone and bone tools which Piette distinguished with the name Azilian, now dated to between 11,000 and 9,500 years ago. Although painted pebbles had been found at other sites, the discovery of such a large sample at Mas d'Azil excited much attention from scholars trying to decipher the significance of the motifs. Sadly, their research was completely undermined when in 1929 it was announced that, following Piette's death in 1906, there had been criminal exploitation of the site and many counterfeit painted pebbles had been made and sold along with genuine examples. Museums that had purchased collections of painted pebbles from Mas d'Azil now had a serious problem. The simplicity of the techniques and motifs used to decorate the ancient examples made them easy to copy. The pebbles, and the red ochre with which to reproduce them, could be obtained at the site. With these advantages on the forgers' side, could all the forgeries be detected or only the careless ones? Of the ten specimens purchased by the British Museum in 1929, it is probable that only one is genuine, registration no. 1929,0413.3. Its paint is dark and dull and the painted border is interrupted by ancient damage. The others can be distinguished as forgeries by the lighter, brighter colouring of the paint or the tell-tale circular streaks left by the use of a modern crayon. However, even after the obvious forgeries have been exposed, there remains a possibility that others may have gone undetected. Unfortunately, this possibility has inhibited research on objects which are really of remarkable interest.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2006-2007 23 Sept-7 Jan, Sheffield, Millennium Galleries, 'Art at the Rockface'
2006 22 May-3 Sept, Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, 'Art at the Rockface'
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number