- Museum number
- Object: Montastruc mammoth spear thrower
Antler spear thrower broken across the shaft below the carving of a mammoth which forms the hooked, weighted end of the thrower. The mammoth is ingeniously sculpted in the round from the palmate part of the antler where the shaft broadens out to a plate-like form with protruding points. This has given the sculpture a flattened rather than a fully three dimensional, naturalistic form but the resulting caricature is clearly identifiable. Originally, the animal's tail curled unnaturally up and over its back to form the hook of the thrower which, when in use, fitted into a depression or 'nock' on the bottom end of a spear shaft allowing it to be launched with force from over the shoulder. When the tail hook broke, the weapon was repaired by its original users by gouging out a diagonal slot from the top of the back, down and out between the back legs. A replacement hook was then inserted into the slot. The object was found with the ancient replacement in place but it had broken off and been lost before it arrived at the British Museum in 1887. A fragment of the replacement in place in the slot is visible in an X-ray. In the 1970s, a new replica bone hook was inserted into the slot but this was removed by Conservation in 2008.The care taken over the original repair suggests this was a valued object and it certainly took some time to make, given the skill and patience needed to carve out the legs in the round.
The line of the mammoth's back follows the line of the shaft formed by the beam of the antlerand its tusks are cut in low relief along this, in an unnaturally forward position. The tip of its trunk and four feet are joined together at the lower part of the weight. There are deep round holes on each side of the head above the base of the tusks which look like eyes although they are disproportionately large and not in the correct anatomical position. These may originally have held stone inserts but examination of the holes shows no trace of what these might have been or any resin to hold them in place. On both sides of the trunk, above the tusks, there is a short, horizontal incision with 4-5 vertically incised lines above and below.
Once the weapon broke across the shaft, it could not be repaired again. Breaks at this point may be observed on other weighted throwers of this type, perhaps due to the strain imposed at this point by powerful throws.
- Production date
- 13,000-11,000BC (Spear throwers of this type are attributed Middle Magdalenian IV and persist later)
Length: 12.40 centimetres
Thickness: 1.50 centimetres
Width: 6 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- The only other spearthrower that depicts a mammoth comes from the cave of Canecaude, Aude, France. It is also a weighted end fragment made from reindeer antler and broken across the shaft in the same position as that from Montastruc (Cook 2013, p.219). Here the similarities end. Although also a caricatured representation, the Canecaude piece exaggerates the characteristic domed head and the missing hook must have been formed by the trunk curving round towards the front legs.Its curved tip is visible in relief on the chest. The legs are short, there are no socketed eyes and the tusks start incorrectly from the forehead. The hariy coat is indicated by neat vertical incisions.
The use of eye sockets may be seen on the thrower made in the shape of a fawn looking back over its shoulder at a bird on its tail from the cave of Bedeilhac, Ariege, France and another, similar from Mas d'Azil in the same region. Thie Bedeilhac example retains a black lignite insert on one side and an orange amber insert on the other. No traces remain of the possible inserts on the Monstatruc spearthrower.
Spear throwers are used to launch spears with greater force than may achieved by hand throwing. This force increases the speed, range and penetration of the delivery.Throwers may be made from wood but those that survive are made of antler and first appear about 18,000 years ago. Cattelain (2005) recognises five types. Type 1 throwers lack a hook and have a groove and spur to receive the base of the spear. The remaining types have hooks and vary from plain hooked rods to decorative and sculpted types. Functionality and symbolic concepts seem to be bound together in these weapons.
The Montastruc mammoth formed part of a weighted, hooked or 'male' spear thrower categorised as Type 4 in Cattelain's (2005) classification and defined as having a decorative weighted end sculpted in the round but almost always flattened, protruding from a sub-cylindrical shaft. This type of spear thrower is far more diverse in form than other types but conceptually homogeneous. Garrod (1955) suggests that the weighting of a spear thrower with a sculpture may compensate for a short length but there is some doubt as to whether there is functional benefit in the aesthetic concept. It is notable that most Type 4 throwers come from the Pyrenean region and only occasionally elsewhere, possibly suggesting cultural variation between separate distinct but interacting communities across and between regions (Cattelain 2005)
The caricatured representation of the mammoth on the Montastruc weapon is a strong contrast with the detailed, naturalistic image of the the swimming reindeer from the same site (Palart.550).
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2019 8 May-16 Sep, France, Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Prehistory and Modernity
2015-2016 20 Sep-11 Jan, Kobe City Museum, Kobe, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2015 14 Jul–6 Sep, Kyushu National Museum, Dazaifu, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2015 18 Apr–28 Jun, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2014 23 May-7 Sep, London, Natural History Museum, Mammoth: Ice Age Giants
2013 24 Jun-16 Sep, Spain, Santander, Fundación Botín, Ice Age Art
2013 7 Feb-26 May, London, BM Ice Age Art
2010 Apr-Jun, Leeds, Henry Moore Institute, Ice Age Sculpture
2004 16 Mar- 2005 10 Jan, France, Paris, Musee National d’Historie Naturelle, The Time of Mammoths
1984-1985 1 Oct-31 Dec, France, Paris, Musee de l'Homme, Arts et Civilisations des Chasseurs de la Prehistoire
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number