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This Site Last Updated: Wednesday, December 31, 2003
This Page Last Updated: Tuesday December 16, 2003
Introduction
[Regional Map Showing France]
The first known art appeared in Europe about 33,000 B.C, and consisted of geometrical figures, simple outlines of animals, and sexual and fertility symbols engraved on rock walls beneath cave entrances.
About 23,000 B.C. rock art appeared deeper in caves, but always at a depth where daylight still intruded. It was not until the invention of a fat burning lamp, about 18,000 B.C., that the decoration of rocks never illuminated by daylight began. Lascaux, in southern France, is one such cave.
When the first prehistoric rock art images were discovered in 1879 in Altamira, Spain the initial reaction was they were elaborate forgeries. After all, how could primitive people have possibly painted such works of art? Twenty years had to pass before the critics would admit their mistake, and study of the art began.
What is likely the most famous cave ever found, Lascaux, was actually not discovered until the relatively late date of 1940. This find was followed by a number of significant discoveries of other prehistoric artwork in southern France.
Introduction To Life in Middle Magdalenian
The Middle Magdalenian period began about 12,000 B.C. The people who lived in France and Spain during this time were semi-nomadic and lived in tribes. They likely were peaceful, since there is no evidence of warfare, massacres, or slavery. Life during this time was hard, as the land was cold and dark, even in summer, and the cultivation of food was unknown.
Their culture knew music, as bone flutes and whistles have been found. Other instruments may have existed, but these were likely made from perishable materials like leather and wood, and consequently have not survived.
There is no evidence of widespread disease, and the isolated nature of the semi-nomadic tribes would have protected them from diseases which require cities to breed in.
Cold and windy, little daylight.
The land was cold, even in summer. During the winter, however, the temperature dropped to -22 degrees Fahrenheit (-30 degrees Celsius), and fierce winds were accompanied by snow. Nightfall occurred at around 4 PM and there would be no light until the pale sun rose at about 8 AM.
Conical tents and rugs
The humans lived in conical tents made from sewn reindeer fur, and used fur rugs to keep warm. The conical tent shape ensures that snow does not collect on the outside. Light came from burning animal fats, since any wood would be damp and incombustible, and would therefore burn too smoky for use in a tent. This lamp technology was invented circa 15,000 B.C., and was a distinct improvement over torches.
Tools and Weapons
Spear points were made from the antlers of red deer or reindeer. The invention of the sewing needle allowed clothes to be made. The invention of the lamp, which burned animal fats in a smokeless fashion, provided lighting for homes and also allowed deep caves to be explored.
Hunting
Hunting during the summer could be dangerous because wolves, hyenas, and even lions were drawn by the scent of the blood from animals taken by the hunters. Most winter food came from dried meat, smoked salmon, and marrowbone which were frozen in the cold, and was stored in covered pits to keep the wolves and foxes from consuming it.
Hunting during the winter was done when the weather permitted. Hunters wore mittens, anoraks, and thick fur boots. They hunted using long spears with smooth, sharp points made of red deer or reindeer antler and used napped flint blades for cutting up the meat.
Obtaining Water
In the winter water could only be obtained by melting snow or by venturing into the caves to obtain it from the pools which collect water dripping from stalactites. Regardless of the source, water was collected in containers of waterproofed leather.
Hide Curing
After a winter kill, the hide was staked and stretched outside the tent so that it would freeze as hard as a sheet of metal. The next day it would be scraped to remove all the fur and residual meat, and would be left to cure in the cold.
Cooking
Fresh catches were grilled on the red hot hearthstones. Other cooking used pots made from heavy animal skin which were filled with broth made from meat and bones. The broth was heated to a boil using red hot stones which were heated in the hearth and then dropped into the pot. Long marrow bones were cracked open and the marrow eaten raw. (Marrow is primarily fat, and therefore contains many calories, but also contains a rich source of animal proteins.)
Burial of Dead
Ritual burial was practiced by most paleolithic peoples, with some variations as a result of different cultures. The Magdalenian peoples usually buried their dead in individual graves, and sometimes in groups of two or three. Bodies were laid out on their sides with the legs slightly bent, or sometimes curled up such that it is likely the bodies were tied in that position. (The organic matter used to tie the bodies disintegrated long before the graves were discovered.) Each body was sprinkled with red ochre.
Inclusion of Manufactured Items
The clothed body was accompanied by jewelry and ornamentation such as necklaces, head-dresses, headbands, hood decorated with shells and perforated teeth, pendants, bracelets, rings, bonnets, and hairnets. Objects made of organic matter were likely included, but these likely disintegrated over the millenia before the discovery of the tombs. Objects like antlers, antler spearpoints, flint, bone implements were also included. Placement varied; around the body, in the hands, around the heads, or on particular parts of the body.
Introduction To Life in Late Magdalenian
During the late Magdalenian, about 8,000 B.C., the climate changed dramatically. Not only did the glaciers recede, but the melting glaciers caused increased rainfall as well as rising sea levels. The new rainfall supported a wide variety of vegetation including forests, and also caused lakes and pools to form. Small game animals -- such as rabbits and hares, partridges, wild boars, and roe deer -- did well. The reindeer moved north to survive and the mammoth and wooly rhinoceros died out entirely.
Some of the Magdalenian peoples migrated during this period. Some took advantage of the decline of the glaciers to move into what are now the Pyrenees (France), Switzerland, and Germany. Others followed the reindeer north.
Appearance of Rock Art
During the tail end of the last ice age the climate in France changed to one of mild weather that is similar to the climate today, and there was an increase in both human and animal populations. During this period rock art began to appear in France and Spain. There are a variety of caves with rock art, the most famous, and most impressive, of which is Lascaux in France. The caves of Lascaux were decorated circa 15,566 B.C. (plus or minus 900 years) according to carbon dating of artifacts found there. The artists therefore belonged to an early Magdalenian civilization which likely began about 18,000 B.C.
Rock Art Made in Deep Caves
The early artists would set off, with their fat burning lamps and provisions, on expeditions deep into the caves that dotted the area. These explorations often lasted for days, and the explorers were not dissuaded by the perpetual gloom, the subterranean lakes that had to be crossed, or the stalagmites that had to be removed to allow the expedition to continue. While deep underground they often painted or engraved images, some of which are over a mile and a quarter from the entrance.
About 9,000 B.C. art moved from areas deep underground to those closer to the cave entrances, and the rock art deep in the caves ceased to be made. The rock art sites deep in the caves were lost to human knowledge for almost 10,000 years.
Types of Lamps
The lamps used to illuminate Lascaux during the painting creating burned animal fat and provided a smokeless light of a red or orange hue. More than 130 animal fat burning lamps have been discovered at Lascaux, and they fall into three categories:
natural lamps
These lamps are six to eleven inch pieces of limestone with a natural concave shape. These were used unmodified. The limestone was brought into the cave from outside.
modified lamps
These lamps are similar to the natural lamps, but have been slightly modified. For example, the cup in which the fat was placed often was deepened and the base was flattened.
shaped lamps
These are obviously man made. One of the few shaped lamps to be found at Lascaux is made of red sandstone shaped much like a spoon with a shallow, oval cup. The handle is decorated with chevron patterns similar to those found elsewhere, both painted and engraved, in the cave. Overall, the lamp is 8.75 inches long, 4 and 3/16 inches wide, and 1.25 inches thick. The cup for the fat holds approximately 1.6 fluid ounces, and is approximately 3.25 inches in diameter and is 0.75 inches deep. These lamps may also have been used as incense burners.
How the Lamp Works
Much like a modern candle, the heat of the lamp melts the animal fat which is then drawn into the wick by capillary action. Each wick provides about the same amount of light as a modern candle. Since multiple wicks were often used, each lamp likely provided as much light as two or three modern candles.
Making a Wick
When the first shaped lamp was discovered it still had traces of a wick made from juniper and conifers, both green and dried. Juniper of about one quarter inch in diameter makes the best wick, and since it retains its shape after burning it can be readily identified. The initial problem of liquifying the solid fat so that it can be drawn into the wick was accomplished using lichens, obtained from trees, shrubs, or the ground. Once ignited, the lichen flares up like paper.
Wicks were also made from dried fungus, such as amodou, since the pores make an excellent wick which continues to burn even after all of the fat in the bowl has been consumed. The wick must be both saturated with fat and in constant contact with the liquified fat if it is to provide smokeless light.
Lighting a Lamp
Lighting such a lamp was a multistage process. A one and three quarter ounce of fat is placed in the bowl, or simply on the upper end of a piece of stone if the lamp is used in its natural form. The upper end is chosen for the fat so that the heat from the flame liquifies the fat and causes it to run down where it can be burned. The wicks are placed flat on the stone and connect the lower region with the fat on the upper region. The whole assembly, including fat and wicks, is then covered with the lichens which are then burned.
As they burn, the lichens liquify some of the fat, and this fat runs into the wicks. More lichens are added and burned, until the wicks have absorbed enough liquid fat to begin burning. Preheating the stone of the lamp makes it easier to start the lamp, since the fat liquifies sooner.
Using a Lamp
Using the lamp required some attention. As the lamp is moved, the air currents fan the wick by providing more oxygen. The wick burns faster and the resulting heat liquifies more of the fat. As the stone heats up more of the fat liquifies. The portion of the wick in contact with the fat creates a small hollow, and the wicks must be moved from time to time to ensure an adequate amount of liquified fat. Otherwise the light grows dim and eventually goes out.
Duration of Light
A one and three quarter ounce of fat provides about an hours worth of light, and each wick produced about as much light as a modern candle. Animal fats were widely used for lamps up until the advent of gas lighting and then electricity. Many peoples, such as the Innuit in Alaska, still use animal fat burning lamps for light, cooking, and heat.
Torches
Torches were also used for illumination. Although the wood has long since vanished, the carbonized remains of torches have been found along with their characteristic smears on the walls.
These torches were likely made from dried resinous pine that was coated with animal fat and ignited. Unlike the lamps, torches produce smoke which builds up on the walls, are dangerous, and are awkward to handle.
Pigments
The paints were made by grinding pigment and suspending them in water or perhaps urine. The pigments were ground in stone mortars with stone pestles. Black was produced by manganese, or charcoal. Red was obtained from red ochre, or hematite, with heating or burning used to lighten or darken the shade.
Crayons
Crayons were likely used to draw outlines, which would then be filled in using a brush.
Paintbrushes
Paintbrushes were made in various shapes and thicknesses. The brush itself was made from animal hair -- such as from badger, fox, and sable -- as well as from human hair and plant stems which were tied together and sometimes chewed until the ends frayed. The hair was glued to vegetable stems using the same strong glues used to affix flint edges to handles.
Palette
The paint was held on palettes made from limestone or schist.
Application Using Sponging and Dabbing
The figures were filled using dabbing or sponging, using a fine skin like a chamois which was filled with short animal hair and plant fibers mixed with a thick pigment paste.
This mixture would be rolled up into a ball with the end twisted. The surface would be pierced with a needle to leave small holes. The outside would be wetted and a small amount of pigment would dissolve leaving paint on the surface. This would then be dabbed against the rock surface.
When the pigment was exhausted the bundled would be unwrapped, new pigment added, and the process repeated.
Application Using Stencils
Stencils made from bark or skin allowed precise lines to be drawn on the rough rock.
Correcting Mistakes
The lack of widespread drips, spots, smudges, or other artifacts suggests that imperfections were removed while the paint was still wet.
Subject Matter
Prehistoric rock art in France has a variety of animal subjects including:
Prehistoric Aurochs (Ox)
The aurochs, is the ancestor of the modern ox and was nearly as important to prehistoric man as the bison. The prehistoric aurochs was a large animal, being 6 feet 6 inches in height and weighing about 2,870 pounds. Historic aurochs, such as those hunted by Julius Caeser and the Gauls, were a mere 4 feet tall and weighing 1,100 pounds.
Aurochs Habitat and Diet
The aurochs lived in the less dense forests and clearings and ate grasses and, in the fall, acorns. This is quite unlike the bison which ate foliage and tree bark, and only ate grass under duress.
Hunting the Aurochs
Modern aurochs -- the last died in 1627 -- were territorial and always ready for a fight. In the sixteenth century the Polish author Gessner commented on thurs, which was the Polish name for the aurochs:
"Man does not frighten the thur, and it does not avoid him. If he rouses it, it picks him up on its horns and tosses him in the air. The rut is in September, there are many fights."
Their temper and territoriality, in fact, cause the Polish writer Ostrorog to note, in the sixteenth century, that when bison and aurochs were mixed in the game parks they spent their time in terrible fights. This territoriality was likely known to the Magdalenians since their art never has the two animals in the same scene. The combative personality of the modern aurochs likely was inherited, and it must have been quite dangerous to hunt the prehistoric variety.
Prehistoric Cave Bear
The cave bear, Urus arctus and Urus spelaeus, became extinct during prehistoric times. Its descendants, the cave bear, still live in parts of Europe.
Prehistoric versus Modern Bear
The modern brown bear is up to 4 feet high, 8 feet long, and weighs between 550 and 660 pounds. Modern brown bears in Russia have reached as much as 880 pounds, however. Despite their size, they are agile beasts which can run 30 miles an hour. They are highly intelligent, cautious, clever, and dextrous. (Modern brown bears are able to untie knots using their claws.) Adept swimmers, they bathe regularly during the summer.
The prehistoric cave bear was significantly larger than the modern brown bear and was likely largely a vegetarian. During the winter the cave bear hibernated in dry caves, where it hollowed out nests often upwards of half a mile inside the cave. The depth helped to ensure that the cave was warmer as well as kept other animals from attacking the sleeping bear.
Very few animals will bother a modern brown bear. One was observed throwing stones at dogs menacing it, and there are stories of bears defending themselves against wolves using this technique. Modern bear even build rock shelters which they sometimes hibernate in.
Diet for Modern Bears
Modern brown bears will eat anything available: cows, sheeps, calves, reindeer, red deer, young wild boar, mice, frogs, insects, snails, ants, roots, mushrooms, flower bulbs, beechnuts, acorns, salmon, trout, and, of course, honey. Modern brown bear are so adept at stealing honey that peasants in eastern Europe build their hives on platforms in the branches of beeches that are 50 feet off the ground. The bear is highly adept at hunting, fishing, and foraging.
There are stories of bear picking up cows between their front paws and walking into the forest with them. Bears in Japan have been known to kill horses. The fishing is remarkably simple: the bear wades into the river and uses its front paws to smack the fish out of the water on onto the bank, where they are then picked up and eaten. It is likely that their prehistoric ancestors had similar eating habits.
Bison
The bison, Bison priscus, was a large animal, reaching a height of 6 feet 6 inches, with males weighing up to a ton and females a little less. It had long horns, a strong jaw, and a hump at the level of its shoulders.
Modern bison have a short, light colored spring coat which thickens and darkens in the winter to form a wooly fur that provides some protection against the cold. Prehistoric rock art depicts bison shedding their dark winter coats as well as the light spring fur replacing it.
Uses for Bison Meat and Fat
Each bison yielded between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds of meat, of which that not immediately consumed was smoked or dried. The fat was used as a fuel for the lamps and as lubricant when preparing hides. The hide would be stripped of its fur and used for clothing, moccasins, boots, bags, and mats for the tent floors. The long bones were split so that the nutritious marrow could be eaten. Some of the bones were used to make decorative objects and tools, while others were used as fuel since they had a high fat content. The horns, tendons, intestines, and other more perishable parts may also have been used, but anything made from these decayed millenia before any possible discovery.
Modern European Bison
The bison at in prehistoric times were much larger from the modern European bison, Bison bonasus, which is descended from it. A few small herds of these modern bison still exist today in Poland, most having been killed for food during World War I and II.
European bison live in small herds of twenty to thirty animals, unlike their American counterparts which prefer herds numbering in the hundreds. Old bulls live apart and join the herd only for mating.
Modern Bison Diet
Bison are vegetarians, and eat young tree branches, bark, moss, acorns, lichen, mushrooms and beechnuts. During the winter most of these are not available and they eat heather and berry bushes. They will eat grass only when there is nothing else to eat.
Modern Bison Characteristics
Despite its impressive size, the bison is an agile animal, being able to climb steep slopes and rocky terrain, and move quickly. Its stride can be upwards of 11 feet. They like to swim, roll in sand, and bask in the sun. They are highly intelligent, with a keen sense of smell, and are wary of humans.
Wild Boar
Wild boar were plentiful in prehistoric times and were routinely hunted and trapped. Modern wild boar can weigh up to 440 pounds in Europe and up to 770 pounds in the Carpathians. They are highly intelligent, fearless, and have acute hearing and smell. The tusks are long, curved, and razor sharp, and the powerful jaw is filled with sharp teeth.
Hunting Wild Boar
Confrontations between humans and boar are dangerous, as the boar does not willing back down and will attack an injured human with great zeal. A Balkan proverb directs:
"Bring a doctor for a bear hunt, but you when hunt boar, bring a priest."
Wild Boar Diet
Like the bear, the boar eats whatever it can find: chestnuts, acorns, berries, roots, ferns, flower bulbs, insects, caterpillars, insect larvae, birds, rabbits, rodents, carrion, and even hedgehogs.
Red Deer
The red deer, Cervus elaphus, is the ancestor of modern European deer. Their descendants are between 4 and 5 feet 7 inches high and weigh up to 550 pounds in France and up to 940 pounds in the Carpathian mountains. (The Carpathian variety has horns that weigh as much as 33 pounds.) Modern red deer live in open fields with scattered trees. Unlike the mastodon and mammoth, the deer adapted well to the climactic changes at the end of the ice age, which is why they survive to the present day.
Red Deer Diet
In the summer they primarily graze on grasses, but also eat buds leaves, acorns, berries, mushrooms, and beechnuts. In winter they eat dried grasses, heather, and the bark of coniferous and deciduous trees.
Red Deer Physical Characteristics
Modern red deer have a color that varies from a light brown or blond to an grey brown that is almost black. Young deer have a light tan coat spotted with white that lasts until August. The antlers sprout after the first year, and each year adds a new tine, or antler point. The antlers are covered by a soft skin called velvet during the time they are growing. Antler growth starts in March and is complete by June, and in July the red deer rub their antlers against trees to remove the velvet from the antlers. The antlers last during the mating season and then fall off.
Hunting Red Deer
Like other animals, red deer were hunted for for meat, marrow, and hide, and their teeth were made into necklaces, pendants, and other ornamental objects. The antlers, however, were particularly desirable for spearpoints. Antlers could, notably, be gathered in the fall when they drop off the deer's head. Hunting red deer was likely difficult, unlike the more easily taken reindeer.
Modern red deer can leap over 30 feet and land such that the final elevation is 6 feet higher than where it started. Some deer have been seen to leap 45 feet, landing 9 feet higher. They also can endure a chase of 35 miles.
Types of Horses
There are several types of horses represented in prehistoric French rock art:
Przevalski Horse
[Sculpture of Przevalski Horse]
The Przevalski Horse takes its name from the traveler who discovered a small herd in Mongolia in 1881. (They are also sometimes called Chinese Horses because of this.)
Przevalski Horse Appearance
The Przevalski horse is very small, with short legs, a drooping belly, and a broad back. In winter the normally short coat grows long and thick. The belly is white, but the remainder of the coat ranges from a bluish gray to a pale yellow. There coat sometimes has stripes like a mule, marks on the shoulders, or striped legs like a zebra.
Hemione
The Hemione is a slender donkey with thin legs, a small short head, a long neck, long raised ears, and a tail that is hairless at its base. It is extinct.
Ponies
The Ponies depicted at Lascaux are wooly and thick set, and are clearly distinct from the hemione and long necked horses.
Hunting Horses
Hunting horses during the Magdalenian would have been difficult, as they are fast, strong, aggressive, and have great endurance. Strong legs can back kick most predators. Hunters likely brought down horses by ensnaring or entangling their legs with snares, stretched thongs, or bolas.
A bola is two heavy stones connected with a thong. When thrown the bola flies through the air until it hits something, at which point the stones fly around the object in a circular pattern, but in opposite directions, until the thong is wound up tightly.
How Horse Parts Were Used
Once killed, the horse would have been used for a variety of purposes. The meat would be eaten along with the marrow, and the fat would be used for lamps since it melts at a low temperature. The mane would be plainted into cords. The skin would have been used for clothing, moccasins, bags, etc. The teeth would be drilled with flint drills and made into necklaces and ornaments.
Ibex
[Sculpture of an Ibex]
The ibex, Capra ibex, was regularly painted by prehistoric artists, but usually only in isolated instances, and has been depicted in rock art dated to 23,000 B.C. It has been hunted for at least 35,000 years. The sculpture to the left is based on a pictograph 25,000 years old.
Ibex Physical Characteristics
The modern male ibex is anywhere from 26.5 to 33.5 inches tall, 55 to 61 inches long, and weighs between 165 and 220 pounds. This yields 65 to 155 pounds of meat. The legs are short, but very strong, and the curving horns can be up to 35.5 inches long and weigh up to 33 pounds.
Ibex Mating and Head Butting
These impressive horns are used during mating battles where two males will charge each other and smash their horns together. This behavior is very similar to the musk ox. The fight repeats endlessly until one male finally gives up.
Fights may occur all day and through the night, and durations of twenty four hours are known to occur. Outside of mating time, the males live in groups of about thirty high up in the mountains.
Interestingly, the male ibex cannot always distinguish the female ibex from the domesticated mountain goats which graze in the hills and often mate with them instead. (Or, perhaps, they simply don't particularly care about the difference.) This annoys the male goats, which have smaller horns and are weaker than the ibex, as well as the goat's owner since the offspring of a goat and ibex is particularly unruly.
Ibex Fur
The fur of the male is a brown which darkens with age until it is almost black. Female ibex are much smaller, almost resembling a goat, and rarely exceed 100 pounds. The fur of the female is a pinkish fawn, with black flanks and a white belly. In both male and female the coat thickens for the winter with a moulting ocurring in the spring. During moulting the fur is rubbed off using rocks, much like the Musk Ox.
Ibex Habitat
The ibex evolved to live in the mountains, and is often seen running down nearly vertical rocks. In the winter the ibex remain above 6,600 feet since the snow is shallower and dry grass is often exposed by the winds. It has been found as high as 11,500 feet. Prehistoric ibex lived in low altitudes since they had not yet evolved for very high altitudes.
Near Extinction and Recovery
The ibex was almost driven into extinction, with a serious decline beginning in the sixteenth century when they were hunted with crossbows. The famed "hunting king", King Victor Emmanuel of Italy, rescued a few breeding pairs for his game preserves. The numbers increased, but hungry resistance fighters during World War II again almost drove them into extinction. The species has, however, recovered since.
Lion
The prehistoric ice age lion is similar to the modern lion, but lacks a mane. They were likely as predacious as their descendants and must have posed a danger to all animals as well as to humans. The only known representations of lions is at Lascaux, where there are seven. (Six are known to be lions and the seventh is likely a lion.)
Mammoth
[Sculpture of a Wooly Mammoth]
The mammoth is a large, elephant like beast with long, curved tusks. The trunk is highly flexible and the end is split into a lip which functions much like a finger. Mammoth ate plants, such as willows. Hunting mammoth was difficult, but well worth it since a kill provided an enormous amount of meat and fat, as well as ivory for tools, weapons, and jewelry.
Musk Ox
The musk ox is a hooved ruminant midway between a sheep and an ox, and is called an ovibovine. The name comes from its musky scent.
Musk Ox Physical Appearance
The musk ox is covered by a brown to black coat which is so long and shaggy that it conceals the musk ox's legs and its short tail. The coat helps modern musk oxen live in climates where the winter temperature drops as low as -55 degrees Fahrenheit (-50 Celsius). This coat is shed during the summers, primarily animals rubbing itself against rocks, and the fur is of a higher quality than the sheep. Since thread and woolen articles are perishable, they did not survive to modern times. The horns are thick and sharp, with the horns curving backwards with the tips sideways.
Musk Ox Head Butting During Mating
During the mating season the young male musk ox head butt one another to decide the mating pairings. This behavior is very similar to the ibex. The head butting can be so violent, in fact, that the skull may actually split open.
Musk Ox Herd Behavior
The modern musk ox lives in herds of about 10 to 20 animals in summer, and up to a 100 in the winter, and it is likely that its prehistoric ancestor did the same. When they sense danger, the musk ox form a circle with the young in the center and their horns pointing outward. They then close ranks and charge the enemy with their heads, and thus the deadly horns, pointed low. Modern musk ox have no fear of humans and have been known to chase men for miles at a stretch.
Reindeer
The reindeer lives only in cold forests and the open tundra. Modern reindeer live only in Siberia and the Scandinavian forests. The caribou, a descendant of the prehistoric reindeer, still lives in Canada and Alaska, where it is hunted by native peoples. Caribou migrate great distances, unlike the reindeer, and travel over thousands of miles. In the summer they swim across large rivers and in the winter they cross frozen lakes and sea inlets.
Modern Reindeer Physical Characteristics
Modern reindeer are smaller than deer and have shorter legs, being between 6 feet and 7 feet 3 inches long, stand between 3 feet five inches and 4 feet high, and weigh between 265 and 330 pounds. This means they are substantially smaller than modern Red Deer, and it is likely that the prehistoric varieties had similar proportions.
Unlike deer, both male and female reindeer have antlers which point backwards but then curve forwards and upwards. The antlers are round at the base but widen and flatten towards the ends. One of the prongs becomes more developed and widens into a shovel shape. Females lose their antlers after giving birth while males lose their antlers in November to January. The antlers can weigh between 6.5 and 24 pounds.
The reindeer's hooves are very wide, which help to prevent it from becoming mired in marshes or packed snow. The head is heavy with large eyes. Hair extends over the entire head, down to and including the muzzle tip. The coat is short and lighter on under the neck and breast and darker on the legs and upper neck. The coat thickens in the fall and turns to a grayish white, which helps the reindeer blend in with the winter snow and gray landscape.
Reindeer Diet
Reindeer, eat a variety of food depending upon the time of year. In the summer they eat grasses. In the autumn they eat mushrooms, seaweed on the shore, and even young birds, bird eggs, and small rodents. In the winter they scrap away the snow to eat whatever they can find.
Reindeer Predators
In addition to humans, reindeer are hunted by wolves, lynxes, wolverines, and bears. Predators like these would be bad enough, but, like other mammals, reindeer also preyed up on by flies and horseflies which lay eggs in the reindeer's nasal cavities. When these eggs hatch the larvae burrow under the skin and cause painful abscesses.
Reindeer Social Behavior
Outside of the mating season the adult males live alone or in small groups. The herds are led by an old female and are composed of the females and their young. Modern reindeer in siberia live in herds with thousands of members, which divide into groups of two or three hundred.
Hunting Reindeer
Prehistoric man found the reindeer to be a particularly useful animal. The meat was roasted in the fire, grilled on the red hot fire stones, boiled in skin pots, as well as being prepared for winter storage by curing, drying, and smoking. The skin was used for clothes, hats, hoods, boots and moccasins, blankets, bedding, tent coverings, bags, and waterskins.
The antlers were used to make spearpoints, harpoons, chisels for napping flint, pierced needles, buttons, and waterskin stoppers. Connective tissue, like ligaments and tendons, were used to make sewing thread, string necklaces, bind spearpoints and similar weapons to shafts, tie hide to tent frames, fishing line, and for making snares and traps. Teeth were used for scrapers and similar implements, but were also pierced and used for jewelry. Bones were used for tools, awls, flint trimmers, beads, and ornaments. Some were engraved. The flat shoulder blades were used as plates. Any bones not used were burned as fuel.
After a hunt modern native peoples eat the internal organs and the contents of the stomachs, as well as eating the marrow from the long bones. Sometimes the jawbones and ankle bones were broken open to get at the marrow.
Wooly Rhinoceros
[Sculpture of Frieze of Three Rhinoceros]
The prehistoric wooly rhinoceros, Rhinoceros tichorhinus also known as Coelodonta antiquitatis, was an impressive beast. (The sculpture to the right is based on the famous "Frieze of the three Rhinoceros" from Lascaux, painted about 12,000 B.C.)
Wooly Rhinoceros Preserved in Ice
[Sculpture of First Rhinoceros from Frieze]
Even though it became extinct about 7,500 B.C., a great deal is known about them because of the well preserved carcasses found in Siberian ice and the salt clays of Galicia. Some even have intact stomach contents.
Wooly Rhinoceros Appearance and Diet
The prehistoric rhinoceros was 11 feet 6 inches long and stood 5 feet high. It had two long horns on the head, with one being more than 36 inches long.
[Sculpture of Middle Rhinoceros from Frieze]
The coat was a wooly fleece which provided protection against the cold, as did its partitioned nostrils which prewarm incoming air while extracting heat from the outgoing. Despite its fierce demeanor and appearnce, the prehistoric rhinoceros, like its modern cousin, was a vegetarian, and lived on willow leaves, conifer branches, and steppe plants.
Hunting the Wooly Rhinoceros
[Sculpture of Right Rhinoceros from Frieze]
This fearsome beast had acute senses of hearing and smell, and it is highly unlikely that healthy animals were hunted by any predators, including man. While it could be driven into a pit and killed, this would be enormously dangerous and time consuming, and there was far easier game available.