Upper Paleolithic ceramic figurines and similarities to some late Pleistocene pigment and pottery materials and technologies of Eurasia

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Three soft stone technologies that characterize the Upper Paleolithic period are fired ceramic figurines, pigments prepared from colored minerals that often consist of or include clay, and, lastly, pottery vessels. The earliest synthetic material of which we have a permanent artifactual record was made at 26,000 cal BP (Klima 1959b, 1963), marking the beginnings of chemical technology and pyrotechnology and is the concern of the first part of this paper. A review is presented of Upper Paleolithic ceramic figurines at the group of habitation sites in Moravia that includes Dolní Věstonice, Pavlov, Předmosti and Petřkovice. Dolní Věstonice, the only proven production site with the largest collection of ceramics, was the focus of the study because of the possibility of analyzing figurine fragments, kiln remains and raw materials that enabled reverse engineering of the technology. The size of the ceramic inventory and the presence of kilns argue for intentional production of ceramic objects and demonstrates that the relevant cultural practices over time involved repetition and both transmission and learning of a specific, patterned performance behavior of ceramic technology. The high fracture rate encountered and the resistance of the raw material to thermal shock, however, strongly suggest that what was important was not the final, durable product, but rather the process of making and firing and/or refiring of the objects, probably for ritual, ceremonial and political purposes. Similar additive fabrication methods and firing of local pluvial clay deposits was practiced at the site of Maina in Siberia at ca. 15,000 cal BP to make a singular ceramic figurine. At the southern end of the Urals is Kapovaya, a cave with images and a date similar to those at Lascaux and where a single small bowl that may be a fired ceramic was excavated. The second part discusses examples of ceramic processing technology without firing, if we understand ceramics as we define them today to include non-clay products made by processing of fine sub-10 μm, equiaxed or platy particles. Fine clay and pigment particles behave similarly when processed. Clays and pigments were processed at the cave site of Lascaux where excavation of the floor produced evidence of selected, collected and imported naturally occurring mineral and sediment blocks as well as fabricated chalk-like sticks referred to as “crayons.” These ground and fabricated blocks were used as manufacturing elements to apply red, yellow and black pigment to the cave walls at Lascaux. Stone ‘palettes’ were excavated from the floor with in-situ powders that indicate grinding and mixing of clays and pigments. This mixing also occurred on the tips of crayons. The third part is focused on a third ceramic performance technology that preserved physical health of community members: the making and using of pottery vessels for cooking and storage, and a description of some problems involved in reconstructing the processing technology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8-32
Number of pages25
JournalQuaternary International
StatePublished - Jan 20 2022


  • Dolní Věstonice
  • Kapovaya
  • Kostenki I-1
  • Lascaux
  • Maina
  • Upper paleolithic ceramic and pigment technologies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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