09-2020, tome 117, 3, p. 391-408 - J.-M. Pétillon, D. Sacchi, P. Cattelain — Un propulseur androgyne magdalénien dans la grotte Gazel (Sallèles-Cabardès, Aude) : comparaisons et commentaires

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09-2020, tome 117, 3, p. 391-408 - J.-M. Pétillon, D. Sacchi, P. Cattelain — Un propulseur androgyne magdalénien dans la grotte Gazel (Sallèles-Cabardès, Aude) : comparaisons et commentaires

Un propulseur androgyne magdalénien  dans la grotte Gazel (Sallèles-Cabardès, Aude)

Comparaisons et commentaires


Jean-Marc Pétillon, Dominique Sacchi, Pierre Cattelain


Résumé : La révision de l’industrie osseuse de la grotte Gazel a permis d’identifier, dans un ensemble attribué à la seconde moitié du Magdalénien moyen, un type d’instrument dont on connaissait seulement deux ou trois exemplaires dans le Paléolithique récent européen : un fragment de propulseur androgyne (ou type 1, « à gouttière et éperon ») façonné en bois de renne. Typologiquement très différent des autres propulseurs issus du même site, cet objet présente en revanche de fortes similarités avec les propulseurs androgynes découverts à Laugerie-Basse et au Flageolet II. Son identification permet d’étendre l’aire de répartition de ce type du Périgord jusqu’à la Montagne Noire, attestant de contacts lointains, et de l’ancrer chronologiquement dans le Magdalénien moyen récent. Les propulseurs de type 1 représentent ainsi une nouvelle manifestation de l’inventivité technique qui se déploie au Magdalénien moyen récent dans le domaine de l’armement. Le propulseur de Gazel affiche une taille réduite par rapport à ses équivalents de Laugerie-Basse et du Flageolet II et l’idée selon laquelle nous aurions affaire à un propulseur d’enfant paraît recevable.


Mots-clés : arme, chasse, Gazel, industrie osseuse, Isturitz, Laugerie-Basse, le Flageolet II, Magdalénien, Paléolithique récent, propulseur.


Abstract: Although the spearthrower is an iconic weapon of the European Upper Paleolithic, only 115 unquestionable specimens are known to date, their number increases rather slowly and many of them have no precise chronological and cultural context. For this reason, each discovery of a new specimen is important, especially when it belongs to a poorly documented type and comes from a precise archeological context. The spearthrower presented in this paper comes from the Gazel cave, the largest and best documented Magdalenian site in the Mediterranean Midi, excavated between 1977 and 1994. The Magdalenian levels of Gazel yielded more than 12,000 lithic artefacts, 1,000 pieces of worked bone and antler, 200 personal ornaments, and a very rich faunal record dominated by reindeer, snow hare and horse, complemented by ptarmigan and chough. The characteristics of the industries, and a series of 4 radiocarbon dates by AMS, reliably place the Magdalenian occupation of Gazel in the Late Middle Magdalenian (LMM, ca. 17.5-17 cal ka BP).

The fragment of antler spearthrower was found at the bottom of layer 7 (fig. 1-4). It is 57 mm long, 13 mm wide and 9.5 m thick, with a curved profile in the distal part. Its upper side shows a longitudinal gutter, 5 mm wide and 1 mm deep, ending in a short spur (fig. 5). The presence of this “gutter and spur” system to hold the projectile in place is characteristic of “type 1” spearthrowers—i.e., “mixed type” or “androgynous” spearthrowers, as opposed to male and female types. The upper face is decorated with 4 longitudinal striae and the morphology of the proximal fracture suggests breakage during use.

Layer 7 yielded 6 other objects that can unquestionably, probably or possibly classified as fragments of antler spearthrowers (fig. 6). Two specimens belong to type 3 (decorated with an herbivore fore-end, usually a horse, integrated in to the general shape of the shaft) and one can be related to type 4 (decorated with an “in the round” figure, or ronde-bosse, protruding from the shaft). The material, dimensions and morphology of the last 3 objects are compatible with an identification as spearthrower fragments, without certainty. None is typologically or morphologically compatible with the androgynous specimen.

Outside the specimen from Gazel, only 3 androgynous spearthrowers are known in the European Upper Paleolithic. The specimen from Isturitz (fig. 7) dates to the LMM but is morphologically very different from the object found at Gazel, and its identification as spearthrower remains debated. Conversely, the specimen from Laugerie-Basse (fig. 8-9), found in the 1860s and deprived of any precise archeological context, is very similar to the object from Gazel: it was made from an antler tine, shows a “gutter and spur” system, has a curved profile in the distal part, and is decorated with striae. The specimen from Le Flageolet II (fig. 10) was found out of context but very probably comes from layer IX, which is 14C-dated to the Middle Magdalenian (probably the LMM according to its lithic industries). Made of bone, it is also very similar to the Gazel and Laugerie-Basse specimens: it has a “gutter and spur” system, a slightly curved distal profile, and a decoration mostly made of carved incisions.

While type 1 spearthrowers had no precise chronological attribution so far, the identification of the androgynous spearthrower from Gazel firmly places this type within the LMM, between 17.5 and 17 cal ka BP according to the 14C data from layer 7. This discovery also extends the distribution area of type 1 spearthrowers outside the Périgord to the Montagne Noire, thus adding to the list of evidence for long-distance contacts in this region during the Magdalenian.

The attribution of type 1 spearthrowers to the LMM reinforces the idea that this period constitutes, at the scale of the whole Magdalenian, the peak of technical and stylistic variation for this type of weapon. It is yet another example of the technical inventiveness visible in weapon design during this period, and which represents the culmination of a long-term trend starting in the beginning of the Magdalenian.

The specimen from Gazel shows small dimensions compared to the ones from Laugerie-Basse and Le Flageolet II (fig. 11). These unusually small dimensions are also found on a few specimens belonging to other types of Magdalenian spearthrowers. The hypothesis that these “miniature” weapons were made for children is admissible but cannot be ascertained.


Keywords: Gazel, hunting, Isturitz, Late Paleolithic, Laugerie-Basse, le Flageolet II, Magdalenian, osseous industry, spearthrower, weapon.