Possible Solutions

One possible explanation is that the artists, presumably themselves relatively recent immigrants to Britain from more southern or eastern locations, had remembered locally unfamiliar animals, and drew them as a hope of what they wanted to see rather than a depiction of what they could see in the local fauna. They could themselves have been migratory hunters, and spent the winter much further south or east, encountering locally unfamiliar animals there (see Pettitt, this volume). It is alternatively possible that the archaeological record on large mammals in Britain is incomplete, and that remains of bison and ibex remain to be discovered or identified. However, it seems better to argue from the best evidence available, and assume that what we currently have is a fair understanding of the large mammal fauna in Late Glacial Britain.

For the presumed engraving of bison, the alternative identiWcation of aurochs seems more likely. This is true on geographical grounds, since the current record of subfossil and recent bison distribution suggests it is unlikely to have been present in Britain in postglacial times, but aurochs is well recorded then (Table 5.1 and Yalden 1999). It is also true anatomically. The engraving shows the forwardly s-curved horns typical of aurochs, not the short laterally placed and laterally facing horns of bison, and lacks the mane and beard that characterize bison. Artistically, it looks much more like the depictions of aurochsen than of bison at such sites as Lascaux.

For the presumed ibex, alternative explanations are less easy. The simply curved, unbranched horn implies a bovid, but only one other small bovid is recorded in Late Glacial Britain: this is the saiga, a small antelope with short upright, s-curved horns in the male. The engraving does not show the s-curve, but nor does it show the beard that should characterize ibex. However, during the conference, Sergio Ripoll drew attention to what appeared to be the base of a brow tine, and the tip of that tine has since been discerned beyond a break in the engraving (P. Bahn, pers. comm.). The alternative identification of the engraving as a cervid, probably a red deer stag Cervus elaphus (the tine is simple, not palmate as in Rangifer or Megaloceros), seems to resolve the problem (see Ripoll and Munoz, this volume).

References

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