IN THE CAVE OF LA ROCHE near La¬linde, in the Dordogne of France, two heavy chunks of limestone were discovered in the 1920’s on the floor of a late Ice Age habitation, dating from 12,000 B.C. On these stones are engraved outlines of extremely abstract human female figures, without heads, hands, or feet. The main feature is greatly exaggerated buttocks (page 84).
The figures are unusual, with little that we today would stress as either human or female. Yet we know that this basic recurrent but¬tocks form is female, because occasionally a breast is attached to it.
When I put the La Roche stones under the microscope, it was instantly clear that, like the Ice Age animals, these images had been used over and over again. After an image had been engraved, sometimes quite crudely, it was later crossed out or marked within the central region as many as nine separate times. Each mark in a female was made by a differ¬ent tool point, presumably at a different time.
Someone had engaged in periodic marking of these female images, either for purposes of ritual or notation. But what was being peri¬odically marked or recorded? Did these marks notate the months in the female cycle or in gestation?
Hundreds of stones with these female im¬ages have been found at Gonnersdorf, Ger¬many, on a hill overlooking the Rhine River. The site was an Ice Age camp later covered by a volcanic eruption. Here, as at La Roche, the female images seem to have been used and renewed many times. Some figures had been re-engraved so many times that deep grooves had been cut into the rock. One stone contains two female images, one of which is slightly more realistic than usual, since it includes a breast and two upraised arms.
This image was marked twice by the kind of lines found on the La Roche stones and was then used in a most unusual way, by the addition of what appears to be a fetus (op¬posite). The microscope revealed what I think is an umbilical cord connecting the female image to the fetus, which is depicted with neither arms nor legs. If so, this is the only image of a human birth ever found from the Ice Age. The engraving, perhaps made by an adult woman living in the camp, may have been related to the monthly periods and eventual pregnancy.
At what point in the biological sequence the fetus was engraved we cannot tell, but in the hundreds of Gonnersdorf stones found in the habitation we seem to have evidence of a female symbol system or a form of record keeping, very likely by adult women. The markings seem to indicate a knowledge and use of symbols to document human processes and activity.