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May. 18, 2012

Paleo Playboy?

by Annette Heist

Click to enlarge images
Anthropologists working at Abri Castanet, a site in southern France, say they’ve found wall art on the collapsed roof of a rock shelter that appears to be slightly older than the famous cave paintings at Grotte Chauvet. (The oldest wall art known.) The works, made by the Aurignacian people, are estimated to be about 37,000 years old. And the graphic images, could be interpreted as, well, graphic.    
 
Some of the newly discovered images (including the one pictured above) fall into the “vulvar tradition,” according to Randall White, an anthropology professor at NYU and a member of the team that discovered the works. White says that the early 20th century anthropologists who first encountered the circular form with a slit (an image which he says appears again and again in the region) interpreted it as representing the female vulva. While that interpretation is still up for debate (some say the images represent animal hoof prints), the “vulvar” label stuck.
 
As for White’s interpretation: “Some are convincingly vulvar. Some are convincingly hoof prints.  Maybe it’s a polysemic approach in which women are being linked to animals in interesting ways.”  
 
The findings are reported in this week’s issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
About Annette Heist

Annette Heist is a former senior producer for Science Friday.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Science Friday® and SciFri® are registered service marks of Science Friday, Inc. Site design by Pentagram; engineering by Mediapolis.

 

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