Master and apprentice: Evidence for learning in palaeolithic portable art

Publication date: November 2016Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 75
Author(s): Olivia Rivero
This paper presents the results of the statistical analysis of 280 pieces of Cantabrian and Pyrenean Middle Magdalenian portable art. Particular technical traces left on the medium by the act of engraving were identified through microscopic analysis and used to build a quantitative estimation of the overall technical aptitude of the engraver. Some traces considered as accidents or errors in the tracing were counted negatively, whereas others reflecting control of the tool and mastership in the use of various techniques were counted positively. A multivariate analysis based on this quantitative index, along with criteria including the type of medium was carried out using Correspondence Factor Analysis and completed with relevant statistical tests. The analysis clearly distinguishes three groups of pieces: those with a negative index, those that present a low positive index resulting from a balance between positive and negative traces, and those with a highly positive index.These different categories of pieces may be tentatively assigned to different levels of experience in tool control and engraving techniques. The mean value of the technical index seems to be correlated with the type of medium and differs significantly in the various sites studied in the corpus. These data allow us to pose some hypotheses concerning the transmission of knowledge in Magdalenian societies, such as differential access to raw materials according to the engraver’s experience, and different functionality of sites based on their production of decorated objects.