Seasonal Markers: Seven Series of Magdalenian Images and Their Symbolic Use

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Andrea Castelli


This article presents results from an extensive review of the figurative images engraved on different classes of Middle and Upper Magdalenian artifacts made from organic materials. Seven of the recurrent subjects identified reveal a clear focus on selected anatomical and behavioral characters only displayed by the corresponding species at a well-defined time of the year, referred to here as a biological season. These seasonal characters were regularly emphasized by the image-makers in direct and indirect ways, including image framing, selective stylization, and the omission or reduction of other features. These findings are explained with a new theory inspired by selected remarks found in the writings of the late Alexander Marshack. Unlike existing theories on the meaning of Paleolithic art, the one presented here is directly based on the archaeological evidence and can only be applied to selected series of images, whose definition relies on the newly introduced concept of recurrent subjects. While future research will likely extend its application to additional examples and series, it could never become another general theory because at least two series falling outside its scope are known.

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