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International Astronomical Union


Category of Astronomical Heritage: tangible movable
The Thaïs Bone, France

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  • Format: Short Description (ICOMOS-IAU Case Study format)

    Presentation

    Geographical position 
    • InfoTheme: Earlier prehistory
      Entity: 2
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 1
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2011-08-22 11:08:01
      Author(s): Michael Rappenglück

    The Thaïs cave (Grotte de Thaïs, variants Thaï/Taïs/Taï) is situated in Saint-Nazaire-en-Royans, Département de la Drôme, France.

     

    Location 
    • InfoTheme: Earlier prehistory
      Entity: 2
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 8
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2012-08-04 09:08:45
      Author(s): Michael Rappenglück with contributions by Clive Ruggles

    Original location (find spot): Latitude 45° 3′ 53″ N, longitude 5° 16′ 24″ E. Elevation 220m above mean sea level.

    Current location: Latitude 44.931083° N, 4.889697 E (see Present Use)

     

    General description 
    • InfoTheme: Earlier prehistory
      Entity: 2
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 1
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2011-08-22 11:08:01
      Author(s): Michael Rappenglück

    The Thaïs cave is located close to the confluence of the rivers Bourne and Isère, at the foot of the Vercors limestone massif. It consists of two dry sections and continues down into a large and deep system of water-filled galleries.

     

    Brief inventory 
    • InfoTheme: Earlier prehistory
      Entity: 2
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 3
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2012-08-03 22:44:55
      Author(s): Michael Rappenglück with contributions by Clive Ruggles

    Bone fragment no. 450, hereinafter ‘the Thaá»s bone’, was excavated from the cave in 1968-69. Its archaeological context indicates a date around 12,000 BP, in the early Azilian period. It is part of a bovine rib, measuring 87 mm × 27 mm, and is engraved on both faces.

    <strong>The ‘main face’ of the Thaá»s bone, after Marshack 1991

    Fig. 1: The ‘main face’ of the Thaá»s bone, after Marshack 1991, fig. 1

    The

    Fig. 2: The reverse of the Thaá»s bone, after Marshack 1991, fig. 1

    The ‘main face’ contains seven long incised lines running more or less parallel to the longer edges. Connecting lines evident in one corner indicate that these actually formed a single line criss-crossing the face in boustrophedon style. Engraved perpendicular to this principal line, both above, below and over it, are large numbers of shorter strokes grouped into distinct sets 1-2 cm long. Microscopic analysis shows that the sets of marks were made using various tools at different times. The sequence is characterized by clustering, variation, and periodicity.

    The reverse contains one further line crossed by shorter strokes, together with a small remaining part of a second. It also contains six broader strokes in the perpendicular direction.

     

    History 
    • InfoTheme: Earlier prehistory
      Entity: 2
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 1
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2011-08-22 11:08:01
      Author(s): Michael Rappenglück

    A limited exploration of the cave was undertaken in 1878, according to dated graffiti the speleologists left behind. The first of several siphons was discovered in 1957, enabling access to the water-filled galleries. Excavations were carried out 1968–69 by J.É. and J.L. Brochier. In the 1970s the cave was set up for visits by tourists.

     

    Cultural and symbolic dimension 
    • InfoTheme: Earlier prehistory
      Entity: 2
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 3
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2012-08-03 22:49:39
      Author(s): Michael Rappenglück with contributions by Clive Ruggles

    The engraving on the Thaá»s bone is a non-decorative notational system of considerable complexity. The cumulative nature of the markings together with their numerical arrangement and various

    <strong>Line drawing of the front face of the Thaá»s bone

    Fig. 3: Line drawing of the front face of the Thaá»s bone, showing the boustrophedon sequence and groupings of markings, after Marshack 1991, fig. 5

    The luni-solar time-reckoning model

    Fig. 4: The luni-solar time-reckoning model, after Marshack 1991, fig. 7

    other characteristics strongly suggest that the notational sequence on the main face represents a non-arithmetical record of day-by-day lunar and solar observations undertaken over a time period of as much as 3› years. The markings appear to record the changing appearance of the moon, and in particular its crescent phases and times of invisibility, and the shape of the overall pattern suggests that the sequence was kept in step with the seasons by observations of the solstices. The latter implies that people in the Azilian period were not only aware of the changing appearance of the moon but also of the changing position of the sun, and capable of synchronizing the two.

     

    Comparative analysis 
    • InfoTheme: Earlier prehistory
      Entity: 2
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 1
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2011-08-22 11:08:01
      Author(s): Michael Rappenglück

    The markings on the Thaïs bone represent the most complex and elaborate time-factored sequence currently known within the corpus of Palaeolithic mobile art. The artefact demonstrates the existence, within Upper Palaeolithic (Azilian) cultures c. 12,000 years ago, of a system of time reckoning based upon observations of the phase cycle of the moon, with the inclusion of a seasonal time factor provided by observations of the solar solstices.

     

    Authenticity and integrity 
    • InfoTheme: Earlier prehistory
      Entity: 2
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 2
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2012-04-24 21:27:18
      Author(s): Michael Rappenglück with contributions by Clive Ruggles

    The Thaá»s bone was discovered in situ in 1968-69 with the sequence of markings intact. None of them could have occurred naturally, demonstrating conclusively that this rib fragment was engraved by people in the Azilian period.

     

    Management and use

    Present use 
    • InfoTheme: Earlier prehistory
      Entity: 2
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 2
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2014-01-15 14:04:57
      Author(s): Michael Rappenglück

    The Thaá»s bone is in the collection of the Musée de Valence, France (inventory no. 792-33). The museum is closed to the public from 2006 to 2012 for renovation work.

    The museum reopened 2013 after the renovation work was finished.

     

    Main threats or potential threats 
    • InfoTheme: Earlier prehistory
      Entity: 2
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 2
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2012-04-24 21:30:33
      Author(s): Michael Rappenglück with contributions by Clive Ruggles

    There are no potential threats to the object within the scope of normal storage, apart from damage resulting from force majeure.

     

    Context and environment 
    • InfoTheme: Earlier prehistory
      Entity: 2
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 2
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2012-05-13 13:12:44
      Author(s): Michael Rappenglück with contributions by Clive Ruggles

    The Thaá»s cave is situated close to the Campalou rock shelter (Abri de Campalou). This contained a rich archaeological layer dating to the Late Magdalenian (12,800 ┬▒ 300 BP) and Epipalaeolithic-Azilian, where engravings on bone artefacts have also been found.

     

    Archaeological / historical / heritage research 
    • InfoTheme: Earlier prehistory
      Entity: 2
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 1
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2011-08-22 11:08:01
      Author(s): Michael Rappenglück

    Initial studies of the Thaïs bone were undertaken by J.-É. and J.-L. Brochier in the early 1970s, following its discovery in their excavations of 1968–69. The substantive analysis and interpretation was carried out by Alexander Marshack in the course of his own meticulous microscopic examination of the object during the 1970s and 1980s.

     

    Management, interpretation and outreach 
    • InfoTheme: Earlier prehistory
      Entity: 2
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 1
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2011-08-22 11:08:01
      Author(s): Michael Rappenglück

    There are no special management arrangements relating to this object.

     

    References

    Bibliography (books and published articles) 
    • InfoTheme: Earlier prehistory
      Entity: 2
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 2
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2012-04-24 21:32:04
      Author(s): Michael Rappenglück with contributions by Clive Ruggles

    Brochier, J.-áë. and Brochier, J.-L. (1973). ’L’art mobilier de deux nouveaux gisements magdaléniens áâ St Nazaire en Royans‘, áëtudes Préhistoriques 4, 1-12.

    Brochier, J.-L. and Soleil, P. (1991). Préhistoire. (Parcours/Collections). Valence: Musée de Valence.

    A. Marshack (1991). ’The Taá» plaque and calendrical notation in the Upper Palaeolithic‘, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 1(1), 25-61.

     

    Links to external sites 
    • InfoTheme: Earlier prehistory
      Entity: 2
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 2
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2014-01-15 14:12:41
      Author(s): Michael Rappenglück

    Musee de Valance

     

    Theme

    Earlier prehistory

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