Wednesday, January 27, 2016


An elk skull showing the ivory remnant tusk.
It's up by the snout, above the other teeth.

At Saint-Germain-la-Riviére, which is 30 kms east of Bordeaux, France, there are many Paleolithic burials.  A young woman in a stone box formed by slabs was buried curled on her side and painted with ochre.  Her hand was over her face.  An inventory photo of what was buried with her showed the ornaments below:

The 71 Red Deer Teeth from a Paleolithic grave

My mouth fell open!  Elk teeth!  A favourite addition to fine Blackfeet clothing!  But these were in France, collected from elk killed 19,000 years ago!  I temporarily abandoned the Paleolithic woman while I looked for an explanation of those elk teeth.  We didn't mount many elk heads during the time I was connected to the Scriver Taxidermy shop, but when we did we used a hollow paper maché blank with the hide glued on and discarded the skull, except that the antlers were bolted back onto the form.  I never saw the teeth taken out, just rattling around in a little box later.

I knew that elk teeth were valuable and treasured by members of the "Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks" as an addition to watch fobs or cuff links.  I knew that they were equivalent to eye teeth.  I did NOT know that they are evolutionary remnants of what were once tusks or that they were as ivory as elephant tusks.  Maybe I should say "DE-volutionary remnants.  Most big deer, "red deer" in Europe and elk in America, have these ivory teeth.  Sometimes whitetails or other European deer will have small versions or a tooth on only one side.

A narwhale with his tusk tooth.

The premise is that a primordial common ancestor had tusks, an ancestor that eventually fanned out into elephants, narwhales, and pigs (you know how boars have tusks in circles, good for bracelets).  That's REALLY old, before whales took to the water.  On a narwhale the tusk is long and spiralled, so that in Europe it was often thought to be a unicorn's horn.  These "tusk" teeth are striking enough that meat-eaters noticed because they were hunters and hunters notice everything.  Today hunters still save them, but it's also possible to buy them from wild meat processors or, for the faint-hearted, to buy plastic imitations.

This child's dress has "teeth" carved from bone.

This more fanciful modern cape mixes teeth with beadwork.

Of course, the more elk teeth the better, because it means a good hunter in the family.  Crow people are very fond of elk teeth, and I deduce that this because there are many elk where they are settled.  Some say "too many" elk.  They are also raised domestically.  Elk hide would make a lighter, more supple dress, though some women preferred antelope, esp in summer.

Elk teeth, drilled.

Cowrie shells, drilled.

Cowrie shells, which are just about the same size and color as elk teeth, make good substitutes.  Not unlike baroque pearls. The abstract anthropological idea is called "accumulation," when similar objects are used together.  If there were one string through all the holes, they would be an "enchainment."  It's revealing to archeologists to study the trade routes of these shells which stretched across America.  Later Euro traders offered thimbles and falconry bells, which were often used in the same way.  Jingle dresses respond to the same impulse, with the addition of sound when the snoose can lids jangle.  Of course, the Pacific Northwest tribes have used buttons in sequences.

This cowrie shell cape is almost Victorian, suggesting lace and tassels.

Several sculptors have become interested in the people of the Paleolithic, which were very close to us except for their material culture.  We are curious about their minds since their brains look like ours.  Did they see the world the same way?  Or were their connectomes wired differently?  Reconstruction artists who specialize in ultra-realistic portraits have been commissioned to create people like this woman with all the elk teeth.

This is what Elizabeth Daynes suggests the woman found at
Saint-Germain-la-Riviére may have looked like.  Her work is esp. appealing.  Google "Daynes Atelier."

The skeleton as it was found on the left.
Elizabeth Daynes' forensic reconstruction on the right.

WIKI:  "The Paleolithic AgeEra or Period is a prehistoric period of human history distinguished by the development of the most primitive stone tools discovered, and covers roughly 95% of human technological prehistory. It extends from the earliest known use of stone tools, probably by hominins such as australopithecines, 2.6 million years ago, to the end of the Pleistocene around 10,000 BP.

"The Paleolithic era is followed by the Mesolithic. The date of the Paleolithic–Mesolithic boundary may vary by locality as much as several thousand years. During the Paleolithic period, humans grouped together in small societies such as bands, and subsisted by gathering plants and fishing, hunting or scavenging wild animals.The Paleolithic is characterized by the use of knapped stone tools, although at the time humans also used wood and bone tools. Other organic commodities were adapted for use as tools, including leather and vegetable fibers; however, due to their nature, these have not been preserved to any great degree. Surviving artifacts of the Paleolithic era are known as paleoliths."

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