The Double Figurine: The Support

Published Dec 23, 2007

This 15.1 cm long piece is actually composed of two ivory figurines (5.2 cm long and 1.2 cm in diameter and 7.0 cm long and 1.2 to 1.4 cm in diameter) and a sort of thinned, tabular stem (2.9 cm long) "attached" at the tops of their heads. This stem, which is obviously not part of the lower extremities of the statuette, seems to have served as a "handle" during the working of the figures. Inexplicably, it has been ignored by previous authors who included its length within that of the figure to which it remains attached.

The support for this piece was extracted from the exterior layers of a mammoth tusk (Figure 2) where the lamina are relatively thin. The more finished of the two sculpted figures is toward the proximal end of the tusk, the other toward the distal, as indicated by the fact that the lamina converge toward the stemmed end. Both sculpted figures have their backs to the central core of the tusk and their abdomens toward the outside of the tusk, an orientation that in my experience predominates among ivory figurines from the Russian Plain.

Longitudinal scraping facets on as yet unsculpted surfaces of the human figures, such as the back of the proximal figure, indicate that subsequent to extraction the rough ivory baguette was scraped longitudinally (burin facet or unretouched blade). This would have allowed the sculptor to regularize the surface and to render the baguette uniformly cylindrical in section.

The conception of the blank (Figure 3) seems to have been that of a cylinder transected by more or less equally thick "tranches." As we shall see the sculptor exploited the existence of these thin lamina running longitudinally up the support as a means of creating relief by transverse cutting/sawing that enabled the differential lifting away of lamina along the points of weakness inherent in the inter-laminar boundaries (Figure 4). Since these inter-laminar boundaries are not points of weakness in fresh tusks, it is almost certain that the tusk used was sub-fossil in age with considerable degradation of the odontoblasts that bind together the lamina in living tusk (see White 1996).

The only location where true sculpting was required to create relief during early stages of statuette production was where contours needed to be oblique to the laminar boundaries (e.g., the upper chest; the lower abdomen in the zone between the navel and the pubic area). In most of the Russian Plain statuettes, most finishing detail was not by means of sculpting, but rather by gouging, incising, grinding and polishing. This approach to statuette production which initially exploits the natural inter-laminar weaknesses, is also visible on other Gagarino Statuettes and is somewhat more characteristic of Gagarino than of the culturally related sites of Avdeevo (Gvozdover 1996) and Kostienki I (Abramova 1962, 1995; Praslov 1995, 1996). As a case in point, two statuettes from Avdeevo , a large ├ębauche (Statuette 4) and the much more finished Statuette 7 were created on supports in which most relief had to be created by significant sculpting as the lamina were arranged perpendicular to the front and back surfaces (Figure 5).

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