This term comes from the Latin word for club-shaped (Bahn & Vertut 1997: 167). A typical claviform is defined as a vertical bar with a small bump at the upper end (Clottes 2008: 314). It is also known as a ‘P-sign’ (Marshack 1972: 311), and is sometimes interpreted, and therefore identified in inventories, as being a stylized female figure (Bahn & Vertut 1997: 167).
Other than a single appearance at the Aurignacian site of Chauvet (dated by Carbon 14 to 32,000 28,000 years ago), all other examples of claviforms in France are from 22,000 years ago or later. This gap of at least 6,000 years between the appearances of this sign type becomes less inexplicable when the fact that there are also sites in Spain with claviforms (for example El Pindal and La Cullalvera) is taken into consideration. An important direction for further study would be to incorporate this region into my database, and see if the absence and re-appearance in France can be explained by the use of this sign elsewhere, as well as helping to establish potential migration routes for both people and culture.
Altogether in France, there are currently 25 known sites where the claviform is present. From 22,000 years onward, when this sign becomes a more regular feature at sites, we see a clear upward trend of use: 12% in the Solutrean, 23% in the Magdalenian and 25% in the Late Magdalenian. This suggests a continued and growing importance of the symbol type once it had been re-introduced. Traditionally, it was believed that the distribution of the claviform sign was heavily centered on the region of the Pyrénées. While this region is an important focal point of this sign type, it is by no means exclusive to this area. In fact, during the Solutrean, three out of the four known sites are far to the east near the Alps.
In the Magdalenian, for the very first time we see the claviform move into the SW region of France. This is actually a very unusual pattern, as in most cases, signs appear in this region first, or are consistently present here throughout the Ice Age period. Such a late arrival suggests that its pattern of development and use is following a different trajectory than most of the other sign types.
Genevieve von Petzinger
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Geometric Signs in France
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