Jet, known also as “gagate”, is a carbon fossil, compact and very light. It is a lustrous black stone which has a hardness of 2.5-4 (quite soft) and a specific gravity of 1.30-1.35. Another name of jet is “black amber”. During historic times Jet was known in ancient Egypt, where it was used for making mirrors, in Greece and Rome they used it for cutting amulets, bracelets and rings. Its use for adornments continues until today.
This jet pendant (21x6x3 mm), quadrangular and finely polished with some discontinuous transverse incisions shows a damaged eyelet on the base. It comes from an old (pre 1930) private collection of artifacts from Abri Pataud / Les Eyzies (Dordogne; France). The collection consists of about 7000 artifacts; most of them are cores and preparation chips. About 300 non retouched blades and ca 200 bladelets are present. Among the retouched pieces, there are 25 Microgravettes, one large Gravette, one point de Tursac and 27 Noailles burins among other, non-diagnostic artifacts. Not a single Aurignacian artifact was present and there is only one shouldered point from the upper Solutrean. It is therefore reasonable to presume that the pendant comes from a middle Gravettian layer.
Items of personal adornment in the European Upper Palaeolithic are created from a variety of different materials including “limestone, schist, talc-schist, talc, mammalian teeth, bone, antler and ivory, fossil and contemporary species of marine and freshwater shells, fossil coral, fossil belemnite, jet, lignite, hematite, and pyrite” (White 1997:98). These are the materials that have survived in the archaeological record, although it is possible that items of personal adornment included materials and techniques that would not have preserved.
Jet (Gagat, Lignite) outcrops are relatively limited to a few areas in Western and Central Europe. During the Gravettian this material was used in only a few limited German Gravettian sites (Mainz-Linsenberg, Napoleonskopf and Koblenz Metternich in the middle Rhine area). However, it was used in over half the German Magdalenian sites and a third of the Magdalenian sites in the Czech Republic. The increase in the use of this material reflects both innovation in the use of a local material for ornaments and also the increase in the importance of this material reflecting group preferences.
The Petersfels site is a find spot of numerous gagat figurines of the so-called “Lalinde / Gönnersdorf” type, all dated to the late Paleolithic (Magdalenian, Romanellian). Bosinski calls these representations of the femal body: “femmes sans tete” (http://www.actes-sud.fr/catalogue/prehistoire-protohistoire/femmes-sans-tete) Indeed these figurines display no head and are highly stylized femal bodies, with over-sized buttocks, long trunks and small or missing breasts. They are known from France (Fontalès, Lalinde, Gare de Couze), Germany (Gönnersdorf, Andernach, Petersfels, Nebra, Oelknitz) but are also from Moravia (Pekárna), Mégarnie, in Belgium, Wilczyce in Poland and Italia (Grotta Romanelli). Anyhow, Jet was selectively used for the Petersfels, Pekarna and Monrouz figurines.
At Pataud, shells, bone tubes and animal teeth (bear, fox) were used for the production of pendants during the Gravettian. The pendant displayed here is the first Gagat object from this site, and to my knowledge, even the first Gagat pendant of the West European Gravettian known up to now. It took 80 years and several cycles of meticulous screening the old excavation material to recognize this item, and I am sure that similar examples can be recognized in other old collections, too. You only find what you expect….