Behold Lion Man, an ancient figurine sculpted from a mammoth's tusk. Discovered back in 1939, this remarkable ice age piece was initially dated at 32,000 years-old, but a new carbon dating analysis has pushed it further back in time to 40,000 years ago — making it the oldest figurative sculpture ever discovered. So yes, this thing was actually sculpted by a paleolithic human who was romping around Europe at the mid-point of the last ice age.
When Lion Man was first discovered at the back of the Stadel Cave in the Swabian Alps in Germany, it was broken into 200 tiny pieces. Experts re-assembled it in 1970, where it assumed the characteristics of a standing bear or big cat — but with human characteristics. It stood 12 inches tall (30 cm), and was missing about 30-percent of its total mass.
Martin Bailey of The Art Newspaper reports on the latest developments:
Further fragments were later found among the previously excavated material and these were added to the figure in 1989. At this point, the sculpture was recognised as representing a lion. Most specialists have regarded it as male, although paleontologist Elisabeth Schmid controversially argued that it was female, suggesting that early society might have been matriarchal.
The latest news is that almost 1,000 further fragments of the statue have been found, following recent excavations in the Stadel Cave by Claus-Joachim Kind. Most of these are minute, but a few are several centimetres long. Some of the larger pieces are now being reintegrated into the figure.
Conservators have removed the 20th-century glue and filler from the 1989 reconstruction, and are now painstakingly reassembling the Lion Man, using computer-imaging techniques. "It is an enormous 3D puzzle", says the British Museum curator Jill Cook.
The revised date pushes Lion Man back to the oldest sculpture ever found, which includes two smaller and less sophisticated carvings found in the Swabian Alps dating back 35,000 and 40,000 years respectively. Etching have been found that are even older, but nothing quite like this.
A replica of Lion Man is now on display at the British Museum.
Image: British Museum.