Archaeologists Piece Together Ancient Ice Age Artwork
Recent archaeological excavations at Vogelherd Cave in the Lone Valley of Southwestern Germany recovered the head of an ivory figurine whose body was first uncovered at the original site dig in 1931, enabling researchers to finally complete the work of art and identify the figurine as that of a lion.
Vogelherd Cave, which covers an area of 170 square metres, is the richest of four caves in the region to have produced examples of the world’s earliest figurative art, dating as far back as 40,000 years ago, when the first modern humans settled Europe. The faunal assemblages suggest that the cave was used over tens of thousands of years for butchering, processing and consuming game resources. It was first discovered when Stone Age artefacts turned up from a badger’s burrow leading to a thorough exploration conducted by Gustav Riek in 1931.
The finds range from the Middle Palaeolithic to modern times but the world-renowned ivory carvings originate from the Middle Aurignacian period. The Aurignacians are defined as a series of Upper Palaeolithic cultures in Europe that existed from about 38,000 to 20,000 years ago. They were characterized by their use of stone and bone tools, refinement of those tools, and the development of sculpture and cave painting.
Overall, Vogelherd Cave has yielded more than two dozen figurines and fragments of figurines made from mammoth ivory, including wild horse, bison, reindeer, rhinoceros, mammoth, snow leopard, and human statuette. Now the newly assembled lion forms an important part of the display of the earliest art at the Museum of the University of Tübingen (MUT) in Hohentübingen Castle.
According to archaeologist Nicholas J. Conard from the University of Tübingen, the figurines are "among the oldest and most impressive examples of figurative artworks from the Ice Age”. They are in fact the oldest known pieces of art and are currently considered key elements in definitions for modern human behaviour and early cultural innovation.