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Ancient Ivory Figurine

Archaeologists unearth fragment of ivory belonging to 40,000 year old animal figurine

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Archaeologists from the University of Tübingen have found an ancient fragment of ivory belonging to a 40,000 year old animal figurine. Both pieces were found in the Vogelherd Cave in southwestern Germany, which has yielded a number of remarkable works of art dating to the Ice Age. The mammoth ivory figurine depicting a lion was discovered during excavations around eighty years ago. The new fragment makes up one side of the figurine's head, and the sculpture may be viewed at the Tübingen University Museum from 30 July.

"The figurine depicts a lion," says Professor Nicholas Conard of Tübingen University's Institute of Prehistory and Medieval Archaeology, and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment Tübingen. "It is one of the most famous Ice Age works of art, and until now, we thought it was a relief, unique among these finds dating to the dawn of figurative art. The reconstructed figurine clearly is a three dimensional sculpture."

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 back to the time when the first modern humans settled in 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.

Vogelherd cave panorama

Inside Vogelherd cave panorama. Credit:

The new fragment was discovered when today's archaeologists revisited the work of their predecessors from the 1930s. "We have been carrying out renewed excavations and analysis at Vogelherd Cave for nearly ten years," says Conard. "The site has yielded a wealth of objects that illuminate the development of early symbolic artifacts dating to the period when modern humans arrived in Europe and displaced the indigenous Neanderthals." He points out that the Vogelherd Cave has provided evidence of the world's earliest art and music and is a key element in the push to make the caves of the Swabian Jura a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Ivory figurines found in Vogelherd Cave

Ivory figurines found in Vogelherd Cave, including horse, mammoth, bison, and lion

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.  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.

Source: The above story is based on materials provided by Science Daily.

Featured image: The fragment on the left makes up half the head of the animal figure on the right, showing that the “lion” was fully three-dimensional, and not a relief as long thought. Credit: Hilde Jensen, Universität Tübingen

By April Holloway



angieblackmon's picture

they're lovely pieces and thanks for the breakdown!!

love, light and blessings


angieblackmon's picture

they're lovely pieces and thanks for the breakdown!!

love, light and blessings


Thanks Guillaume!

Horse = Sagittarius
Bison = Taurus
Lion = Leo
Mammoth = Hmmm!

Fish or sea creature = Pisces
Lamb or Ram = Aries
Crab = Cancer
Well endowed lady figurine = Virgo
Scorpion or Raptor =Scorpio
Mountain Goat = Capricorn

As above so below.

aprilholloway's picture


April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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