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The cave lion figurine found recently in Siberia’s Denisova Cave.        Source: The Siberian Times

45,000-year-old Cave Lion Figurine Uncovered At Denisova Cave


Another sensational first for the Denisovans, supporting their advanced nature. From the Siberian Times of November 20, 2019 comes news that archaeologists working within the Denisovan layer in Siberia’s Denisova Cave have found a 45,000 year old cave lion statue made from woolly mammoth tusk. It is abstract in form showing just a body, underbelly and hind legs, its head being sadly missing. There are no front limbs.

Across the surface of the body are series of inscribed lines, presumably signifying fur. These marks are in groups of four, showing an artistic style that has been well thought out and executed, the entire piece being polished afterwards. In all there are 18 “rows” of these inscribed notches across the body, a figure that might raise an eyebrow or two as this is the number of years in an eclipse cycle, known in Chaldean and Babylonian astronomy as a saros.

Oldest Animal Effigy

The great age of this beautiful art object, tentatively put at 40,000-45,000 years, corresponding with the Early Upper Paleolithic age, makes it the oldest representation of an animal found in Siberia, North Asia and arguably even in the world, meaning that the Denisovans, who occupied the cave at this time, must - in the absence of any modern human activity being found there - be credited with this magnificent achievement.

The Denisova Cave in southern Siberia. CC BY SA 4.0

The art object is quite small, being just 42mm long (1.75 inches), 8mm thick (0.31 inches) and 11mm high (0.43 inches). It is thought to represent a cave lion ( Panthera spelaea), an animal that, during the last ice age, would inhabit the valleys of the Altai Mountains in which the Denisova Cave is located in southern Siberia.

It was found inside the 11th layer of the southern gallery of the Denisova Cave, this already being known as the Denisovan layer. Here, for instance, back in 2008 archaeologists found a tiny finger bone that would afterwards be sequenced to reveal that it belonged not to a Neanderthal or anatomical modern human, but to a previously unknown hominin species that would come to be called the Denisovans after their initial place of discovery.

In age, the Denisova cave lion beats by many thousands of years the Lowenmensch figurine or Lion-man of Hohlenenstein-Stadel found in a German cave in 1939. This is thought to be between 35,000 and 40,000 years old, which is slightly younger than the new figurine found in the Denisova Cave.

The Lowenmensch figurine or Lion-man of Hohlenenstein-Stadel found in 1939. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Talents of the Denisovans

Previous to now, the Siberian Denisovans who lived in the Denisova Cave have been accredited with advanced human behavior of an unparalleled level including the first bone needles, the first musical instrument in the form of a whistle or flute, the first arm jewelry in the form of a green chloritolite bracelet, the earliest stone microblade production, and arguably even the earliest known domestication and riding of horses. Now we can add to this list the earliest manufacture of animal figurines.

The Denisovan Bracelet made of chloritolite and found in the Denisova Cave. Image: Anatoly Derevyanko.

Another importance in the discovery of this mammoth tusk art object is its similarity in style to a large number of mammoth ivory art objects found at the 24,000-year-old site of Mal’ta in southern central Siberia. They include animal figurines, representations of females either naked or dressed in fur garments, and a number of carved swan pendants. Although these art objects belong to a slightly later age, corresponding to the Middle Upper Paleolithic, they bear the same artistic style as the lion figurine from the Denisova Cave. This could suggest that one of the places that benefitted from the artistic legacy of the Denisovans was the Mal’ta community, which thrived some 20,000 years after the disappearance of the Siberian Denisovans around 45,000 years ago.

Art objects made of mammoth ivory from the 24,000-year-old Mal’ta site in southern central Siberia.


The story of the discovery of the mammoth ivory figurine of a cave lion in the Denisova Cave just three months ago has set alight the world of ancient mysteries with both academics and members of the general public wanting to pass comment on the object’s function and likely creators.

The Russian archaeologists who discovered the cave lion figurine are, however, remaining cautious about its makers. As Professor Mikhail Shunkov of the Russian Institute of Archeology and Ethnography points out: “The assumption is that it was a Denisovan,” adding that, “45,000 years ago was the time when Homo sapiens already wandered around Siberia, so it was quite likely that they could have influenced the Denisovans.”

This is true, but so far no evidence of a modern human presence has been found anywhere near the Denisova Cave. Even if modern humans had already reached the area the chances are that this art object was produced by an early Denisovan-modern human hybrid, and one more inspired by the existing traditions of the Denisovans that those of incoming Homo sapiens. They had no obvious tradition of advanced human behavior of the type seen in Layer 11 (the so-called “Denisovan layer”) of the Denisova Cave.

A Child’s Comforter

It is obviously difficult to say too much about the function of the figurine right now as it is a one off. Nothing similar has been found in the cave. It could be a toy, part of a tool, or it could have had a symbolic purpose. In the group Denisovan Discussions on Facebook, ancient mysteries researcher Debbie Cartwright wrote that the figurine could be “a toy totem, a shamanic totem of protection, but for a child. It doesn’t have feet deliberately, as it may have been designed for tiny hands to use as a comforter.”

Such a solution makes sense. Yet if the figurine was a child’s comforter, then to what end was it used? Did it act like a talisman, warding off attacks from animals like cave lions at the time of the full moon? Many indigenous cultures once believed that lions more readily attacked human beings at the time of the full moon, leading to cultural and religious connections between the two. However, the relationship between large felines and the moon most likely goes much deeper indeed.

Blood Moon

As earlier noted, the 18 rows of marks across the body of the cave lion figurine suggest a connection with the 18-year lunar eclipse cycle. Large felines have long been associated with “blood moons” and eclipses. For instance, among the Inca of Peru the deep red coloring of the moon at the time of an eclipse was considered the result of an attack by a mountain lion or jaguar attacking and eating the moon. When this occurred they believed that the earth too was at risk from the actions of this supernatural creature, so people would shout, wave their spears and encourage dogs to bark and howl in the hope of driving it away.

In Native American tradition, one tribe, the Hupa of northern California, told stories about the moon having 20 wives, as well as numerous pets including lions and snakes. It was said that if the moon failed to feed these creatures they would attack, making him bleed. This was the Hupa’s explanation for the redness of the moon at the time of an eclipse, which would come to an end only when Moon’s wives gathered around to protect him. At the same time they would collect up his blood and in doing so restore his health.

The fact that the cave lion figurine shows traces of having been painted red is itself perhaps an indication of a connection with the concept of the “blood moon” at the time of an eclipse.

Is this perhaps why a child’s comforter in the form of a cave lion figurine might have been created by the inhabitants of the Denisova Cave some 45,000 years ago?

Another potential celestial link with the cave lion figurine concerns the 18 rows of notches. Each has four strikes, giving a total of 72 notches. 72 is obviously a very important number with clear cosmological implications - 72 years being the length of time of a life cycle in Siberian shamanic calendrical tradition, as well the amount of time its takes for the starry background to move one degree of a 26,000 year precessional cycle, a fact seemingly known to the ancients (see my book The Cygnus Key).

Lunar Phases

Another possible link between the cave lion figurine and the moon was pointed out to me by researcher and writer Caroline Wise. She says that the ivory Löwenmensch figurine or “Lion-man” found in a cave in Germany in 1939, has seven gouged notches on its left arm. This may allude to one of the four seven-day phases of a lunar cycle, which if correct is yet another link between lions and the moon during the Paleolithic age.

Even though it is still too early to make any clear conclusions about the cave lion figurine found in the Denisova Cave, speculation is certainly permitted and in the opinion of the author an association with not just the lunar cycle, but also the “blood moon” of an eclipse is a theory worth pursuing further. And if this beautiful art object was created as a talismanic toy for a Denisovan child then I do hope that he or she gained some comfort from its presence.

All of this is yet further confirmation of what I have written in my books featuring the achievements of the Denisovans. I have cited their advanced nature, and how, very likely, they passed on the rudiments of civilization to the earliest modern humans to have reached the area around 40,000 to 45,000 years ago. For those wishing to learn more read The Cygnus Key (2018) and Denisovan Origins (2019), co-authored with Greg L. Little.

Top image: The cave lion figurine found recently in Siberia’s Denisova Cave.        Source: The Siberian Times

By Andrew Collins

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Andrew Collins is one of the world’s foremost experts on Göbekli Tepe, having first visited the site in 2004. He has been investigating its Pre-Pottery Neolithic culture for over 20 years, and is the author of various books that feature... Read More

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