Thursday, February 7, 2013

World's Oldest Figurative Sculpture

Sharing another nifty archaeology story, this time about the Lion Man sculpture from Ulm, previously dated at 32,000 years old. When it was discovered back in the 1930s, approximately 30% of this mammoth ivory anthropomorphic sculpture was missing. Researchers have tracked down another thousand-or-so pieces in recent excavations and have been working, painstakingly, to refit them back into their original form.

Photo: Thomas Stephan @ Ulmer Museum. Source:

In addition to "fleshing out" this sculpture, these new discoveries provided additional dateable material from the strata where the ivory fragments were recovered. Dates have been returned that push the age of this piece back another 8,000 years, making the Lion Man the world's oldest figurative sculpture at 40,000 years old!

This is some exceptional artwork for having originated so far back in antiquity. Especially impressive, I think, is the quite expert 3-dimensional rendering. It is one thing to draw a 2-dimensional representation on a cave wall; it is quite another thing to be able to conceive of and render a 3-D specimen! Mind you, the Upper Paleolithic stone tool technology that was being produced at this time required impressive 3-dimensional cognitive abilities to execute, so the translation of these abilities into the production of complex artwork is not surprising.

Here is a link to a good article about this find:


  1. Zowie! How VERY VERY cool. That is amazing and so beautiful. Why do we always assume WE are the bright, talented ones, having evolved SO far past the person who carved this piece?

  2. Indeed! There's a long history of creativity in our species.