February 01, 2013

40,000-year old "Lion Man"

Ice Age Lion Man is world’s earliest figurative sculpture
Even more exciting than the discovery of new pieces, the sculpture’s age has been refined using radio-carbon dating of other bones found in the strata. This reveals a date of 40,000 years ago, while until recently it was thought to be 32,000 years old. Once reconstruction is completed, several tiny, unused fragments of the mammoth ivory are likely to be carbon dated, and this is expected to confirm the result.

This revised dating pushes the Lion Man right back to the oldest sculptures, which have been found in two other caves in the Swabian Alps. These rare finds are dated at 35,000 to 40,000 years, but the Lion Man is by far the largest and most complex piece. A few carved items have been found in other regions which are slightly older, but these have simple patterns, not figuration.

What was striking about the sculptor of the Lion Man sculptor is that he or she had a mind capable of imagination rather than simply representing real forms. As Cook says, it is “not necessary to have a brain with a complex pre-frontal cortex to form the mental image of a human or a lion—but it is to make the figure of a lion-man”. The Ulm sculpture therefore sheds further light on the evolution of homo sapiens.
I have sometimes wondered whether therianthropic figures really represent an abstract blending of forms (which would require the mental conception of a non-actual creature), or a stylized depiction of a real man wearing (like Hercules) a lion's head.

It's not inconceivable that Ice Age hunters might "wear their prey on their head", just as later hunters used antlers for the same purpose. This may be a more prosaic explanation (Big Men projecting their power and prowess as a reflection of the dangerous animals they killed) compared to the idea of artists envisioning  an imaginary being.

14 comments:

  1. Or the hunter killed the lion, hung it up somewhere as a trophy and then represented it as he saw it. It doesn't look very human to me, rather a regular lion body in an unnatural position.

    Another possibility is that the author simply repurposed a former human statuette to make it look like an animal, sort of like a palimpsest. If the material used was rare enough, that would actually make a lot of sense.

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  2. Dienekes the issue I have with your explanation is that it is still explainable as a higher abstract concept applied to your situation i.e. the victorious hunter is portrayed as a literal Lion-Man (after all, the detail is pretty clear, it is a definite lion person in mnore than just its head). I find the abstraction hypothesis credible.

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  3. Pretty mild, gentle-looking lion face. I think it was a doll, a toy.

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  4. It looks like a lion standing on its hind legs.

    Cats do that sometimes.

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  5. Children can do similar things at a young age today as those people did 40,000 years ago. So a statue that children can produce is a big deal? It is like 40 year old mothers looking into the potty of their children's movements.

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  6. IMO, this just confirms again that there was such a thing as an UP revolution. Adding to this the contemporaneous musical instruments makes it clear that when UP people entered Europe, they were the-then most highly advanced people on the planet (but they presumably came from the NW of the sub-continent, so such people were there, first, and likely also migrated to the Levant a bit earlier).

    Between 50,000 and 40,000 ya, a lot of things changed world-wide (slightly later in some locations - e.g., NE Asia).

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  7. The body of the lion-man has a combination of lion and human characteristics. He has the relatively short hind legs and long body of the lion. On the other hand the way that his limbs are jointed at the elbow and the knee is human. His genitals are also prominent and clearly important. He doesn't look like a human wearing a lion's head mask but something else altogether.

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  8. "Children can do similar things at a young age today as those people did 40,000 years ago. So a statue that children can produce is a big deal? It is like 40 year old mothers looking into the potty of their children's movements."

    I never saw a child that did something like this from a wooden stick with a knive.

    With modelling clay yes. But thats 1000times more easy to work with.

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  9. The figure always gave me the impression of a shaman(ess) in a lion skin, maybe it was a grave good of a shaman(ess). But the friendly impression of the figure always irritated me, almost as it was showing a female cave lioness enjoying a day with her cubs, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the figure was used for some sort of joyful cultic feast in which children and women were involved.

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  10. Judging by the U Kentucky mascot, humans have not changed all that much in 40K years:

    http://www.ukathletics.com/trads/nickname.html

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  11. Creative, the film "The Cave Of Forgotten Dreams" showed that European male lions didn't have manes. I gather their is some dispute as to whether the figure is male or female but, to give my opinion, I think that it's definitely male.

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  12. Dienekes wrote-''I have sometimes wondered whether therianthropic figures really represent an abstract blending of forms (which would require the mental conception of a non-actual creature), or a stylized depiction of a real man wearing (like Hercules) a lion's head.''

    Its amazing what the finding is and it also reminds me of this Avatar of Vishnu-
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narasimha
    Stay Well.

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  13. @ Amanda S
    I know, but according to German researchers it is not 100% clear if the figure is male or female. Besides the much later but fascinating Guennol Lioness also shows a lioness.

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  14. I saw this piece at the ice age art exhibit at the British Museum last weekend. It is very striking and impressive. There are 5 or 6 horizontal incisions along the upper arms of the figure. It's impossible to be sure but I wonder if these represent tattoos or ochre decorations that may have been worn by a hunter or shaman.

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