Ivory Sculptures Dating From Aurignacian Germany At 35,000 bp

News of a notable find from a remarkable cave, comprising no less than five pieces of portable art, dating as far back as the Aurignaican, which have recently been unearthed from the Swabia region of Germany, home of the famous Vogelherd Cave, wherein finds have been made in the past…

Archaeologists at the University of Tübingen have recovered the first entirely intact woolly mammoth figurine from the Swabian Jura, a plateau in the state of Baden-Württemberg, thought to have been made by the first modern humans some 35,000 years ago. It is believed to be the oldest ivory carving ever found. “You can be sure,” Tübingen archaeologist Nicholas J. Conard told Spiegel Online, “that there has been art in Swabia for over 35,000 years.”

In total, five mammoth-ivory figurines from the Ice Age were newly discovered at the site of the Vogelherd Cave in southwestern Germany, a site known to contain primitive artefacts since it was excavated in 1931 by the Tübingen archaeologist Gustav Reik. Over 7,000 sacks of sediment later, archaeologists were again invigorated by the discoveries.

Among the new finds are well-preserved remains of a lion figurine, fragments of a mammoth figurine and two as-yet-unidentified representations. These, the University of Tübingen Web site explains, “count among the oldest and most impressive examples of figurative artworks from the Ice Age.”

Flicking through the various images, this looks to be a momentous find indeed, although as I’ve written in the past, care should be taken before automatically jumping to the conclusion that this really is the oldest expression of this particular type of art – or that it could only have been made by moderns newly in Eurasia around this time, whereupon they would have encountered their new neighbours, the Neanderthals.

The figure of the woolly mammoth is tiny, measuring just 3.7 cm long and weighing a mere 7.5 grams, and displays skilfully detailed carvings. It is unique in its slim form, pointed tail, powerful legs and dynamically arched trunk. It is decorated with six short incisions, and the soles of the pachyderm’s feet show a crosshatch pattern. The miniature lion is 5.6 cm long, has a extended torso and outstretched neck. It is decorated with approximately 30 finely incised crosses on its spine.

There are several images depicting the various finds, which appear to have been made by a person skilled ins uch arts, and on a final note; we learn of an upcoming exhibition…

The preliminary results from the excavation will be presented in a special exhibit at the Museum of Prehistory in Blaubeuren from June 24, 2007 to January 13, 2008. In 2009, the figurines will be displayed in a major state exhibition in Stuttgart entitled “Cultures and Art of the Ice Age.”

Vogelherd Cave has already yielded much of note in the decades it has been excavated – maybe there’s yet more to come. Because the finds date from between 30,000 bp and 36,000 bp, making them Aurignacian, they have been more or less directly attributed to early modern humans entering Eurasia shortly after the Middle/Upper Palaeolithic transition – although technically, the makers could also have either been Neanderthal, or possibly people who displayed both archaic and modern physical traits. But because such finds are not generally associated with Neanderthals who appear to have produced nothing similar of their own in the preceding 200,00 – 300,000 years of their Eurasian existence, the credit automatically goes to Homo sapiens. (TJ)

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