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The world’s earliest figurative sculpture

New radiocarbon dating performed on an Ice Age carving, dubbed the “Lion Man”, has revealed the figurative sculpture to be 40,000 years old, 8,000 years older than previously thought.

The ivory from which the figure had been carved had broken into myriad fragments. When first reconstructed, around 200 pieces were incorporated into the 30cm-tall sculpture, with about 30% of its volume missing.

Further fragments were later found among the previously excavated material and these were added to the figure in 1989. At this point, the sculpture was recognised as representing a lion. Most specialists have regarded it as male, although paleontologist Elisabeth Schmid controversially argued that it was female, suggesting that early society might have been matriarchal.

The latest news is that almost 1,000 further fragments of the statue have been found, following recent excavations in the Stadel Cave by Claus-Joachim Kind. Most of these are minute, but a few are several centimetres long. Some of the larger pieces are now being reintegrated into the figure.

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Story: Martin Baily, The Art Newspaper | Photo: Ulmer Museum

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