Friday, 1 February 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment