Oldest art

In 1939, a geologist dug up mammoth-ivory fragments inside a cave in Germany. Two weeks later, World War II began and they were forgotten. The fragments were reconstructed later, and turned out to be the oldest art in the world.

Lion man
Dagmar Hollmann [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The earliest figurative art, that is. Figurative art, in this case, means that it’s designed to represent something in the real world (as opposed to abstract art). The Löwenmensch figurine stands upright like a human but has the head of a lion. The current hypothesis is that it must have had shamanistic significance, given that it would have taken a very long time to carve with a flint stone knife.

The figurine dates back 35-40,000 years, which puts it squarely in the Aurignacian tradition – along with art like the Venus of Hohle Fels and the paintings of Chauvet Cave. It’s always possible that we’ll find something earlier (the Lubang Jeriji Saléh in Borneo is a good contender), but there’s something haunting about this item from tens of thousands of years ago.

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