The Ice Age Lion Man: World’s Earliest Figurative Sculpture

40,000 years old: Lion Man sculpture. Photo: Thomas Stephan, © Ulmer Museum

40,000 years old: Lion Man sculpture. Photo: Thomas Stephan, © Ulmer Museum

The Lion Man is a beautifully sculpted piece of art work. It is stated that the Lion Man has been calculated to take a highly skilled carver at least 400 hours using flint tools (two months’ work in daylight). This means that the carver would have had to be looked after by hunter-gatherers, which presupposes a degree of social organization. The sculpture itself has been dated to be around 40,000 years old; using radio-carbon dating of other bones found in the strata. What was really 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. The individual had to have a brain powerful enough to think beyond what was presented to it in everyday life.

That is beyond incredible. I have studied the evolution of humans for most of my academic career, but this is beyond exciting to hear. Human are far more complex creatures than what was originally thought. Even back 40,000 years ago they had dreams, visions and coherent imagination that was able to be transformed only using flint tools. I know that technologies have changed over the past several decades, but I still wouldn’t be able to make anything this beautiful only using a flint tool set. My craftiness with hand tools is minimum to say the least. It would take an individual not only with advanced crafting skills, but an individual that had an advanced understanding of spatial awareness. I am just assuming, (but it would make sense), that the sculpture was made out of one piece of material. That really does not leave room for mess up, after putting at least 400 man hours into something this beautiful. But it brings up the question: what was it made for? Was it something that had a religious/spiritual purpose or was it just a beautiful sculpture for individuals to admire? Then it makes me want to ask questions about what the individual that was commissioned to carve the sculpture. What was that individuals role in the society? If it did in fact take 400 man hours, non-stop for 2 months, how was that individual  able to just sit there for days and carve this piece of art? I’m assuming this individual was either an elder or someone with a higher power level within the society. Maybe it was an individual that use to be a hunter-gather but was injured and could not go out into the field anymore? I am interested in keeping up with the story and learning more about the piece.

1 thought on “The Ice Age Lion Man: World’s Earliest Figurative Sculpture

  1. Personally, I could not imagine spending over 400 plus hours on sculpting a statue. Not only doing so by hand, but adding the flint tools into the mix just further pushes my doubts upon my own patience and skill. While it doesn’t surprise me at the creativity of the ancient individual, it does surprise me at the amount of detail in the sculpture. Whenever I imagine something from that long ago I usually envision an object that resembles an idea, but lacks the refined detail. I agree with your assessment of who could have sculpted it. An elder seems to be the most accurate choice for the creator, since most people around that time had a certain task to do for the community. A town elder would have a bit more freedom to work on such a sculpture, while not having to worry about when his next meal will arrive or if it will at all. There would be younger hunters and gatherers that could provide for the community.

    While I agree with most of your writing, I was a little bit confused as to why you were surprised at the creativity of the individual. Humans have always had a creative side to them that has always been expressed. Music is the biggest example of this and most instruments have a very simplistic designs. A drum is anything from a hollowed log with animal skin over it, to your lap. Even though the instruments themselves are fairly simply, the music that is created can express emotions that are found all throughout human kind. Which allows the creativity to become universal and understood.

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