Wednesday, May 20, 2009

STONE AGE IVORY FIGURINE FOUND IN GERMANY MAY BE 35,000 YEARS OLD

Nicholas J. Conard, an archaeologist at the University of Tübingen, in Germany, found the small carving in a cave last year, said it was at least 35,000 years old, “one of the oldest known examples of figurative art” in the world. It is about 5,000 years older than some other so-called Venus artifacts made by early populations of Homo sapiens in Europe.

The tiny statuette was uncovered in September in a cave in southwestern Germany, near Ulm and the Danube headwaters. Dr. Conard’s report on the find is being published Thursday in the journal Nature.

The discovery, Dr. Conard wrote, “radically changes our view of the origins of Paleolithic art.” Before this, he noted, female imagery was unknown, most carvings and cave drawings being of mammoths, horses and other animals.

Scholars say the figurine is roughly contemporaneous with other early expressions of artistic creativity, like drawings on cave walls in southeastern France and northern Italy. The inspiration and symbolism behind the rather sudden flowering have long been debated by art historians.

Dr. Conard reported that the discovery was made beneath three feet of red-brown sediment in the floor of the Hohle Fels Cave. Six fragments of the carved ivory, including all but the left arm and shoulder, were recovered. When he brushed dirt off the torso, he said, “the importance of the discovery became apparent.”

The short, squat torso is dominated by oversize breasts and broad buttocks. The split between the two halves of the buttocks is deep and continuous without interruption to the front of the figurine. A greatly enlarged vulva emphasizes the “deliberate exaggeration” of the figurine’s sexual characteristics, Dr. Conard said.

The Hohle Fels artifact, less than 2.5 inches long and weighing little more than an ounce, is headless. Carved at the top, instead, is a ring, evidently to allow the object to be suspended from a string or thong.

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