Ice Age: Mammoths were also made of ivory

Excavations at Vogelherd provide spectacular new works of art

Mammoth ivory figures © Jensen / Lingnau, Department of Ancient Prehistory, University of Tübingen
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Archaeologists from Tübingen have discovered five new figures from the Ice Age in the Vogelherdhöhle in Lonetal in southwestern Germany. They are carved from mammoth ivory and date from around 35, 000 years ago. Thus, the figures are among the oldest and most impressive examples of figurative art of the Ice Age.

Particularly spectacular is the discovery of the first complete ivory figure of the Swabian Alb, which represents a carefully carved mammoth. Among the figures are also a well-preserved part of a lion, a fragment of a second mammoth and remains of two unidentified representations.

All new findings come from the sediments of the cave, which was first dug up in the summer and autumn of 1931 by the Tübingen archaeologist Gustav Riek. The find context and a range of radiocarbon data show that the finds belong to the Aurignacia, which is often associated with the arrival of anatomically modern humans in Europe. Numerous radiocarbon data for the bird's hearth range between 30, 000 and 36, 000 years ago today.

New excavations since 2005

Because of the wealth of artefacts from Riek's basic excavation work of 1931 and occasional discoveries in unauthorized excavations in the ancient cave filling, the team at Tübingen University hoped to find significant new ice age finds at Vogelherd. The systematic excavation at the site began in 2005 and will continue until 2009 in each summer. With the discovery of the five figures along with many other significant artifacts in 2006, all expectations were exceeded.

The complete reproduction of a mammoth and the representation of a lion expand the impressive, internationally known group of figures that Riek discovered in 1931. Like most Aurignacian figures from the caves of the Swabian Alb, the new mammoth is small and carved with great detail using stone artefacts. The figure is 3.7 inches long and weighs 7.5 grams. Among the more than a dozen figures from the Swabian Alb, this piece is the first fully preserved. Most of the other artworks are broken along the ivory concentric rings. display

According to the archaeologists, the mammoth is unique in its slender form, with its pointed tail, strong legs and dynamically curved trunk. The head of the figure is decorated with six short incisions, and the soles of the feet have a cross pattern.

Ice Age people with brilliant skills

The newly discovered lion is 5.6 inches long, has a long body and a neck that is stretched forward, and is decorated along the back with about 30 finely incised crosses, the researchers said. Lions, mammoths and other powerful animals dominate the early Ice Age art from the caves of the Swabian Alb.

Mammoth of ivory. Jensen / Lingnau, Department of Ancient Prehistory, University of T bingen

According to the researchers, the new finds demonstrate the glittering artistry of the glacial inhabitants of the Swabian Alb and affirm the observation that the oldest figurative art is beautiful and sophisticated by no means primitive. Four caves in the region - Vogelherd, Hohlenstein-Stadel, Gei enkl sterle and Hohle Fels - have supplied works of art that are all over 30, 000 years old. These findings are among the oldest and most impressive figural works of art worldwide.

The scientists report on the work on Vogelherd in the current volume of the yearbook archaeological excavations in Baden -Wrttemberg. The provisional results of the excavations will also be presented in a special exhibition at the Museum of Prehistory in Blaubeuren from 24.06.07 to 13.01.08. In 2009, the figures will be exhibited in the major state exhibition in Stuttgart titled 'Cultures and Art of the Ice Age'.

(idw - University of T bingen, 21.06.2007 - DLO)