Archaeologists at the University of Tübingen have recovered the first entirely intact woolly mammoth figurine from the Swabian Jura, a plateau in the state of Baden-Württemberg, thought to have been made by the first modern humans some 35,000 years ago. It is believed to be the oldest ivory carving ever found. "You can be sure," Tübingen archaeologist Nicholas J. Conard told SPIEGEL ONLINE, "that there has been art in Swabia for over 35,000 years."
In total, five mammoth-ivory figurines from the Ice Age were newly discovered at the site of the Vogelherd Cave in southwestern Germany, a site known to contain primitive artefacts since it was excavated in 1931 by the Tübingen archaeologist Gustav Reik. Over 7,000 sacks of sediment later, archaeologists were again invigorated by the discoveries.
Among the new finds are well-preserved remains of a lion figurine, fragments of a mammoth figurine and two as-yet-unidentified representations. These, the University of Tübingen Web site explains, "count among the oldest and most impressive examples of figurative artworks from the Ice Age."
Conard said that "the excitement and thrill were immense." He and his colleagues Michael Lingnau and Maria Malina in the Department of Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology reported their findings in the journal Archäologische Ausgrabungen in Baden-Württemberg.
The figure of the woolly mammoth is tiny, measuring just 3.7 cm long and weighing a mere 7.5 grams, and displays skilfully detailed carvings. It is unique in its slim form, pointed tail, powerful legs and dynamically arched trunk. It is decorated with six short incisions, and the soles of the pachyderm's feet show a crosshatch pattern. The miniature lion is 5.6 cm long, has a extended torso and outstretched neck. It is decorated with approximately 30 finely incised crosses on its spine.
The geological context of the discoveries and radiocarbon dating indicate that the figurines belong to the Aurignacian culture, which refers to an area of southern France and is associated with the arrival of the first modern humans in Europe. Multiple radiocarbon dates from sediment in the Vogelherd Cave yielded ages between 30,000 and 36,000 years ago, the University of Tübingen reports. Some methods give an even older date.
The preliminary results from the excavation will be presented in a special exhibit at the Museum of Prehistory in Blaubeuren from June 24, 2007 to January 13, 2008. In 2009, the figurines will be displayed in a major state exhibition in Stuttgart entitled "Cultures and Art of the Ice Age."