The Löwenmensch figurine or Lion-man of the Hohlenstein-Stadel is a prehistoric ivory sculpture discovered in the Hohlenstein-Stadel, a German cave in 1939. The German name, Löwenmensch meaning "lion-human", is used most frequently because it was discovered and is exhibited in Germany.
The lion-headed figurine is the oldest-known zoomorphic (animal-shaped) sculpture in the world, and the oldest-known uncontested example of figurative art. It has been determined by carbon dating of the layer in which it was found to be between 35,000 and 40,000 years old, and therefore is associated with the archaeological Aurignacian culture of the Upper Paleolithic. It was carved out of mammoth ivory using a flint stone knife. Seven parallel, transverse, carved gouges are on the left arm.
After several reconstructions that have incorporated newly found fragments, the figurine stands 31.1 cm (12.2 in) tall, 5.6 cm (2.2 in) wide, and 5.9 cm (2.3 in) thick. It currently is displayed in the Ulm Museum, Germany.
Systematic excavations at Hohlenstein-Stadel cave began in 1937 under the direction of prehistoric historian Robert Wetzel. The discovery of a fragmented mammoth-ivory figurine was made on 25 August 1939 by geologist Otto Völzing. The start of World War II just one week later, meant that the fieldwork was left incomplete and analysis of the finds was not undertaken. The excavation trenches were backfilled with the same soil in which the ivory had been found.
For approximately thirty years, the fragments lay forgotten at the nearby Museum of Ulm. It was not until archaeologist Joachim Hahn started an inventory and assembly of more than 200 fragments that a figurine with animal and human features began to emerge.
Wetzel continued to spend summers digging at the site until 1961, and further finds of ivory were made on the cave floor in the 1970s. In 1982, paleontologist Elisabeth Schmid combined the new fragments with Hahn's reconstruction, correcting some errors and adding pieces of the nose and mouth that emphasized the figurine's feline characteristics.[a]
In 1987, a comprehensive restoration began in the workshops of the Landesmuseum Württemberg by Ute Wolf in cooperation with Schmid. During the work, which took more than six months, it was realized that the figurine was only about two-thirds complete. The back is severely damaged and the legs are missing some ivory lamellae. The ears, eye-holes, two-thirds of the mouth and nose, and the back of the head are preserved. To fill gaps in the head and body a reversible substance consisting of a mixture of beeswax, artificial wax, and chalk was used.
From 2008, further excavations were carried out in the cave. All layers were sifted systematically, which led to many minute fragments being discovered. The first new adjustments were simulated virtually so that fragments could be added without having to disassemble the original recreation.[b]
In 2012, a second restoration was begun in the workshops of the State Office for the Preservation of Historical Monuments in Esslingen under the leadership of Nicole Ebinger-Rist. The figurine was disassembled into its individual parts and newly discovered fragments were added along with the old ones, allowing further completion of areas of the head, back, and right side of the body, and artificial additions used during the first restoration were discarded. The Löwenmensch figurine grew in height from 296 to 311 millimetres. Work was completed in late 2013.
Assignment of gender became an objective of certain researchers. Initially, the figurine was classified as male by Hahn who suggested a plate on the abdomen could be a flaccid penis. Schmid later classified this feature as a pubic triangle, however, and from examination of new parts of the sculpture, determined that the figurine was that of a woman with the head of a "Höhlenlöwin" (female European cave lion). Male European cave lions often lacked distinctive manes, so the absence of a mane could not determine categorically that the figurine was that of a lioness, and a debate about its gender ensued among some involved in the research and the popular press. Kurt Wehrberger of the Ulm Museum stated that the statue had become an "icon of the feminist movement".
After the 2012–13 restoration it was realized that the triangular platelet in the genital area was processed all around separating it from the figurine. A fracture point suggests that originally it may have been square in shape. Although an objective determination of the gender of the Löwenmensch figurine is impossible, debate continues, with the most common interpretation of the fragment being a stylized male sex organ.
The Löwenmensch figurine lay in a chamber almost 30 metres from the entrance of the Stadel cave and was accompanied by many other remarkable objects. Bone tools and worked antlers were found, along with jewellery consisting of pendants, beads, and perforated animal teeth. The chamber was probably a special place, possibly used as a storehouse or hiding-place, or maybe as an area for cultic rituals.
A similar but smaller lion-headed human sculpture was found along with other animal figurines and several flutes in the nearby Vogelherd Cave. This leads to the possibility that the Löwenmensch figurines were important in the mythology of humans of the early Upper Paleolithic. Archaeologist Nicholas Conard has suggested that the second lion-figurine "lends support to the hypothesis that Aurignacian people may have practised shamanism ... and that it should be considered strong evidence for fully symbolic communication and cultural modernity".
The figurine shares certain similarities with later French cave paintings, which also show hybrid creatures with human-like lower bodies and animal heads such as the "Sorcerer" from the Trois Frères in the Pyrennes or the "Bison-man" from the Grotte de Gabillou in the Dordogne.
The carving of the figurine from hard mammoth tusk would have been a complex and time-consuming task.[c] A similarly-sized tusk found in the same cave has marks that "indicate that the skin and thin bone around the tooth cavity of the upper jaw were cut through to the surface of the tooth, which was then exposed for detachment with a hammer. The tip was harder and had to be removed by wedging and splitting."
Wulf Hein and Kurt Wehrberger conducted an experimental replication with the kinds of stone tool available at the time. Removing the base of the tusk took ten hours. The body was carved with a steep-fronted scraper; the burins requiring regular resharpening. Several different tools were needed to separate the torso from the insides of the arms while shaping the head and shoulders, which involved difficult cutting across the grain of the ivory, often required two hands on the tool. The basic shaping took around 200 hours, and in total the recreation took more than 370 hours.[d] Jill Cook, Curator of Paleolithic collections at the British Museum, suggests that "unless the sculpture was created slowly at odd moments over several months, someone as skilled as an artist may have been excused from other subsistence tasks to work specially on this piece."
In his October 2017 BBC Radio 4 series Living with the Gods, Neil MacGregor asked Cook "[…] so why would a community living on the edge of subsistence, whose primary concerns were finding food, keeping that fire going, protecting children from predators, allow someone to spend so much time away from those tasks?", to which she replied that it was about "[…] a relationship to things unseen, to the vital forces of nature, that you need to perhaps propitiate, perhaps connect to, in order to ensure your successful life".
- These images of a preliminary reconstruction from 1980 shows how much has been achieved after years of painstaking reconstruction. (Adam, K., Kurz, R., 1980 Eiszeitkunst im süddeutschen Raum)
- X-ray computed tomographs of "Löwenmenschen" After restoration 1987/88 with new fragments from the 2010 excavation (red) and free fragments from the stock of the museum (green)
- This image shows the positioning of the figurine within the tusk. Schmid found that the groin area coincided with the apex of the tusk's pulp cavity. "The long axis of the figure follows the nerve canal with the head at the narrowing end. This expert positioning suggests that the make deliberately selected a portion of the tusk suitable for a preconceived work." (Cook, 2013)
- The Ulm Museum site says 360 hours, Cook (2013) says 320, whereas the video made by the team says 370+
- 14C dating - The age of the lion man Ulm Museum (in German)
- Discovery: 1939 Ulm Museum (in German)
- Matthias Schulz (5 December 2011). "Puzzle im Schutt". Der Spiegel.
- Jarrett A. Lobell (March 2012). "New Life for the Lion Man". Archaeology. 65 (2).
- Discovery: 1956 Ulm Museum (in German)
- Discovery: 1987 Ulm Museum (in German)
- Discovery: 2011 Ulm Museum (in German)
- Discovery: 2011 Ulm Museum (in German)
- Henning Petershagen (2 November 2013). "Löwenmensch ist gewachsen". Südwest Presse.
- Duckeck, Jochen (2008-12-10). "Archäologie: Der Löwenmensch" (in German). Archived from the original on 2009-05-21. Retrieved 2009-05-17.
Joachim Hahn hatte die Figur als männlich betrachtet. Elisabeth Schmid kam zu dem Schluß, dass es sich um die Figur einer Frau mit dem Kopf einer Höhlenlöwin handele.and Duckeck, Jochen (2008-12-10). "Archaeology: Lionheaded Figurine". Retrieved 2009-05-17.
- Importance: Sex? Ulm Museum (in German)
- Importance: Depot - hiding place - cult place? Ulm Museum (in German)
- Frederick L. Coolidge; Thomas Wynn (2011). The Rise of Homo sapiens: The Evolution of Modern Thinking. John Wiley & Sons. p. 174. ISBN 978-1-4443-5653-3.
- Importance: Animal and human being Ulm Museum (in German)
- Cook, J. (18 February 2013). Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind. The British Museum. ISBN 978-0714123332.
- Presenter: Neil MacGregor; Producer: Paul Kobrak (23 October 2017). "The Beginnings of Belief". Living With The Gods. 06:08 minutes in. BBC. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
- Ulmer Museum (Ed.): The return of the Lion Man. History - Myth - Magic. Ostfildern 2013. ISBN 978-3-7995-0544-4 (museum's edition); ISBN 978-3-7995-0543-7 (publisher's edition)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lion-man.|
- Official website of the museum (in German)
- Don's maps site with a collection of material on the figurine
- Lion Man 2.0 - The Experiment Video showing the manufacture of a replica with authentic tools (in German with English subtitles)
- BBC Radio 4 episode about the sculpture (2017)