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Palaeolithic ivory sculptures from southwestern Germany and the origins of figurative art

Nature volume 426, pages 830832 (18 December 2003) | Download Citation



Archaeologists have always viewed the origin of figurative art as a crucial threshold in human evolution1,2. Here I report the discovery of three figurines carved from mammoth ivory at Hohle Fels Cave in the Swabian Jura of southwestern Germany, which provides new evidence for the appearance of figurative art more than 30,000 years ago. The finds include the oldest known representation of a bird, a therianthropic sculpture and an animal that most closely resembles a horse. The Aurignacian sculptures of the Swabian Jura belong to one of the oldest traditions of figurative art known worldwide and point to the Upper Danube as an important centre of cultural innovation during the early Upper Palaeolithic period3,4.

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Many colleagues working on the Palaeolithic archaeology and palaeoecology of the Swabian Jura have contributed to this research, including but not limited to M. Bolus, H. Floss, P. Goldberg, H. Jensen, A. Kandel, P. Krönneck, K. Langguth, M. Malina, U. Müller, S. Münzel, L. Niven, D. Richter, F. Smith, H.-P. Uerpmann and K. Wehrberger. I thank M. Collard for comments. This research has been supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the University of Tübingen, the Landesdenkmalamt Baden-Württemberg, the Alb-Donau-Kreis, Heidelberger Cement, the Museumsgesellschaft Schelklingen and the Gesellschaft für Urgeschichte.

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  1. Abteilung für Ältere Urgeschichte und Quartärökologie, Institut für Ur-und Frühgeschichte und Archäologie des Mittelalters, Universität Tübingen, Schloss Hohentübingen, 72070 Tübingen, Germany

    • Nicholas J. Conard


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The author declares that he has no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Nicholas J. Conard.

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