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


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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Figure 1: Views of the three ivory figurines from Hohle Fels, depicting the head of a horse (a), a water bird (b) and a therianthrope with the characteristics of a felid and human (c).
Figure 2: Stratigraphic provenience of the three Hohle Fels figurines.


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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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Correspondence to Nicholas J. Conard.

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Conard, N. Palaeolithic ivory sculptures from southwestern Germany and the origins of figurative art. Nature 426, 830–832 (2003).

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