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A female figurine from the basal Aurignacian of Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany

Abstract

Despite well over 100 years of research and debate, the origins of art remain contentious1,2,3. In recent years, abstract depictions have been documented at southern African sites dating to 75 kyr before present (bp)4,5, and the earliest figurative art, which is often seen as an important proxy for advanced symbolic communication, has been documented in Europe as dating to between 30 and 40 kyr bp2. Here I report the discovery of a female mammoth-ivory figurine in the basal Aurignacian deposit at Hohle Fels Cave in the Swabian Jura of southwestern Germany during excavations in 2008. This figurine was produced at least 35,000 calendar years ago, making it one of the oldest known examples of figurative art. This discovery predates the well-known Venuses from the Gravettian culture by at least 5,000 years and radically changes our views of the context and meaning of the earliest Palaeolithic art.

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Figure 1: Side and front views of the Venus of Hohle Fels.
Figure 2: Stratigraphic position of the Venus of Hohle Fels and associated radiocarbon dates from archaeological horizon Va feature 10 and Vb.
Figure 3: Views of the Venus of Hohle Fels and photomicrographs documenting the methods of production.

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Acknowledgements

Many colleagues, including S. Bailey, H. Bocherens, M. Bolus, S. Feine, H. Floss, P. Goldberg, P. Grootes, B. L. Hardy, T. Higham, M. Hofreiter, P. Krönneck, M. Kucera, L. Moreau, S. C. Münzel, D. Richter, F. H. Smith, H.-P. Uerpmann and S. Wolf have contributed to this research. I am particularly indebted to M. Malina for assistance during excavation and laboratory work, to R. Ehmann for the conservation of the Venus, to C. E. Miller for discussions on stratigraphy and to B. Ligouis for his microscopic images of the Venus. This research has been supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the University of Tübingen, the Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg, the Alb-Donau-Kreis, Heidelberg Cement, the Museumsgesellschaft Schelklingen and the Gesellschaft für Urgeschichte.

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Conard, N. A female figurine from the basal Aurignacian of Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany. Nature 459, 248–252 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature07995

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