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Digging up Stone Age art

Researchers have uncovered some very old, mysterious animal sculptures.

By
12:00am, December 22, 2003

Art is everywhere, from paintings in the doctor's office to sculptures in the park. You've probably molded shapes out of clay or drawn pictures of your own pets at one time or another.

Art is such a big part of our lives, in fact, that scientists want to know when people started making it and why. Now, researchers in Germany have found some clues in three of the oldest little sculptures yet uncovered.

Three 30,000-year-old figurines, including this water bird, came out of a cave in Germany.

Three 30,000-year-old figurines, including this water bird, came out of a cave in Germany.

Nature

Dating back to between 35,000 and 30,000 years ago, the figurines resemble a horse's head, a duck-like water bird, and a creature that is half-lion, half-human. Each is about as long as an adult's thumb, and all three are made out of mammoth ivory. Nicholas J. Conrad of the University of Tübingen in Germany and his colleagues found the pieces in a cave in southwestern Germany called Hohle Fels.

No human fossils have been found near the artwork. However, Conrad thinks that people moved into the area around 40,000 years ago and used the caves there during the winter and spring.

The new German finds come from a time when artwork began to flourish in Europe. Conrad suspects that the figurines were made for use in supernatural rituals.

For now, there's no way to know for sure. Just think, though. Every time you doodle, color, or sculpt, you're joining a long line of artists, dating back thousands and thousands of years.—E. Sohn

Going Deeper:

Bower, Bruce. 2003. Bones of invention: German cave yields Stone Age figurines. Science News 164(Dec. 20&27):389. Available at http://www.sciencenews.org/20031220/fob5.asp .

Information about prehistoric art can be found at www.historylink101.com/lessons/art_history_lessons/cave_art1.htm (Eric Rymer) and www.humanities-interactive.org/ancient/iceage/ (Texas Council for the Humanities Resource Center).

You can learn more about Stone Age sculpture in Greece at www.historyforkids.org/learn/greeks/art/sculpture/stoneage.htm (History for Kids).

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