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Lion Man under the spot light

02 Jul 2015
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Lion Man under the spot light: archaeologists have discovered previously unknown fragments of the sculpture and are piecing it back together.

Lion Man sculpture from the Upper Palaeolithic

An article by Matthias Schulz on Spiegel Online - Is the Lion Man a Woman? Solving the Mystery of a 35,000-Year-Old Statue - reports that archeologists have discovered previously unknown fragments of a figurine known as the Lion Man, and are piecing it back together. Could the 35,000-year-old statue represent a female shaman? Scientists hope to resolve a decades-long debate.

In 1939 geologist Otto Volzing worked in the Stadel cave in the Schwabische Alb mountains of southwestern Germany. Initial prehistoric findings were only flints and the remnants of food, until he discovered a small statuette. The pieces were stored in a box. For the next 30 years, little heed was paid to them. But when finally reassembled it was one of the most impressive sculptures of the Palaeolithic Age.

Called the Lion Man, it is fashioned from the tusk of a mammoth at a height of about 30 centimeters. It is estimated that it took the sculptor about 320 hours to carve the figure.

The figure achieved its current form in 1988. It consists of 220 parts, but about 30 percent of the body is still missing. Large segments of the surface have broken off.

What does the sculpture represent? A mythical creature, or a shaman under an animal hide? Are the six stripes on the left upper arm meant to depict scarification marks?

The genitalia are ambiguous. German archeologist and Upper Paleolithic expert Joachim Hahn has interpreted the small plate on the abdomen as a penis. Elisabeth Schmid, a paleontologist, classified it as a pubic triangle. Indeed, the sculpture has become an icon of the women's movement according to Kurt Wehrberger of the Ulm Museum, the owner of the piece; it embodied a matriarchal society where woman were involved in hunting and rituals along with other obviously essential tasks. 

The debate continues, but now new fragments of the Lion Man have been discovered; excavator Claus-Joachim Kind reports these to be about 1,000 pieces, some minute, one as long as a finger.

The figurine will be taken to the State Conservation Office in Esslingen, near Stuttgart, where it will be completely taken apart. The old glue joints will be dissolved and the filler made of beeswax and chalk, which was used as a placeholder, will be removed. Then the statue will be reassembled piece by piece.

Already it is clear that the figurine will become a few centimeters taller due to new neck pieces that have been found. Furthermore, the gaping hole in the back can now be plugged, and the right arm has been found in its entirety. Additional decorations, including raised dots and strange-looking lines, have come to light.

This has led to speculations about prehistoric rituals and shamanic practices being associated with the piece; hybrid creatures half human, half beast, as reflected in other Upper Palaeolithic cave paintings in Europe. Shamanic costumes may have utilized hides and antlers, as practiced in Europe, Siberia, North America and South America.

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