Lion Man of Hohlenstein Stadel
Discovery & Characteristics of Prehistoric Anthropomorphic Ivory Carving.

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Lion-Human of Hohlenstein Stadel
Close-up of upper half.
(Lowenmensch) c.30,000 BCE
Ulmer Museum, Ulm, Germany.
An extraordinary example of
mobiliary art of the Aurignacian era.

Lion Man of Hohlenstein Stadel (38,000 BCE)



For details of earliest Stone Age art,
see: Oldest Art.

For a Neolithic masterpiece
of plastic art, see:
Thinker of Cernavoda (5000 BCE).


One of the treasures of Prehistoric art from the period of Aurignacian art, the Lion Man of Hohlenstein Stadel is an ivory carving of a lion-headed figure, and is recognized as the oldest known anthropomorphic animal carving in the world. It was discovered in a cave in Hohlenstein Mountain, located in the Swabian Jura of southwest Germany. Following carbon dating tests on earth in which this item of prehistoric sculpture was found, it has been dated to approximately 38,000 BCE, making it the earliest art of its type (male figure) in Europe. A number of other unique works of Stone Age art have been found in the locality, since excavations first began in the 1860s, including: (1) the Venus of Hohle Fels (38,000-33,000 BCE), the oldest of the Venus Figurines and the oldest known figurative sculpture; (2) the earliest ivory carving of a mammoth - see Ivory Carvings of the Swabian Jura. The area is therefore an important centre of Paleolithic art and culture, and is likely to disclose further examples of Rock art in due course. After the discovery of the Lion Man, a similar, but smaller, lion-headed carving was unearthed in a nearby cave, together with other zoomorphic figures as well as several bone flutes. This has led archeologists to speculate that the lion-figure had a totemic role for the inhabitants of the early Upper Paleolithic. The original carving is now kept in the Ulmer Museum, Ulm, pending the establishment of a new museum of ancient art.

For examples of Upper Paleolithic sculpture found over the border in Austria, see: the Venus of Galgenberg (also known as the Stratzing Figurine) (c.30,000 BCE), and the Venus of Willendorf (25,000 BCE).




Pieces of the sculpture were found in 1939 by archaeologist Robert Wetzel, in a cave called Stadel-Hohle, in the Lone Valley of the Swabian Alps. The local cliffs and mountains are made of limestone which natural erosion has hollowed out to form caves. The Stadel cave is one of three caves in which important paleontological finds have occurred. Put aside and forgotten for three decades, due to the outbreak and aftermath of World War II, the fragments were rediscovered and partly reassembled in 1969, by Professor Joachim Hahn from the University of Tubingen. This initial effort produced a humanoid figurine without a head. Only in 1997 and 1998, when more fragments were discovered, including the head, was the ivory carving fully assembled and restored. At the time of the first reconstruction, the figure was thought to be male, although later, as more pieces were examined and added, it was deemed to be a female cave lion. Since neither verdict can be supported by scientific evidence, the statuette has recently come to be known by the neutral nickname "lion-human" (Lowenmensch).

To understand how the Lion Man carving fits into the evolution of art in the Stone Age, see: Prehistoric Art Timeline.


The Lion Man of Hohlenstein Stadel was carved from mammoth ivory, by a sculptor using a simple flint-cutting tool, and stands 11 inches in height (29 cms). It is the largest of all Ice Age sculptures found in the Swabian Jura. The sculpture's hybrid nature - part lion, part human - is reminiscent of several figures depicted in the cave painting in Lascaux (France) and Altamira (Spain), and other sites. It might even represent a shaman with a lion mask.

Compare the Lion Man with the half-man, half-animal figure in the Aurignacian-era Fumane Cave paintings (c.35,000 BCE) discovered recently in the north-east of Italy.

Based on radiometric tests of debris found in the immediate vicinity, the figure is dated to the late Aurignacian culture - a tool culture named after the type site of Aurignac in the Haute-Garonne area of France, and noted for its "mode 4" flint tools, characterized by blades from prepared cores, rather than flint flakes of earlier Man - one of the most productive Paleolithic eras in terms of the petroglyphs and pictographs produced. Examples of primitive art from the Aurignacian era include the Chauvet Cave Paintings (c.30,000 BCE), the animal rock engravings at Aldene, the Venus of Monpazier (c.30,000 BCE), and others.

In addition, the increased use of antler, bone and ivory in their tool manufacture may have led Aurignacian artists to develop greater skill and sophistication in ivory carvings like the Venus of Hohle Fels, the Vogelherd animal carvings and the Lion Man of Hohlenstein Stadel. This sophistication - supported by key anatomical finds, such as the so called Egbert skeleton of Ksar Akil - has prompted archeologists to regard Aurignacian humans as the first modern humans in Europe.

See also: Oldest Stone Age Art: Top 100 Artworks.

Other Prehistoric Art Resources

Cupule Art (250-750,000 BCE)
Bhimbetka Petroglyphs (250-750,000 BCE)
Cave Art (40,000-10,000 BCE)
Hand Stencils Rock Art (from 40,000 BCE)

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