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The Lion Man of Hohlenstein

Though the title sounds suspiciously like a Mumford & Sons song, The Lion Man is actually one of the world’s oldest works of art. It was sculpted from mammoth ivory 40,000 years ago, during the Ice Age. It was discovered in a dark cave in southern Germany in 1939. The sculpture stands upright at just over a foot tall and has the head of a cave lion and the body of a human. He has a powerful stance and an attentive expression on his face, as though he is listening and watching his surroundings with curiosity.

There is wear on his body suggesting he may have been passed around and rubbed as part of a native ritual, which could also explain the blend between human and animal forms. Part of the allure of this sculpture is the mystery behind it. No one knows if he was the form of a deity, a creation story or even just the construct of a person’s experiences.

According to The British Museum, an experiment conducted using similar materials suggests that The Lion Man took over 400 hours to make. This is not an insignificant amount of time for a small community living under difficult conditions to create a sculpture. This suggests that the sculpture may have been part of some sort of community ritual.

This idea is supported by the fact that other caves in this region included similar sculptures. However, it is noted that, whereas these other caves were in areas that had shelter and sunlight- the lion man’s cave had none of these. It faces north and gets no sunlight. Ultimately, this little statue is the oldest known evidence of possible religious beliefs.

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