The Lion Man Artefact Lesson

The Lion Man Artefact Lesson

This Lion Man Artefact Lesson is a fascinating study into the earliest known surviving figure sculpture in the world. Carved 40,000 years ago, archeologists have dated the Lion Man to the Upper Palaeolithic era.

The Lion Man Artefact Lesson

Found in parts in the Hohlenstein-Stadel cave in Germany’s Swabian Alps, Ute Wolf and Elisabeth Schmid reconstructed the Lion Man from over 200 fragments.

Is it a Lion or a Man?

Cave Lion

Neither…at first. Obviously being in multiple fragments meant there was a certain amount of guess work in its reconstruction. After a few false starts (it looked like a bear or a big cat with a human head at first), further fragments allowed the original form of a lion to emerge. It is interesting to note that early humans carved the Lion Man from the tusks of the largest animal around at the time, the mammoth. And they carved it into one of the most ferocious animals at that time, the now extinct Eurasian cave lion. Look at the size of it compared with a human:

Comparison of the cave lion to a human

Why is the Lion Man Different to Other Small Sculptures?

Archaeological findings in other nearby caves include many stone tools, small sculptures and many animal bones. These caves had in commonality their placement to sunlight. The quantity of remnants found suggest that humans lived in or near to these caves over a period of time or for repeated periods of time.

Conversely, the cave in which the archeologists found the Lion Man fragments faced away from the natural sunlight and was cold and dark. In this cave, there were very few stone tools. In fact, they found very little human debris, just the Lion Man fragments in the recess of the cave in a dark protected area. Accompanying the fragments were a few perforated Arctic Fox and some Reindeer antlers. It may be that this cave was not a cave for dwelling but perhaps a place for gathering together around a fire. A place where early humans swapped ideas or thoughts and perhaps created art which symbolised these things…

Why Did Man Carve The Lion Man?

Experimental archeologist, Wulf Hein, attempted to recreate the Lion Man using similar stone tools that early man worked with. It took him over 400 hours to make. Considering the Lion Man was not created in order to aid the survival of the community, 400 hours is a long time to put into a carving. This may suggest that this carving has more significance than other smaller sculptures of the time. Perhaps a communal purpose, for bringing the tribes together? Or maybe man created it to explore not their survival but their very existence in the first place?

The Lion Man Artefact and Religion

Cave painting of a cave lion

For many years, historians assumed that early humans did not partake in any religious beliefs. They believed that religiosity developed only after the invention of writing. This was because writing gave people the opportunity to conceive, record and ponder the concept of the supernatural.

The Lion Man challenges this notion and historians believe it to be the oldest evidence available suggestive of humans explored religious belief. The wear and tear on his body was almost certainly contributed to because of its age, but it may also suggest the Lion Man was handled frequently. Perhaps it was passed around and/or rubbed as part of a religious ceremony. Or perhaps it held some sort of importance in the rhetoric of an ancient myth or ritual. Of course, it is impossible to know the exact purpose or function of the Lion Man. Ideas abound. Maybe the Lion Man was a deity or played an important part in a creation story or maybe he was a means of connection to the spirit world.

The Lion Man Artefact Lesson: Make Your Own

This lesson was rather impromptu! I began reading all about the Lion Man during our morning meeting. It was so fascinating that I didn’t want it to remain a simple read aloud lesson. Becca is always game to do any kind of art and I had mis-ordered some clay. So I handed it over and let her at it! And she didn’t disappoint ❤️

model of the lion man
Becca then painted it brown to look like the original carving

I made some notepages out of some of the drawings I’d done, please free to use:

I hope you’ve enjoyed The Lion Man Artefact Lesson. This lesson goes perfectly with my Ice Age Unit Study.

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