The Lion Lady - Die LowenfrauLowenfrau, Lowenmensch, Löwenmensch, the Lion Lady Venus - carved from mammoth ivory, it is 28 cm high and 6 cm in diameter. It was found in the cave of Hohlenstein-Stadel in the Valley of Lone, Baden-Wurttemberg (Germany), in 1931, dated as Aurignacian, in a 32 000 year old level. Although this is known in some places as the lion lady, it is by no means certain that it is female. The arms bear striations carved into the ivory. Years after the initial discovery the museum officials were presented with an ivory lion muzzle found in the cave. It was a perfect fit. Today it is pieced together from more than 200 tiny pieces. This 'venus' may be an attempt to capture the power of the lion.
The Löwenmensch from Hohlenstein-Stadel. Height 28 cm, about 6 cm diameter. Made of mammoth ivory. Found in the cave of Hohlenstein-Stadel in the Valley of Lone, Baden-Wurttemberg (Germany), in 1931. Dated as Aurignacian, in a 32 000 year old level.
Although this is known in some places as the lion lady, it is by no means certain that it is female. It is known as both Die Lowenfrau and Der Lowenmensch.
The arms bear striations carved into the ivory. Years after the initial discovery the museum officials were presented with an ivory lion muzzle found in the cave. It was a perfect fit. Today it is pieced together from more than 200 tiny pieces. This 'venus' may be an attempt to capture the power of the lion.
Dimensions: height 281 mm, width 63 mm, thickness 59 mm.
This is the best quality photo I have been able to locate so far.
Its pieces were found in 1939 in a cave named Stadel-Höhle im Hohlenstein (Stadel cave in Hohlenstein Mountain) in the Lonetal (Lone valley) in the Swabian Alps, Germany. Due to the beginning of the Second World War, it was forgotten and only rediscovered thirty years later. The first reconstruction revealed a humanoid figurine without head. Between 1997 and 1998 additional pieces of the sculpture were discovered and the head was reassembled and restored.
The sculpture is 296 mm high, 56 mm wide and 59 mm thick. It was carved out of mammoth ivory using a flint stone knife. There are seven parallel, transverse, carved gouges on the left arm.
Originally, the figure was classified as male by Joachim Hahn. From examination of some additional parts of the sculpture found later, Elisabeth Schmid decided that the figure was a woman with the head of a "Höhlenlöwin" (female Cave Lion). Both interpretations lack scientific evidence. European cave lions, male and female, lacked the distinctive manes of the African male lion, and so its absence here cannot lead to an interpretation as a 'lioness'.
Recently the ancient figurine has more often been called a lion headed figurine, rather than a 'lion man'. The name currently used in German, Löwenmensch—meaning 'lion-human' — similarly, is neutral.
Interpretation is very difficult. The sculpture shares certain similarities with French cave wall paintings, which also show hybrid creatures. The French paintings, however, are several thousand years younger than the German sculpture.
After this artifact was identified, a similar, but smaller, lion-headed sculpture was found, along with other animal figures and several flutes, in another cave in the same region of Germany.This leads to the possibility that the lion-figure played an important role in the mythology of humans of the early Upper Paleolithic. The sculpture can be seen in the Ulmer Museum in Ulm, Germany.
Photo and text adapted from: http://www.historyofinformation.com/index.php?category=Archaeology and Wikipedia.
The original lion lady/man is now in the Ulm Museum (City Museum of Ulm), but many museums all over the world own a copy.
Photo: Gaura, 2007, via Wikimedia Commons. This image is in the public domain.
History of the discovery
Der Spiegel 49/2011, http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-82612721.html
Archaeologists have found and put together fragments of the 'lion man'. However this 35 000 BP statue may be a female shaman, with plump breasts.
With a hand trowel, the geologist Otto Völzing dug on 25 August 1939 in dim light through the cultural layers deep inside the Stadelhöhle (Schwäbische Alb). He met with flint and other detritus from prehistoric man. Suddenly he hit something hard - a fragmented statuette. Hastily, the debris was packed in a box and his work, funded by the SS, had to be completed that day. Everything had to go fast. Völzing had received his call-up. The Second World War was imminent. For 30 years the pieces he found went unnoticed. Then they were found and pieced together to form one of the most impressive of the Palaeolithic sculptures.
The 'Lion Man', made from the tusk of a mammoth is about 30 cm high. Its creator carved and polished the piece. An experiment revealed that the carving took about 320 hours. The original is badly damaged but no one knows its exact appearance. The reason is that because of the hurried completion of the pre-war excavations, many splinters from the piece were overlooked. The present form was completed in 1988, and consists of 220 parts. About 30 percent of the body is missing. The surface has splintered off a large part of the statue.
The enigma is that it is uncertain whether a mythical half-lion half-human is depicted, or perhaps a magician under a cloak. The six stripes on the upper left arm can be interpreted as bulbous ornamental marks, but it is unknown what was on the missing right arm.
Even the sex is unrecognisable. The prehistorian Joachim Hahn suggested that the plate on the abdomen might be a flaccid penis. The palaeontologist Elisabeth Schmid classified this feature as a pubic triangle. The statue had been touted as an 'icon of the feminist movement', complained Kurt Wehrberger of the Ulmer Museum, which holds the treasure. For some women it is clear: prehistory was a matriarchy and Eve was an Amazon. Instead of cooking and looking after children, women would have hunted mammoths and also been part of magic rituals. The debate is still not decided, but that could change. New fragments of the 'lion man' have been discovered.
The overburden in the cave was re-examined. The entire backfill of 1939 was sieved, says the excavator Claus-Joachim Kind. He made a sensational announcement: 'We have about a thousand items which may be of the statue'.
There are some pieces only a few square millimetres in size, and some which are as long as a finger. The piece was put together as all such important fragmented finds are, with beeswax and chalk, which is a glue which is strong enough to be stable, but weak enough to be removed easily if required.
In the next few weeks, the piece was brought to Esslingen and completely dissected. The old glue was loosened and removed, providing a record of the original reconstruction. Then the much anticipated putting together of the jigsaw began. Child hopes: "The mysterious art of Baden-Württemberg will soon confront us in its original appearance." It is already clear that the figure will grow a few centimetres - the new finds include parts of the neck, the hole can be plugged on the back, the right arm is available in its entirety. It is also certain the the figure has more strange marks on its surface.
The ancestors of the artist who created the statue about 35 000 years ago had recently migrated to Europe - until then a territory of the Neanderthals. The statue stood beside traces of a fire in a niche 27 metres away from the cave entrance. Nearby were decorated deer tooth and arctic fox incisors as well as ivory beads. It may be the remains of jewellery for a garment. Perhaps the niche was the dressing room of a shaman.
Medicine Man performing His Mysteries Over a Dying Man, 1832
29 x 24 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.
This painting of an historical medicine man from North America demonstrates that shamans or medicine men often dressed in animal skins, with false heads of animals, to gain the power inherent in the natural world.
Man/animal hybrids are known from cave paintings in France.
It is thus entirely possible that the Löwenmensch could be a representation of a shaman.
Photo: George Catlin (artist, 1832), http://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/online/catlinclassroom/catlin_browsec.cfm?ID=160
The fact that in ancient times magicians dressed in skins, to celebrate rites with fire , is considered likely. Hybrids of animals and humans are also known from rock paintings in France. The magician apparently slipped under the skins of dangerous Ice Age fauna. Cave lions weighed over 250 kg.
In a cave at the foot of the Pyrenees is depicted a man with a kind of musical instrument. He has the hide of a bison thrown over him. Even this 800 kg behemoth was not to be trifled with. Maybe the hunters wanted to acquire the strength of the animals and take possession of its soul through masquerade and dance. Such motives may be gleaned from old reports of Siberian indigenous peoples. Their shamans up to modern times wore antlers on the head. The same is told by study of the Blackfoot Indians. The healers danced around intoxicated by the sound of drums, wearing bear skins.
The 'lion man' is standing on tiptoe. He also seems to dance. Just who is under the cloak? Lions are considered symbols of courage and strength - men's virtues. In the Amazon, or in Australia, there are still shamans. Most of them are men.
On the other hand, the statue has features which make one wonder. The navel is a symbol of birth and the navel can be seen clearly. Over the abdomen runs a transverse abdominal crease, a typical female trait.
The prehistorian Elizabeth Schmid assumed that the figure once had breasts and notes that the transition from the thighs to the buttocks indicate a woman's body. Without using the fragments, they constructed a model out of plasticine, which is now in a safe in Ulm. It shows the 'lion man' with full breasts.
Although many scholars rejected this as absurd, there is at least one thing in its favour. In the Spanish cave of Las Caldas a portrait of a 14 000 years old animal was revealedas one who is clearly female. Above it looks like a mountain goat, below it has a vulva.
Was the religion of our ancestors in the hands of women? The new findings may finally solve the problem. Hundreds of fragments of ivory remain to be put together. There are many fragments apparently from the genital area, which prompted the excavator to pronounce 'We will find out the sex of the figurine'.
Photo: Elizabeth Schmid
Text above: Der Spiegel 49/2011, http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-82612721.html
Hohle Fels miniature lion man, only 26 mm (one inch) tall, of mammoth ivory. It obviously has strong affinities with the Löwenmensch of the Stadel-Höhle, and comes from a nearby site.
It was discovered during an excavation in 2001 in the Hohle Fels cave near Schelklingen - a figure that exhibits both human and animal characteristics. Unfortunately, only half of it is preserved. The upright posture and the distinctly sloping shoulders suggest a human being.
On the head, a finely shaped ear can be recognised. The arm is short and decorated with spots and a vertical scratch. These are apparent feline attributes.
Generally, this statuette is referred to as the 'little brother' of the Lion-Man from Hohlenstein-Stadel - yet another hybrid statuette. Due to the condition of its preservation it cannot be defined whether this is a female or a male.
Photo: (left) http://gchess.bizland.com/Bird%20research%20II.htm, (centre) http://www.ice-age-art.de/anfaenge_der_kunst/fels/mensch.php, (right) Ralph Frenken
Text: Adapted from http://www.ice-age-art.de/anfaenge_der_kunst/fels/mensch.php
The statuette is between 31 000 and 33 000 years old.
Height: 25.5 mm
The original carving is in the Urgeschichtliches Museum, Blaubeuren.
Photo: Rau et al. (2009)
Text: Adapted from http://www.ice-age-art.de/anfaenge_der_kunst/fels/mensch.php
Another version of the Lion Lady/Man. Click on the image for a larger version.
Colour photo from: National Geographic October 1988, photo by Alexander Marshack
Drawing from: Agenda de la Préhistoire 2002 - 2003, a superb diary with excellent illustrations sent to me by Anya. My thanks as always.
Dans l'abri du Höhlenstein-Stadel, dans le Jura souabe (Allemagne), a été découverte cette statuette en ivoire d'un hornme à tête de lion, dans une couche aurignacienne, c'est-à-dire plus on moins contemporaine de la grotte Chauvet.
On a 1500 km bicycle ride down the Danube from Donaueschingen to Budapest, my wife and I called in to the beautiful old city of Ulm, set on a ridge behind a wall beside the river.
I felt like some coffee and cake, preferably with ice cream, and we pushed our bicycles through the old gate, and up the steep cobbled street to the city square, with the steeples of the Ulm Cathedral dominating the skyline.
It is in the museum here that the Löwenmensch resides, although I had forgotten that at the time.
Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
As we entered the main town square, I laughed out loud - there was a sea of Löwenmenschen in the square, painted in colours like that of a technicolor dream - or nightmare!
The surprise of seeing in multiple, large versions something I had thought of as a little known artefact of the Ice Age had me grinning and shaking my head in disbelief as I looked over them from the cafe window (on the right in this photo) as I had my coffee and cake (no ice cream was available!).
It made my day, though every day of that trip was enjoyable and memorable.
Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Each of the fibreglass or plastic figures had been decorated by a different artist, and there was an identifying tag on each of them, which said in part:
Homage to the Lion Man
On the occasion of the Festival of Ulm, Baden-Württemburg 2008 under the auspices of the Lord Mayor of the city of Ulm.
Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Ice age Art - A new find completes one more part of the jigsaw puzzle of the Löwenmensch
For the archaeologists of the National Monument Office, it's like a stroke of luck in the lottery: In excavations in the Stadelhöhle am Hohenstein, a rocky cliff in the Lonetal valley above Asselfingen, they have found in hundreds of fragments of mammoth ivory more matching pieces of the famous lion-man, which they have presented to the public on Tuesday. The 35 000 - 40 000 year-old lion-man, a nearly 30-centimetre statutette with a lion's head and a human torso was carved during the last glacial period of Stone Age people from a mammoth tusk and is therefore regarded as the one of the oldest examples of figurative art of mankind.
In August 1939, Würzburg anatomist Robert Wetzel in his excavations in the Stadelhöhle, discovered the mysterious hybrid of human and cave lion, but did not recognise its true significance. The war abruptly interrupted the excavations, and the findings were sent to Tübingen and from there back to the Ulm Museum. Only in 1988 was the Ice Age figurine been reconstructed from hundreds of fragments in Ulmer Museum. The lion man was missing, however, large parts of the right side and back. With the new finds, the 30 centimetre figure made of mammoth ivory is likely to be reconstructed completely.
Kurt Wehrberger, Head of the Department of Antiquities at the Museum in Ulm (left) with the Löwenmensch and excavation director Claus-Joachim Kind at the entrance of the cave at the Stadelhöhle am Hohlenstein cave - where the figure was carved 35 000 years ago.
Photo: Martina Dach
Here we can see how the newly found pieces fit into place.
In this computer reconstruction, the new pieces of the puzzle are shown in pink.
Photo: Kurt Wehrberger, Head of the Department of Antiquities at the Museum in Ulm
Identification of Mammoth, Mastodon and Elephant IvoryText below: http://www.fossil-treasures-of-florida.com/FossilTreasuresofFloridaNewsletter-newsletter0007.html
The Löwenmensch figurine is made of ivory – which is usually used in context of elephant-tusks. In this case it has been proposed that this was made from mammoth or a mastodon tusk – the ancestors of modern elephants. The Ulm Museum where this figure is housed says this was carved by ‘stone tools out of mammoth ivory’.
It is unclear on what basis the ivory type of the Löwenmensch was decided. Was it fossil ivory, of the mammoth type, or the modern African or Asian elephant tusk. The US Customs Department uses the Schreger Pattern to decide between elephant or mammoth ivory.
(left) Schreger lines for mammoth ivory.
(right) Schreger lines in elephant ivory.
Photo : http://www.lab.fws.gov/ivory_natural.php
Permission: These images are a work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, taken or made as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.
If the angle of the cross-hatch pattern is less than 90 degrees, the ivory is fossil mammoth (mammoth forms angles of 87 degrees on average). If the cross-hatch angle is more than 90 degrees, the ivory could be modern elephant (modern elephant ivory forms angles greater than 115 degrees.) On the other hand, Mastodons cross-hatch angle is 125 degrees on average.
- Rau, S., Naumann D., Barth M., Mühleis Y., Bleckmann C., 2009: Eiszeit: Kunst und Kultur, Thorbecke, 2009, 396p. ISBN: 978-3-7995-0833-9