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February 4 2013

Ice-age art hints at birth of modern mind


The world’s oldest portrait, the world’s first fully carved sculpture, the world's oldest ceramic figure, the world’s earliest puppet - there’s no shortage of superlatives in the new exhibition of art from the ice age at the British Museum in London.

But focus too closely on the exhibits’ record-breaking ages alone, and you might miss the broader point: these beautiful objects are the earliest evidence we have of humans who seem to have had minds like ours.

Consider, for example, the "lion man" found in 1939 in south-west Germany’s Stadel cave (pictured above). As the name suggests, this statue, standing 30 centimetres tall, harmoniously combines human and leonine features: the head is unmistakeably a lion’s, while the body and lower limbs are more human.

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