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 Location: Ach Valley, Near Schelklingen, Germany.  Grid Reference:  48° 22' 45" N, 9° 45' 20" E.

 

      Hohle Fels: (Palaeolithic Cave).

This cave in Germany has revealed some of the most interesting examples of Ice-age cave art in the world. The shape of the cave when seen without the present coverage of trees and growth is reminiscent of the mouth in the 'face' of the mountain, perhaps explaining why it was inhabited for over 10,000 years.

The artistic endeavour involved in each piece brings us that much closer to our ancestors. The ivory ornaments are lifelike, in the same way as much cave-art is. In addition, the discovery of a phallus, Venus figurine and lion-man take us directly into the mind of the Palaeolithic artist, who chose these images to represent over so many. It is reasonably argued that such workmanship adds to demonstrate that the human species were already culturally fledged and imaginative beings at the Palaeolithic stage in our development.

 

   Hohle Fels: ('Hollow Rock')

The recent discovery of three Palaeolithic figurines (a horse's head (or possibly a bear), a water bird of some sort possibly in flight, and a "Lowenmensch", a half lion/half human figurine), has greatly raised the profile of the Hohle Fels cave. Previously, a similar lion/human sculpture (although much larger) was found at the Hohlenstein-Stadel site, an Aurignacian period site in the Lone Valley of Germany. The horse's head at Hohle Fels came from a level dated about 30,000 years old; the other two are from an older occupation in the cave, ca. 31-33,000 years ago.

 In addition to these discoveries, are the 'Venus of Hohle fels', the phallus and the griffon bone flute.

 

The Flute of Hohle fels:

The discovery of a bone flute and two fragments of ivory flutes are said to represent the earliest known flowering of music-making in Stone Age culture. The bone flute with five finger holes, found at Hohle Fels Cave in the hills west of Ulm, was “by far the most complete of the musical instruments so far recovered from the caves” in a region where pieces of other flutes have been turning up in recent years. A three-hole flute carved from mammoth ivory was uncovered a few years ago at another cave, as well as two flutes made from the wing bones of a mute swan. In the same cave, archaeologists also found beautiful carvings of animals. (2)

The most significant of the new artefacts the archaeologists said, was a flute made from a hollow bone from a griffon vulture. The preserved portion is about 8.5 inches long and includes the end of the instrument into which the musician blew. The maker carved two deep, V-shaped notches there, and four fine lines near the finger holes. The other end appears to have been broken off; judging by the typical length of these bird bones, two or three inches are missing.

Dr. Conard’s discovery in 2004 of the seven-inch three-hole ivory flute at the Geissenklösterle cave, also near Ulm, inspired him to widen his search of caves, saying at the time that southern Germany “may have been one of the places where human culture originated.”. Dr. Conard said in an e-mail message from Germany that “the new flutes must be very close to 40,000 calendar years old and certainly date to the initial settlement of the region.”

Friedrich Seeberger, a German specialist in ancient music, reproduced the ivory flute in wood. Experimenting with the replica, he found that the ancient flute produced a range of notes comparable in many ways to modern flutes. “The tones are quite harmonic,” he said. (2)

Bird bones are extremely well-suited for making flutes, as they are already hollow, thin and strong, so that they may be perforated without too much danger of fracturing. Later forms, carved from mammoth ivory involve a different technology, including carving out the tubular form into two pieces and then fitting the pieces together with an adhesive. The mammoth-ivory flutes would have been especially challenging to make. Using only stone tools, the flute maker would have had to split a section of curved ivory along its natural grain. The two halves would then have been hollowed out, carved, and fitted together with an airtight seal. Other Flute fragments found earlier at the nearby site of Geissenklösterle have been dated to around 35,000 years ago. (4)

(Article: Bone Flutes: Form and Function.)

(Palaeolithic Music)

 

The Venus of Hohle Fels:

The Hohle Fels Venus figurine (Venus vom Hohlen Fels, vom Hohle Fels; Venus von Schelklingen) was produced at least 35,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest known examples of figurative art. This discovery predates the well-known Venuses from the Gravettian culture by at least 5,000 years and radically changes our views of the context and meaning of the earliest Palaeolithic art. (1) If the dating is correct, then this is the oldest undisputed example of Upper Palaeolithic art and figurative prehistoric art in general. In 2011, the figure is being researched in the University of Tübingen, though there are plans to house it and other discoveries from the region in a planned new museum in Swabia.

'The figurine was sculpted from a woolly mammoth tusk and had broken into fragments, of which six have been recovered, with the left arm and shoulder still missing. In place of the head, the figurine — which probably took "tens if not hundreds of hours" to carve  — has a perforated protrusion, which may have allowed its owner to wear it as an amulet. (3)

(More about Venus Figurines)

 

The Lion-Man of Hohle Fels.

The Ivory Lowen-mensch is the second such figurine found. German archaeologists discovered one (The Lion-man of Hohlenstein-Stadel) in 1939 at an Aurignacian site in the Lone Valley. "If there are two, there must be hundreds of these things, they must have been part of daily life". This is considered the 'little brother' to the more famous lion-man. The upright posture and the distinctly sloping shoulders suggest a human being. On the head, a finely shaped ear can be recognized. The arm is short and decorated with spots and a vertical scratch, which are considered the feline attributes. The statue is dated c. 30,000 - 32,000 BP.

 

 

The Phallus of Hohle Fels:

Reported in 2005, the discovery of a sculpted and polished 20cm phallus, dated at c.28,000 BP has led to the suggestion that it may have been used as a primitive 'sex-aid'. The siltstone phallus was found broken into 14 pieces and was re-assembled in 2005 following the discovery of the 14th piece. Researchers believe the object's distinctive form and etched rings around one end mean there can be little doubt as to its symbolic nature. (5)

(Other Examples of Erotic Cave Art)

 

The Hohle Fels Bird:

This sculpted piece of mammoth ivory may be the earliest representation of a bird in the archaeological record. The avian figurine is 30,000 years old.

(Photo Credits: BBC News Online)

 

The Hohle Fels Horse:

Discovered in 1999, this probably depicts a horse. There are fine lines on the side of the face and below the jaw, suggesting domestication. The find is dated to c. 30,000 BP

 

Gallery of Images: Hohle Fels:

This sketch shows that the cave has the appearance of being the 'mouth' of a face in the mountain when there are no trees to obscure it. This anthropomorphic imagery may well have added to the importance of the site, as it is known to have influenced other ancient settings such as Pena de los Namorados, Spain, for example.

(More about Simulacrum)

(Palaeolithic Wisdom)

(Cave Art Homepage)

(Prehistoric Germany Homepage)

 

References:

1). http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v459/n7244/pdf/nature07995.pdf
2). http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/25/science/25flute.html
3). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_of_Hohle_Fels
4). http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/06/090624-bone-flute-oldest-instrument.html
5). http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/4713323.stm

 

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