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In the footsteps of Ice Age artists

The new Ice Age Art exhibition in the British Museum has a surprising number of sculptures from southwest Germany. Jill Cook, curator of the exhibition, explains where to seek out more.

Head first for the charming town of Tübingen, south of Stuttgart, where from the hill-top castle you can enjoy wonderful views of the countryside that nurtured early modern people. The museum of the University of Tübingen, in the cobbled castle courtyard, has a collection of 35-40,000 year old sculptures made by those people, and it is still a research base for the archaeologists who discovered them.

Inside, in a darkened room of their own, are miniature mammoth ivory sculptures of lions, mammoths, a bison and the prancing horse from Vogelherd Cave, some of the first art ever found. In adjacent rooms and corridors you can see some other finds that reveal more detail about the lives of the hunter-gatherers who were their makers.

Oldest known expression of imagination

The attractive town of Ulm situated on the Danube, east of  Tübingen, should be next on the itinerary. Here you can see the 40,000 year old Lion Man in the excellent Ulmer Museum. This mammoth ivory statue of a male human figure with the head of a cave lion is the oldest known expression of imagination, because to create such a fictitious creature required a well-developed brain like our own. The Lion Man is one of the most important finds of the 20th century because it shows that ancient people known to be physically the same as us (from skeletal remains) also shared our mental capabilities.

Next, head to Blaubeuren nestling in the shelter of the southern edge of the Swabian Alps and famous for its abbey and remarkable turquoise lake. The ground floor of its Urgeschichtliches Museum welcomes you to the fireside of a hunter-gatherer camp and provides the background to the discoveries made in many of caves in the surrounding hills. Upstairs little rooms are dedicated to various aspects of Ice Age art and includes one where you can see the oldest known musical instruments: the flutes from Geissenklösterle and Hohle Fels caves made from swan and vulture bones, as well as mammoth ivory. If you enjoy walking, Blaubeuren is also an excellent base from which to explore the hills and pass by the famous caves that were the cradles of artistic activity.

And finally, if you are returning via Stuttgart, stop off to see the 40,000 year old sculpture of a woman from Hohle Fels in the new displays at the city’s Landesmuseum Württemberg. Nicknamed Europe’s ‘Eve’, this remarkable sculpture is a must for any Ice Age itinerary.

Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind is on at the British Museum until 26 May 2013. Tickets cost £10.00 (Members free) and can be booked online. It is accompanied by a book by Jill Cook.


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