Category Archives: portable art

Beautiful amber elk from Epipaleolithic Low Germany

Pileta de Prehistoria calls my attention to this beautiful figurine of an elk carved in amber found in a farm from Northern Germany (exact spot not specified anyhwere).
The artwork seems to belong to Federmesser culture, sometimes described as part of the Azilian culture (Epi-Magdalenian in any case), that overlapped in extension the more locally rooted and technologically distinct Ahrensburgian culture.
S. Veil et al.,  A 14 000-year-old amber elk and the origins of northern European art. Antiquity 2012. Pay per view ··> LINK.


A Late Palaeolithic amber figurine has been skilfully recovered and
reassembled from a ploughed open site in northern Germany. Dated between
11 800 and 11 680 cal BC it occupies a key point between the
Magdalenian and the Mesolithic. The authors show that the figurine
represents a female elk which was probably carried on the top of a
wooden staff. They argue for continuity of art but change of belief in
this crucial transition period. 

The elk head was part of a larger piece, now broken:

Main source: – Archaeology: Art of the Azilian: 14,000 year old Amber Elk Figurine.


Posted by on September 8, 2012 in art, Epipaleolithic, European prehistory, Germany, portable art


Thousands of engraved plates found in Northern Portugal

The engraved schist plates have been found concentrated at a dig site at Meirinhos[pt] (Mogadouro, Alto Trás-os-Montes), where they seem to have accumulated by the action of natural forces back in the day. Their motifs are mostly figurative, although some are zoomorphic (horses, aurochsen). They are believed to be from the Upper Paleolithic and are among the most important artistic sets of NW Iberia (also Côa open air sanctuary and Asturian cave art).
Sources[pt]: Correio del Manha, Pileta,

Oldest known East Asian sculpture

A pottery or terracotta figure (right) from the Hongshan culture has been unearthed in what is now Inner Mongolia. The figure measures 55 cm height and is speculated to represent a sage or prince from the period. 
The Hongshan culture is (rather advanced, 3rd phase) Neolithic and believed to be proto-Koreanic or proto-Altaic by language. The figure is estimated to have an age of c. 5300 years ago.
Sources: People’s Daily, Pileta

Earliest art of America may be mammoth engraving in Florida

[Updated Jun 23]
Science Daily reports of the finding of a bone with a mammoth engraving. It is believed to have an age of c. 13,000 BP because that is the approximate date of extinction of these animals in North America according to the fossil record. The unusual finding was recovered from Vero Beach, Florida:

Barbara Purdy et al., Earliest Art in the Americas: Incised Image of a Proboscidean on a Mineralized Extinct Animal Bone from Vero Beach, Florida. Journal of Archaeological Science, 2011. Pay per view.

[DOI is broken so link above is direct]


A fragmented fossil bone incised with the figure of a proboscidean was recently found at Vero Beach, Florida near the location where Late Pleistocene fauna and human bones were recovered from 1913–1916. This engraving may represent the oldest and only existing example of Terminal Pleistocene art depicting a proboscidean in the Americas. Because of the uniqueness, rarity, and potential antiquity of this specimen, caution demanded that a variety of tests be used in anattempt to verify its authenticity. The mineralized bone was identified as mammoth, mastodon, or giant sloth. Rare earth element analysis was consistent with the fossil bone being ancient and originating at or near the Old Vero site (8-IR-9). Forensic analysis suggests the markings on the bone are not recent. Optical microscopy results show no discontinuity in coloration between the carved grooves and the surrounding material indicating that both surfaces aged simultaneously. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) revealed that the edges of the inscription are worn and show no signs of being incised recently or that the grooves were made with metal tools.In addition, the backscattered SEM images suggest there is no discontinuity in the distribution of light and heavy elements between the scribed region and the surrounding bone indicating that both surfaces aged in the same environment. This is very different from an intentional mark made on the bone for comparison. Energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDXS) shows that the surface contains significant amounts of calcium, phosphorus, oxygen, and carbon typical of a mineralized bone surface. Examination of a cast and mold of the incised bone by Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) also provided no evidence that the engraving was made recently. All of these results are consistent with the mammoth engraving being authentic.

I also found an available PDF (not sure how long it will stay open).

The bone itself may be one of a mammoth, though being mineralized (true fossil) we can’t expect to get DNA nor C-14 dates:

It definitely derived from a much larger land mammal than any known to have been alive in Florida during the Precolumbian Holocene interval (e.g., bear, bison, deer), and the great thickness of the cortical bone precludes a cetacean origin. Because the bone is mineralized, it is improbable that it can be identified by DNA analysis or dated by 14C. This is usually the case for Late Pleistocene fossils from Florida (e.g., Hulbert et al. 2009).