The oldest horse sculpture

The "Wild Horse" of the Vogelherd Cave is one of oldest carvings made by humans. The carving is in the Museum Schloss Hohentübingen, Tübingen, Germany.

The Vogelherd Cave

The Vogelherd Cave is one of the most important prehistoric sites in Germany. The Vogelherd Cave (German: Vogelherdhöhle , or simply Vogelherd) is located in the eastern Swabian Jura, south-western Germany. This limestone karst cave came to scientific and public attention after the 1931 discovery of the Upper Palaeolithic Vogelherd figurines, attributed to paleo-humans of the Aurignacian culture. These miniature sculptures made of mammoth ivory rank among the oldest uncontested works of art of mankind. Because of the cultural importance of these sculptures and the cave's testimony to the development of Paleolithic art and culture, in 2017 the site became part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site called Caves and Ice Age Art in the Swabian Jura.

Vogelherd was inhabited by people since the last interglacial period, the Eemian. It was an important station of the Neanderthals, which is demonstrated in four Middle Palaeolithic layers. After the Neanderthals  anatomically modern humans arrived following the Danube Valley about 43,000 years ago and established themselves in this area with the Aurignacian culture. Here they created art, personal ornaments, musical instruments and there is evidence for religious beliefs.

Theaesthetic quality and elaborate work of the figurines were often seen as arguments against their provenance fromthe Aurignacian or it is argued that there must have been older precursors. Despite their fine processing and their charisma, they remain enigmatic. Especially enigmatic to us are the numerous engraved marks – points, parallel lines, crosses and cross-lines – which are found on almost all the figurines and also on numerous organic tools of the same time period.

The "Wild Horse", earlest horse sculpture made by humans.

And beyond, such signs can become independent and be used as a vehicle to transport this or other meanings to other objects. Even if this is difficult to prove, since we do not know the code for these symbols, it is very likely that the application of such marks goes beyond the mere decoration of objects.

Since its first discovery by Gustav Riek in 1931, the figurative art of the Swabian Jura still remains mysterious. Up to the present day, the figurines of the Swabian Aurignacian represent the oldest evidence of figurative art worldwide.




Universität Tübingen – Germany

Museum Schloss Hohentübingen, Tübingen, Germany