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First recorded human portrait found carved on woolly mammoth tusk

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 28th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The earliest known portrait of a human is carved upon a woolly mammoth tusk of 26,000 years ago. The amazing find will go on display shortly at the British Museum. Smaller than the average thumb, the portrait was created in the middle of the last Ice Age, in a valley in what is now Moravia in the Czech Republic, using stone tools.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Entitled Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind, the exhibit will juxtapose Ice Age art with modern works by the likes of Moore, Mondrian and Matisse. The show will feature works as far back as 40,000 years ago and prove how humans were already using figurative art to interpret their world.

Striking examples will be displayed as works of art rather than archaeological finds, alongside major works of modern art for comparison. "All art is the product of the remarkable structure and organization of the modern brain," curator of the exhibition Jill Cook says.

"By looking at the oldest European sculptures and drawings we are looking at the deep history of how our brains began to store, transform and communicate ideas as visual images. The exhibition will show that we can recognize and appreciate these images.

"Even if their messages and intentions are lost to us, the skill and artistry will still astonish the viewer."

Asked about the significance of the tusk portrait, Cook says "The reason we say it is a portrait is because she has absolutely individual characteristics. She has one beautifully engraved eye; on the other, the lid comes just over and there\'s just a slit. Perhaps she had a stroke, or palsy, or was injured in some way.

"In any case, she had a dodgy eye. And she has a dimple on her chin: this is an image of a real living woman," Cook says.

Fully modern people whose brains had evolved the complex super highway of the pre-frontal cortex began to arrive in Europe out of Africa just after 50,000 years ago

Approximately six inches tall, it is carved from tusk ivory, and was damaged during excavation, causing the large missing chunk visible on the left hand side of its body. The engraving also displays the earliest representation found of spun thread, as the carving shows a skirt hanging from below the hips.

Included in the display is a 23,000-year-old sculpture of an abstract figure from Lespugue, France, which fascinated legendary Spanish artist Pablo Picasso and influenced his Thirties sculptural works.

Picasso was so fascinated with this "cubist" piece, crafted from mammoth ivory, that he kept two copies of it.

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