The Lion-Person (its intended gender is the subject of debate) is “the oldest known physical representation of a supernatural being,” a 30cm figurine dating back approximately 40,000 years. Carved from a mammoth tusk, scientists estimate it would have taken a skilled person around 400 hours to create with the tools of the era.
That long of a process implies that the culture that produced it made room for artists or craftspeople, excusing them from at least some of the more survival-oriented duties of the tribe to create objects of beauty and imagination. As the British Museum’s Jill Cook puts it (quoted in Wikipedia), the object points to “… a relationship to things unseen, to the vital forces of nature, that you need to perhaps propitiate, perhaps connect to, in order to ensure your successful life.”
As incredible as the artifact itself is, I was also surprised to learn that is in a museum in Ulm, a relatively small German city on the border of Bavaria. I would just assume that something like this would be in one of the world’s largest or best resourced museums. It just goes to show what wonders you can stumble across in unexpected places.
(Found through a reference in Gaia Vince’s book Transcendence, which is packed with so many fascinating asides that I’ve had to stop bugging my partner with them and start sharing them here.)