Löwenmensch: The Lion Man, performed by Michael Garfield for inclusion in an archaeological research project by Liane Gabora and Mike Steel. Listen on all major streaming platforms: https://smarturl.it/lionman

Learn more about Michael’s music performance methodology: https://michaelgarfield.blogspot.com/…

About the Lion Man (by Kirthana Ganesh):

During systematic excavations at the Hohlenstein-Stadel cave in 1937, geologist Völzing and prehistoric historian Wetzel discovered approximately 200 fragments of mammoth ivory that seemed to have been worked upon by human hands. Due to the start of World War II, these fragments were packed away at Ulm Museum in Germany, and forgotten for 32 years.

Archaeologist Hahn began assembling these fragments in 1969. Subsequent restoration activities by multiple experts were carried out in 1982, 1987, 2008, and 2012, and the figurine was completed in late 2013. Carbon dating puts the age of the figurine at around 40, 000 years ago, which is the end of the last ice age. It is also the era that has been referred to by Steven Mithen as the “big bang of art, science, and religion,” which is believed to mark the origins of modern human cognition – that is, these are the earliest people who thought and experienced life the same way we do

The figurine is close to one foot in height and depicts a creature with a human body, standing with its legs apart and hands to the side. A long cylindrical torso shades almost imperceptibly into a thick neck and a lion’s head. The ears of the lion are cocked, as though it is listening, and intricate detailing around the ear muscles at the back of the figurine confirm that this is not a mask, but rather an actual head of a lion. The stance of the figurine seems to be a powerful one, and the creature seems to display strength.

The creation of the figurine would require immense labour and attention to detail, and thus the work of a professional, or at least someone with a lot of proficiency at carving. According to experts, this technically complex figurine would have taken around 400 hours of painstaking work to create. The period of its creation (the end of the last Ice Age), would be one where humans were constantly battling the elements, and barely able to sustain themselves. Why would such a community, living on the edge of subsistence, allow someone to spend this much time on something that does not have any direct functional value?

This figurine is the earliest known example of a physically graspable creation that could not exist in reality. It is therefore an expression of a large imaginative leap, and the earliest example of creativity in the form of combining existing concepts into a completely new idea. How did the creator of this figurine arrive upon this idea? What inspired them to combine the forms of human and its most dangerous predator, and use the tusk of the largest known mammal to depict it?

Microscopic analysis has revealed two important details: the inside of the mouth of the lion shows traces of an unidentified organic substance (experts suggest that it might be blood), and the surface of the figure is unnaturally smooth, suggesting that it had been held, passed around, and rubbed by many hands over many, many years. (Although others believe the surface was worn down by flowing water.) In any event, the figurine may have been used for some sort of ceremonial ritual or other significant communal activities. The figurine was also found deep inside the cave, at the very back in a smaller cave-like area, again suggesting both its importance and significance to the humans living in the cave. What might have been the significance of this figurine to the community? If it was passed from person to person over many years, was it an artifact handed down through generations? What might that mean?


This music was created as part of a study of the cross-domain transfer of cultural knowledge, i.e., of how creative cultural output in one domain (in this case, sculpture) inspire creative cultural output in another (in this case, music). This has proven challenging with conventional theories of cultural evolution, but can be accomplished using a new approach that uses Cognitive Reflexively Autocatalytic Foodset-generated (cRAF) networks. More information on how this approach was used to analyze the creation of the lion-man figurine can be found here: Gabora, L. & Steel, M. (in press). A model of the transition to behavioral and cognitive modernity using reflexively autocatalytic networks. Journal of the Royal Society Interface. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.11…