Yesterday your scribe attended the press preview of the British Museum’s new exhibition Ice Age Art: arrival of the modern mind. The exhibition explores sculpture and drawings during the last European Ice Age (circa 40,000 – 10,000 years ago) and the “modern” mind that made them. But man’s been making marks much longer. Homo sapiens’ peripatetic journey brought our species to Europe around 43,000 years ago where they handily supplanted the rag-tag remnants of Neanderthal man. With competition between human species eliminated, our ancestors had a bit more spare time to whittle bone, carve stones and engrave flakes of mammoth ivory with decorative animal scenes and human likenesses. Life was good. Or at least getting better.
The period the exhibition covers is rich in stunning iconography and sophisticated techniques. Whoever carved The Lion-Man was able to deftly engineer the legs to take advantage of the hollow area of the mammoth tusk bone from which it’s carved. Smart. And while there are no textiles from this period, the exhibition includes references to wall art in the Lascaux and Niaux caves – art which dates back approximately 17,000 years. Lascaux was discovered in 1940 and by 1948 visitors clamoured to get inside. Inspired by the international fame of the caves, Olga Fisch, who founded the famous Folklore store in Ecuador, designed her 1950s series of Caverna rugs which includes Lascaux’s well-known spotted bull’s head in the rug’s upper register. DJ