A Stone Age bird figurine found in China may be a “missing link” in our understanding of prehistoric art, according to research published Wednesday.
Dating back almost 13,500 years, the sculpture is now the oldest known example of three-dimensional art in East Asia, preceding other discoveries in the region by nearly 8,500 years.
Described as “in an exceptional state of preservation”, the figurine was found at an archeological site in Lindzing, in the central Chinese province of Henan. It is made by hand from burnt animal bone with the help of stone tools.
According to researchers, the sculpture depicts a bird on a pedestal, pointing to deliberate signs of where the creature’s eyes and account would be. It is believed that the huge tail of the bird is made so as to prevent the figurine from leaning forward when placed on a surface.
The bird figurine is the oldest known sculpture found in East Asia. Credit: Francesco d’Erico / Luc Doyon
“This discovery identifies an original artistic tradition and has repelled the representation of birds in Chinese art for more than 8,500 years,” the authors said in a press release. “The figurine differs technologically and stylistically from the other specimens found in Western Europe and Siberia, and this may be the missing link that traces the origin of the Chinese statue back to the Paleolithic period.”
In addition to using radiocarbon dating to determine the site’s age, scientists are using CT scans to uncover the carving techniques used by the Paleolithic sculptor. They found evidence that abrasion, measurement, scraping and cutting with stone tools were used to make the figurine.
The excavations were led by researchers from Shandong University in East China, along with experts from colleges in France, Israel and Norway. Li Zhangyan, who led the study, has been excavating the site since 2005. Other finds there include pieces of pottery, burnt animal remains and an ostrich egg pendant.