Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The New "Miss Paleolithic Germany"

This figurine is known as a "Venus" statue. They litter the ancient world. So what makes this one unique? It may be the oldest known example of figurative art (art that is supposed to represent and resemble a real person, animal or object). Unearthed in September 2008 in Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany, this discovery could help scientists understand the origins of art and the advent of symbolic thinking, including complicated language.

(AP Photo/Daniel Maurer)

This paleolithic "Dolly Parton" statue is carved out of the tusk of a woolly mammoth and is less than 2.5 inches long. Paleoanthropologist Nicholas Conard of Germany's Tubingen University reported the discovery in the May 14 issue of the journal Nature.

Here is a great video describing the discovery: "Prehistoric Pinup"

Technical paper: Nicholas J. Conard, "A female figurine from the basal Aurignacian of Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany," Nature 459, (14 May 2009), 248-252.

So, you may be wondering: What's the connection between this top-heavy curvaceous figurine and the development of language? Since both language and art represent symbolic thought, experts have frequently linked the two. From the standpoint of Reasons To Believe's testable creation model, expressions of abstract thought, such as language and art, might be reasonably construed as evidence for the uniqueness of humanity as being made in the "image of God" (Gen. 1:26-27).

[Short aside: Assuming that the date for this figurine is correct - 35,000 years old - that would mean that humanity had already migrated out of Mesopotamia by at least that point. According to Hugh Ross' flood model, that would mean Noah would have lived prior to that time. The question is, could a primitive paleolithic culture have built a large ark? And how does the paleolithic record compare with Noah's world as described in the book of Genesis?]

Essay idea: Differentiate between the behaviors of Neanderthals and humans. How does this discovery support the biblical view that the descendants of Adam and Eve are unique from the animals?

UPDATE (5/15/09): I asked Dr. Fuz Rana whether this artifact was older than the "Lion-Man" statue we discussed on Creation Update a while back. Here is his reply: "This statue is very close in age to the Lion Man, maybe slightly older. Both were found in caves in Germany." I believe the "Venus" statue dates to about 35,000 years ago, while the "Lion-Man" comes in at around 32,000 years ago.

UPDATE (5/19/09): Dr. Fuz Rana now has a "Science News Flash" podcast posted on the RTB web site responding to this discovery.


havoc said...

Just a thought:

"According to Hugh Ross' flood model, that would mean Noah would have lived prior to that time. The question is, could a primitive paleolithic culture have built a large ark?"

Dr. Ross has made several comments during recent I Didn't Know That podcasts about how cultures can lose technologies, even gaining and losing technologies repeatedly. So, the culture that built Noah's ark would very likely have lost many technologies after the flood when the population was reduced to eight, then rebuilt from those eight survivors.

It seems reasonable to imagine (is that even philosophical fair?) that many or even most of the technologies of the survivors would have been lost over subsequent generations while the struggle to survive consumed all available resources.

I'd love to see your thoughts and responses.

Anonymous said...

Let me preface this comment by emphasizing the fact that I have a ton of respect for Hugh and believe he has been an innovator of Christian apologetics for three decades. That being said, I find myself disagreeing with Hugh increasingly on this one point.

While I do think Hugh's hypothesis is theoretically possible, the evidence that we have at the moment doesn't support it. We have no data that people had technology and then lost it and then regained it. Or, more accurately stated, if there is such evidence, I am unaware of it. Perhaps someone can point to a specific peer-reviewed paper that makes this case.

All of the best evidence we have indicates that until around 10,000 to 8,000 B.C., humans lived in a hunter/gatherer culture. And then, something happened around that time that shifted people who were living in eastern Turkey/Mesopotamia to an agricultural society. (What caused this shift is an issue of debate that I'll leave for the archaeologists to hammer out.)

There is ample evidence of the kinds of technologies paleolithic peoples did possess. We can also trace a clear transition to the neolithic period around 10,000 years ago, and how technology continued to evolve over time. Noah's time and place, as it is described in the Bible, is an almost perfect fit for southern Mesopotamia around 5,000 to 3,000 B.C. In fairness, however, I think Christians need to proceed with caution even with that date, given the boat-building technology of the time.

That's the short answer, as best as I understand it at the moment... (Note: These viewpoints are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my colleagues. They should also be viewed as a "work in progress".)