Twenty-six thousand years ago in the Czech Republic, one of our ice-age ancestors selected a hunk of mammoth ivory and carved this enigmatic portrait of a woman – the oldest ever found. By looking at artefacts like this as works of art, rather than archaeological finds, a new exhibition at the British Museum in London hopes to help us see them and their creators with new eyes.
Human ancestors date back millions of years, but the earliest evidence of the human mind producing symbolic imagery as a form of creative expression cannot be much older than 100,000 years. That evidence comes from Africa: this exhibition explores the later dawning of representative art in Europe and shows that even before the remarkable paintings of the Lascaux cave, France, humans were able to make work as subtle as the expressive face above.
What will people 26,000 years from now think about the portraits we are making now?