China's earliest art sculpture unearthed

(China Daily)| Updated : 2020-06-16

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ZHENGZHOU-On Thursday, an international team of archaeologists from China, Canada, France, Israel and Norway unveiled their study of a 13,500-year-old sculpture unearthed from an archaeological site in Central China's Henan province.

The findings suggest that the miniature bird statue might be the oldest known work of Chinese sculpture art.

The discovery shifts not only the origin of sculpture in East Asia back by more than 8,500 years but also the history of bird-related art found in China by 8,000 years.

The bird statue, which is 19.2 millimeters long, 5.1 mm wide and 12.5 mm high, is dark brown on one side and bronze on the other. Made of a mammalian limb bone, which had been heated and charred before carving, the bird figurine has a stout body shape, short head, round beak and long tail. Instead of carving the bird's legs, the unknown ancient artist cut a base for the sculpture to stand on.

Li Zhanyang, the first writer of the archaeological study and a professor from Shandong University, says the small bird figurine was recovered from the Paleolithic site of Lingjing in Henan.

The Lingjing site in the city of Xuchang had previously been known for the discovery of human cranial fossils dating back to 105,000 to 125,000 years ago, which has been named as the hominids "Xuchang man".

During Li's excavation at Lingjing, he has seen stratified layers ranging in age from 120,000 years ago to the Bronze Age.

Radiocarbon dating on 32 samples from burned animal remains and burned bones with anthropogenic gouging marks found alongside the bird figurine have suggested that the samples all date back 13,500 years.

"Carving traces suggest they were cut with fine stone tools," says Li.

Peering through a microscope, researchers marveled at the techniques of grinding, polishing, scraping and cutting used in carving such a small object.

"This is the only sculpture in East Asia that can be traced back to the Late Pleistocene. The discovery marks the recognition of a primitive artistic tradition," says Li.



A miniature bird sculpture carved of burned bone dating to about 13,500 years ago is unearthed in Henan province on Thursday. REUTERS