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To celebrate Vikings Live, we have replaced our Roman alphabet with the runic alphabet used by the Vikings, the Scandinavian ‘Younger Futhark’. The ‘Younger Futhark’ has only 16 letters, so we have used some of the runic letters more than once or combined two runes for one Roman letter.

For an excellent introduction to runes, we recommend Martin Findell’s book published by British Museum Press.

More information about how we have ‘runified’ this site

 

Ice Age art:
arrival of the modern mind

7 February – 2 June 2013
Room 35

This unique exhibition will present masterpieces of Ice Age sculpture, ceramics, drawing and personal ornaments from across Europe together for the first time in the UK. These will include the oldest known ceramic figures in the world, as well as the oldest known portrait and figurative pieces, all of which were created over 20,000 years ago. These striking objects will be presented as art rather than archaeological finds and will enable visitors to see the meaning of art made long ago by people with developed brains like our own.

Jill Cook, Curator

‘All art is the product of the remarkable structure and organisation of the modern brain. By looking at the oldest European sculptures and drawings we are looking at the deep history of how our brains began to store, transform and communicate ideas as visual images. The exhibition will show that we can recognize and appreciate these images. Even if their messages and intentions are lost to us the skill and artistry will still astonish the viewer.’

Through archaeological evidence from Southern Africa, we can ascertain that the modern brain emerged just over 100,000 years ago with the appearance of art and complex behavior patterns. This exhibition will demonstrate how the creators of the work on display had brains that had the capacity to express themselves symbolically through art and music.

The opening section of the exhibition will establish the period of the last Ice Age, concentrating on how 40,000 years ago fully modern humans spread into Europe from Africa. New stimuli such as encounters with the indigenous population of Neanderthal people and the rigors of the cold climate at this time enabled their imaginations to flourish; this resulted in the production of remarkable works of art, such as the famous painted caves in as Chauvet, Lascaux and Altamira, as well as lesser known pieces made from stone, bone, antler and ivory.

Figurative art appeared for the first time in human history in Europe at this time, and the second section of the exhibition will be dedicated to some of the oldest figurative paintings and sculptures. One of the most beautiful pieces in the exhibition includes a 23,000 year old mammoth ivory sculpture of an ‘abstract’ figure from Lespugue, France. Picasso was so fascinated with this ‘cubist’ piece that he kept two copies of it. This figure demonstrates a visual brain capable of abstraction, the essential quality needed to acquire and manipulate knowledge which underpins our ability to analyse what we see.

Figurative art appeared for the first time in human history in Europe at this time, and the second section of the exhibition will be dedicated to some of the oldest figurative paintings and sculptures. One of the most beautiful pieces in the exhibition includes a 23,000 year old mammoth ivory sculpture of an ‘abstract’ figure from Lespugue, France. Picasso was so fascinated with this ‘cubist’ piece that he kept two copies of it. This figure demonstrates a visual brain capable of abstraction, the essential quality needed to acquire and manipulate knowledge which underpins our ability to analyse what we see.

Ideas of creativity and expression have remained remarkably similar across thousands of years. The final section of the exhibition will attempt to lift the time barrier so we can see these objects as the earliest expression of European art history and discover new ways of appreciating them. Works by major modern artists including Picasso, Henry Moore and Matisse will be included to establish these connections across time, highlighting the fundamental human desire to create works of great beauty. This can be appreciated in a striking drawing of two deer engraved on a piece of bone found in the cave of Le Chaffaud, Vienne, France.

Just as a modern artist would decide on the colour, size and texture of the paper, wood, lino or glass to use for best effect, the Ice Age artist selected a piece of bone for the drawing. The deer are well composed within the space and positioned with considered perspective so that they appear to be standing side by side with one slightly behind the other. It was not a sketch for another larger work, it was meant to be viewed in its own right like any modern drawing. The medium may be different but the creative brain which produced it is the same. The drawings, sculpture and decorated hunting equipment in the show will reveal the natural world of people, from Britain in the west to Siberia in east. They also display a variety of ways of encapsulating movement which are the precursors of modern animation and cinema. This theme is further explored in an installation bringing the extraordinary artistry of the great painted caves such as Chauvet, Lascaux and Altamira into the museum, to provide a feel for the surreal experience of viewing paintings deep underground in the flickering light of burning torches and fat lamps.

The exhibition has been kindly supported by Betsy and Jack Ryan, The Henry Moore Foundation, the Patrons of the British Museum, and the American Friends of the British Museum

Image: Bison sculpted from mammoth ivory. Found at Zaraysk, Russia, about 20,000 years old. Zaraysk Museum of Art and History. Dr Sergey Lev.

Notes to editors

  • Admission charge £10 plus a range of concessions. Tickets can be booked online at britishmuseum.org or 020 7323 8181 and are available to buy from the 26th November 2012.
  • Opening hours 10.00–17.30 Saturday to Thursday and 10.00–20.30 Fridays
  • An accompanying publication is available by British Museum Press: Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind by Jill Cook
  • A full public programme of lectures, workshops and events will run concurrent with the exhibition. Further details from the press office or britishmuseum.org

Contacts

For further information please contact the Press Office on 020 7323 8583 / 8394 or communications@britishmuseum.org