Ain Sakhri lovers figurine

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  • Other views of the figurine

    Other views of the figurine

 

Ain Sakhri lovers figurine 

Probably from the cave of Ain Sakhri, Wadi Khareitoun, Judea, Natufian, about 11,000 years old

Ain Sakhri lovers figurine

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Ain Sakhri lovers figurine

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This is the oldest known sculpture of a human couple making love. The natural shape of a calcite cobble has been used to represent the outline of the lovers.


Their heads, arms and legs appear as raised areas around which the surface has been picked away with a stone point . The figures look at one another but have no faces. The arms of one hug the shoulders of the other and its knees are bent up underneath those of the slightly smaller figure. The image is also phallic whichever way you look at it.

Found by a Bedouin in the Wadi Khareitoun not far from Bethlehem, the sculpture comes from the cave of Ain Sakhri. This site was occupied in the early Natufian period when the people of this region lived by hunting gazelle.

As the gazelle were not constantly on the move, their hunters also stayed in one place and varied their diet by collecting seeds, fruit and nuts. By gathering the seeds of wild forms of wheat and barley they inadvertently began the slow process of natural genetic modification which eventually allowed their deliberate cultivation.

The descendants of the Ain Sahkri lovers were farmers.

The sculpture may have had special significance, perhaps representing ideas about fertility or, reflecting new understanding of the part men played in reproduction. Less complex carvings of phalli are known from other sites of this period.

Ain Sakhri lovers figurine

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Ain Sakhri
lovers figurine

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Object details

Height: 10.8 cm
Width: 6.2 cm
Depth: 3.8 cm

 

P&EE 1958,1007.1

Room 2: Collecting the world

    References

    B. Boyd and J. Cook, 'A reconsideration of the "Ain Sakhri" figurine', Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 59 (1993), pp. 399-405

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    O. Aurenche, and S. Kozłowski, La naissance du Neolithique au Proche-Orient. (Paris, 1999)

    O. Bar-Yosef, ‘The Natufian Culture in the Levant: Threshold to the Origins of Agriculture’, Evolutionary Anthropology, 6 (5) (1998) 159–177.

    J. Cauvin, The Birth of the Gods and the Origins of Agriculture (Cambridge, 2000)

    I. Hodder, The Leopard's Tale: Revealing the Mysteries of Catalhoyuk. (London, 2006)

    T. Watkins, ‘From Foragers to Complex Societies in Southwest Asia’, in C. Scarre (ed.) The Human Past: World Prehistory and the Development of Human Societies (London, 2009), pp. 201–233.