- The sculpture is the oldest known depiction of a narrative scene.
- It dates back 11,000 years, to the Neolithic era known as the New Stone Age.
- “It was a picture of the stories that formed the ideology of the people of that period,” said an archaeologist
An 11,000-year-old sculpture of a man holding his penis surrounded by leopards is the oldest known depiction of a narrative scene, researchers have said.
The sculpture, called the Sayburç Reliefs, was discovered in Turkey in 2021, and the research was published in the peer-reviewed journal Antiquity.
The scene consists of a man standing between two leopards, and the man holding his penis is depicted with a round face, prominent ears, bulging eyes, and large lips. On the side, another man is depicted holding a snake or rattle while standing near a bull.
“These figures, carved together to represent a narrative, are the earliest known examples of such a holistic scene,” Eylem Özdoğan, author of the paper and an archaeologist at Istanbul University, said in a statement, according to Art. News. “It was a picture of the stories that formed the ideology of the people of that period.”
The engraving was found on a bench – said to have been a place for special gatherings – in a communal area during excavations in Sayburç, located under a modern village in Şanlıurfa province in southwestern Turkey.
The wall relief dates back to the Neolithic period, also known as the New Stone Age, a time when humans transitioned from a migratory hunter-gatherer existence to a more sedentary lifestyle involving herding and the domestication of animals.
The researchers said the scene depicted in the wall relief “reflects the complex relationship between humans, the natural world, and the animal life that surrounded them as they transitioned to a sedentary lifestyle.”
In the sculpture, the focus is on “the predatory and aggressive aspects of the animal world”, the researchers said, such as the depiction of dangerous features such as teeth and horns.
Although there have been older examples of narrative art discovered, these are the first known to show progressive narrative structure.
“It constitutes the earliest known depiction of a narrative ‘scene’ and reflects the complex relationship between humans, the natural world, and the animal life that surrounded them during the transition to a sedentary lifestyle,” according to Antiquity.