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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Ain Sakhri Lovers

Ain Sakhri Lovers

Ain Sakhri Lovers

The Ain Sakhri Lovers figurine is a sculpture that was created over 11,000 years ago and is the oldest known representation of two people engaged in a loving embrace. It was found in one of the Ain Sakhri caves near Bethlehem. The sculpture was made by carving a single rock of calcite cobble which was picked away with a stone point to create the heads, arms and leg positions of the couple.

The sculpture shows the lovers face to face. The arms of one of the couples are positioned around the shoulders of the other. The legs are drawn up and embraced the waist of the other. The sculpture figurine lacks fine details but is expertly sculptured to allow the imagination to visualise different interpretations depending on the viewer’s perspective. Depending on the viewing angle and the shadows from the lighting on the sculpture, it can appear as a couple, or as different sexual anatomies or motifs depending on the perspective.

The sculpture was identified by a prehistorian in 1933 while visiting a small museum in Jerusalem. Enquiries led to the original discovery location within the Ain Sakhri caves, and it is from these caves that the sculpture gains its name. Excavations of the caves revealed that family groups had used the cave for thousands of years. Furthermore, the finds were classified as Natufian, a culture that existed from around 12,500 to 9,500 BC in the Levant.

The person who made the sculpture came from a culture which originated when the first humans began to gather and harvest plant seeds. They were hunters and are the earliest known humans to domesticate dogs, sheep, and goats. The security of a managed food programme allowed the Natufians to create more substantial communities and the capacity to produce art.

Natufian Culture

The prehistorian Natufian culture existed from around 12,000 to 9,500 BC in the Levant, a region in the Eastern Mediterranean. The culture was unusual in that it supported a semi-sedentary population even before the introduction of agriculture. Natufians founded Jericho which may be the oldest city in the world. Some evidence suggests the deliberate cultivation of cereals, specifically rye, by the Natufian culture and the world’s oldest evidence of bread-making. Also, the earliest known evidence of beer, dating to about 13,000 years ago, was found at a cave in the Carmel Mountain near Haifa in Israel, which was used by the Natufians for ritual feasting.

Reflections

  • Did the descendants of the Ain Sakhri Lovers migrate across Europe and the rest of the world?
  • Is this 11,000-year-old sculpture, the earliest image of a kissing couple?
  • What do you see in this figurine?
  • Did they drink beer in ritual feasting?
  • The oldest depiction of the Kiss?

Ain Sakhri Lovers

  • Title:                 Ain Sakhri Lovers
  • Created:           9,000 BCE
  • Period:             Natufian Culture
  • Discovered:     Ain Sakhri caves, Wadi Khareitoun near Bethlehem
  • Materials:        Stone (calcite cobble)
  • Dimensions:   102 mm high
  • Museum:        The British Museum

Exploring the Collections of the British Museum

Ancient Egypt and Sudan Collection

The Middle East Collection

Ancient Greece and Rome Collection

The Britain, Europe and Prehistory Collection

The Asian Collection

The Africa, Oceania and the Americas Collection

The Prints and Drawings Collection

Information on The British Museum

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“The Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones;
we transitioned to better solutions.”

– Steven Chu

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Photo Credit: 1)By BabelStone [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

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