September 8, 2012

Beautiful amber elk from Epipaleolithic Low Germany

Pileta de Prehistoria calls my attention to this beautiful figurine of an elk carved in amber found in a farm from Northern Germany (exact spot not specified anyhwere).

The artwork seems to belong to Federmesser culture, sometimes described as part of the Azilian culture (Epi-Magdalenian in any case), that overlapped in extension the more locally rooted and technologically distinct Ahrensburgian culture.

S. Veil et al.,  A 14 000-year-old amber elk and the origins of northern European art. Antiquity 2012. Pay per view ··> LINK.


A Late Palaeolithic amber figurine has been skilfully recovered and reassembled from a ploughed open site in northern Germany. Dated between 11 800 and 11 680 cal BC it occupies a key point between the Magdalenian and the Mesolithic. The authors show that the figurine represents a female elk which was probably carried on the top of a wooden staff. They argue for continuity of art but change of belief in this crucial transition period. 

The elk head was part of a larger piece, now broken:

Main source: - Archaeology: Art of the Azilian: 14,000 year old Amber Elk Figurine.


  1. Finds like this figurine tell a story well beyond the obvious. Amber is found very far from the location this and proves that communication and trade routes were extensive during this time period.

    It also shows not only that artistry and craft technology were advanced enough to produce the figurine but also that daily survival tasks did not take all of their available time.

    1. Actually Northern Europe, specially the Baltic but also the continental shores of the North Sea, have 80% or so of the global amber.

      Here there is a decent short article with map I found on the matter:

      Amber is the most typical North European produce in later times, at least archaeology-wise, where organic produce such as furs or herring is much less obvious. They traded it with Southern Europe through oceanic and continental routes.

      Besides beauty and maybe magical attributions of amber, "the sun stone", it was also known recently that it had astro-navigational uses (to locate the sun in heavily clouded days by means of its reflection) which were known at least in times of the Vikings (maybe earlier as well).

  2. The sunstone was calcite, not amber:

    1. You are right, DDeden. I had a faint memory of reading about that and for some odd reason it was "precious" amber and not "vulgar" calcite what got stuck in my mind. Wrongly so.

      Possibly the reason I became confused is that some authors have speculated with the solar symbolism possibly attached to amber for reason of its color - symbolism well documented in classical Greek references, where it was known as 'elektron' (made by the sun, Elektor, 'the Awakener', being a nickname of Helios, the Sun).


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