Near Eastern - North African Acheulian Figurine Symbolizing Traditon / b)tantanfront, anthropomorphic figurine, Tan-Tan, Morocco, c. 300,000-500,000 BP.

The Tan Tan figurine was painted with red ochre unlike the tools nearby (Bednarik 2001). That the figurine was red ochred indicates its symbolic role.

Comment: The Tan Tan figurine, in quartzite, was found by Lutz Fiedler, state archaeologist of Hessen, Germany, in a sectioned major Acheulian layer near the town of Tan-Tan, southern Morocco [Bednarik, R. G. (2001). An Acheulian figurine from Morocco. Rock Art Research 18,2:115-116 and back cover.] It comes from an undisturbed, well-stratified deposit underlain by a Lower Acheulian and further up in the profile there is fluvial erosion and this is overlain by a substantial Middle Paleolithic layer. Based on established lithic typology of the area it is provisionally dated between 300,000 and 500,000 years ago. The figurine was found "only centimeters from the nearest handaxes."

The figurine was recently examined by Robert Bednarik and its human workmanship confirmed [Bednarik, R. G. (2001) op. cit.]. According to Bednarik, the figurine is 58.2 mm long, maximal 26.4 mm wide and maximal 12.0 mm thick. The anthropomorphic shape is self-evident. The grooves separating the two 'arms' from the torso and the 'legs' are natural. Grooves at right angle to these are more complex. The one's nearest the 'head' are made by human percussion; the lower one's are natural with only a small area of impact. Bednarik notes that the impact traces underscore the iconic nature of the object and they required considerable skill on the part of the human maker. Further, the figurine was painted, coated with a red pigment, unlike the tools nearby. This kind of treatment is "not previously demonstrated from before the Middle Palaeolithic period (the Tata mammoth molar plaque), however, the use of red pigment is well documented from the Lower Palaeolithic of three continents" [Bednarik, R. G. (1992). Palaeoart and archaeological myths. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 2(1):27-43]. Bednarik concludes: "In summary, the Tan-Tan specimen is a modified manuport that has been treated in precisely the same way as the one from Berekhat Ram." "At 400,000 years of age the Tan-Tan figurine presents the earliest direct evidence we currently have of a pigment application, and it sis also the earliest currently known proto-sculpture, and thus the oldest evidence for iconic perception in hominoids."

Photo © Robert G. Bednarik.

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