The admiration for the lion - the beginning of the Western civilization.

The interest towards the lion has its deep roots in the very dawn of humanity.  This interest rises to a level of admiration as a phenomenon of the Western Civilization*.  Why did this happen and how? Unfortunately we cannot trace the verbal narrative from five or six thousand years ago, however it is possible to follow the development of lion depictions through time, the context in which they are depicted, the situations, the style , postures and other elements which could provide clues about the origin of the admiration towards the lion as a cultural phenomenon 

One of the most stable art motifs throughout history which includes lions is the so called "Master of Animals"  - a composition of two animals (ranging from domestic animals, snakes, to lions, tigers or bears depending on the geographical location and time)  facing a central  figure, usually human. The "Master of Animals" is the base on which later heraldic and coat of arms subjects  evolved. Its traces can be found in the coat of arms of many modern states  - for example the UK and Bulgaria  

The "Master of Animals" is considered strictly a symbolic /religious subject . Its origin is not clear.  Its origin is not clear. Was it based on natural phenomena or was it a product of human imagination?

There are some ancient depictions of  lions - which contain elements of the "Master of Animals" motif and at the same time they can be interpreted as depictions based on natural events The interpretations as "natural events"  are not alternative interpretations but rather parallel  alongside with symbolic/spiritual/religious ones. At least in terms of lions those depictions could be considered to be a connection  between the "Master of Animals" and the natural phenomena  which were base for its origin. 



Wadi Mathendous Libya - Neolithic

Probable the oldest known depiction of upright lions (lion-like, cat-like animals) facing each other. Possible natural interpretation :  - young lions play  or  fight

Wadi Mathedous relief complete scene is more complex,  but the additional depictions also  agree with the same natural interpretation   


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Nekhen ( Hierakonpolis  ) tomb painting  - Predinastic Egypt  - Naqada II (Gerzeh culture)  - the oldest known (confirmed) depiction of  upright lions facing a man -  the motif "Master of Animals" ** 

Possible natural interpretation  - daily life in  rural community alongside Nile,  depicting an attack of  a coalition of man eating lions,  a situation similar to the 19 Century Tsavo Man Eaters .


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Two dog palette  (Ashmolean Museum palette) - Predinastic Egypt  - Naqada III 

Possible natural interpretation: Male lion coalition hunting  gazelles ( Dorcas species complex)  


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Motif from the sound box of a Harp of Ur # U 12354

Plate 104 Right in :  Leonard Woolley 1934. Ur Excavations: Vol.II The Royal Cemetery (2 Vols: Text & Plates), A Report on the Predynastic and Sargonid Graves Excavated Between 1926 and 1931. Volume II Text  & Volume II Plates

Possible natural interpretation: Male lion coalition hunting on Nubian ibex. 


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The Jiroft Rock weight .

Jiroft, 3rd mil.**** BC Azerbaijan Museum in Tabriz, Iran

Possible natural interpretation: A male lion coalition killing a large bovid (the depiction does not exclude the possibility the depicted bovid to be a bison) 


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* By the definition of  Kenneth Clark

**The oldest depiction of two upright lions facing a man is considered to be the carving on the handle of the Gebel el Arak Knife. It is dated Naqada II, however the origin and consequently the dating of the knife are questionable. It is purchased from an antique dealer and consequently was assumed that it is from Abydos.  Nevertheless the actual circumstances of its origin are unknown. As a style, craftsmanship and theme it is similar to artifacts dated Naqada III  (both knifes and palettes).  The scene seems to be strictly symbolic.    


*** In Asia (the Middle East) the Master of Animals motif appears quite early in the iconography and seems it was a symbolic scene from the very beginning, the animals including goats, bovines, and snakes, facing the central figure with the heads turned backwards. From the cats family the earliest depictions are those of leopards or cheetah (here at Çatalhöyük, lions appear later. The earliest known scene with lions is a vase from Tell Agrab    2900-2700 BC. Lions do no face the man


**** The Jiroft culture  was postulated (defined) in the early 2000, based on confiscated artifacts associated with the city of Jiroft, Iran. The dating of it is questionable.  




The Lost Hunters of San Diego  



"A small band of hunters in the way of searching for food came across a mastodon carcass. Those people were part of a group that crossed from Asia years ago and  was slowly moving South. But they weren't numerous. In the new environment with their  primitive skills of tool-making they did not have much chance for surviving . Despite time to time a babies were born, people kept declining in numbers . There were too many predators, which they did not know how to deal with - giant bears and lion-like beasts with huge stabbing teeth. The people were doomed. 

"The predator approached the site and noticed the two-legged creatures which were wandering around the old mastodon carcass ."

"The predator approached the site and noticed the two-legged creatures which were wandering around the old mastodon carcass ."

The mastodon seemed recently killed, but besides the tough skin, not much meat was left from the scavengers. But the hunters were experienced in finding food so they noticed the bones were intact and they knew there is a good food inside them. Those bones were thick and strong so men needed something to break them in order to reach the nutritious bone marrow. They looked around for any suitable stones but there weren't any in close proximity so they had to walk some distance until they found few. The hunters brought the  stones back to the carcass and started hitting the bones in attempt to break them. The sounds of the hitting spread around and attracted the attention of a mighty local predator.  The predator approached the site and noticed the two-legged creatures which were wandering around the old mastodon carcass . Although the predator did not know man, those creatures appeared weak and vulnerable , so this was enough to  turn it on a hunting mode. The hunt began. For such a master of ambush it was not a problem to get close to its likely prey unnoticed. Besides the people were quite involved in their labor so they did not even have a chance to notice the approaching  predator. When they saw it it was already late. It took seconds for the rushing  killing machine to reach the surprised humans and to take down one of them. The two other men ran quickly as fast and as far away as they could.  The predator satisfied its killing instincts  and did not chase the fugitives. The people already from a distance away turned towards the place where they lost their comrade but there was nothing they can do, so they kept running away. One less man - again. "

"The people were quite involved in their labor so they did not even have a chance to notice the approaching  predator. When they saw it it was already late."

"The people were quite involved in their labor so they did not even have a chance to notice the approaching  predator. When they saw it it was already late."

This scenario of course is a speculation.  The "predator" in this case can be a  Smilodon, or an Arctodus or a jaguar (all of them depicted at different stage of the attack) but also Homotherium or Dire wolves.  Although the narrative is  focused on predators it is one of numerous scenarios that could  be narrated after the recent publication of a more than 20 years old finding which broke on heated discussions about the presence of people (Hominins ) around 130 KY ago in North America.


The online reactions on the publication were interesting and ranging from this is impossible, controversial, to this is sensational, rewriting the history etc. 


But is it any of those?


Is it impossible? Actually no, it is quite possible.  There were multiple migrations of mammal species older than this one so why not people (Hominins). There are no known Hominins of North East Asia, but it is also unknown how and when jaguars and puma crossed over to America. In Eurasia there are no remains of both east of Kazakhstan but yet they crossed over. 


"It took seconds for the rushing  killing machine to reach the surprised humans and to take down one of them. The two other men ran quickly "

"It took seconds for the rushing  killing machine to reach the surprised humans and to take down one of them. The two other men ran quickly "

Is the interpretation involving presence of humans controversial? Well, if someone claims human activity in a site of 60 million years of age that would be controversial or a fossilized laptop is found in a 130 KY site - that would be controversial too. And also those would be sensational. But proposing that some bones were broken by people hitting them with large stones 130 000 years ago that is quite OK  and is complete in order with the rest of our knowledge. 


Rewriting the history - only if an uninterrupted genetic and/or cultural connection between this possible early migration and the later Pre-Clovis and Clovis populations would be established then rewriting the history can be discussed. But considering the status of the matter this is unlikely.  If the San Diego migration indeed took place it was limited and did not lead to establishment of a viable long lasting population. There are some examples of mammals we know migrated from Asia to America but never got wide distribution and have quite a limited fossil record  - Dinofelis, Megantereon and Chasmaporthetes for instance. The people we know as Clovis likely arrived later independently with no connection to the early migrations. There are other examples of such multiple independent migrations -  for example Lynx , Panthera  and seems the mammoths and of course not to forget the Vikings, which came to North America before the Spaniards. They lived  there for while but were not able to establish viable long-lasting population.  



The fact that the publication is in "Nature" seemed strange ( for me and apparently for many others), but after careful reading, it is clear that the study  indeed deserves to be published in the most prestigious scientific journal in the world. Technically it meets all the requirements for this. It is using innovative scientific method, original data, interdisciplinary significance of the conclusions (Although in the case the conclusions are not enough supported. But this seems not to be a problem since in "Nature" they have forgotten to include in the requirements that besides from being of interdisciplinary significance, it would be nice the conclusions to be proven. ) 


According to some online publications now the researchers are trying to improve the study by searching of some way to find evidence that the large  "geologically distinct" stones were in contact with the bones. For example, looking for traces of collagen on the stone surface. In addition attempts are in process to independently verify  the age of 130 KY. 

However, this is not enough. The bones and the stones can be in contact for reasons different from the proposed human activity of using the stones by people in attempt to brake the bones. If the situation took place somewhere in Eurasia the lack of the actual human fossils would not be an issue. In Eurasia  the interpretation of the site  would be in a different context, a context established on the base of existence of real human remains of that respective age.   

But in America, until actual human remains or artifacts with undeniable artificial origin at this particular age are found the question will stay open. 





Live reconstruction with multiple outcomes - Panthera palaeosinenisis,

The  life reconstructions of the extinct species are often of subject of a discussion as to whether they are "scientifically" correct or not. Since the reconstructions are bound to the science, the  reality is that the "scientific correctness" is a relative and temporary. Something considered correct today with accumulation of additional data can turn out to be wrong tomorrow. But also using different types of analysis one can get different results when studying one and the same object and by all standards (used data,  methods etc), all of the results, despite being different can be accepted as valid.  
Here is an example, a reconstruction of the Chinese Plio- Pleistocene fossil Pantherine cat Panthera palaeosinenisis, which I made few years ago in two different variants.
Panthera palaeosinensis is a fossil Pantherine cat, (one of the 3 known complete and not-too much-deformed skulls of fossil middle-sized Pantherines besides leopards (and the Lujanian jaguars of South America). The species is described by Otto Zdanski in 1924 and it is considered to be of the Plio-Pleistocene age. 
The first comprehensive analysis of the systematic relationships of P. palaeosinensis to the other Pantherine cats was performed by the famous German cat expert Helmuth Hemmer (Hemmer 1967). His results showed that P. palaeosinensis is a primitive tiger. (So the left pathway of the reconstruction of P. palaeosinensis I did is based on Hemmer's results.) Much later in 2009 a Chinese zoologist, who adopted the name of the famous Czechoslovakian tiger specialist Vartislav Mazak, J. H. Mazak performed another type of analysis on P. palaeosinensis skull and his results were quite different from the results that Helmuth Hemmer got nearly 50 year ago. J. H. Mazak has concluded that P. palaeosinenisis is a species close to leopards and lions, but not to the tiger. Hence the right pathway (variant) of the reconstruction. My own view on the subject tends to agree with Mazak's view, but by all standards Hemmer's arguments are valid as well. From scientific point of view doing life reconstructions can be a work with more than one, equally scientifically sound outcomes. 

Mazak J. H. 2009 What is Panthera palaeosinensis? Mammal Review

Hemmer H. 1967  Wohin gehört “Felis” palaeosinensis Zdansky, 1924, in systematischer hinsicht? Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie. Stuttgart. Abhandlungen 129: 83–96.

Zdansky O. 1924 Jungtertiäre Carnivoren Chinas. Palaeontologia Sinica 2: 1–49.


Two possible variants of the external apperance of Panthera paleosinensis

Two possible variants of the external apperance of Panthera paleosinensis

The woolly rhinos of Chauvet.


The woolly rhinos depicted in Chauvet cave are famous for their "black transverse bands " belted across the middle of the body side. Robert Dale Guthrie in his book "The Nature of Paleolithic art" discussed the subject. He interpreted the black "belt" as "contrasting" element of the coloration of the Woolly Rhino of the Southern Europe. Dale Guthrie provides a numerous modern day examples of mammals with black and white "contrasting: coloration with  a black and white Holstein cow being closer in terms of position of the black area to the coloration of Chauvet rhinos . But besides the Holstein cattle is a domesticated animal, with a coloration subject to non-adaptive munitions, the distribution of the black spots  does not follow the pattern depicted in the Chauvet rhinos. In the Holstein cattle the black spot/spots on the mid of the body side are always accompanied with additional black spots on the body posterior (on the pelvic /femural) area. (Not present in the DG figure) Those spots are variable by size and shape, but they are always present. Such "femoral"  dark spots are not indicated in the Chauvet cave rhinos*. 

But does the "contrasting coloration approach" is necessary to explain the Chauvet rhino coloration? 

Modern day analogues of the Chauvet rhinos coloration do exist among species with no black and white contrasting coloration. 

In terms of a single entirely black patch/spot  restricted  to the mid of the body side there is one large mammal species only today  - the Lichtenstein's hartebeest (Alcelaphus lichtensteinii). Although the black spot is not a part of the natural coloration of the animal, but a result of the rubbing of the preorbital glands at the body side and, is not always present, it is a significant and a prominent part of the Lichtenstein's hartebeest  coloration. The spot vary in size and shape, but do not appear to have correlation with age or gender. The black spot when present is solid black and with irregular shape, although in general tends to be round.

Examples  of Lichtenstein's hartebeest: (Here and further in the text click on the bold text to open an example )

Lichtenstein's hartebeest 

 Lichtenstein's hartebeest

Another species of the Hartebeest species complex - the Swayne's hartebeest (Alcelaphus swaynei) do develop dark to black colored areas on the mid of the body side as well, but as in the Holstein cattle the Swayne's hartebeest have also well prominent black markings on the elbow and lover thigh areas.  The body side's black areas/spots vary in size and shape but their borders are smooth. Also in Swayne's hartebeest the dark spots appear to be related to the age and are  secondary sexual character confident to the males

Example of a Swayne'e hartebeest 

Swayne'e hartebeest

Although both Hartebeest species do resemble to some degree the coloration pattern of the Chauvet rhinos , there are still some problems with them as a modern analogues - in terms of the Lichtenstein's hartebeest it is unlikely that the woolly rhinos have had preorbital glands  with a dark discharge, but even so they would not be able to reach they body sides. In terms of the  Swayne's hartebeest the dark areas of the Chauvet rhinos are single with no additional dark ares on the thigh and/or  the shoulders 

The "black belts" are not present in all of the rhinos depicted in Chauvet. In those of the rhinos, which do have "black belts" they are depicted in two different ways -Type 1 - as a rectangle transverse dark band with straight vertical lines as borders. In some the belts are monotonously dark/black, in others there is a lighter inner space enclosed between two dark/black border bands , and Type 2 - dark broad bands encircling partially or completely a lighter area on the mid of the body with variable shape and blurred borders. In both types of "black belts"  it can be seen that the dark areas are depicted  not uniform, but rather the black band/bands enclose a lighter area. .  

Combination of the different shades of dark to light in the  "black belts" of the Chauvet Rhinos makes them similar to the coloration of some individuals of  mouflon of the Ovis orientalis species complex (Depending on the taxonomy approach the wild sheep are classified from a single species with multiple subspecies , to  two or more species united in two or more groups or species complexes). The spot on the side of the body is most often light to white, with different level of  expression in terms of size and intensity, and it is encircled with black areas,(bands), as a rule at front 

Example of a "typical" male mouflon

but some times the black is encircles both the  frontal and caudal side.  Example

This coloration pattern of the wild sheep is distributed from the Mediterranean islands populations through the Middle east to Central Asia, but mostly in the populations living in low altitudes. From west to east the intensity of the black when present and the frequency of the individuals in which it is present tends to decrease.  Also this coloration is confident to the males despite not all males have it

Example of a male mouflon with no light/white lateral spot

In some of the reintroduced populations in the Continental  Europe it also can be found in some females.

 Example of a female mouflon with light and dark lateral pattern

Although the spot is white and black, in some individuals the white is reduced 

Example of a male mouflon with reduced white color

or do not exist at all, so only the black color remains - in a shape of a transverse black band with somewhat  light areas inside, quite similar to the Woolly Rhinos with Type 1 "black belts" 

Examples of male mouflon with only black lateral pattern:

Mouflon 1,   Mouflon 2, Mouflon 3

It is no quite clear what the variation of the side black/white spot  of the wild sheep depends on. Seems it is loosely correlated with age -  increasing the size of the spot with increase the size of the horns as an age indicator as well as tends to be more prominent in the winter pelage. 




The plate illustrates variation of the coloration of the Chauvet woolly rhinos.  The rhinos  (1a, 2a, 3a, and 4a) are reconstructed on the base of depictions of rhinos of the Chauvet cave ( with the respective numbers - 1b, 2b, 3b, and 4b.)** The mouflons are based on photos/skins of real individuals and demonstrate variation of the coloration  similar  to the one of the depicted woolly rhinos (with the same numbers).


The parallels between the variation of the  "black/white spot of the mouflon body side  and the coloration of the woolly rhinos depicted in Chauvet suggest that the "black belt" of the later was not an uniform structure but a part of a complex pelage pattern, which includes also white/light colors in a specific combination with the black

*It seems that no mammal species exist today with a single black/dark spot/band on the mid side of the body, without to be accompanied by additional dark/balck areas on the shoulders and or/and the femoral area. This limitation is most likely due to physiological constraint in the development of the pelage coloration.  

** 1b right , 2b, 3b and 4b  - Grand Panneau des Lions, 1b-left - Galerie des Mégacéros 



Castelló, J. R. 2016. Bovids of the World, Antelopes, Gazelles, Cattle, Goats, Sheep, and Relatives. Princeton Field Guides)

Chauvet (J.-M.), Brunel Deschamps (E.), Hillaire (C.). 1995. La grotte Chauvet à Vallon Pont-d'Arc. Paris : Seuil. (Arts rupestres) 

Dale Guthrie, Robert 2006. The Nature of Paleolithic Art University Of Chicago Press

Fritz Carole & Gilles Tosello  2015. From Gesture  to Myth: Artists’ techniques on the walls of Chauvet Cave Aurignacian Genius: Art, Technology and Society of the First Modern Humans in Europe Proceedings of the International Symposium, April 08-10 2013, New York University.  280-314