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An 11,000-year-old carving of a man holding his penis while surrounded by leopards is the earliest known depiction of a narrative 'scene'


  • The carving of 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.
  • “This was a picture of the stories that formed the ideology of the people of that period,” said an archaeologist

An 11,000-year-old carving of a man holding his penis while surrounded by leopards is the oldest known depiction of a narrative scene, researchers said.

The carving, 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. To the side, another man is depicted holding a snake or a rattle while standing near a bull.

“These figures, engraved together to depict a narrative, are the first known examples of such a holistic scene,” Eylem Özdoğan, author of the paper and archaeologist at Istanbul University, said in a statement, according to Art News. “This was a picture of the stories that formed the ideology of the people of that period.”

The scene shows two men and several animals, including leopards, bull and a snake.

The scene shows two men and several animals, including leopards, bull and a snake.

Eylem Özdoğan/Antiquity Journal/Creative Commons



The engraving was found on a bench – thought to have been a place for special gatherings – in a communal area during excavations at Sayburç, which is located beneath 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 in which humans transitioned from a migratory hunter-gather existence to a more settled lifestyle involving farming and domesticating animals.

Researchers said that the scene depicted in the wall relief “reflects the complex relationship between humans, the natural world, and the animal life that surrounded them during the transition to a sedentary lifestyle.”

In the carving, emphasis is placed on “predatory and aggressive aspects of the animal world,” researchers said, such as depicting dangerous features such as teeth and horns.

Although there have been older examples of narrative art discovered, these are the first known to show a progressing 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.



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