Paris (AFP)

A tiny and lovely passerine carved from burnt bone, discovered in China and 13,500 years old, takes the title of the oldest figurine in East Asia, according to a study published Wednesday in PLOS One.

"The sculpture is not a completely realistic representation of a bird. The artist has oversized the tail of the bird to allow the sculpture to stand on its pedestal", explains AFP researcher Francesco D'Errico CNRS, for whom this implies that we were already, at the time, "at an advanced stage" in artistic practice.

"The artist was fully aware of the fact that statuary is the art of balance and harmony," added this co-author of the study.

And to achieve his work, the artist used four different techniques and worked no less than 68 different areas of the bone.

Unearthed in Lingjing, in the north of China, amid remains of charred animals and ceramic fragments, the figurine is 19.2 millimeters long by 5.1 mm wide and 12.5 mm high. was in an "exceptional state of conservation".

To determine the age of the sculpture - around 13,500 years -, the researchers relied on the carbon 14 dating of bones found with the figurine, and on the characteristics of the stone tools found on the spot.

The little passerine thus pushes back the origin of sculpture and representations of animals in East Asia over 8,500 years old.

"We already knew that, at that time, hunter-gatherers from China made bone tools (spear points, needles ...) and personal ornaments made of shells, ostrich eggs or animal teeth ", explains the archaeologist of the University of Bordeaux in France.

"The sculpture of objects, with no apparent function and requiring specific learning, opens a new window on these societies and makes them even closer to historically known hunter-gatherers," he adds.

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