From the collections of the British Museum
This sculpture was found in a cave at Ain Sakhri near Bethlehem in modern Palestine. It was made 11,000 years ago and by people who are known as the “Natufians”. You can see the Ain Sakhri sculpture on display at the British Museum.
The natural shape of a stone (called a ‘calcite cobble’) has been used to represent the outline of two people. They seem to be facing each other in a sitting position and looking at one another although they have no faces. The arms of one figure seem to hug the shoulders of the other and its knees are apparently bent up underneath those of the slightly smaller figure.
Historians suggest that this is the oldest known sculpture of a human couple having sex. It is often assumed that it shows a man and woman but there is nothing about the object that makes this clear. There are many examples of artefacts from throughout history which clearly show same-sex couples, see the British Museum’s ‘Desire and Diversity’ collection.
The overall shape of the sculpture has been described as ‘phallic’ by the British Museum, meaning it has the shape of an erect penis, in this case two of them. You can see the object from other angles here. The Natufians were among the first people to breed sheep and goats so historians suggest the sculpture's phallic shape may reflect an interest in fertility which is often represented by phallic symbols.
|Credit||Images reproduced by permission of the British Museum|
|Identifier||Museum No. 1958,1007.1|
|Source||Entry in the British Museum online catalogue|
|Date||11,000 years old|