Swimming reindeer:
an Ice Age masterpiece

11 February – 11 April 2010

Exhibition closed

Room 3

The Asahi Shimbun Displays
Objects in focus

Supported by

Discover a masterpiece of Ice Age art.

This carving of swimming reindeer is one of the most beautiful pieces of Ice Age art ever discovered. It is a carved from the tip of a mammoth tusk and is around 13,000 years old. This places it at the end of the Last Ice Age, when animals such as mammoths, reindeer and wolverines roamed Europe.

The sculpture depicts two reindeer that appear to be swimming and was found in Montastruc in central-southern France. When it was first exhibited in Paris in 1867, the intricate carving proved that humans lived alongside Ice Age animals and had imaginative minds, the same as modern humans.

The sculpture is not a functional item for everyday use but a work of art made by people who lived as part of nature and depended on reindeer for their survival. As well as being a source of food, reindeer skins were used for clothing, blankets and tents and their bones and antlers were used for the manufacture of tools and weapons. The naturalism of the sculpture reveals that the artist had a hunter’s knowledge of the animals, as well as a keen aesthetic awareness. The sculpture also hints at the emergence of the roots of spirituality in human society.

Further information

Swimming reindeer is the focus of one of the programmes in the British Museum and BBC Radio 4 series A History of the World in 100 objects, broadcast on Thursday 21 January 2010.

Swimming reindeer

Carving of the tip of a mammoth tusk depicting swimming reindeer. Late Ice Age, about 13,000 years old. Found at Montastruc, central-southern France.