The Swimming Reindeer

Discovered in 1866 as two separate pieces and acquired by the British Museum in 1887, the sculpture known as the 'swimming reindeer' depicts a male and a female reindeer with their heads up and legs extended, and was created at least 13,000 years ago. The sculpture is 22 cm long and was carved from mammoth ivory using stone tools, and then polished and engraved to add detail. The naturalism of the representation is remarkable, conveying movement and displaying a hunter's knowledge of anatomy as we can clearly tell the sex of the reindeer, and see differences in the coats of the male and female. The fragility of the connection between the two halves of the sculpture means that they do not form a practical object, but instead a masterpiece of figurative art. Possibly designed to ward off bad luck, as a totem for a group or as the focal point of a myth, the swimming reindeer offers us a glimpse into an Ice Age society.