Anthropomorphism or personification is any attribution of human characteristics (or characteristics assumed to belong only to humans) to other animals, non-living things, phenomena, material states, objects or abstract concepts such as organizations, governments, spirits or deities. Examples include animals and plants and forces of nature such as winds, rain, or the sun depicted as creatures with human motivations, and/or the abilities to reason and converse.
From the beginnings of human behavioral modernity in the Upper Paleolithic, about 40,000 years ago, examples of zoomorphic (animal-shaped) works of art occur that may represent the earliest evidence we have of anthropomorphism. One of the oldest known is an ivory sculpture, the Löwenmensch figurine, Germany, a human-shaped figurine with the head of a lioness or lion, determined to be about 32,000 years old. It is not possible to say what these prehistoric artworks represent. A more recent example is The Sorcerer, an enigmatic cave painting from the Trois-Frères Cave, Ariège, France: the figure's significance is unknown, but it is usually interpreted as some kind of great spirit or master of the animals. In either case there is an element of anthropomorphism.
Many of the stereotypes of animals that are recognized today, such as the wily fox and the proud lion, can be found in fables. Anthropomorphic motifs have been common in fairy tales from the earliest ancient examples set in a mythological context to the great collections of the Brothers Grimm and Perrault. Building on the popularity of fables and fairy tales, specifically children's literature began to emerge in the nineteenth century with works such as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The best-selling examples of the genre are The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954–1955), both by J. R. R. Tolkien, featured talking creatures such as ravens, spiders, and the dragon Smaug. Tolkien saw this anthropomorphism as closely linked to the emergence of human language and myth. Richard Adams developed a distinctive take on anthropomorphic writing in the 1970s: his debut novel, Watership Down (1972), featured rabbits that could talk, with their own distinctive language (Lapine) and mythology. Anthropomorphism in literature and other media led to a sub-culture known as furry fandom, which promotes and creates stories and artwork involving anthropomorphic animals, and the examination and interpretation of humanity through anthropomorphism. This can often be shortened in searches as "anthro", used by some as an alternative term to "furry".