Palaeolithic Venus Figurines (Venus Of Willendorf, Etc.)

Yithian

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Found scant reference to this important discovery on the board.



Great page on the figure here:

The most famous early image of a human, a woman, is the so-called "Venus" of Willendorf, found in 1908 by the archaeologist Josef Szombathy [see BIBLIOGRAPHY] in an Aurignacian loess deposit in a terrace about 30 meters above the Danube near the town of Willendorf in Austria.

The earliest notice of its discovery appeared in a report by the Yale anthropologist George Grant MacCurdy (1863-1947) who happened to be in Vienna in the summer of 1908. Although the greater part of the collection of finds from the site had not yet been unpacked, MacCurdy reported excitedly that before he left Vienna Szombathy had very kindly shown him a single remarkable specimen - a human figurine, full length, carved out of stone [see BIBLIOGRAPHY].

The statuette, which measures about 11.1 centimeters in length, is now in Vienna's Naturhistorisches Museum. It was carved from a fine porous oolitic limestone not found in the region and so must have been brought to the area from another location. It may well be the case that the carving, which was presumably done with flint tools, was not done locally.

When first discovered the Venus of Willendorf was thought to date to approximately 15,000 to 10,000 BCE, or more or less to the same period as the cave paintings at Lascaux in France. In the 1970s the date was revised back to 25,000-20,000 BCE, and then in the 1980s it was revised again to c. 30,000-25,000 BCE A study published in 1990 of the stratigraphic sequence of the nine superimposed archaeological layers comprising the Willendorf deposit, however, now indicates a date for the Venus of Willendorf of around 24,000-22,000 BCE.

Her great age and pronounced female forms quickly established the Venus of Willendorf as an icon of prehistoric art. She was soon included in introductory art history textbooks where she quickly displaced other previously used examples of Paleolithic art. Being both female and nude, she fitted perfectly into the patriarchal construction of the history of art. As the earliest known representation, she became the "first woman," acquiring a sort of Ur-Eve identity that focused suitably, from a patriarchal point of view, on the fascinating reality of the female body.

http://witcombe.sbc.edu/willendorf/will ... overy.html
 

Rubyait

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Wasn't this object shown on Around the World in 80 Treasures as one of if not the oldest image portraying sexuality? Or something similar?
 

WondrWmn

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There are figurines found in Malta resembling the Venus of Willendorf. It's all to do with the worship of the MOTHER GODDESS-CYBELE, INNANA,GAEA,ASHERAH...etc.

WW
 

Semyaz

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Plaease bare with me on this. There is a book by Michael Crichton called 'Eaters of the Dead' which is (supposedly) based on an account of an Arab emmissary around the end of the 10th century.

The emmissary joined a group of norse warriors (vikings i think) when they are recalled to their homeland to battle a supposedly demonic evil that is terrorising their families and friends.

It turns out (through descriptions in the texts and through Crichton's footnotes) that these creatures are very possibly the last remaining groups of neanderthal like humans. These creatures social stucture works around a central female role and it is postulated that, like many ancient cultures, women were worshipped.

The carving may very well be such item of worship, as the emmissary aslo found such carvings when he and others ventured into the caves to hunt down the creatures.

Whether the account on which Crichton based his book is pure fiction or not can only be questioned, but does fit with previously theories about early human cultures.

I suggest the book as it is a good read, whether its origins are genuine or not, and that you decide for yourself on its authenticity.
 

Semyaz

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Found this in an article in Scientific American online, and thought it was relevent:

The discovery of similar figurines at far-flung sites and from disparate eras
inspired a long tradition of scholarly speculation about a widespread prehistoric religion based on the worship of the mother goddess. In the middle decades of this century, for example, some
archaeologists tried to show that a cult of the Eye Goddess (so called because of eye motifs on Mesopotamian idols) diffused throughout the entire Mediterranean.
More recently, claims have been made that the Balkans were the center of an Old European religion. Most modern scholars appreciate that the early cults were radically different in each prehistoric society and that the cults of domestic life were distinct from the cults of death and burial.
The example of Malta demonstrates that variation most emphatically. Elsewhere in the Med iterranean, the cults generally involved simple domestic rituals; little effort was invested in religious
art or ar chi tecture. In Malta, however, the wor ship of corpulent images
gradually blos somed into a consuming passion. That fix ation may
have been able to take root because conditions there enabled a closed, isolated, introverted society to develop.
 

gyrtrash

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Semyaz said:
Plaease bare with me on this. There is a book by Michael Crichton called 'Eaters of the Dead' which is (supposedly) based on an account of an Arab emmissary around the end of the 10th century...

The emmissary joined a group of norse warriors (vikings i think) when they are recalled to their homeland to battle a supposedly demonic evil that is terrorising their families and friends...

I suggest the book as it is a good read, whether its origins are genuine or not, and that you decide for yourself on its authenticity.

I'm sure this is also the story portrayed in the film The 13th Warrior (based on Crichton's book I think), which is a fantastic adventure story. Well, I enjoyed it anyway... :D
 

miss_scarlet

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Semyaz said:
The emmissary joined a group of norse warriors (vikings i think) when they are recalled to their homeland to battle a supposedly demonic evil that is terrorising their families and friends.

I suggest the book as it is a good read, whether its origins are genuine or not, and that you decide for yourself on its authenticity.
Well at least I now know where the film 13th warrior comes from!
Not sure if the film is a good one or not as I find I enjoy anything with Antonio Banderas in!
 

LaurenChurchill

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I'm of completely the same mind miss_scarlet :D
Although I do like the string of bases in its background.
ie/ it was based on Eaters of the Dead, which Crichton claims he based on Beowulf etc...
 

illuminati37411

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Venus of Willendorf/paleo diet

I remember years ago taking art history in college, the teacher told us that the Venus of Willendorf represented a "pregnant female." I disagreed, & said I've been pregnant, and I've been fat, and she was just fat, or maybe fat and pregnant, but most decidedly fat. Pregnant women don't get those love handles on the side. In fact, she's very, very fat, not just plump.

I read later in a book on paleolithic art an opinion that the venuses might have been carried as amulets around the neck by nursing women. As such they reprented plenty and abundance, as the paleo woman's greatest fear would have been starvation and the inability to nurse her child.

But the question in my mind was always how did a Paleo woman get so very fat? What were they eating? Somehow they must have actually seen a real live fat woman because the representation of the body is actually quite realistic altho the head and limbs are truncated. Anyhoo, I'd always heard that the Paleo diet of berries and very lean meat wouldn't have caused obesity & it made me wonder.
 

Quake42

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But the question in my mind was always how did a Paleo woman get so very fat? What were they eating? Somehow they must have actually seen a real live fat woman because the representation of the body is actually quite realistic altho the head and limbs are truncated. Anyhoo, I'd always heard that the Paleo diet of berries and very lean meat wouldn't have caused obesity & it made me wonder.
Early hunter gatherer societies actually had higher calorie intake and longer life expectancy than most subsequent societies up until the industrial age.

Although I doubt that there were many hugely obese Paleolithic people wandering around, it's wrong to assume that everyone was on the verge of starvation either. I expect there were some individuals who were relatively heavy.
 

PeniG

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The late Pleistocene environment was one of abundance, and although any lifestyle that involves a lot of walking in order to obtain food is going to keep the weight off, there is no reason to assume that all hunter-gatherers did a lot of walking. The settlement at Catal-Hyuck indicates that hunting and gathering could support a sedentary lifestyle in some places in Eurasia; and even among more mobile groups there may have been ritual or social roles that involved certain individual women deliberately living in such a way as to maximize their weight.

The "Venuses," the impossibility of being sure what any piece of paleolithic art means, the capacity of (perfectly intelligent and conscientious) modern people to project their unconscious assumptions onto that art, and the practical things that can nonetheless be learned from them are all discussed at length in The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory by J. M. Adovasio, Olga Soffer, and Jake Page, a book I recommend highly. Although the title references the historial neglect of women by the mainstream archealogical imagination, the authors make the point that both sexes and all genders are normally invisible in the archeological record. You can't tell by looking at a projectile point or a loom weight whether it was used by a man, woman, intersex, or crossgender individual, what those roles meant in the society, or what any task's social status was.

You can, however, tell a lot of other things if you look closely or in the right way. Discussions of the Venuses have historically tended to focus on her physical characteristics - the lack of a face, the obesity, the drooping breasts, the missing feet, etc. When Dr. Adovasio looked at Willendorf, coming from a background of specializing in textile remains, what leaped out at him was that the most detailed carving was on the head, and that it depicted a knitted hat so precisely that he could identify the stitch. From the point of view of understanding how our ancestors lived, this is huge - as important as, or more so than, the unattainable knowledge of what the artist thought of when he/she/it carved the figure.

This is discussed briefly in a news report format in a story from 1999 here:
http://www.post-gazette.com/healthscien ... venus2.asp
 

illuminati37411

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PeniG: the most detailed carving was on the head, and that it depicted a knitted hat so precisely that he could identify the stitch.

Amazing. :eek: I knew she had on a snood type headcovering but did not know this.
 

PeniG

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Most descriptions of the figure describe the cap as a hairstyle. It is probably significant that most of the people who've looked at it directly were male archeologists with no background in either hairdressing or fabric arts, and didn't have the specialized casual knowledge that would make the difference between a braid and a stitch leap out at them. Most people interested in this era become lithic experts because that's what's best-preserved. By coincidence, Dr. Adovasio had a professor whose dig produced basketry fragments when he was a grad student, got assigned to evaluate them, and in the snowballing way of careers, became "the perishables guy," so when he looked at Willendorf, his eye was tuned for different clues.

At the Houston AIA meeting, he told the story of how he demonstrated his finding for an archeologist who had previously studied the figure and never noticed the headdress particularly, but had focused on the breasts in interpreting it as a fertiity figure. Once the stitch was pointed out to him, this person freely admitted that he had stopped looking intelligently at the figure once his eyes snagged on the breasts. Every woman who's reading this is nodding in recognition at this remark.
 

illuminati37411

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Venus of Willendorf/Sheela na Gig

Zilch5: Could this be a very early version of a Sheela-Na-Gig?

an interesting article -- however, the Venus has her genitalia incised on her backside, almost as if bending over. So the symbolism might seem slightly different? The Sheelas seem to me to be not just displaying, but also in a birthing posture and the Venus is not. At least it would be difficult to give birth that way. :)

However, I was interested that the Sheelas are often "hags" or old women, and I did read once a personal interpretation that the Venus' body represents a post-menopausal woman, not a fertile woman at all.
 

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Early hunter gatherer societies actually had higher calorie intake and longer life expectancy than most subsequent societies up until the industrial age.

Although I doubt that there were many hugely obese Paleolithic people wandering around, it's wrong to assume that everyone was on the verge of starvation either. I expect there were some individuals who were relatively heavy.
Indeed, there was more than one Paleolithic diet.

The Paleolithic diet, or caveman diet, a weight-loss craze in which people emulate the diet of plants and animals eaten by early humans during the Stone Age, gives modern calorie-counters great freedom because those ancestral diets likely differed substantially over time and space, according to researchers at Georgia State University and Kent State University.

Their findings are published in The Quarterly Review of Biology.

"Based on evidence that's been gathered over many decades, there's very little evidence that any early hominids had very specialized diets or there were specific food categories that seemed particularly important, with only a few possible exceptions," said Dr. Ken Sayers, a postdoctoral researcher at the Language Research Center of Georgia State. "Some earlier workers had suggested that the diets of bears and pigs—which have an omnivorous, eclectic feeding strategy that varies greatly based on local conditions—share much in common with those of our early ancestors. The data tend to support this view."

The co-author on the paper, Dr. C. Owen Lovejoy, is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at Kent State University, well known for his reconstructions of the socioecology and locomotor behavior of early hominids such as "Ardi" (Ardipithecus ramidus, 4.4 million years old) and "Lucy" (Australopithecus afarensis, 3.2 million years old). ...

http://phys.org/news/2014-12-paleo-diet.html
 

ramonmercado

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Indeed, there was more than one Paleolithic diet.

The Paleolithic diet, or caveman diet, a weight-loss craze in which people emulate the diet of plants and animals eaten by early humans during the Stone Age, gives modern calorie-counters great freedom because those ancestral diets likely differed substantially over time and space, according to researchers at Georgia State University and Kent State University.

Their findings are published in The Quarterly Review of Biology.

"Based on evidence that's been gathered over many decades, there's very little evidence that any early hominids had very specialized diets or there were specific food categories that seemed particularly important, with only a few possible exceptions," said Dr. Ken Sayers, a postdoctoral researcher at the Language Research Center of Georgia State. "Some earlier workers had suggested that the diets of bears and pigs—which have an omnivorous, eclectic feeding strategy that varies greatly based on local conditions—share much in common with those of our early ancestors. The data tend to support this view."

The co-author on the paper, Dr. C. Owen Lovejoy, is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at Kent State University, well known for his reconstructions of the socioecology and locomotor behavior of early hominids such as "Ardi" (Ardipithecus ramidus, 4.4 million years old) and "Lucy" (Australopithecus afarensis, 3.2 million years old). ...

http://phys.org/news/2014-12-paleo-diet.html
But the Paleo Diet may not have been all that healthy.

You’ll be healthier if you ate as your ancestors did.

At least that’s the promise of some modern fads such as the “caveman” or paleo diet—characterized by avoiding processed food and grains and only eating things like meat, fish, and seeds. But a new study suggests the food some early humans in Norway ate may have not only been unhealthy, but downright toxic. In some cases, these people may have consumed more than 20 times the levels of dangerous metals recommended for humans today.

“This study raises interesting ideas,” says Katheryn Twiss, an archaeologist at Stony Brook University who was not involved in the work. But, she notes, the findings are limited to a small number of animal remains from just a few sites, and therefore may not fully represent the diets of Norwegians from thousands of years ago.

Pollutants have been entering our food chain for millennia. In 2015, for example, researchers reported that cod caught off the North American coast around 6500 years ago by Stone Age hunter-gatherers contained high levels of mercury. This metal occurs naturally in Earth’s crust and is thought to have leached into the oceans in greater concentrations after sea level rise covered more land. Once in the water, fish absorb mercury through their gills and their food.

To find out whether this problem was more widespread, archaeologist Hans Peter Blankholm of the Arctic University of Norway and colleagues focused on Stone Age humans living on the shores of the Norwegian Arctic, in an area known as Varanger.

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/02/real-paleo-diet-may-have-been-full-toxic-metals
 

EnolaGaia

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The recent allusions to body form and diets may be more relevant that one would think ... Newly published research correlates the appearance and perseverence of the rotund Venus figurines with climate changes, glacial advances and corresponding stresses on human hunting / gathering populations.
Humanity’s Oldest Sculptures: Researchers New Theory on “Venus” Figurines May Have Solved Mystery

Investigators say humanity’s oldest sculptures may be linked to climate change, diet.

One of world’s earliest examples of art, the enigmatic `Venus’ figurines carved some 30,000 years ago, have intrigued and puzzled scientists for nearly two centuries. Now a researcher from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus believes he’s gathered enough evidence to solve the mystery behind these curious totems.

The hand-held depictions of obese or pregnant women, which appear in most art history books, were long seen as symbols of fertility or beauty. But according to Richard Johnson, MD, lead author of the study published today in the journal, Obesity, the key to understanding the statues lays in climate change and diet.

“Some of the earliest art in the world are these mysterious figurines of overweight women from the time of hunter gatherers in Ice Age Europe where you would not expect to see obesity at all,” said Johnson, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine specializing in renal disease and hypertension. “We show that these figurines correlate to times of extreme nutritional stress.”

Early modern humans entered Europe during a warming period about 48,000 years ago. Known as Aurignacians, they hunted reindeer, horses and mammoths with bone-tipped spears. In summer they dined on berries, fish, nuts and plants. But then, as now, the climate did not remain static.

As temperatures dropped, ice sheets advanced and disaster set in. During the coldest months, temperatures plunged to 10-15 degrees Celsius. Some bands of hunter gatherers died out, others moved south, some sought refuge in forests. Big game was overhunted.

It was during these desperate times that the obese Venus figurines appeared. They ranged between 6 and 16 centimeters in length and were made of stone, ivory, horn or occasionally clay. Some were threaded and worn as amulets.

Johnson and his co-authors ... measured the statues’ waist-to-hip and waist-to-shoulder ratios. They discovered that those found closest to the glaciers were the most obese compared to those located further away. They believe the figurines represented an idealized body type for these difficult living conditions. ...
FULL STORY: https://scitechdaily.com/humanitys-...y-on-venus-figurines-may-have-solved-mystery/
 

EnolaGaia

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Here are the bibliographic details and abstract from the published report. The full report is accessible at the link below.

Upper Paleolithic Figurines Showing Women with Obesity may Represent Survival Symbols of Climatic Change
Richard J. Johnson Miguel A. Lanaspa John W. Fox
Obesity, December 2020
https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.23028

Abstract
Figurines of women with obesity or who are pregnant (“Venus figurines”) from Upper Paleolithic Europe rank among the earliest art and endured from 38,000 to 14,000 BP (before present), one of the most arduous climatic periods in human history. We propose that the Venus representation relates to human adaptation to climate change. During this period, humans faced advancing glaciers and falling temperatures that led to nutritional stress, regional extinctions, and a reduction in the population. We analyzed Paleolithic figurines of women with obesity to test whether the more obese figurines are from sites during the height of the glacial advance and closer to the glacial fronts. Figurines are less obese as distance from the glaciers increases. Because survival required sufficient nutrition for child‐bearing women, we hypothesize that the overnourished woman became an ideal symbol of survival and beauty during episodes of starvation and climate change in Paleolithic Europe.

FULL REPORT: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/oby.23028
 
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