40 000 – 24 000 BP
In the Beginning
Flute Music, Dancing
The Steatopygous Venuses of the Gravettian
Middle-Upper Paleolithic 40 000 – 20 000 BP
“Venuses” (Latin plural veneres)
have been famous for their steatopygous shapes ever since the early
1900s when they were
discovered. Mostly headless and feetless, small mammoth ivories they
were found with a few exceptions along “Venus Strasse”, a
corridor following the Danube valley just south of the Würm ice
sheet (LGM, Last Glacial Maximum, 20-18 000 BP) and north of the
Alps. H. sapiens passed through this corridor (~40-25 000 BP) just
before the climate turned very cold. For that reason these figurines
are usually attributed to H. sapiens, not to Neanderthals. Still he
didn't bring this form of art with him, it must have been
In any case these small figurines are connected with a hunter-gatherer life style – and the presence of large numbers of mammoths. They can easily be carried and have a “good feel” - especially the steatopygous variety.
Much speculation has centered around their meaning: were they fertility symbols, matriarchal goddesses, protectoresses of the animals, or sex symbols? I think they were all of that, a tactile object representing the all-pervading female presence in life. Man is truly expendable in a life cycle of birth and death, especially if there are more women than men in the population, as some paleogenetic statisticans suggest.
It is thought provoking that woman almost completely disappears from the great cave paintings that followed after 30 000 BP.
Lady of the Hohle
Schelklingen near Blaubeuren, Donautal
40 000 BP (40 000 Before Present or 38 000 BC)
The Venus of Hohle Fels is an Upper Paleolithic figurine found near Schelklingen, Germany. It is dated to between 35,000 and 40,000 years ago, belonging to the early Aurignacian, at the very beginning of the Upper Paleolithic, which is associated with the assumed earliest presence of Homo sapiens (Cro-Magnon) in Europe. It is the oldest undisputed example of Upper Paleolithic art and figurative prehistoric art in general.
It is made of a woolly mammoth tusk and had broken into fragments, of which six have been recovered, with the left arm and shoulder still missing. In place of the head, the figurine has a perforation so that it could have been worn as a pendant.
Near Blaubeuren, Donautal
35 000 – 32 000 BP
Front and back of the "Adorant", ivory carving,38 mm, 33 000 BP
The Worshipper, called 'Adorant', is one of the oldest, most impressive and mystifying statuettes from the Ice Age. It was discovered in an ashy bone layer near a possible hearth. Unfortunately, the surface of this small flat segment of ivory is in very poor condition. Nevertheless, the bas-relief of a human being with raised arms, who seems to be either saluting or threatening, can be distinguished. The raised arms might also be interpreted as an attitude of worship, so the statuette was named the 'Adorant'.
On the back side B together with the four edges is a series of notches that are clearly set in an intentional pattern. The edges contain a total of 39 notches in groups of 6, 13, 7 and 13. A further 49 notches on side B are arranged in four vertical lines of 13, 10, 12 and 13 respectively plus a further notch that could be in either of the middle two lines.
“This Lunar Calendar, the grouping of notches on the plate suggests
a timerelated sequence. The total number of notches (88) not only
coincides with the number of days in 3 lunations (88.5) but also
approximately with the number of days when the star Betelgeuse
(Orion) disappeared from view each year between its heliacal set
(about 14 days before the spring equinox around 33,000 BP) and its
heliacal rise (approximately 19 days before the summer solstice).
Conversely, the nine-month period when Orion was visible in the sky
approximately matched the duration of human pregnancy, and the timing
of the heliacal rise in early summer would have facilitated a ‘rule
of thumb’ whereby, by timing conception close to the reappearance
of the constellation, it could be ensured that a birth would take
place after the severe winter half-year, but leaving enough time for
sufficient nutrition of the baby before the beginning of the next
winter. There is a resemblance between the anthropoid on side A and
the constellation Orion.”
From Astronomical Heritage
A 40 000 years old flute made from a waterbird bone
one of several found in the area, Photo from crystallinks
see also National Geographic
Vogelherd Cave, a Bestiary of
Lonetal near Stetten, Schwäbische Alb
35 000 BP
Head of a cave lion, 25 mm
The Lion Man from
Lonetal near Stetten, Schwäbische Alb
32 000 BP
The Lion Man, ivory, 296 mm, app. 32 000 BP
The 'Lion Man', made from the tusk of a mammoth is about 30 cm high. Its creator carved and polished the piece. An experiment revealed that the carving took about 320 hours. The original is badly damaged but no one knows its exact appearance. The reason is that because of the hurried completion of the pre-war excavations, many splinters from the piece were overlooked. The present form was completed in 1988, and consists of 220 pieces. About 30 percent of the body is missing. The surface has splintered off a large part of the statue.
The enigma is that it is uncertain whether a mythical half-lion half-human is depicted, or perhaps a magician under a cloak. The six stripes on the upper left arm can be interpreted as bulbous ornamental marks, but it is unknown what was on the missing right arm.
Even the sex is uncertain. The prehistorian Joachim Hahn suggested
that the plate on the abdomen might be a flaccid penis. The
palaeontologist Elisabeth Schmid classified this feature as a pubic
triangle. The statue had been touted as an 'icon of the feminist
movement', complained Kurt Wehrberger of the Ulmer Museum, which
holds the treasure. For some women it is clear: prehistory was a
matriarchy and Eve was an Amazon. Instead of cooking and looking
after children, women would have hunted mammoths and also been part
of magic rituals. The debate is still not decided, but that could
change. New fragments of the 'lion man' have been
Lady from Galgenberg
30 000 BP
Lady from Galgenberg
7.2 cm high, green serpentine rock, broken in several places, Austria Lexikon
Not all Aurignacian "Venuses" are steatopygous! This one,
breasts flying, is dancing with a raised arm
It is highly probable that the statuette was manufactured at Galgenberg. The occurrence of amphibolite schist at a distance of several hundred metres from the site, as well as many small fragments of this raw material in the area of the fragments of the statuette, which may be waste from the original carving, support this assumption.
An extensive discussion of the archeological details is found at Don's Maps
Venus of Laussel
27 000 BP
Venus of Laussel, sandstone basreleif, 45cm, Gravittian, 27 000 BP
“La Femme à la Corne”
This low relief venus is from Laussel, Dordogne. 44 cm (17.5 inches) high. Musee d'Aquitane, Bordeaux. The body swells out towards the viewer from this convex block of limestone. It formed one of a set, a frieze which included other female figures and a male figure.
It probably dates to 27 000 - 22 000 b.p. Although now detached, it should be classed as parietal (non portable, in place) rock art since it was originally carved on a block of 4 cubic metres (140 cubic feet), and was originally covered in red ochre. The bison's horn and the series of 13 lines on it have often been linked with the moon or menstruation. The lines may represent the thirteen days of the waxing moon and the thirteen months of the lunar year.
The venus was discovered in 1911 by a physician named J. G. Lalanne carved into the wall of a limestone rock shelter (named Laussel) in the Dordogne not far from Lascaux. The shelter, under an overhang, is a terrace over 300 yards long which looks out over the valley below. Although originally thought to have been a dwelling site, it is now believed to have served as a ceremonial center.
The Lady of Willendorf
near Melk on the Danube
26-24 000 BP
The first and most famous Venus
11.5 cm high carved from an oolitic limestone that is not local to the area, and tinted with red ochre.
dated to between 24 000-22 000 BC
The Venus of Willendorf is an 11.5 cm high statuette of a female figure dated to between 24,000 B.C.– 22,000 B.C.. It was discovered in 1908 by archaeologist Josef Szombathy at a paleolithic site near Willendorf, a village in Lower Austria near the city of Krems. It is carved from an oolitic limestone that is not local to the area, and tinted with red ochre.
Since this figure's discovery and naming, several similar statuettes been discovered elsewhere.
Venus of Lespugue
Haut Garronne, France
24 000 BP
Venus of Lespugue, Haut Garronne (replica), the head may have been added, 24 000 BP
150 mm, tusk ivory, damaged during excavation
Of all the steatopygous Venus figurines discovered from the upper
Paleolithic, the Venus of Lespugue, if the reconstruction is sound,
appears to display the most exaggerated secondary sexual
characteristics, especially the extremely large, pendulous breasts.
According to textile expert Elizabeth Wayland Barber, the statue displays the earliest representation found of spun thread, as the carving shows a skirt hanging from below the hips, made of twisted fibers, frayed at the end (visible only from the back).
It has been observed that the proportions of the statue mimic the ratios of the modern Dorian mode. It has also been conjectured that this relationship demonstrates that the cultural advancement of paleolithic peoples have been substantially underestimated!
Moravany nad Nahom near Piestany, Slovakia
22 800 BP
Less known but more realistically formed is the Moravany Venus, ivory, 7.6 cm, 22 800 BP
It may be that the venus never had a head. It appears likely that there were never any feet shown, which is normal for venus figures. It can be seen here that the arms are not seen to be important. The left arm is missing, perhaps broken off, but the right arm is barely indicated.
Dolni Vestonice, Moravia
Mammoth Hunter Camp
27-20 000 BP
Dolni Vestonice is an archaeological site near the village of the same name in the Czech Republic. The site is unique in that it has been a particularly abundant source of prehistoric artifacts (especially art) dating from the Gravettian period, which spanned roughly 26,000 to 20,000 B.C. In addition to functional gear, the artifacts found at Dolni Vestonice include carved representations of animals, men, women, personal ornaments, enigmatic engravings
The Venus of Dolni Vestonice
This figurine, together with a few others from nearby locations, is the oldest known ceramic in the world, predating the use of fired clay to make pottery. It has a height of 111 millimeters (4.4 inches), and a width of 43 millimeters (1.7 inches) at its hips and is made of a clay body fired at a relatively low temperature. A tomograph scan in 2004 found a fingerprint of a child estimated at between 7 and 15 years of age, fired into the surface; the child who handled the figurine before it was fired is considered to be an unlikely candidate for its maker.
“Venus III” from Dolní Věstonice, from a grave, mammoth ivory, daubed in red ocher. Middle Upper Paleolithic
In this view, one can clearly see that the figure is looking to the side. Almost all Venuses face forward.
Surviving parts of a male marionette, mammoth ivory, 20 cm high, 27 000 BP
"Venus XV" from Dolni Vestonice
Artistically the most extraordinary sculpture of the Paleolithic
mammoth ivory, images larger than original, 25 800 BP
The figurine was found at the site and is believed to be a portrait
of a 40-year old woman in a neighboring grave, because of remarkably
similar facial characteristics. The woman was found to have
deformities on the left side of her face. The special importance
accorded to her burial, in addition to her facial deformity, makes it
possible that she was a shaman (priestess) in her time, where it was
not uncommon that people with disabilities, either mental or
physical, were thought to have unusual supernatural powers.
For an illustrated discussion of several other astonishing “Venus” carvings found at Dolni Vestonice see Don's Maps