Another Venus? Rare Neolithic Female Figurine Discovered in Turkey

Another Venus? Rare Neolithic Female Figurine Discovered in Turkey

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Researchers excavating at the site of Catalhoyok in Turkey have unearthed a rare Neolithic figurine in the shape of a woman. The statue is considered unique for its fine craftsmanship, material, and because it was found intact. It has been proposed that the artifact served a ritual purpose.

Daily Sabah reports that the figurine measures 17 cm (6.7 inches) tall, weighs 1kg (2.2lbs), and was made of marmoreal stone. It is estimated that it was created in about 5500-8000 BC.

Photo of the recently discovered figurine.

Photo of the recently discovered figurine. ( Jason Quinlan )

The international team of archaeologists led by Professor Ian Hodder, anthropologist at Stanford University, believe that the statue was an important item in the past as well. Evidence supporting this idea is shown by the fact that “Unlike others found in garbage pits […] this figurine was found beneath a platform along with a piece of obsidian which suggests that it may have been placed there as part of some ritual.” [Via The Miami Herald ]

Furthermore, Hodder proposes that this object may represent an older woman who had a high status in her society. "The new figurine certainly suggests such an interpretation with its sagging breasts and belly," he told the Miami Herald.

Illustrations of the figurine found at the site of Çatalhöyük, Turkey.

Illustrations of the figurine found at the site of Çatalhöyük, Turkey. ( Killackey Illustration and Design )

This also provides some support to a hypothesis of equality between men and women put forward by Hodder in 2014 .  He said “Thanks to modern scientific techniques, we have seen that women and men were eating very similar foods, lived similar lives and worked in similar works. The same social stature was given to both men and women.”

Figurine of a seated Mother Goddess flanked by two lionesses previously found at Çatalhöyük (about 6000-5500 BC), Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara.

Figurine of a seated Mother Goddess flanked by two lionesses previously found at Çatalhöyük (about 6000-5500 BC), Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. ( CC BY SA 2.5 )

The female body has been represented in various materials for countless years. Commonly referred to as “Venus figurines” (though not always assumed to have held the same purpose) similar statuettes  depicting women have been created since the Paleolithic period and have been unearthed at a variety of locations such as France, SiberiaGermany, Spain, Malta, and many other sites.

Some of the reported Venus figurines that have been found throughout Europe.

Some of the reported Venus figurines that have been found throughout Europe. (Mare Cromwell )

It is often assumed that these prehistoric artifacts depicted nude women and were focused on fertility. However, closer examination has shown that not all were naked , and the real purpose of the statuettes is still uncertain. As April Holloway recently wrote :

“Some of the different theories put forward include: fertility symbols, self-portraits, Stone Age dolls, realistic depictions of actual women, ideal representations of female beauty, religious icons, representations of a mother goddess, or even the equivalent of pornographic imagery. Like many prehistoric artifacts, the cultural meaning may never be known.”

Çatalhöyük is recognized as one of the best archaeological sites in the world for understanding prehistoric humanity. It is the largest and best-preserved Neolithic site found to date. While most of the world was populated by nomadic hunter-gatherers, Çatalhöyük was a large settlement with as many as 10,000 people. It has been described as a “ honeycomb city ” for its massive labyrinth of mud-brick houses and 18 successive layers of building, from 7,500 BC to 5,600 BC.

Part of Çatalhöyük and surrounding area.

Part of Çatalhöyük and surrounding area. (Omar hoftun/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

As Ancient Origins writer April Holloway has described : “The wall paintings, reliefs, sculptures, and other symbolic and artistic features, along with the remarkable layout of the city, testify to the evolution of social organization and cultural practices as humans adapted to a more settled life.”

More information on the 50-plus years of excavations and discoveries at the site can be found at the website of the Çatalhöyük Research Project .

Top Image: The female figurine discovered at the site of Çatalhöyük in Turkey. Source: Daily Sabah

By Alicia McDermott

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