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The Venus Figurines of the European Paleolithic Era

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The Venus figurines is a term given to a collection of prehistoric statuettes of women made during the Paleolithic Period, mostly found in Europe, but with finds as far as Siberia. To date, more than 200 of the figurines have been found, all of whom are portrayed with similar physical attributes, including curvaceous bodies with large breasts, bottoms, abdomen, hips, and thighs, and usually tapered at the top and bottom.  The heads are often of relatively small size and devoid of detail, and most are missing hands and feet. Some appear to represent pregnant women, while others show no such signs. There have been many different interpretations of the figurines, but none based on any kind of solid evidence. Like many prehistoric artifacts, the cultural meaning may never be known.

The Paleolithic period lasted from around 30,000 BC to 10,000 BC and is characterised by the emergence of human creativity. Man-made artifacts from this period show the very earliest signs of workmanship, from small personal adornments and cave paintings to the prevalent Venus figurines, which represent the earliest known works of figurative art.

The figurines were carved from all manner of different materials, ranging from soft stone (such as steatite, calcite, or limestone) to bone, ivory, or clay. The latter type are among the earliest ceramic works yet discovered.  The oldest statuette was uncovered in 2008 in Germany. The "Venus of Hohle Fels”, as the figure has since been called, was carved from a mammoth’s tusk and dates to at least 35,000 years old.

The size of the figurines ranges from 1.5 inches to 9.8 inches in height. They have mostly been discovered in settlement contexts, both in open-air sites and caves, and on rare occasions, they have been found in burials. Considering they were found all throughout Europe, and were sometimes separated by thousands of years, the general similarity of these sculptures is extraordinary.

Standing female figurine, marble. Neolithic. Archaeological Museum of Eleusis (Public Domain )

The term ‘Venus figurines’ is controversial in itself.  Inspired by Venus, the ancient Greek goddess of love, it assumes that the figures represent a goddess. Of course, this is one possible explanation, but it is just one of many interpretations that have been proposed.  A considerable diversity of opinion exists in the archeological and paleoanthropological literature regarding the possible functions and significance of these objects. 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.

According to Soffer, Adovasio, and Hyland (2000), the garments that many of the Venus figures have been found wearing, including basket hats, netted snoods, bandeaux, string skirts, and belts, were not typical Paleolithic day wear. The authors suggest that the garments are more likely ritual wear, real or imagined, which served as a signifier of distinct social categories.

Dixson and Dixson (2011) argue that it is unlikely that the figures were realistic representations of women.  At the time the statuettes were made, Europe was in the grip of a severe ice age and it is unlikely that obesity was a common feature. Instead, the authors proposed that the figures may have symbolized abundance and hope for survival and longevity, and for well-nourished and reproductively successful communities, during the harshest period of the major glaciation in Europe.

Unfortunately, the true meaning and purpose of these statuettes may never be known, leaving us to wonder why prehistoric people separated by significant time and distance created such similar figures, and what they really meant.

Top image: Front and side view of the Venus of Brassempouy (Public Domain)

By April Holloway

Comments

I think it is very probable that these figurines were talismen, serving as good-luck or magical protection for women, especially during pregnancy and labor. Most of these represent the overweight female form with large full breasts, which was probably rare in actual stone age women, but symbolize the extra fat and milk needed to nurse. Since the human community depended for its continued existence on the ability of women to produce healthy babies and nurse them, this was all-important. Add to that the fact that pregnancy and labor were life-threatening conditions that many women did not survive, a goddess of protection was a necessity. The fact that many if not most of these objects fit well in the hand could mean that they were grasped by women during the pain of labor, and may have been considered necessary equipment, wherever humans migrated.

Time and distance are not separated if a reoccurring heavenly (in the skies) astral event were to have been observed across the skies by different geological groups of people.

If a “Venus” image were to have been witnessed in the high altitude of the sky, this image would have been viewed by people many distances or today, countries away from each other. That might explain the great distances of a similar artefact showing up throughout much of Europe.

The possible reoccurrence of the “Venus” image seen again and again in the skies recurring over thousands of years is a conceivable reason that these statues continued to be created – displaying similar characteristics found in the “Venus” statues and in ancient rock-art persisting from at least at least 35,000 years ago.

To infer the many theories from scholared sages including possible cults or a representation of a goddess is guesswork based upon our beliefs and influences with no scientific data to confirm these biased (maybe correct) opinions.

The “Venus” features are similar to known high energy plasma characteristics. (google: high energy plasma characteristics)

Recently these same “Venus” features displaying buxom curvaceous bodies lacking arms and feet, were observed (by me), in uncommon cloud formations of that day. In these type of clouds, the perceived “Venus” image may only be observable in this form from a few seconds to maybe 1 minute or so due to the lack of an intense electrical charge held in these cloud formation and its continued morphing.

The clouds clearly showed the same characteristics, small head or lack of one, legs tapering with no feet, extreme buxom shape.

While some of the ancient “Venus” statues might have been elevated to a higher purpose, we don’t know that as factual.

What I’m putting forth in a brief reply, is that by using scientific observations that are repeatable and documented, there is no surprise to the many “Venus” type adorants or statues spread across Europe that have been recovered from our ancient past.

Without scientific data, conclusions remain conjecture.

Most discussion and interpretation of figurines begins with an analysis of the form. Of course, this is an important first step. But with any other archaeological artifact, the next step is to think about context. Although superficially these figurines may resemble one another, only an investigation of context (archaeological, social, cultural) will enble the archaeologist to learn more about what the figurine might have meant to the maker. If you think about human images today, we use very similar ones in completely different contexts: manniquins in shops, statues in church and crash test dummies, for example. They may be dressed differently, but basically they are large-size human images used for completely different purposes.

One of the figures shown in one of the pictures attached refers to the Venus of Malta. (Rep. Malta EU) This comes from the Neolithic period - not from the Paleolithic.
What is fascinating about the statues and female figures found on this island nation is that, first of all the incredible large number of them - concentrated on a square area of 300km. The size of some of these - exceeding the 2 metres and the edifices in which these where found - some of the oldest free standing buildings in the world - built using megalithic dressed stones - up to 20/25 tonnnes in weight. Recent anthropoligical studies seem to indicate that the ratio between the number of male and female was grossly different from to day and it is possible that it led to a female dominated society. Nonetheless the fact that no entire male figures have been found -here in Malta - but only phallic symbols, i.e. as far as the male component is concerned, invites one to believe that the female figure, life bearing potential was very important for this mysterious culture.

I totally agree with you - I've never thought of these Goddess figures as representing a woman looking down at her body, but it totally works! Thanks for posting that :D

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