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23,000-year-old statuette found in France adds to mysterious collection of ‘Venus figurines’

23,000-year-old statuette found in France adds to mysterious collection of 'Venus figurines'


Archaeologists in France made a rare and important discovery when they unearthed a statuette of a woman dating back some 23,000 years during excavations in Amiens. The precious relic, which matches the characteristics of the so-called ‘Venus figurines’, is a magnificent example of Palaeolithic art, and is one of only 15 other similar figures found in France.

According to a release by AFP, the discovery was made during excavations at a Palaeolithic site in Amiens, where archaeologists were expecting to find flint or bone tools, but instead they found a pile of around twenty limestone fragments that did not appear natural.  After managing to piece them together, they were surprised to find that the fragments formed the shape of a female figure.

“The discovery of this masterpiece is exceptional and internationally significant,” said Nicole Phoyu-Yedid, the head of cultural affairs in the area, on showing the find to the media.

The statuette is about 12 centimeters (4.7 inches) high, and is of a woman with big breasts and buttocks. The head and arms are less detailed, all typical features of the Venus figurines, of which around 200 have been found throughout Europe and Russia, and 15 of those in France. This latest discovery is the first time that a Venus figurine has been found in France in half a century. Radiocarbon dating returned an estimate of 23,000 years.

‘Venus figurines’ is the term given to a collection of prehistoric statuettes of women made during the Palaeolithic Period, 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.

Venus 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 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 Venus of Hohle Fels, Urgeschichtliches Museum

The Venus of Hohle Fels, Urgeschichtliches Museum (Wikimedia Commons)

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 archaeological 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.

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.

Featured image: Some of the Palaeolithic ‘Venus figurines’ that have been found throughout Europe (public domain).

By April Holloway



'Till some one puts forth a more plausible theory, I'm more receptive to these Venuses being used for more "utilitarian" reasons during the extended tracking expeditions that took place in the long winter months.

Think about it, they're portability and size makes them ideal for one handed use!

Considering men have been idolising the female form since time immemorial the lust / porn theory holds more weight than others.

Add to that the curves of the hips, buttocks & breasts on all figures are all accentuated while other less-sexual aspects are not; its not hard to imagine some teenage Palaeolithic boy fashioning it as a momento of an encounter with the opposite sex

The thing that strikes me about these figures is that although they're stylized, they're only somewhat stylized and the artists who created them seem to have known what an obese woman looks like.

So stop and consider for a second the diet available then and the amount of exertion a person would have to undertake day to day just to survive. Given that, how did anyone become obese?

This leads me to suspect that for whatever reason, there were women in those days who did nothing but sit around and eat all day and were ritualistically spared from the daily labor of everyone else. Who were they and why?

Not true at all. Being larger would be sort of a status symbol. It shows they had access to large amounts of food which would be extremely rare for the hunter/gatherer way of life. Also larger hips would be very appealing because of child bearing. So many mothers and newborns died in child birth that any advantage a woman would have to make it easier on her and the baby would be extremely desirable to a man during those times.

This figure is completely unattractive in shape to the point of being quite grotesque. No normal man would fine that shape appealing, not even 1000's of years ago and not now.

Those breasts and buttocks are not abnormally large on grossly overweight women.


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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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