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Stone age sculptures of women as “Venus”

11 January, 2009

In December of 2008, I read, here, and wrote about a dig in Russia that revealed several objects from the Upper Paleolithic Period (the latter part of the Stone age).  Among the finds were two carvings of apparently pregnant women from the Upper Paleolithic Era, which I did not discuss in that post.


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At Zaraysk, the two figurines were found carefully buried in storage pits. Underneath each was a round deposit of fine sand toward the south; toward the north, there was a deposit of red ochre – an iron-based pigment.

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However, both resemble examples of such statuettes found at the Avdeevo site to the south-west, suggesting cultural links between the two.

Palaeolithic figurine (Antiquity)


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Such “Venus” statuettes have been found in locations ranging from the mountains of Spain as far east as Siberia, but their cultural significance remains a point of debate among anthropologists.

Pages of  photographs of similar statuettes are available at ask.com.

This is not what we usually think of when we think of Venus (Aphrodite in Greek). We are more inclined to think of the Venus de Milo, but in fact there have been countless statues, paintings and engravings of the goddess of love, beauty and fertility in the “modern” world as well.  The National Gallery of Scotland has an etour of their exhibit hereIt is well worth viewing,

So what is the connection?  And, more importantly, why am I devoting so much space to and thought on this subject?


Take another look at this sentence from the first quote above:


Underneath each was a round deposit of fine sand toward the south; toward the north, there was a deposit of red ochre – an iron-based pigment.

These two figures were not lightly cast aside and forgotten, not buried by time and sediment, but by early humans who gathered ochre and fine sand, and aligned these two figures with the poles of the earth.  There is respect, if not awe, in the careful, ritualistic treatment of these figurines.  What did they represent?

Archaeologists do not know for certain what the Venus figurines mean, though there is much speculation about their function and meaning, about why they were so widely dispersed, and what familial arrangements they might suggest among our ancestors.  They apparently  connect to the Venus archetype:  the mother suggested by the breasts, stomach (womb) and, yes, the thighs where the fat is stored so that milk can be produced even in times of  famine; the earth goddess women possessing the ability to create life, to nurture and feed the tiny creatures created in the body, in some way connected to the fertility of the earth and its ability to feed and nurture all life; and perhaps,   the ideal of beauty, though that might seem less likely in our anorexic-worshipping time.

Some archaeologists have suggested that the figurines were somehow an indication of territory and that early modern humans may have been matriarchal.  No one knows for sure, though the search continues for further clues.

For me, the interest lies in how women were treated then and how they have been treated throughout history since then – in various times, in various cultures, on various continents and, finally, in how they are treated now.

I have no desire to return to a Stone Age lifestyle, nor to adopt the attitudes and belief systems that might have been part of our early history.  I do, however, want to follow the clues left by our ancestors wherever they may lead me.

I will try to do so as soon as possible in a future post.




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