Monday 30 December 2019

Palaeolithic Venus figurines

The other day I came across this image

The comment that accompanied it read: "Archaeologists have unearthed a figurine from the early Upper Paleolithic at the prehistoric site of Renancourt in Amiens, northern France. She was found in a layer with organic remains that has been radiocarbon dated to 23,000 years ago"

Again no face (in this case deliberately replaced by geometric abstraction) and a fat exaggerated body. Without arms. Only the "important" bits: butt, pussy and tits...Sorry, couldn't resist it... 

This is not a woman. This is "Fertile Mother Earth"...

The Venus of Willendorf is an 11.1-centimetre-tall (4.4 in) Venus figurine estimated to have been made 30,000 BCE.

The Venus of Hohle Fels, unearthed in 2008 in Hohle Fels, a cave near Schelklingen, Germany. It is dated to between 40,000 and 35,000 years ago

Venus of Dolní Věstonice is a Venus figurine, a ceramic statuette found at the Paleolithic site Dolní Věstonice in the Moravian basin south of Brno, dated to 29,000–25,000 BCE

Deliberately making these figurines faceless, by people whom we know were perfectly able to depict human faces in detail, means that this is not a depiction of any one person, but a depiction of a concept: fertility...

This is what a Palaeolithic depiction of an actual woman looks like. 

The Venus of Brassempouy, a fragmentary ivory figurine from the Upper Palaeolithic. discovered in a cave at Brassempouy, France. About 25,000 years old

And this is what a Palaeolithic depiction of an actual female body looks like. Actual female body depiction found with the Venus of Brassempouy, wearing a belt of sorts. Lean, as you would expect a hunter gatherer woman to be... 

Final proof that Palaeolithic Europeans were perfectly able to depict facial features of real women, can be seen from this small ivory head. 

Found on the the same archaeological site, Dolní Věstonice, where the above faceless black "Venus" figurine was found, it is a very detailed depiction of a female face. 

What is amazing about this figurine is that we know that it is actual portrait of a woman who lived in the settlement. We know that because the figurine depicts the disfigurement on the woman's face. The same disfigurement was found on a female skeleton found at the site...

So we know that the people from Dolní Věstonice were able to depict human faces. Yet they made the above large fat figurine with huge breasts and hips faceless. Why? 

If we look at any of these Palaeolithic faceless figurines, you can see that the bodies are depicted in incredible detail. They are anatomically perfectly depicted. Why would the artists then omit the face? Because with the face they become individuals. Without, they are symbols.

Individual creativity can be seen from the fact that these figurines are all different except that they are all depicting faceless fat woman. What we can conclude from this is that all these people probably shared the same belief system depicted using the same symbol system...

BB King once said that when he was a kid, he was always hungry. And all he ever dreamed about was to one day be "fat and happy"... I think that Palaeolithic hunter gatherers probably shared his dream...


  1. It is amazing that people in distant places and with a difference of many thousands of years had the same kind of symbolism. It means that they had similar cultural references.
    And this symbols (faceless fat women) means absolutely nothing now, so we probably cannot really understand it.

    1. Well...There is one faceless woman that we know of and we know exactly what she symbolises. I will write about her soon...

  2. Glad to see you've read my article on Ancient Origins. Keep an eye out, another interesting Paleolithic article coming up, you're bound to find inspiration in it.

    1. Sorry Alex, I am not sure what article you are referring to. This post is a reply to a tweet I saw few months ago. It is an expansion on a tweet thread I wrote at the time...

    2. No worries, my bad. Either way, this is the 17,000 Paleolithic cave painting that I mentioned:
      Worth your attention. Funny how much the figure reminds of the Egyptian deity Thoth.

    3. Where can we read your articles Alex?

  3. Also, in an upcoming article I wrote, I focused on a 17,000 year old Magdalenian (upper Palaeolithic) cave painting from Lascaux cave in France, depicting a fallen (dead) hunter who is painted with a head of a bird and having a bird totem beside him. There is a possibility it portrays some ancient belief that souls migrated to birds - the same thing that Slavs believed...worth thinking about...

  4. I read this with great interest. My favorite Art History professor got me excited about paleolithic art. In 1970 I was able to visit several sites in the area around Les Eyzies de Tayac, France, - Combarelles, Font du Gaume and Peche Merle. Unfortunately, Lascaux was closed to visitors, but with good reason. I remember reading The Golden Bough, particularly parts pertaining to shamanist rituals. Thank you for taking me back in time. The article was informative and fun, except now I'm a fat (and not happy) Willendorf body double!

  5. I've never found a definitive answer to the question of whether there have been any similar Venus figurines found in the Pre-Columbian New World (or for that matter, any clearly independent of a West Eurasian context). I'd welcome any leads.

    1. Andrew, the first thing that comes to mind is Pachamama, the pre-Columbian fertility goddess of the Andes. Some figurines exist, albeit not as buxom and curved as those in Europe. Also, I guess that Pachamama as a deity is much,much younger. Still, worth a mention.

  6. The Hohle Fels symbolic figurine is a very fine and complex work of art with a hidden symbolic meaning. The symbolic meaning of this work of art was culturally learnt by its early AMH group.
    It is quite meaningless looking at this figurine and placing our own modern day interpretations of what we think it means.
    What interests me is there must be evidence out there somewhere of symbolic chronology relating to it. I find it extremely hard to believe that this was the first prototype of symbolic thought and production. Its a bit like the Wright Brothers thinking of aeronautics in their shed and then wheeling out a Boeing 747 straight off.
    I am leaning towards a tradition that was already in existence and being practiced and that the Hohle Fels figurine is a Modern Human or Modern Hybrid interpretation of what was already a fully formed practice. DNA might not be the only thing we inherited from Neanderthals. It could be AMH plagiarism? perhaps were are not as smart as we believe ourselves to be.