Venus of Willendorf

One of the most famous early images of a human is the “Venus of Willendorf” found in 1908 by archaeologist Josef Szombathy in an Aurignacian loess deposit in a terrace above the Danube River near the town of Willendorf Austria.  The statuette is carved from oolitic limestone not local to the area found and tinted with red ochre.  It is presumed to be carved elsewhere using flint tools. 

Originally thought to date from approximately 15,000 to 10,000 BC, a revised analysis done in 1990 estimates the carving to date from 24,000 to 22,000 BC.  It stands at just over 4 1/2 inches and seem to be meant to hold in one’s hand since she is lacking feet to stand upright. 

Taking the name “Venus” causes resistance in some modern analyses.    Many similar female statuette and images are collectively referred to as “Venus” figures although they pre-date the mythological figure of the goddess Venus by millennia.  This idealization of the female figure has traits of fatness and fertility that may have been highly desirable in the harsh ice-age environment in which the person who made this statue lived. 

It has been suggested that she was carved as a fertility idol due to the exaggerated breasts and genital areas.  She may also have been an early portrayal of “Mother Earth” and prominent female deity.  Unlike today, women in the Paleolithic society must have played a more dominant role.  The figurines and images of women are outnumber those of men supporting this theory.

Do you have any thoughts regarding this wonderful sculptural representation of our early cultural heritage?  Please send us your comments.  We would love to hear from you!