Venus von Willendorf (Photo: Matthias Kabel)
Some of the most iconic artifacts of the Ice Age are more than 200 so-called Venus figurines. Made by hunter-gatherers from stone, bone, ivory, and even kiln-fired clay 10,000 to 40,000 years ago, these female statuettes have been found at archaeological sites from France to Siberia. Since the discovery of the first figurine in 1864, fierce debate as to their function and meaning has ensued: Were they toys, educational aids, dolls, personal ornaments, or sexual artifacts? All of these at once—or something else entirely?
Paleolithic archaeologist April Nowell, a professor of anthropology at the University of Victoria, Canada, explores what they might have meant to the societies who made them and the complicated history of the interpretation of Venus figurines. She offers a detailed look at how these objects were made; where they were found; examples of male figurines; and clues to the clothing and aspects of daily life we can glean from them. Perhaps, says Nowell, how we interpret these objects now may say more about ourselves rather than our ancestors.
World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1/2 credit*
*Enrolled participants in the World Art History Certificate Program receive 1/2 elective credit. Not yet enrolled? Learn about the program, its benefits, and how to register here.