14 May 2009
The oldest fertility figure?
Scientists believe that a rather grotesque carving in mammoth ivory may be the world's oldest depiction of a human figure. According to the Times the 6cm-tall (a bit under 2.5 inches) figurine, which portrays a woman with huge breasts, big buttocks and exaggerated genitals, is thought to be at least 35,000 years old. It was found in Hohle Fels Cave in southern Germany.
The Venus of Hohle Fels was found in six fragments in September 2008. It is still missing its left arm and shoulder, but researchers are hopeful these will emerge in future excavations of the cave's sediments. The figurine does not have a head. Rather, it has a carefully carved ring located off-centre above its broad shoulders.
The polished nature of the ring suggests the Venus was probably suspended as a pendant.The hands have precisely carved fingers, with five digits clearly visible on the left hand and four on the right hand. The pronounced breasts, buttocks and genitals familiar in later Venuses are usually interpreted to be expressions of fertility.
The Hohle Fels object is of an age where radiocarbon dating techniques are uncertain. Scientists say, however, that it is unquestionably older than finds associated with, for example, European Gravettian culture which from between 22,000 and 27,000 years ago. The most famous item from this era is the Venus of Willendorf (above) which was discovered in 1908.