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Anthropological Society in Vienna

A – 1014 Vienna, Burgring 7

 

VENUS OF WILLENDORF

(Original: Museum of Natural History, Vienna)

 

Willendorf, a small village in the socalled Wachau seciton of the Danube river near Krems, Lower Austria and one of the most important sites of Palaeolithic or Old Stone Age in Austria and one among seven similar adjacent finding spots discovered in this area so far. Scientific research was initiated by the construction of the railway line Mauthausen – Grein – Krems and was systematically carried out by J.Szombathy, together with J. Bayer and H.Obermaier, then scientics of the Natural History Museum Vienna. On August 7th, 1908, the excavations at the site Willendorf II. level 9 from below, yielded a femal statuette made of lime stone.

Upper Palaeolitic Age (35 – 10.000 B.P.) can be devided in a different periods. Following the caracter of the tools and implements distinguishable by materials they were made of stone, antler, bone and ivory, the level 5 – 9 at Willendorf site correspond to the socalled Gravettian period named after the type site La Gravette in France (28 – 22.000 B.P.).

At this time the inhabitants of the Willendorf site lived before the last glacial cold period (Würm) in a subarctic world with a vegetation of moss, lichen, shrub-like underwood and coniferous trees in flufial lowlands.They were food gatheres and hunters chasing mountain goat, reindeer, mammoth, stag, bison, bear, arctic fox, wolf and wolverene. Our Venus statuette, 11 cm high, was made from lime stone about 25.000 years ago, showing a nude obese woman with protruding hips and belly, slim shoulders and heavy breasts, lacking feet, comparatively large head, with thighs and legs shortened, yet shaped realistically the black plain and with wrinkles near the arm pits. The slender arms put above the breasts and adorned with dented armlets. The face is omitted, without any trace of even being sketched. The slightly prone head presents parallel curls as a kind of complicated hair-dressing.

When the statuette was found it was covered with red paint that is still partially preserved and visible. This Venus is the creation of a skillfull artist´s hand, accenting all body details that have been considered essential. A remarkable amount of similar finds at other places indicate the existence of a highly developed art tradition represented by mor than 100 samples of such statuettes, mostly worked from stone and ivory, distributed from the West (France, Italy) over Middle Europe to Siberia.

Their common main features are: omitted Face, thus making them unpersonal looking symbols, tapering legs to make them apt for being stuck in the soil, the femal traits realistically presented, other parts of the body reduced to a minimum.

The excavators found our Venus statuettestill lying within the borders of a dwelling spot, the remnants of the palaeolithic man´s shelter.

This circumstance enables the scientists to trace up something of the spiritual essence of our statuette: it was a symbol of fertility, possibly worshipped as a kind of ancestor image that should preserve the families´ existence and confer hunting success upon them.