May 14, 2009

"With its outsize bulbous breasts and hugely exaggerated genitalia..."

... and incredibly tiny head (or is it a loop so the headless figure can be worn as a pendant?):



It's the oldest depiction of the human figure — at least 35,000 years old.

84 comments:

Robert Cook said...

Looks like ancient Man--or men--were similar to many of today's specimens: they liked their women dumb and buxom!

Pogo said...

Why the claim, as always, that it was part of a fertility rite?

What proof is there?

Why not just "art"?

AlgonquinS said...

Uggh: "What ya doin Grog?"

Grog: "Art. In honor of the perfect woman."

Uggh: "What not put a set of knockers on her."

Grog: "Good idea. Why didn't I think of that."

goesh said...

Fertility, that's what I thought of, exagerated fertility, the hope that the tribe will flourish - easy to birth easy to suckle that charm....

Pogo said...

Mebbe just a 15-yr-old's neolithic porn, stashed under the cave dirt.

traditionalguy said...

Looks like we may all be descended from Italian women. I wonder about their hairstyles. Of course with Boobs like those, the men would gladly wait an hour for the women to do their hair. Or maybe it was like pin-ups or "nose art" in WW2, and the men used them to remember what they were fighting for?

knox said...

So, we used to look like chickens?

ricpic said...

Cave porn. Pogo beat me to it.

molly said...

What in the world was up with the New York Times article on this? Half of it was "ooh guys, I believe this figure might be ... naked." Are we children?

ElcubanitoKC said...

knox said...
So, we used to look like chickens?

8:11 AM
.

And there is the missing link, closer in time than we thought!

Bissage said...

That figurine looks like one of my kidney stones.

goesh said...

I think that nib on top was for attaching a string to hang around the neck during the mating and child birthing years and to hang from the rocks in the back of the cave so all the young males could gather around and masturbate, practical people I'm sure...

Pogo said...

Given the head on that totem, I'm guessing there were no mad math skillz.

John Althouse Cohen said...

What in the world was up with the New York Times article on this? Half of it was "ooh guys, I believe this figure might be ... naked." Are we children?

I don't see the problem, or anything weird about that article. Should the Times not have pointed out the blatant sexuality of this sculpture?

bagoh20 said...

35000 years of proof that men's obsessions are a natural integral part of our being. So let us enjoy them without criticism. Ladies indulge us and help us to explore our evolution-given true nature. Give us what we want or risk losing us for eternity...have a Bon Bon.

Pogo said...

Since when has blatant sexuality needed pointing out?

Isn't that what calling something "blatant" entails?

And why the 1950s-era anthropology postulating?

How do they know the carver wasn't gay?

Ron said...

Hey! Who put boobs on the thanksgiving turkey?

John Althouse Cohen said...

Since when has blatant sexuality needed pointing out?

Isn't that what calling something "blatant" entails?

If it's important, it should be pointed out in the Times. I don't want the news to have some kind of filter whereby obvious observations aren't made, so that we're only seeing nuances.

Anyway, it's part of the Times' style to point out the obvious. A bright 13-year-old who's never been interested in reading the newspaper before could start reading the NYT and would have a good shot at understanding it and learning something. This isn't the case for, say, Italy's La Repubblica. This makes NYT articles more democratic and less elitist than those in Italian newspapers.

Pogo said...

Rather than a Venus, the figure is more likely a topographical map of south-western Germany, where the item was found.

On it, one can clearly make out the neolothic divisions of property by the first area governor.

Sadly, the proto-Napoleon was clubbed over the head by Blog, who wanted to roam free and unfettered by the world's first bureaucrat.

"If it's important, it should be pointed out "Then their readers are just barely post-literate.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Then their readers are just barely post-literate.

No. It's often hard to stay focused on the obvious. It's often worth reminding ourselves of the obvious -- that doesn't make us idiots. Also, since some people are questioning the sexual significance of the sculpture (including in the comments on my blog post), maybe it's not so obvious.

chickenlittle said...

So, we used to look like chickens?

She is kinda hot in Bertha Butt sorta way. :-)

Pogo said...

"It's often worth reminding ourselves of the obvious -- that doesn't make us idiots. "

If you have to be reminded that that figure is sexual, you're too dumb to survive, even with the help of the NY Times.

John Althouse Cohen said...

I find it very interesting how much of a reaction there is against some of the reporting on this. I would have thought it'd be pretty uncontroversial to say that the figure is sexual, but apparently this is either so obviously true that it shouldn't be said, or so unsupported by evidence that there's no reason to think it's true.

k*thy said...

knox, you beat me to it.

ElcubanitoKC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ElcubanitoKC said...

John Althouse Cohen said...
I find it very interesting how much of a reaction there is against some of the reporting on this. I would have thought it'd be pretty uncontroversial to say that the figure is sexual, but apparently this is either so obviously true that it shouldn't be said, or so unsupported by evidence that there's no reason to think it's true.

9:22 AM
.

Do two comments deserve "much"?

I find that "much" more interesting.

Pogo said...

"I would have thought it'd be pretty uncontroversial to say that the figure is sexual"

It is so uncontroversial as to be moronic.

Hey, the NYT sez that the prehistoric gal with the giant bazooms is sexual.
Well, no shit.
It's like the whole article was cribbed from a National Geographic circa 1935.

EDH said...

With its outsize bulbous breasts and hugely exaggerated genitalia..."

... and incredibly tiny head.


Archaeological proof that the male patriarchy is responsible for body dysmorphia and eating disorders.

Trooper York said...

Even cave dudes know that plus size woman are hot.

Have a couple of cannoli's you skinny bitchs and you might get laid.

commenter said...

that's all i see is that klimt 'homaged' or plain out called on this in a seance and then copied this for "the kiss"

that or upside down (cause when it's hanging around your neck and you grab it to look at and wish yourself luck, you essentially turn it upside down) it is an animal with "my what big ears you have grandmother" the better to see you with, my dear son.

Jen said...

Cedarford?

former law student said...

This means the Venus of Willendorf is just a Johnny(Jilly?)-come-lately.

http://witcombe.sbc.edu/willendorf/willendorfdiscovery.html

rhhardin said...

The NYT is a little alarmed and ledes

The voluptuous woman depicted is, to say the least, earthier, with huge, projecting breasts and sexually explicit genitals.

Sexually explicit genitals is the audible laugh line.

Tibore said...

So, judging by the statuette, I guess it's safe to say that obesity is not only a modern problem, right?

:D

Synova said...

A fertility charm with religious significance (if I remember my "Art History" correctly.)

I'm guessing that it was made with two parts and the head was lost.

(If the head is simply not important, then why include arms or legs with the breasts, belly and genitalia?)

Pogo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
commenter said...

okay, who sees a huge stoney venus in this picture:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Deviated_septum_MRI.jpg

peter hoh said...

Is it just me, or does it look different when viewed from the side as in this photo?

Laura(southernxyl) said...

"EDH said...
With its outsize bulbous breasts and hugely exaggerated genitalia..."

... and incredibly tiny head.

Archaeological proof that the male patriarchy is responsible for body dysmorphia and eating disorders."

How do you know that the matriarchy didn't produce this venus?

molly said...

Sexually explicit genitals is the audible laugh line.
That's really all I was thinking. Though JAC makes a good point that it is important to point out the sexual context of the figurine to people who have never heard of, say, the Venus of Willendorf (who also doesn't have a face).

Also, I've only taken one anthro class in college but I think the small/nonexistent head has more to do with the fact that human art wasn't representative of individual people or faces for a very long time.

traditionalguy said...

The secret is to rub the figurine's curves while chanting the secret words and hope that the 4 hour rule doesn't trip you up. (I cannot divulge the secret words for your own protection) We could also re-name this figurine as from the Brutalist style of sexual challenges. That is a close neighbor to the Coyote Ugly style. I expect you all to say that sex is 90% in the mind, but my mind is to occupied with the figurine to think about that now!

Revenant said...

Can't it be both pornography AND the object of a fertility ritual? I don't see the sharp distinction between something meant to be sexually arousing (e.g., porn) and something meant to enhance fertility, considering that we're talking about a culture with no birth control.

cardeblu said...

I've always wondered what some far-distant future archeologist will think of my daughter's old buried cache of varyingly headless and/or limbless Barbies...

ElcubanitoKC said...

molly, I don't think it was because of some heightened sense of collectivism. It was probably the fact that they simply lacked the skills to realistically represent an individual facial features.

David said...

Looks like she was giving head for years and never got any back.

molly said...

Well, there were realistic clay figurines of animals being made at the same time. But you'd be better off asking someone who actually knows something about this stuff.

Methadras said...

It looks like some of the older ladies that live in my neighborhood. Egads.

ElcubanitoKC said...

Yes, molly, but no giraffe is going to make fun of you because the sculpture of it that you made does not look like him/her/it. Or in some cases, hunt you down with a spear because you made him look like his wife. Human face representation can be daunting, and requires skill and the proper tools. The Venus of Wildenorf has a head, but no face.

ElcubanitoKC said...

And I know a bit of the stuff. It's called history.

Beth said...

So, we used to look like chickens?Diogenes was lounging on the sidewalk against the outer wall of Plato's Academy, listening to the young philosophers therein trying to define and categorize humans. They finally settled on "featherless biped" so Diogenes plucked a chicken and threw it over the wall.

ElcubanitoKC said...

Excellent one, Beth!

Beth said...

That one stuck from my junior year in college, apparantly, EKC.

ElcubanitoKC said...

History or philosophy?

Cedarford said...

Anthroplogists have looked very hard on what sort of lifestyle Cro-Magnon man had and found it was a very hard life with intense wear and tear, injury. Injuries from warfare. Hardly the idyllic life of nibbling on fruits everywhere and being One and at Peace with nature - as certain Rousseau followers on the Left and in female ranks once liked to project on cavemen.

High fertility was absolutely vital to tribe success & survival. Women had to be bred until they were worn out or too old to breed. There was no "choice". We see the same in remnant present-day primitive societies.

Centered in Europe, these "Venus figurines" are considered very important. Because:

1. They spread like wildfire, showing up in Europe, the ME, across the Asian steppes, with examples showing up in India and China.

2. They are considered highly important to showing - along with cave paintings and other art - the start of human abstract thinking ability. A manifestation - along with improved language and thinking ability we can't validate by archaeology - of the "something happened!" brain mutation that occurred 35-40,000 years ago.

3. The Venus figurines are great evidence of not just a trade network existing of resources that ended up hundreds, even thousands of kilometers away from their origin in neolithic sites - but a neolithic economy in finished goods. We see French flint making it's way to sites in Syria, Mediterranian seashells in Cro-Magnon sites on the Steppes.
But the figurines are manifestation that art and other goods that didn't survive (finished plant fiber clothing, woodwork) was given a value and marketed to others - with necessary skills differentiation and adequate cognitive skills to market it, assign value to different "cavedweller" goods.

A fertility goddess would have great value. One tribe would tell another tribe that you take that Venus figurine and rub it on the belly of the tribal pincushion that had failed to deliver any young to the tribe...and was now talking about an exciting career in hide-chewing and living alone with her cats...and she would eventually get knocked up. When the pincushion eventually did - full credit to the Venus figurine and more value. If she didn't, she was likely deemed possessed by bad spirits and either outcast to die, or put at the end of line on who in the tribe was worth feeding...

http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/archaeology/artifacts/venusfigurines.html

Beth said...

Philosophy, EKC.

Cedarford said...

I'd add one thing to the discussion of the "small head". Other Venus figurines have no heads carved or the facial features are left blank. A few have little spikes or "nobbin spindles" instead of a head.

Curiously, this latter feature is emulated in modern doll manufacturing, where a variety of "custom heads" are manufactured separately than "snapped into place" on a common body.

It is possible that the tribal owners of one or a few "Venus figurines" might have crafted the head itself out of easier carved wood or molded clay to the features of the girl they wanted to grow big breasts or young woman they thought needed help getting pregnant - affixing the head to the nobbin spindle.

In trade goods, it might be better to have a generic fertility symbol - rather than one that has facial features and hairstyle that a distant tribe does not share.

Or, on the contrary side, it could be that neolithic man thought the facial features and head art utterly unimportant to the fertility traits thay wished to transfer from the object to their women..

John Lynch said...

So, women reduced to faceless sexual objects to be carried around. Isn't that the uncomfortable vibe we're getting off this?

It seems to me that any "fertility goddess" interpretation is just projecting our preference for an idyllic past onto something which on the face of it makes us uncomfortable. How do we know that it means any such thing? Isn't it objectifying women?

Why would a fertility goddess make sense to people who did not grow food? Hunter gatherers practice infanticide to keep their numbers down.

It doesn't compute. We're creating a narrative to explain it. People had a reason for making these, but we don't know why and should admit it.

Someone seeing a 20th century beer commercial might make the same fertility interpretation, given all the images of women combined with images of food and drink. Clearly, that's not what's happening.

I suspect that prehistoric life was just as nasty and male-dominated as modern humans tend to be, and that there needs to be a lot more evidence than a bunch of statues to prove otherwise.

Ann Althouse said...

Maybe the original head was made of something perishable, Mr. Potato Head style. Or molded clay. Maybe it wasn't that they were uninterested in the head but that they gave it special attention and used an easier-to-mold/carve material.

Cedarford said...

John Lynch - Why would a fertility goddess make sense to people who did not grow food? Hunter gatherers practice infanticide to keep their numbers down.

It doesn't compute. We're creating a narrative to explain it. People had a reason for making these, but we don't know why and should admit it.
.



Your argument breaks down on multiple levels.

1. Hunter-gatherers do not value fertility....

Profoundly wrong, as the Hobbesian point that live was once nasty, short, and brutish illustrates. And studies show - remnant hunter-gatherer societies highly value fertility to replace those lost early from accidents, untreated disease, warfare, and childbirth deaths.
Infanticide is to weed out the weak and defective. Surplus female babies. And on the other end, putting "useless mouth" grandma off on an ice flow or left behind for the wolves to finish off if they can't keep up with the tribe on a journey to new food supply.

2. We are creating a narrative to explain the past..but the past is unknowable..so it is pointless to study it.

Wrong. We confront mysteries of the past - hieroglyphics, Venus figurines, understanding a new theodont discovery, explaining the Sudbury Formation, layout of a 9,000 year old neolithic city in Turkey, a notched antler, Why Ur failed...and we try to understand them. Many we do solve. Others remain mysteries. Others have working theories and alternatives that are debated and discussed as new tools and techniques come into play.

ElcubanitoKC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ElcubanitoKC said...

Actually, (the sky must be falling!!) I agree with C4 on his last, and most of his first previous post.

As he said, life was not better, once upon a time. Life gets better. That is also part of evolution.

I do still think that our sculpting skills and tools became better over time, and that may explain the lack of facial features around this time. Take, for example, Greek sculpture from the 10th Century BC to the 4th, and you will see a very poignant and evident evolution of techniques, details, motifs, etc.

traditionalguy said...

The tribal guys here in the new world are supposed to have walked here from siberia ca 15000 years ago. When Europeans ran into them in 1500's the men were in charge of providing meat from hunts and war raids on other tribes. The women did all vegetables, raising and grinding and cooking.They shared some erection of shelter work after a move. The war raids were to steal women and children for tribal slaves and adoptions of young children, and for revenge. Strong male captives were REALLY tortured to death, ceremonially for several days with no mercy shown. A few weak males were kept as body servants to warriors. If males never had the courage to hunt and to fight they stayed with the women and wore women's clothes. Anyway the loss of numbers was tribal suicide and all plans were pointed to the addition of new members ASAP.

John Lynch said...

C4, you're not looking at real hunter-gatherers. You're looking at Hobbes, who lived in 17th century England. You're making a logical argument, not looking at facts. If you look at hunter gatherers that have been observed, they aren't into fertility. Infanticide was birth control. You can't carry two kids around very easily. People tended to space births 2 years apart, even if it meant killing one. Too many mouths to feed.

We know what we know about the past because we have evidence. The Egyptians left writing. Lots of people left buildings. We can infer a lot from evidence, but if there isn't much to go on the most honest thing to say is that we don't know.

For a statue from 35k years ago, what exactly can we tell about what it means without anyone to ask, or any other context?

It seems to me we can only look at more recent societies that might be similar, but we don't find fertility cults until Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilization. So, given that, why decide that it's about fertility?

madawaskan said...

ElcunbanitoKC-

Well that's how he works.

He goes into remission, or retrogrades.

Have you seen his post on the thread right below here?

Insidious.

ElcubanitoKC said...

Indeed

madawaskan said...

man I did some lame-o retort the dude wears me out.

commenter said...

"useless mouth" grandma

would just ask

where's the feet?

why have hands carved into it and absolutely no feet.

I think it could be something to tie to a fish line to bring luck to the catch.

hooker, lies, and sinker

this thing could be anything

How many native american tribes have human shapes as carvings. When photography came around didn't they even fear their soul being stolen if someone took their picture.

rhhardin said...

the fact that human art wasn't representative of individual people or faces for a very long time.

They didn't do genitals very well either.

Not that it's easy. Paglia describes female genitals as ``architecturally chaotic.''

A guy at work, back when anatomically correct dolls was a topic of public debate as to enlightenment, suggested anatomically incorrect dolls as a practical joke, so the little kids learn the wrong things.

commenter said...

it's from when the French occupied germany so long ago and it's obviouly a frog.

frog legs for dinner tonight

rhhardin said...

Stanley Cavell, p.411-412

I do not think, whenever I look upon, or think of, the naked human body, ``How right it is that the parts and features of the body are all just where they are!'' I may of course from time to time be struck by this fact. I may also from time to time be struck not by the rightness but by the dumb fortune, or irony, of certain placements of the parts and features of the body, as Yeats was, for example, by love's having pitched its mansion in the pace of excrement...Certainly any changes I can dream up in the arrangement strike me as quite insane. It is so human a fortune. Not the fact of it is so human; the fact is shared by other animals. What is so human is that we share the fact with other animals, that animals are also our others. That we are animals. Being struck by this is something one might call ``seeing us as human.''

ElcubanitoKC said...

madawaskan said...
man I did some lame-o retort the dude wears me out.

4:53 PM
.

I know the feeling

Cedarford said...

commentor - why have hands carved into it and absolutely no feet.

I think it could be something to tie to a fish line to bring luck to the catch.

hooker, lies, and sinker

this thing could be anything
.

No, because the Venus figurines have widespread diffusion across Cro-Magnon culture, from Portugal to Kahzakstan and northern India.

You do not have one object in isolation.

And similar fertility goddesses with the same exaggerated features were prevelant in bronze age Asian and European cultures as well as more contemporaru stone age cultures in remote areas that were contemporary enough to become part of recorded history.
=====================
John Lynch - John Lynch said...
C4, you're not looking at real hunter-gatherers. You're looking at Hobbes, who lived in 17th century England. You're making a logical argument, not looking at facts.
NO, you miss Hobbes point. He was not writing about his own time, but on the philosophical Basis of State - how it arose and why it arose in ancient times from more primitive barbaric societies.

And the facts are that with high child mortality, discards of defective babies, high rates of accident and warfare, death of young women in childbirth before they churn out appropriate numbers- demographers estimate that ancient tribes needed between 3.8 and 5.1 children per woman to just sustain their numbers.

Hence the importance cultures analogous to Cro-Magnon have placed on fertility.

commenter said...

so from 35000 hf goddess to the 24000 willendorf goddess nothing changed for these people. life may have been slow, but i can't believe that art stayed so the same.

I think there is some reverse polish narration going on here. The willendorfers could be interpretation of whatever they found.

but i'm just guessing because i honestly believe there was more to ancient life than just reproducing. I want a sidhartha ascetic in my cromagnon story. so somebody, some art history person, please manufacture that narrative. The pubic triangle thing gets so boring in art history books.

ElcubanitoKC said...

commenter, yes, human evolution was slow for most of our existence. Diet, environment, among many other factors made it so.

commenter said...

well obviously if the women were that size? how in the heck did they run away from the mammoths with those boobs and no sport bras?

and the guys not get trampled when they stopped and stared if it was all about fertility?

commenter said...

maybe they were eating too many fiddleheads.

You think they were immune to beriberi back then or that thiamine stuff is an evolutionary need of humans??

commenter said...

Just one more question about evolution from the academics.

We've seen apes acquiring language skills.their minds must be expanding. They still don't walk all the way upright, yet, so physically:

As concern for male apes, when do the female apes start to acquire boobs like that figure?

ElcubanitoKC said...

When they can pay for them.

commenter said...

in bananas? no phallic representational art applied

for





(in bed)

ElcubanitoKC said...

No, in cold hard cash earned as Simian translators and interpreters.

Clyde said...

Let me postulate an alternative theory: The statuette was a magical talisman. We know that a lot of the cave art at the time was drawings of game animals, as if drawing them on the cave walls might make it easier to kill the game. Similarly, wearing an amulet of a voluptuous woman around one's neck might magically increase the wearer's chances of getting laid. It's a known principle of magic in primitive societies: Like draws to like.This would explain both the lack of a head on the statuette and the amount of time and energy the artist expended to create it.

commenter said...

I am still going with the fishing weight theory and not the amulet. i refuse to call this thing a venus as the greek name isn't doing anything justice.

as to the no feet, i have revised this into a mermaid. "murmuring rock" And seeing this stuff all could be around widened rivers of the rhine and danube and lakes formed in glacial periods, i am guessing murmuring rock is a fine name for the lorelei tradition. All other assigned lore lies still.

My very unprofessional, romantic version of very lonely men on a sea.

Now most of you can go back to arguing and poking political fun, while the few go back to aiding men how to fish. Haven't women always adorned ships.

PS Elizabeth swain, i hear a calling from captain sparrow, the other borderline patient.

Brandy was a fine girl, too.

commenter said...

not only that,

to shamelessly promote myself and Bob Dylan and my photographic skills set to music I could also refer you to my Spirit of the Water video. Or more heartfelt shilling, just visit the Indiana University campus sometime in the summer and view the fountain in front of the SOFA gallery and Lilly Library. You will not be disappointed if you are driving across the midwest and need a day stop. I guarantee that.The huge pornographic libraries are in glass boxes or so I've heard.

Pissed Off Hillbilly said...

It looks basically like every fat chick I've ever seen.