World History Chronology

Evolution of Hominids

Foraging Societies

Settled Agriculture

Primary Urbanization

Classical Empires

Unification of Eurasia

Unification of the Hemispheres

Formation of World Culture

2003 David Koeller.  All rights reserved.

The Woman of Willendorf

30,000 to 25,000 BC

Woman of WillendorfThe 'Venus of Willendorf' is the name that was given to a female figurine that was found in 1908 by an archeologist named Joseph Szombathy in a Aurignacian loess deposit near the town of Willendorf in Austria. It is now in the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna. The statue was carved from oolitic limestone and was colored with red orche. It measures 110 mm in height and is dated 30,000 and 25,000 BC

This statue is an important icon of prehistory. Archeologists have suggested many different ways of understanding its significance for the nomadic society which made it. The first suggestion is that it was a "Venus figure" or "Goddess," used as a symbol of fertility. Apart from being female, the statue has an enlarged stomach and breasts, its pubic area is greatly emphasized, probably serving as a representative of procreativity, and the red ochre pigment covering it has been thought to symbolize or serve as menstrual blood seen as a life giving agent. The second suggestion is that the figurine may have served as a good luck charm. Its diminutive size led archaeologists to assume that it may have been carried by the men during their hunting missions in which it served not only as a reminder of their mate back at home but also as a charm to bring them success in their hunting. This is further strengthened by the facelessness of the figurine giving it an air of mystery and anonymity which suggests that it may have been of more importance as an object rather than as a person. Also, the figurine's hair is braided in seven concentric circles, seven in later times being regarded as a magic number used to bring about good luck. A third possible significance put forth is that of the figurine serving as a mother goddess (earth mother or female deity). This comes from a suggestion that the statue was a woman whose specialness was indicated in her obesity since women in a hunter gatherer society would probably not have had the opportunity to get as obese.

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With all the suggestions that have been put forward about the significance of the sculpture, tentative conclusions can be made about the social, political and religious beliefs of the foraging society in which it was found. The use of the figurine as a deity suggests the practice of religious ceremonies to ensure the success of the tribe. As an earth goddess, it may have played the role of ensuring a continuous supply of food in the society. Along with this comes a possible belief in magic if the figurine was intended to ensure hunting success. Politically, it can be speculated that women due to their nurturing capabilities might have had an esteem role in the society. The society may have thus been more matriarchal rather than patriarchal as suggested by Jacob Bachojen (1815-1887), "Matriachate or gynaecocracy found among tribal peoples, where authority in both the family and the tribe was in the hands of the women, was to be associated with the worship of a supreme female earth deity" (Witcombe).

 


Bibliography:

Hahn, Joachim. The Dictionary of Art, V.33. Mcmillan Publishers: (New York, 1996).

Matthews, Roy T. & F. Dewitt Platt. The Western Humanities. Mayfield publishing company: (Mountain View,California, London, Toronto, 1995).

Tattersall, Ian. Encyclopedia of Human Evolution and Prehistory. Gerland Publishing: (New York & London, 1988).

Witcombe, Christopher L.C.E. Stone Age Women: "The Venus of Willendorf". Internet Source: http://www.dean.sbc.edu/witcombe.html

Text copyright 1996-9 by David W. Koeller. All rights reserved.