Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Venus of Willendorf
The Venus of Willendorf, now known as the Woman of Willendorf, is a 11.1 cm (4 3/8 inches) high statuette of a female figure, discovered at a paleolithic site near Willendorf, Austria, in 1908 by archaeologist Josef Szombathy . It is carved from an oolitic limestone that is not local to the region, and tinted with red ochre.
As of 1990, upon a revised analysis of the stratigraphy of its site, it was estimated to have been carved 22,000 to 24,000 years ago. Very little is known about its origin, method of creation, or cultural significance.
The Venus has a very interesting shape. It seems to be a depiction of a very heavy woman, with rolls of fat, but very thin arms resting on her enormous full breasts. Her vulva is very pronounced. She has no visible face, her head being covered with what might be coils of braids, eyes, or a kind of headdress. "The ironic identification of these figurines as "Venus" pleasantly satisfied certain assumptions at the time about the primitive, about women, and about taste," Christopher Witcombe has noticed (link).
The nickname, urging a comparison of this rather obese figurine to the classical image of "Venus", causes resistance in some modern analysis, while at the same time there is professional reluctance to identify her as an Earth Mother goddess of paleolithic Old Europe. Some suggest that her corpulence would represent high status in a hunter-gatherer society, and that beside her obvious fertility she could be an emblem of security and success.
The statue's feet are not shaped in a way which would allow it to stand on its own. Due to this it has been speculated that it was meant to be held, rather than simply looked at. Rather than an icon of a Mother Goddess some archaeologists have called it merely a good-luck charm. Others have raised the possibility that it was designed to be inserted vaginally, perhaps as a fertility charm.
Since this figure's discovery and naming, several similar statuettes and other forms of art have been discovered. They are collectively referred to as Venus figurines.
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