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The Hohle Fels Venus
May 13, 2009 4:24 PM   Subscribe


 
That's hawt.
posted by fatbird at 4:34 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Very cool!!! I love it when we find things that completely obliterate what we previously believed. Archaeology is awesome.
posted by headspace at 4:36 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


A 35,000-year-old prehistoric sculpture of an exaggerated female form found in Germany could be mankind's earliest artistic attempt to represent itself.

Fail.
posted by Sova at 4:38 PM on May 13, 2009 [15 favorites]


Although, I should say that I'm continually impressed by the way that ancient artists depicted women's bodies. It's so fundamentally different to what we're used to in modern Western culture.
posted by Sova at 4:41 PM on May 13, 2009


The "prehistoric pin-up" title made me wince, but the full video is really fascinating.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:43 PM on May 13, 2009


"Bloated" belly and thighs? That seems a bit unkind, Mr. Mellars. I bet the sculptor would have have chosen much more respectful and appreciative words.
posted by edheil at 4:43 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yes, this is cool, really cool. The best part of finding earlier and earlier stuff is that the likely hood of that object, or tool, or whatever being the truly first of its kind is exceedingly small. That means somebody, years, centuries, maybe millennia before this figure was carved, was working on his version of a similar thing, and it was never completed or hasn't been found, or is forever lost.

I have no real evidence, but I'll stake a claim that this isn't the first Venus figure, not by far.
posted by Science! at 4:44 PM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


The artist was clearly hungry for chicken.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 4:46 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Rice rack!
posted by Liquidwolf at 4:46 PM on May 13, 2009


In other news archaeology news: Stone Age Superglue Found
posted by homunculus at 4:48 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


"...that by twenty-first-century standards could be seen as bordering on the pornographic."


Meh. By 21st century standards pretty much everything feminine is seen as borderline pornographic.
posted by monospace at 4:51 PM on May 13, 2009 [13 favorites]


The Hohle Fels Venus predates the famous Gravettian Venuses by more than 5,000 years, blowing apart suggestions that it was that era that developed three-dimensional female idols.

Early man's 2-dimensional artwork wasn't half bad either (official flash-based website for for the Cave of Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc here).

Very cool post, btw.
posted by kisch mokusch at 5:02 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I guess this is okay if you're just getting into ancient sculpure. But the sinew-only bootlegs from 35,020 years ago were their best work in my opinion. Heh, man, I haven't looked at this stuff since junior high.
posted by No-sword at 5:04 PM on May 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


monospace: By 21st century standards pretty much everything feminine is seen as borderline pornographic.

Is that a commentary on the American propensity to "hide the kids" whenever any hint of nudity is suggested, or a criticism of the tendencies to cry "objectification?"
posted by Doofus Magoo at 5:05 PM on May 13, 2009


35,000 years ago she was about loving, nurturing and procreating. Today she is about having fun. It's way too easy to procreate these days. I must say that I appreciate her in her original form.
posted by snsranch at 5:14 PM on May 13, 2009


Ah, the perfect post: Art, megafauna, and naked women.
posted by lekvar at 5:18 PM on May 13, 2009 [9 favorites]


Is that a commentary on the American propensity to "hide the kids" whenever any hint of nudity is suggested, or a criticism of the tendencies to cry "objectification?"

Both. They are extensions of the same puritanical nonsense.
posted by tkchrist at 5:22 PM on May 13, 2009


Actually, I'm going to amend that to be a little less flip; This is a great post, and a fascinating subject from a number of different angles. Primarily, my little brian is boggled by the notion of human-made art that actually incorporates mammoth tusk. The tuskyness makes this very interesting piece of art/history/archaeology into something super-awesome to this particular art/archaeology geek. The only thing I can think of that would be cooler would be a Venus carved of Iguanodon femur, but I'm not going to hold my breath for that one.
posted by lekvar at 5:24 PM on May 13, 2009


what's the 75,000 year old stuff mentioned?
posted by geos at 5:25 PM on May 13, 2009


35,000 years ago women looked exactly like roast turkeys. Who knew?
posted by Captain Cardanthian! at 5:27 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Doesn't this push it back just far enough that this one theoretically could have been made by a Neanderthal instead of us Homo sapiens sapiens?
posted by XMLicious at 5:29 PM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


SEE!? IT'S IN OUR GENES, GODDAMIT.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:48 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


"35,000 years ago she was about loving, nurturing and procreating. Today she is about having fun. It's way too easy to procreate these days. I must say that I appreciate her in her original form."

Yeah the good old days, hunger, famine, hardly any knowledge of ourselves or the world; Short brutish lives. You had to have a dozen kids, and you had to start having them at 14, because half or more of them would die young and it was a good bet that you'd be dead by 30. Yeah those days were great.

Easy procreation, good health, leisure time, these things are so overrated.
posted by oddman at 5:55 PM on May 13, 2009 [8 favorites]


"And the figure is explicitly — and blatantly — that of a woman," he says, "with an exaggeration of sexual characteristics (large, projecting breasts, a greatly enlarged and explicit vulva, and bloated belly and thighs) that by twenty-first-century standards could be seen as bordering on the pornographic."

Doesn't this sound and look more like a representation of a pregnant woman near term than a conventional modern object of desire?
posted by jamjam at 6:20 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Doesn't this sound and look more like a representation of a pregnant woman near term than a conventional modern object of desire?

Assuming it can't be both.


...what?
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:26 PM on May 13, 2009


HURF DURF MAMMOTH EATER
posted by Ian A.T. at 6:29 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Too bad she's not wearing a hat.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:35 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Fat chicks are hot! What's wrong with modern civilization that we've forgetten this?
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:42 PM on May 13, 2009


No clit?
posted by orthogonality at 6:43 PM on May 13, 2009


Thank god I just shorted my Venus of Willendorf shares.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:46 PM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Doesn't this push it back just far enough that this one theoretically could have been made by a Neanderthal instead of us Homo sapiens sapiens?

Both these and the Gravettian Venuses fall within the possible survival period for Neanderthals (up to 24,000 years ago, according to Wikipedia).

Alsol, the article implies they were made by homo sapiens:
The pieces of the Swabian figurine "were recovered in association with characteristic stone, bone and ivory tools belonging to a period, the Aurignacian, that represents the earliest settlement of Europe by fully anatomically and genetically modern human populations...
posted by yath at 6:51 PM on May 13, 2009


Yeah the good old days, hunger, famine, hardly any knowledge of ourselves or the world; Short brutish lives. You had to have a dozen kids, and you had to start having them at 14, because half or more of them would die young and it was a good bet that you'd be dead by 30. Yeah those days were great.

Easy procreation, good health, leisure time, these things are so overrated.


While I'm just as enthralled by our modern society as the next man, I would point out that many traditional hunter-gatherer societies show high levels of health, happiness, and leisure time, as well as deep familial bonds and powerful, highly adaptive beliefs which equip them to thrive in their environment.

For the kind of persistent dysfunction you're referring to, look to urbanized agricultural societies with long lasting rigid hierarchies.

Ice age peoples were (possibly) just as happy and prosperous as many latter-day hunter gatherers have been.

-
posted by General Tonic at 7:00 PM on May 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


(she has little stretchmarks!! Awwww)

I wonder why she (like the Venus of Willendorf) has no face? Was the sculpture a teaching tool? Symbolic magic? Paleolithic hurf durf? or some taboo against putting faces or eyes on representations of people?
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:01 PM on May 13, 2009


I wonder why she (like the Venus of Willendorf) has no face? Was the sculpture a teaching tool? Symbolic magic? Paleolithic hurf durf? or some taboo against putting faces or eyes on representations of people?

Figures like these turn up and people with backgrounds in anthropology or archaeology always speculate about the possible symbolic significance of various features. But I can tell you, because I have made a study of neanderthal psychology, that this object is undoubtedly an example of neanderthal porn.

My study of neanderthal psychology consisted of hanging out with drunken male college freshmen. Believe me, if any one of these lunkheads figured out how to sculpt the first thing they would make would be the body of a desirable naked woman. It's not unreasonable to extrapolate this observation backwards in time 35,000 years. So I can tell you, based on my studies, that the reason she had no face is that they really didn't care about that part at all.

I've been petitioning at the local university to start a class on prehistoric pornography, but so far without luck.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:16 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


"While I'm just as enthralled by our modern society as the next man, I would point out that many traditional hunter-gatherer societies show high levels of health, happiness, and leisure time, as well as deep familial bonds and powerful, highly adaptive beliefs which equip them to thrive in their environment."

And high rates of murder, rape, and alleged pig-stealing.
posted by klangklangston at 7:20 PM on May 13, 2009


Half the Human Race Has Eyes without a Face
posted by celerystick at 7:24 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


And high rates of murder, rape, and alleged pig-stealing.

Granted.

But it could be worse.
posted by General Tonic at 7:24 PM on May 13, 2009


The pornography angle kind of pisses me off, not because there couldn't have been ancient porn, but because of the assumption that a figure of a naked woman must be an object for using, not worshipping, to whoever creates her.

What if she was carved by a woman, and/or used as a fertility charm? Or as a charm against death and suffering during childbirth? That seems a much more obvious explanation to me than "they loved them some fat chicks back then."

Much more recently...and explicitly...we have sheila-na-gigs, for example.
posted by emjaybee at 7:26 PM on May 13, 2009 [8 favorites]


Note: the female figure was carved from a mammoth's tusk, and not from a man's rib.

Once again, Christianity is trumped by Science!
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:11 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wrong: Caveman bones, cave paintings and artefacts were put there by the Devil to trick people into thinking the first people were not a pair of blonde Caucasians with svelte physiques.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:16 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


...whose descendents became typically dark & swarthy Levantine types. Not through evolution, mind you, but because of the healthy tanning & hair-darkening effects of the God-given Mediterranean sunshine.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:20 PM on May 13, 2009


You see, everyone? Ubu gets it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:22 PM on May 13, 2009


How much of this is just our attempt to justify the maxim that porn made the internet successful? I don't know, but I imagine that the nakedness taboos 35000 years ago are as alien to us as their language would be. That statue would have a very different meaning to the people of the time than anything we can probably imagine.
posted by SkinnerSan at 8:27 PM on May 13, 2009


Paleolithic Porn.
posted by homunculus at 8:42 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


And high rates of murder, rape, and alleged pig-stealing.

I think pig stealing was another crime that had to wait for the development of agriculture.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:56 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


You've got to admit that the vast majority of people would rather search for "sex" than anything else.

Especially over a weekend, apparently.

Why would things have been different 35,000 years ago?
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:01 PM on May 13, 2009


That statue would have a very different meaning to the people of the time than anything we can probably imagine.

It's possible it's something we can't imagine, but on the other hand if I had a time machine I would bet you bailouts that they used to fap back in the day.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:15 PM on May 13, 2009


I don't know, but I imagine that the nakedness taboos 35000 years ago are as alien to us as their language would be. That statue would have a very different meaning to the people of the time than anything we can probably imagine.

You've got to admit that the vast majority of people would rather search for "sex" than anything else. Why would things have been different 35,000 years ago?


I read an argument once that people that ancient probably had no understanding of the causation between sex & pregnancy. Nakedness & bonobo-like sex might have been par for the course, but a woman suddenly expanding & bringing forth new life was regarded as a great mystery with no rational explanation. Hence, the prevalence of these ancient "fertility goddess" figures.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:16 PM on May 13, 2009


because of the assumption that a figure of a naked woman must be an object for using, not worshipping, to whoever creates her.

This is what made The Wrestler a really great movie.
posted by Chuckles at 9:41 PM on May 13, 2009


... Nakedness & bonobo-like sex might have been par for the course, but a woman suddenly expanding & bringing forth new life was regarded as a great mystery with no rational explanation. Hence, the prevalence of these ancient "fertility goddess" figures.

They're always "fertility goddess" figures, aren't they?

There are a zillion "unexplained miracles" we experience every day that haven't been commemorated in prehistoric sculpture. It's absurd to me to ascribe these lofty spiritual motives to every object produced tens of thousands of years ago and pretend that the "baser instincts" had nothing to do with the production of these objects, when "baser instincts" so obviously produce so many artistic objects in the present day. I can only blame the prudish sensibility of academia for not acknowledging the possibility of neanderthal porn.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:31 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Pornography is a reaction to the shaming of nudity and sexuality. Paleolithic people probably felt little shame in being naked or having sex. The shape of the figurine - the large, forward-pointing breasts, the absurdly pronounced vulva, the wide hips - could indicate a fertility symbol. That's of course not a definitive interprettation, but it's difficult to imagine that people who probably had few if any taboos about the exposure of the human body would create a nearly abstract representation of a nude for titillation purposes.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:46 PM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


They're always "fertility goddess" figures, aren't they?

No, they're not.

Well, okay, maybe if you're reading the popular science accounts and not the primary literature. Current archaeological thought on ancient figures is going through some awesome stages of heavy research, theorizing and study. The field is far beyond what most laypeople know about it. Disclaimer: I'm an archaeologist. I read the articles about these, and I've worked with people doing research on them.

If you want a really good look on the latest research on Palaeolithic figurines -- and it'll show you that "lofty spiritual motives" are far from the first thing in mind with the people who actually dig these things up and spend their lives looking at them -- go get yourself to scholar.google.com and get some articles by Soffer. She's doing the cutting-edge work on these things. If you can't get access, drop me a MeFi mail, and we'll see what we can do. It's an interesting time to be reading about the archaeology of deep time!
posted by barnacles at 10:51 PM on May 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


Somewhere Jean Auel is thinking "So, one is vindicated".
posted by padraigin at 10:54 PM on May 13, 2009


Pornography is a reaction to the shaming of nudity and sexuality

Well, what I meant by "porn" had more to do with the creation of artificial objects of lust. I don't think that's necessarily a "bad" or "dirty" thing.

go get yourself to scholar.google.com and get some articles by Soffer

Doing that now. Thanks!
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:56 PM on May 13, 2009


The "prehistoric pin-up" title made me wince

Apparently when the male warriors would go on extended forays against enemy tribes they would pin these things up on their - what we today might call - 'lockers'

The pin, itself, hadn't been invented yet, but they were able to fashion a sort of Stone Age Super Glue

--

:D
posted by jfrancis at 10:57 PM on May 13, 2009


You know what? The miniscule "head" nobule on top reminds me of what Barbie's neck looks like when you take her head off. I wonder if it's not supposed to be the head at all, but is instead an attachment for a removable head made from a fruit or nut or something that wouldn't last as long as the stone body.
posted by annathea at 11:04 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Here's a link to Soffer, Adovasio and Hyland's "The 'Venus' Figurines".
posted by Wolof at 11:36 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think pregnancy would be considered an unexplained miracle by prehistoric people. They were intense observers of their environment, and it doesn't take much to figure out that pregnancy follows from humping.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:53 PM on May 13, 2009


I don't think pregnancy would be considered an unexplained miracle by prehistoric people

Here's an example in which pregnancy is considered to be unrelated to coitus.

Oh, and there is never no explanation of pregnancy. Incorrect explanation, yes, but no explanation, never.
posted by Wolof at 12:11 AM on May 14, 2009


"Unrelated" was a poor word choice. But I think we can see here that a different causal principle is in operation here.
posted by Wolof at 12:15 AM on May 14, 2009


*shoots self*
posted by Wolof at 12:16 AM on May 14, 2009


Venus of Willendorf was way hotter.
posted by Hickeystudio at 12:20 AM on May 14, 2009


The figure could have been made for any of a vast variety of reasons. It depicts a female, immensely fat, probably pregnant, probably homo sapiens, but it having anything to do with fertility and motherhood or sexual desire is at best a likely guess. We don't even know where in the original owner's home environment it would have been placed. If it was put in a cradle, it probably has a dramatically different function than if it sat atop a grave, or being with food preparation materials, or in a warrior's belongings, or in a bed shared by a couple.

I think it's probably most important that she is a woman, secondarily that she is fertile, and thirdly that she is fat, unusually so even by our standards, far more so by the standards of a society where all food must be locally hunted or grown. Random guesses: It could have been made by a pregnant woman, as a physical manifestation of an animistic prayer for her child's safe birth. It could represent an idealization of a real individual woman, or character in a story, who was venerated (or reviled, or just neutrally known) for the extremely unusual characteristic of her obesity - a pinup of a kind more akin to a poster than a centrefold. It could be an evil or good spirit; these are often depicted by those human cultures which depict spirit entities with exaggerated characteristics that normal humans have to a lesser degree. It could represent a member of a mother/shaman spiritual caste with a religious duty to become fat. It could be a "sin doll", made by a woman who felt herself to be too fat, the doll to be ritually punished in the hopes that her own fat would go away (which is no sillier than a lot of modern weight-loss practices, and if believed in, could well have worked); or the reverse, made by a woman who felt herself too thin, hoping the doll's influence would cause her to put on weight. Given the likely correlation between obesity and wealth, it could be a wealth idol, the prehistoric equivalent of a 401K. It could be a child's toy; consider how people of other cultures and times could interpret the immense muscularity of a He-Man figurine from the 1980's, spinning all kinds of wild tales about its makers' veneration of masculine strength.

Archaeologists will be able to put reasonable probabilities to these and other theories, but we're very unlikely to ever know for sure what she was for.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:02 AM on May 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


“The figure is explicitly — and blatantly — that of a woman.”

Talk about biases. It looks like a roast chicken to me. Maybe they just got a bad photo for the article, but it does not look explicitly to be that of a woman from the picture.
posted by explosion at 3:33 AM on May 14, 2009


Quite apart form its age you have to respect a piece of art where the initial step in the creation recipe has to have been "First kill a mammoth".
posted by rongorongo at 4:32 AM on May 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


It looks like a roast chicken to me.

Um, what kind of chickens do you have? Is it like the Chicken Ranch?
posted by RussHy at 4:47 AM on May 14, 2009


She's got it! Yeah baby she's got it!
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 5:23 AM on May 14, 2009


She's like a prehistoric favourited comment. We'll never know if it's because it's witty, pithy, funny or insightful; if it's an endorsement or a wayfinder. It just is.

Like Birds. What are they for? We just don't know.
posted by davemee at 5:44 AM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pornography is a reaction to the shaming of nudity and sexuality.

So, are you are saying that if our culture had no shame over nudity and sexuality, that there would be nobody left who go off watching people fuck, suck and all the other sex acts that 1 or more people can engage in?

That seems like a pretty extraordinary claim. Got any extraordinary proof?
posted by Irontom at 6:18 AM on May 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry, but the first association that occurred to me when I saw the pictures depicting this carving was one of the more disturbing cartoons shown in the documentary Crumb. (If you've seen the film, you'll know the one I mean.) I wonder if that means a 35,000-year-old Mr. Natural carving is out there somewhere...
posted by Creosote at 6:41 AM on May 14, 2009


The artist was channelling a 20th century commercial for Purdue Oven Stuffer chickens. It is a chicken with gigantic breasts. It was likely, therefore, a charm for attracting tasty birds. And, like modern man, the artist had been hypnotized by the commercial in to believing the breasts are actually the best part of the chicken. Rational people everywhere know, the legs and thighs are the best.

More seriously, it is an incredible find, and I wish people would stop calling it 'neanderthal', when the article strongly implies it was a homo sapiens artefact. Unless it was made by a neanderthal who had a thing for homo sapien women, depicting the smallness of the head in relation to neanderthals.
posted by Goofyy at 7:39 AM on May 14, 2009


How much of this is just our attempt to justify the maxim that porn made the internet successful?

"Sex times technology equals the future." -- J.G. Ballard (RIP)

Probably as true back then as it is now...
posted by newmoistness at 7:46 AM on May 14, 2009


So, are you are saying that if our culture had no shame over nudity and sexuality, that there would be nobody left who go off watching people fuck, suck and all the other sex acts that 1 or more people can engage in?

No, that's not at all what I'm saying. I imagine watching other people get it on, from afar, is as old as sex itself. What I said was I find it difficult to believe that a people who probably had little if any taboos about the naked form would create a highly stylized, nearly abstract nude figurine for the purposes of titillation.

But I'm not an anthropologist, and the closest I come to being one is owning Ringo Starr's Caveman on VHS.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:47 AM on May 14, 2009


Pornography is a reaction to the shaming of nudity and sexuality.

I think it's more likely the pornography is a reaction to finding oneself with the ability to create a portable representation of sex.
posted by smartyboots at 10:09 AM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


You mean like a desktop PC?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:19 AM on May 14, 2009


I imagine watching other people get it on, from afar, is as old as sex itself.

I've seen video of a juvenile bonobo masturbating while watching a couple of elders screwing.

-
posted by General Tonic at 11:39 AM on May 14, 2009


Post plz kthx.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:41 PM on May 14, 2009


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