The Paleolithic Venuses

Venus of Willendorf (venus.gif-94x172)


The Paleolithic Venuses



     by Akira Kato     

   August 15, 2002


Who are they?

What are they?


More than sixty of the so-called Venus figurines have been found.

Most of them showed up in eastern Central Europe but a few in France and a few in the Ukraine and Siberia.
Made more than twenty thousand years ago from mammoth ivory, soft stone, or clay mixed with ash and then baked, they usually turn out small—no more than four or five inches high—and, with two exceptions that remain incomplete in any case, the artist had no attempt to portray the face.

Was the “Venus figurine” an early fertility goddess? Or was she the Fat Lady in some Paleolithic fairground?
Or was she a high priestess?
Was the figurine an amulet or a toy for kids?

30,000-year-old Venus of Monpazier (160x464)


30,000-year-old Venus of Monpazier

A Bushman woman (214x371)

A modern Bushman woman

Wanna know more about a steatopygia (“fat bottom”)?


If you take a look at the above venus of Monpazier, you might think that this figurine has extremely exaggerated abdomen and buttocks.
But, in those remote days, women appeared fat with a sticking-out bottom and a slightly protruding abdomen as you find in other figurines on this page.

Even today, in some parts of Africa, you might be able to meet some women with the shape of the Monpazier venus as shown above.

A black woman carrying her baby on the buttocks. (hotten2b.jpg--160x464)


And you can easily understand why the buttocks stick out like that if you take a look at the picture at right.

In the Paleolithic days, gathering food must be a crucial task for women and men.
If she had a number of children, she would have to carry her baby somehow.
The shape of her buttocks apparently helped her carry her baby while gathering some food.

One historian wrote fifty years ago, “The Venuses are sculptures of feminine form with the maternal parts grossly exaggerated.”

So, laymen naturally think that those figurines might have come out of imagination.

Even today, however, some scientists take more or less the same view—exaggeration based on imaguination.

The current opinions of other archaeologists and scholars are as follows:

  1. The emphasis in these figures is “undeniably sexual” (Grahame Clark).

  2. “Never did sexuality play such a small part in the representation of the female figure.&#8221 (René Nougier).

  3. The Venus figure is “a magical invocation of fertility” (Walter Torbrügge).

  4. The figurines must be viewed in the symbolic context of cave art, which is fundamentally religious (school of André Leroi-Gourhan).

  5. “It is safe to reject any belief that they have religious significance.” (Charles Seltman)

Some focus on sexuality and others, on religion, and yet others on fertility.

To avoid a sexist view, however, the scientists seem to avoid the idea that the Paleolithic male artist, already expert at producing two-dimensional pictures of wild animals, might simply have tried his hand at creation of a female figurine for his pleasure, using a model who could be persuaded to stand still while he worked.

Venus of Lespugue(161x364)


Venus of Lespugue

Carved from a mammoth tusk.
Size: 5 3/4 inches

25,000-18,000 BC
found in 1922 in the Rideaux cave of Lespugue (Haute-Garonne) in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

The front view below was made from the reproduced figurine because the breasts have been deteriorated since the discovery.

Willendorf Venus (100x157)


   Willendorf Venus

    (in Austria)

Besides, the argument against accepting the figurines as pictures of real people seems to have its roots in an instinctive revulsion against the unpleasant physical shape they represent.

One scholar observed, “Sex life in the Paleolithic period must have been quite unerotic, for this Venus from Willendorf, in Austria, was no more than a lump of fat.”

However, the above view solely comes out of the modern way of looking at women.
We tend to consider a “fat” woman to be aesthetically undesirable.

The modern eye—conditioned by the Western culture and the Victorian beauty-creator, corsets—recognizes a family resemblance between the pendulous breasts and stomachs of the Venus statuettes and those of women in the African tribal societies today.

On the contrary, if every woman had possessed sticking-out buttocks and pendulous breasts, the artist might have regarded Miss Universe of the present day as quite ugly and hence undesirable.

Those fat Venuses prevailed at a period when—because of the genetic time lag—the human figure had probably not yet adapted to the milder climate resulting from the retreat of the ice sheets.

Recorded history shows that people who live in a cold climate often develop a layer of fat—sometimes by a protracted process of inheritance.

A caricatured cave art (346x353)


The above caricatured cave art is obviously influenced by the today’s concept of female beauty.
To see the Paleolithic way to paint the “Playmate of the Month”, please move your mouse over the picture.

Therefore, in those prehistoric days, the modern Western arrogance hardly influenced the Paleolithic minds.
Nobody can rule out the possibility that those fat figurines could become the Paleolithic prototype of the Playmate of the Month.

However, the above argument seems somewhat pointless because the Bushman

people live in the tropical region in Africa. Despite the hot climate, the women still retain the fat deposit. Therefore, it does not explain why the Bushman woman in the near-topmost picture needs so much fat deposit in her body.

And, again, the reasonable explanation might be that this peculiar shape helped her carry a baby.

A more convincing explanation is that, since the brain of human beings was getting bigger, the woman’s pelvic region must have grown sufficiently large enough for her to deliver a baby safely—for both the baby and herself.
And women with smaller buttocks—hence, with her narrow pelvic bones—couldn’t make it and died out.
Natural selection took place in this regard.

Siberian venus found in Mal'ta (230x489)


Skinny venuses existed in the Paleolithic era as shown at right.

This figurine was found in Mal’ta, Siberia, as depicted in the map below.

This figurine dates to around 21,000 B.C. It is carved from the ivory of a mammoth—an extinct type of elephant highly prized in hunting that migrated in herds across the Ice Age tundra of Europe and Asia.

Map of Mal'ta (230x360)


Like most Paleolithic figurines, the image is carved in the round in a highly stylized manner.

Compared with others, however, this one appears quite skinny. And unlike others, it has distinctive facial features.

In general, the majority of the figurines have fairly big buttocks, and this fact probably explains that women with narrow pelvic bones had died out in the long run. Therefore, not many skinny venuses have been found.

As you have probably noticed, the artists placed all the accent on the female sexual features of ample breasts and mons pubis as well as a bulging stomach and buttocks.

On the contrary, they put less work on, if not ignored, arms and lower legs, and even less work for the face. Most of the faces of those figurines remain blank or featureless.

Naturally, you may ask, “How come those figurines have no facial features?”

Why Faceless?


Facelessness, however, does not rule out portraiture. Realism turned out an essential element of the cave paintings.
And some archaeologists believe that those cave paintings exerted magical control over the animals painted so that the hunters could kill them with ease.

Therefore, the same principle might as well apply to those figurines. If the Paleolithic artists had depicted the facial features of the image, this act might have brought some danger to the sitter. So they might have intentionally left the facial features blank to avoid the disaster.

In any case the Venus figurines unequivocally suggest that the Paleolithic woman of Central Europe boasted a chubby, well-developed body, and yet suffered from relaxed breast and abdominal muscles, perhaps as a result of frequent pregnancies.

So, those figurines were

only portraiture.

And nothing else?


Authorities on prehistory, of course, attach more to these figures.
There are two main theories, one of which is currently less favored. This school insists that those figurines represent motherhood, combining maternity and the role of protectress into one concept.

Femme au renne (woman with reindeer) from Laugerie Basse (Dordogne) femmeaurenne.jpg--300x243


A Woman with reindeer

from Laugerie Basse (Dordogne) in France

The engraving on a shoulder blade shows a woman and a reindeer.
Her pubic triangle is clearly emphasized, though one can not see it in this position.


Some of the figures undoubtedly represent pregnant women.

However, one medical historian points out of a figure from Laugerie Basse in France that, while she “may indeed be expecting a happy event, she might have been suffering from an ovarian cyst”.

Viewed from a layman’s eye, she appears plainly pregnant.

In any case, what matters is not what the artist was representing, but what he thought he was representing.

The main argument against the mother-protectress idea is that mother-and-child figures have never been found. Naturally, if you see a mother who holds a baby, you get the idea more clearly.

The other school suggests the early form of a formalized religion, and insists that the Venus becomes, if not a fully-fledged fertility goddess, at least a fertility cult figure.

Our ancestors at this period, however, seem to have had little enthusiasm for human fertility because too many children posed more of a problem than too few. And if the idea of fertility existed at all, the Paleolithic humans must have placed more importance on the avoidance of miscarriages and stillbirths—rather than on conception.
They must have loathed infant mortality, and wanted to rear a child safely to adolescence.

If the Paleolithic man was interested in fertility at all, it was in the fertility of his food animals.
A pregnant cow or a pregnant deer would have been a good deal more desirable than a pregnant woman.

A certain scholar wrote, “Nearly all the fertility cults found in the earliest period of recorded history are directly related not to human or animals, but to the soil, and the likelihood is that it was only when man became a farmer, some time after 9000 B.C. that he became obsessed by the subject—the human figure.”

However, others objected the above view, saying that the Mother Earth came into being after man had become a farmer.
The female form came first—not the other way around.

Whether or not the Venuses had some magical importance, most of them can at least be taken to bear some resemblance, however distorted, to Paleolithic women.

Cave painting in Lascaux (289x225)

A man or shaman from the cave painting in Lascaux (278x266)


Cave painting in Lascaux, France.

A man or shaman right above is the part of the top painting.   Notice a phallic symbol on the matchstick figure.

But in the case of men, art has almost nothing to say.

There are a few matchstick men in hunting scenes, and a number of figures intentionally disguised in animal masks and skins as well as a costume used when stalking game.

Those things might have been worn by early shamans, or medicine men, for ceremonial purposes.

But in all forms of Paleolithic art, man seems to have been represented predominantly by phallic symbols as shown in the painting at right.

Assuming that the biological role of the father was not yet recognized (Big question mark !), these symbols reinforce the argument against seeing the Venuses as fertility figurines.

If the phallic symbols expressed anything at all, therefore, they could only express the idea of the male as male.
Then, the Venus figurine can reasonably be seen as a matching representation of the female as female, and sexual partner.



So what are those venuses?
A pessimistic man once stated, “We must admit that we know nothing, and will never know anything about those Venuses.”

Another said, “we know only that the range of Paleolithic female images, as well as the many forms of presentation and use, preclude any simple interpretations.”

Is our search of the Paleolithic truth so pessimistic?

Can we get into the mind of the Paleolithic artist?

As already mentioned, what matters is not what the artist was representing, but what he thought he was representing.
Could we possibly step into the shoes (probably, bare feet) of the prehistoric man or woman?

The issue at hand cannot be readily resolved, and any interpretation must remain a theory only—for the time being, because they cannot be proven, particularly when we try to move into their minds.

At least, however, you can see that women were treated favorably—or even highly regarded—simply because the artists at the time created the figurines in the form of a woman, not a man.

When you find many virgin Marys, you naturally think that the virgin Mary, not a virgin John, was highly respected at the time as an idol.

A caricatured cave art of the Paleolithic (346x353)


Look at the above picture. According to the today’s aesthetical sense of beauty, she might not appear as attractive as Miss Universe.

However, she might have inspired those two men, young and older, with a touch of awe or even admiration.

On the contrary, if you move your mouse over the picture, you see a pathetic matchstick figure, even though he boasts a phallic symbol.

Does this man inspire you with a touch of awe?
Probably, this figure makes you laugh, I suppose.   However, the Paleolithic artist didn’t have any intention to make you laugh.

This man was depicted, as you see, in the Lascaux painting above.

Far from a cartoon, the whole scene appears serious.

But you can certainly see him not as a main attraction but an auxiliary attachment to the animal figure, which might have been the main concern of the artist.

And how many male figures have you seen in any Paleolithic art?
Probably, a couple at most or none, right? You can find hundreds of animal figures, scores of female figures, but only a few male figures that attract your attention.

Mother Goddess figure found in Huyuk, Anatolia (424x548)

A Mother Goddess figure
found in Catal Huyuk, Anatolia
   (5700 BC.)


So, we could probably say that some form of feminine worship prevailed at the time.
If you turn your attention to the Neolithic art, you will certainly see as many female figures as in the Paleolithic.
Indeed, those venuses were passed into the Mediterranean region such as Malta and Crete as the Goddess figure.

So, we might just as well take a look at the Neolithic venuses to get a better idea.

【June’s Monologue】


Hi, I’m June Adams.

Kato is a real movie lover, who tries to watch 1001 movies.

As a matter of fact, he has already accomplished his goal.


『Actual List』


Kato watched “The Arabian Nights” or “One Thousand and One Nights” as his 1001th movie.

You might just as well want to view it.



The stories in “the Arabian Nights” were collected over many centuries by various authors, translators, and scholars across West, Central, and South Asia and North Africa.

The tales themselves trace their roots back to ancient and medieval Arabic, Persian, Indian, Egyptian and Mesopotamian folklore and literature.

In particular, many tales were originally folk stories from the Caliphate era, while others, especially the frame story, are most probably drawn from the Pahlavi Persian work Hazār Afsān which in turn relied partly on Indian elements.

What is common throughout all the editions of the Nights is the initial frame story of the ruler Shahryār and his wife Scheherazade and the framing device incorporated throughout the tales themselves.

The stories proceed from this original tale.

Some are framed within other tales, while others begin and end of their own accord.

Some editions contain only a few hundred nights, while others include 1,001 or more.


In any case, I expect Kato will write another interesting article soon.

So please come back to see me.

Have a nice day!

Bye bye …



If you’ve got some time,

Please read one of the following artciles:


“Glorious Summer”

“Biker Babe & Granny”

“Genetically Modified”



“Yellow Ball”

“Welcome Back”

“Forbidden Love”

“Merry X’Mas”

“Heaven with Mochi”

“Travel Expense Scandal”




“JAGEL Again”

“Say NO!”

Happy Gal in Canada

Roof of Vancouver



Sex Appeal

Better Off Without Senate

Fire Festival


Scary Quake

MH370 Mystery

Putin’s Way

Trump @ Vancouver

Otter & Trump



Fiddler on the Roof

Flesh and Bone

Maiden’s Prayer

Romeo & Juliet

Trump @ Joke

Halloween in Shibuya

Trump Shock

Happy New Year!


Life or Death

Way to Millionaire

Adele Hugo

Middle Sexes










『軽井沢タリアセン夫人 – 小百合物語』




『スパマー HIRO 中野 悪徳業者』