Venus of Hohle Fels
The Venus of Hohle Fels (also known as the Venus of Schelklingen; in German variously Venus vom Hohlen Fels, vom Hohle Fels; Venus von Schelklingen) is an Upper Paleolithic Venus figurine hewn from ivory of a mammoth tusk found in 2008 near Schelklingen, Germany. It is dated to between 35,000 and 40,000 years ago, belonging to the early Aurignacian, at the very beginning of the Upper Paleolithic, which is associated with the assumed earliest presence of Homo sapiens in Europe (Cro-Magnon). It is the oldest undisputed example of Upper Paleolithic art and figurative prehistoric art in general. In 2011, the figure is still being researched in the University of Tübingen, though there are plans to house it and other discoveries from the region in a planned new museum in Swabia.
The Swabian Alb region has a number of caves that have yielded mammoth-ivory artifacts of the Upper Paleolithic period, totaling about twenty-five items to date. These include the lion-headed figure of Hohlenstein-Stadel and an ivory flute found at Geißenklösterle, dated to 36,000 years ago. This concentration of evidence of full behavioral modernity in the period of 40 to 30 thousand years ago, including figurative art and instrumental music, is unique worldwide and Conard speculates that the bearers of the Aurignacian culture in the Swabian Alb may be credited with the invention, not just of figurative art and music, but possibly, early religion as well. In a distance of 70 cm to the Venus figurine Conard's team found a flute made from a vulture bone. Additional artifacts excavated from the same cave layer included flint-knapping debris, worked bone, and carved ivory as well as remains of tarpans, reindeer, cave bears, woolly mammoths, and Alpine Ibexes.
|Prehistoric pin-up, Nature|
The discovery of the Venus of Hohle Fels by the archaeological team lead by Nicholas J. Conard of Universität Tübingen Abteilung Ältere Urgeschichte und Quartärökologie pushes back the date of the oldest prehistoric sculpture, and arguably the oldest known figurative art altogether, by several millennia, establishing that works of art were being produced throughout the Aurignacian Period.
The figurine was discovered in September 2008 in a cave called Hohle Fels (Swabian German for "hollow rock") near Schelklingen, some 15 km (9 mi) west of Ulm, Baden-Württemberg, in southwestern Germany, by a team from the University of Tübingen led by archaeology professor Nicholas Conard, who reported their find in Nature. The figurine was found in the cave hall, about 20 m (66 ft) from the entrance and about 3 m (10 ft) below the current ground level. Also found in the cave was a bone flute dating to approximately 35,000 years ago, the oldest known musical instrument.
The figurine was sculpted from a woolly mammoth tusk and had broken into fragments, of which six have been recovered, with the left arm and shoulder still missing. In place of the head, the figurine — which probably took "tens if not hundreds of hours" to carve  — has a perforated protrusion, which may have allowed its owner to wear it as an amulet.
Paul Mellars at Cambridge University has suggested that by modern standards, the figurine "could be seen as bordering on the pornographic"  and the discoverer, Conard, has said: "This [figure] is about sex, reproduction...an extremely powerful depiction of the essence of being female". Conversely, anthropologists at Victoria University of Wellington have suggested the figurines were not depictions of beauty, but represented "hope for survival and longevity, within well-nourished and reproductively successful communities".
Notes and references
- Benz, Otto, CDU und Freie Wähler wollen einen „Steinzeitpark“, www.schwaebische.de, news story (in German), July 7, 2011
- Älteste Menschenfigur der Welt gefunden Südwestrundfunk 14 May 2009.
- Maugh II, Thomas H. (May 14, 2009). "Venus figurine sheds light on origins of art by early humans". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-05-14.
- "Prehistoric pin-up". Nature. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
- The grid or cross-hatch patterns patterns found engraved at the Blombos Cave in South Africa, dating to 75,000 years ago, may or may not be considered "abstract art".
- by at least 5,000 years, if the 35,000 BP date is compared to that of the Venus of Galgenberg, or by as much as 10,000 years if the 40,000 BP date is accepted.
- Henderson, Mark (2009-05-13). "Prehistoric female figure ‘earliest piece of erotic art uncovered’". The Times. Retrieved 2009-05-13.
- Conard, Nicholas J. "A female figurine from the basal Aurignacian of Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany". Nature 459 (7244): 248–252. doi:10.1038/nature07995. PMID 19444215. Retrieved 2009-05-13.
- Wilford, John N. (June 24, 2009). "Flutes Offer Clues to Stone-Age Music". The New York Times 459 (7244): 248–52. doi:10.1038/nature07995. PMID 19444215. Retrieved June 29, 2009.
- "Full-Figured Statuette, 35,000 Years Old, Provides New Clues to How Art Evolved". 2009 (New York Times). Retrieved 23 October 2013.
- "The Cave Art Debate". The Smithsonian. Retrieved 23 October 2013.
- Dixson, Alan. "Venus Figurines of the European Paleolithic: Symbols of Fertility or Attractiveness?". 2011. Journal of Anthropology. Retrieved 23 October 2013.
- Cook, Jill (2013), Ice Age Art: the Arrival of the Modern Mind; [... to accompany the exhibition of the British Museum from 7 February to 26 May 2013]. London: British Museum Press. ISBN 978-0-7141-2333-2