Venus figurines of Mal'ta
They consist most often of ivory. Delporte writes of 29 figurines altogether. They are about 20.000 years old and stem from the Gravettian. Most of these statuettes show stylized clothes. Quite often the face is depicted. They were discovered at Mal'ta, at the Angara River, near Lake Baikal in Irkutsk Oblast, Siberia by the archeologists Zamiatmine, Sosnovskii and Mikhail Mikhaylovich Gerasimov.
Around 30 female statuettes of varying shapes were discovered at Mal'ta, at the Angara River, near Lake Baikal in Irkutsk Oblast in Siberia. The wide variety of forms, combined with the realism of the sculptures and the lack of repetitiveness in detail, are definite signs of developed, albeit early, art.
Until the Mal’ta find, Venus figurines were previously found only in Europe. Carved from the tusk ivory of a mammoth, these images were typically highly stylized and often involved embellished and disproportionate characteristics (typically the breasts or buttocks).
At first glance what is obvious is that the Mal'ta Venus figurines are of two types: full-figured women with exaggerated forms, and women with a thin, delicate form. Some of the figures are nude while others have etchings that seem to indicate fur or clothing. Conversely, unlike those found in Europe, some of the Venus figurines from Mal’ta were sculpted with faces. Most of the figurines were tapered at the bottom, and it is believed that this was done so they could have been stuck into the ground or placed upright some other way. Placed upright they could have symbolized the spirits of the dead, akin to "spirit dolls" used nearly world-wide, including Siberia, among contemporary people.
The suggested similarity between Mal'ta and Upper Paleolithic civilizations of Western and Eastern Europe coincides with a long-held belief that the ancient people of Mal'ta were related to the Paleolithic societies of Europe. These similarities can be established by their tools, dwelling structures, and art. These commonalities draw into question the origin of Upper Paleolithic Siberian people, and whether the migrating peoples originated from Southeastern Asia or quite possibly from Europe. On the other hand, one can argue that as a group the Mal'ta Venus figures are rather different from the female figurines of Western and Central Europe. For example, none of the Siberian specimens indicates abdominal enlargement as main European examples do, and as breasts are often lacking, few offer clear enough evidence of gender to define them as female. More conclusively, nearly half of them show some facial details, something which is lacking on the so-called Venus figures of Europe.
- Cohen, Claudine (2003). La femme des origines. Images de la femme dans la préhistoire occidentale. Paris, Belin-Herscher.
- Delporte, Henri (1979). L’image de la femme dans l’art préhistorique. Paris.
- Gerasimov, Michail M. (1964). The Paleolithic site of Malta: excavations of 1956–1958. In E.N. Michael (ed.): The Archaeology and Geomorphology of Northern Asia. No. 5, S. 3–32, Arctic Institute of North America, University of Toronto (Translations from Russian Sources).
- Jelinek, Jan: Das grosse Bilderlexikon des Menschen in der Vorzeit. Bertelsmann-Lexikon-Verlag, Gütersloh 1972. (Picture of Venus figurines from Malta: p. 315, 334, 377, 385, 393, 394.)
Notes and references
- See Delporte (1979), p. 197.
- See Cohen (2003), p. 113.
- See. Delporte (1979), p. 193.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Venuses of Mal'ta.|
- The Mal'ta figurines on the website of the Hermitage Museum
- The Mal'ta - Buret' venuses and culture in Siberia Detailed descriptions of the figurines and other artifacts from the site
- Short text on the site of Mal'ta, illustrating another figurine, on Metropolitan Museum website