Venus of Willendorf

Coordinates: 48°19′N 15°23′E / 48.317°N 15.383°E / 48.317; 15.383
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Venus of Willendorf
MaterialOolitic limestone
Createdc. 25,000 BP
DiscoveredAugust 7, 1908, near Willendorf, by Josef Szombathy
Present locationNaturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

The Venus of Willendorf is an 11.1-centimetre-tall (4.4 in) Venus figurine estimated to have been made around 25,000–30,000 years ago.[1][2] It was found on August 7, 1908, by a workman named Johann Veran[3] or Josef Veram[4] during excavations conducted by archaeologists Josef Szombathy, Hugo Obermaier, and Josef Bayer at a Paleolithic site near Willendorf, a village in Lower Austria.[5][6] It is carved from an oolitic limestone that is not local to the area, and tinted with red ochre. The figurine is now in the Natural History Museum in Vienna, Austria.[7]


The figure is associated with the Upper Paleolithic Gravettian industry, which dates to between 33,000 and 20,000 years ago. The figure itself is estimated to have been left in the ground around 25,000 years ago, based on radiocarbon dates from the layers surrounding it.[1]

Interpretation and purpose[edit]

Figurine seen from four sides

Similar sculptures, first discovered in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, are traditionally referred to in archaeology as "Venus figurines", due to the widely-held belief that depictions of nude women with exaggerated sexual features represented an early fertility deity, perhaps a mother goddess. The reference to Venus is metaphorical, since the figurines predate the mythological figure of Venus by many thousands of years. Some scholars reject this terminology, instead referring to the statuette as the "Woman of" or "Woman from Willendorf".[8]

3D model, click to interact.

Very little is known about the Venus' origin, method of creation, or cultural significance; however, it is one of numerous "Venus figurines" surviving from Paleolithic Europe.[9] The purpose of the carving is the subject of much speculation. Like other similar sculptures, it probably never had feet, and would not have stood on its own, although it might have been pegged into soft ground. Parts of the body associated with fertility and childbearing have been emphasized, leading some researchers to believe that the Venus of Willendorf and similar figurines may have been used as fertility goddesses.[9] The figure has no visible face, her head being covered with circular horizontal bands of what might be rows of plaited hair, or perhaps a type of headdress.[10]

Catherine McCoid and LeRoy McDermott hypothesize that the figurines may have been created as self-portraits by women.[11] This theory stems from the correlation of the proportions of the statues to how the proportions of women's bodies would seem if they were looking down at themselves, which would have been the only way to view their bodies during this period. They speculate that the complete lack of facial features could be accounted for by the fact that sculptors did not own mirrors. This reasoning has been criticized by Michael S. Bisson, who notes that water pools and puddles would have been readily available natural mirrors for Paleolithic humans.[attribution needed]

Stone's source[edit]

Research published in 2022 indicates that the closest and most likely source of the oolite used is on the other side of the Alps in northern Italy, near Lake Garda. A lesser possibility is that it came from a site in eastern Ukraine some 1,600 km (1,000 mi) away.[2]

While the former has the highest statistical probability, the latter is closer to sites in southern Russia where similarly styled figurines have been found. In either case, this raises questions regarding the mobility of ancient populations.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Antl-Weiser, Walpurga (2009). "The time of the Willendorf figurines and new results of palaeolithic research in Lower Austria". Anthropologie. Brno. 47 (1–2): 131–141. Archived from the original on 2021-03-22. Retrieved 2019-09-27.
  2. ^ a b c Weber, G.W.; Lukeneder, A.; Harzhauser, M. (February 28, 2022). "The microstructure and origin of the Venus of Willendorf". Scientific Reports. Nature. 12 (2926): 2926. doi:10.1038/s41598-022-06799-z. PMC 8885675. PMID 35228605.
  3. ^ Antl-Weiser, Walpurga. "The anthropomorphic figurines from Willendorf" (PDF). Wissenschaftliche Mitteilungen Niederösterreichisches Landesmuseum. 19: 19–30. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2014-10-21. Retrieved 2012-12-24.
  4. ^ Bibby, Geoffrey (1956). The Testimony of the Spade. New York: Alfred A. Knoff. p. 139.
  5. ^ Venus of Willendorf Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe, 2003.
  6. ^ John J Reich; Lawrence Cunningham (2013) Culture and Values: A Survey of the Humanities, 8th Ed., Andover, Belmont, CA ISBN 978-1-133-95122-3
  7. ^ Witcombe, Christopher (2003) Venus of Willendorf Archived 2004-04-03 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 2008
  8. ^ Venus of Wllendorf Archived 2021-03-10 at the Wayback Machine, Encyclopædia Britannica; Dictionary of Women Artists Archived 2021-03-10 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ a b Lawrence Cunningham; John J Reich (2006). Culture and values : a survey of the humanities. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. ISBN 978-1-133-94533-8.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ "Woman from Willendorf" Archived 2007-10-05 at the Wayback Machine. Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe, 2003: "The rows are not one continuous spiral but are, in fact, composed in seven concentric horizontal bands that encircle the head and two more horizontal bands underneath the first seven on the back of the head."
  11. ^ McDermott, LeRoy (1996). "Self-Representation in Upper Paleolithic Female Figurines". Current Anthropology. 37 (2): 227–275. doi:10.1086/204491. JSTOR 2744349. S2CID 144914396.

External links[edit]

External video
video icon Nude Woman (Venus of Willendorf), Smarthistory

48°19′N 15°23′E / 48.317°N 15.383°E / 48.317; 15.383