Friday, May 15, 2009

New "Venus" Figurine Discovered

By PATRICK McGROARTY, Associated Press Writer Patrick Mcgroarty, Associated Press Writer – Wed May 13, 3:42 pm ET
BERLIN – A 35,000-year-old ivory carving of a busty woman found in a German cave was unveiled Wednesday by archaeologists who believe it is the oldest known sculpture of the human form. The carving found in six fragments in Germany's Hohle Fels cave depicts a woman with a swollen belly, wide-set thighs and large, protruding breasts.
"It's very sexually charged," said University of Tuebingen archaeologist Nicholas Conard, whose team discovered the figure in September.
Carbon dating suggests it was carved at least 35,000 years ago, according to the researchers' findings, which are being published Thursday in the scientific journal Nature.
"It's the oldest known piece of figurative sculpture in the world," said Jill Cook, a curator of Paleolithic and Mesolithic material at the British Museum in London.
Stones in Israel and Africa almost twice as old are believed to have been collected by ancient humans because they resembled people, but they were not carved independently.
The Hohle Fels cave discovery suggests the humans, who are believed to have come to Europe around 40,000 years ago, had the intelligence to create symbols and think abstractly in a way that matches the modern human, Conard said
"It's 100 percent certain that, by the time we get to 40,000 years ago in Swabia, we're dealing with people just like you and me," Conard told The Associated Press, referring to the southern German region where the sculpture was recovered along with other prehistoric artifacts.
Conard believes the 2.4-inch-tall (6-centimeter) figure may have been hung on the end of a string. The left arm is missing, but Conard said he hopes to find it by sifting through material from the cave.
The Hohle Fels sculpture is curvaceous and has neither feet nor a head, like some of the roughly 150 so-called Venus figurines found in a range from the Pyrenees mountains to southern Russia and dating back about 25,000-29,000 years.
But Cook warned against trying to draw any connections between the Venuses and the Hohle Fels figure, saying that would be like comparing Picasso to a classical sculptor — too much time had passed.
"I wonder whether at this point we're looking at figures which are unique within themselves and unique within the cultures that they're arising in," she said.
Archaeologist Paul Mellars, of the University of Cambridge, suggested a clearer continuum. "We now have evidence of that sort of artistic tradition of Venus figurines going back 6,000 years earlier than anybody ever guessed," he said.
Neanderthals also lived in Europe around the time the sculpture was carved, and frequented the Hohle Fels cave. But Mellars said layered deposits left by both species over thousands of years prove the sculpture was crafted by humans.
"Nothing within a million miles of this has ever been found in a Neanderthal layer," Mellars said.
The archaeologists agreed the sculpture's age and features invite speculation about its purpose and the preoccupations of the culture that produced it.
Cook suggested it could be symbol of fertility, perhaps even portrayed in the act of giving birth. Mellars suggested a more basic motivation for the carving: "These people were obsessed with sex."
Conard said the differing opinions reinforced the connection between the ancient artist and modern viewer.
"How we interpret it tells us just as much about ourselves as about people 40,000 years ago," he said.
Hmmm, the experts know better, I guess... All I can say is that when I looked at this image of the "Venus" and the other two images I saw, I thought it depicts two people intertwined in an embrace. Perhaps it's just the way the object was photographed that makes it appear that way.


Ni-Lee said...

Thank goodness I'm not the only one who saw two figures intertwined! I looked at the photo carefully, first without my glasses and then again with them on. Where are the large breasts? I think I did see the thighs, but it looked more like two sets of thighs. Anyway, I believe we are looking at two people, not one.
Thank you for this fascinating blog. I will check you out regularly from now on. This was forwarded to me by a friend.
PS. Did you eat at two places, one called Appleby's and another called Applejack Diner, or were you using those names interchangeably? I do hope the next time you are in town that you will try some of the more exotic eateries. I've only tried the Appleby's down here in Florida and it's not the most exciting place I've ever eaten at, that's for sure.

Jan said...

Hola Ni-Lee,

I showed the newest "Venus" carving to Mr. Don the other day and he agreed with me that in the particular image shown, it appears to be two figures intertwined in an embrace.

Regarding the restaurants, Applejack Diner is distinct from Appleby's. Applejack's in on the corner of W. 55th and Broadway, and we first discovered it during our 2005 visit to New York. I am pleased to say that the service and the food is as good as ever at Applejack's and although the prices have increased somewhat since our 2005 visit (only natural), the portions have gotten even larger! For supper the other night I ordered the special roasted chicken and got half of a very large chicken, with stuffing, plus mashed potatoes and gravy, plus vegetables on the side, for $15.95. It was way more than I could eat.

The Appleby's I mentioned is one of the restaurants in the nationally-advertised chain, and it is located on W. 42nd Street betweenn 8th and 7th Avenues, close to the cinema complex where "Angels and Demons" was showing. We ate there Saturday evening because it was convenient and close to the cinema complex. We had a good meal there, and the waiter who served our table gave us excellent service. We would not, however, spend as much time eating at Appleby's as we did at Applejack Diner. It's an entirely different ambiance - Applejack's has a much more comfortable "family restaurant" feel to it, and the waiters and waitresses and hosts/hostesses are very quick to remember faces that come in more than once. We've never had a complaint about either the service, the food or the prices we have received at Applejack Diner.

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