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Gagarino Venuses

Prehistoric venus sculptures
Lipesk, Russia: 20,000 BC

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Top half of Venus of Gagarino No 4, a Gravettian female effigy, possibly a fertility symbol
Venus No. 4 of Gagarino. Female ivory figurine from Gagarino, near the village of Gagarino in Lipetsk Oblast, Russia. Image by Andreas Franzkowiak. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Venuses of Gagarino

The venus figurines of Gagarino are a group of eight Stone Age carvings which were discovered near the village of Gagarino in Lipetsk Oblast, Russia.

They are part of the Kostenki-Avdeevo culture from the Kursk-Voronezh-Lipetsk triangle, in central Russia, exemplified by the "Venuses of Kostenki", the "Avdeevo Venuses" and the "Zaraysk Venus".

Similar examples of Russian sculpture, include the "Mal'ta Venuses" and "Buret Venuses" (both 20,000 BC) from near Lake Baikal in Irkutsk Oblast, and the "Venus of Eliseevichi" (13,000 BC) from the Briansk region.

In addition, items of prehistoric sculpture have been recovered from numerous other archaeological sites in southern Russia and the Ukraine, including:

Amvrossievka, Apiantcha, Avdeevo, Brynzeny, Dobranitchevka, Dubovaya Balka, Eliseevichi, Gagarino, Gontzy, Kaïstrovaya Balka, Khoylevo, Kievo-Kirillovskaya, Klimaoutzy, Klinetz, Kosseoutzy, Kostenki-Borshevo, Lipa, Lissitchniki, Mal'ta, Mejiritch, Mezin, Novgorod-Severskyi, Ossokorovka, Puchkari, Rogalik, Staryé Duruitory, Sungir, Suponevo, Timonovka, Uvarov, Yudinovo, and Zaraysk, to name but a few.

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What are Venus Figurines?

The term describes a broad category of mobiliary art which proliferated across Europe during the Gravettian culture (30,000-20,000 BC).

Believed to be fertility symbols, these statuettes follow a relatively standard format.

They depict females - mostly of child-bearing age - with excessive obesity in their belly, buttocks and thighs.

In general, the main focus of attention is on the woman's female characteristics, notably her breasts and vulva, with little attention paid to head, hands or feet.

Not all venuses share these characteristics, but most do.

Russian venus figurines tend to be less obese, less "sexual", and slightly older than their western counterparts, although many look the same.

The Gagarino venus catalogued by Zoia Abramova as "Figurine No. 1", for instance, shares several characteristics with Western European figurines such as the Venus of Moravany (Slovakia) and the Venus of Willendorf (Austria).

On the other hand, several other Gagarino venuses are taller and slimmer.

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Location

Gagarino sits on the edge of a ravine on the right bank of the Don River some 5 km upstream of its junction with its Sosna tributary. The site is roughly 200 km north of the famous prehistoric sites at Kostenki.

It is one of the larger Paleolithic shelters in the region, and was regularly occupied by Stone Age hunter-gatherers during the "Willendorf-Kostenki" culture.

Discovery

The eight mammoth ivory figurines of Gagarino were discovered in a typical semi-subterranean "house pit", dug into the earth for insulation against the cold.

The oval structure was roughly 5.5 metres long and 4.5 metres wide, with floor deposits of 40-60 cm. The site was first excavated by Zamiatinine in 1926-29, and regularly thereafter.

In addition to the prehistoric art, a host of artifacts were recovered from this one "house pit". They included: 600 flint tools, more than 1,000 blades, and a very large quantity of cores and flakes.

The site was dated to between 22,000-20,000 BC.

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Gagarino Venuses: Description

Here are the five best-known venus figurines of Gagarino.

Dating

All the Gagarino figurines have been indirectly carbon-dated to roughly 20,000 BC. Some slightly older dates have been recorded, but not enough to indicate greater antiquity for the figurines.

Western European Venuses

The most famous venus figurines from Western Europe not mentioned above, include:

References

(1) "Les statuettes féminines de Gagarino." L. Tarassov. 1995: ERAUL, 74. p. 239-247: ISSN 0773-2173.
(2) "L'Art paléolithique d'Europe orientale et de Sibérie." Z. Abramova. 1995: Grenoble: Jérôme Millon.
(3) "The History of Central Asia: The Age of the Steppe Warriors." Christoph Baumer (11 December 2012). I.B.Tauris. pp. 34–5. ISBN 978-1-78076-060-5.

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