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Venus of Galgenberg

'Stratzing Figurine': 28,000 BC
Second-oldest female carving ever

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Venus of Galgenberg, Austrian statuette
Venus of Galgenberg. Image by Aiwok. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Oldest Art in Austria

The Venus of Galgenberg (also called the "Stratzing figurine") is a miniature item of prehistoric sculpture made during the Gravettian culture.

It is one of the earliest venus figurines - a famous series of small female figures, remains of which have been found in many different locations across Europe, during the years 30,000 to 20,000 BC.

The figure is dated to about 28,000 BC, making it (along with the Willendorf figure) the second-oldest female carving in prehistory, after the Venus of Hohle Fels (38,000 BC).

It is made from shiny green serpentine stone, and was discovered in 1988, close to Stratzing in Lower Austria.

As the oldest art ever found in Austria, the Venus of Galgenberg is part of the permanent collection of Upper Paleolithic art in the Natural History Museum, Vienna. (See: World's Oldest Art.)

To see how the Stratzing figurine fits into the the evolution of rock art during the Upper Paleolithic, see: Timeline of Prehistoric Art (from 540,000 BC).

Discovery & Excavation

The Venus of Galgenberg was found in September 1988 during the excavation of an Ice Age encampment used by Stone Age hunter-gatherers at Galgenberg near Stratzing (Lower Austria).

The site is some 20 km from Willendorf in der Wachau, where the Venus of Willendorf - another famous item of mobiliary art - was recovered in 1908.

Charcoal and flint tools were unearthed at a number of fire pits at the camp, but no other prehistoric art was found, like stone carvings or decorative objects.

The figurine was found lying in pieces. The stone material from which it was made, came from the immediate locality, since a deposit of amphibolite schist was found only a few hundred metres from the site.

It was almost certainly carved in the camp as well, since a large quantity of serpentine flakes was discovered lying close to where the statuette was found. A Stone Age theme park now stands on the same spot.

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Venus of Galgenberg: Characteristics

The Venus of Galgenberg is 7.2 cm in height (about 3 inches) and weighs 10 grams.

It is carved from a shiny greenish form of serpentine, a type of stone later used in the making of prestige Stone Age axes.

Like most venuses produced during the era of paleolithic art, it depicts a nude female in an upright position, and gives maximum prominence to her breasts and genitalia.

As normal, the hands and feet are not shown.

Still, the figure adopts an unusual pose. The breasts are emphasized (as normal), but they are asymmetrical. One breast juts out to the left while the other faces to the front. She has a clearly defined right shoulder but no left shoulder.

Her left arm is raised, and her right hand rests on the thigh, as if striking a formal dance position. Due to her dance-like attitude, the figurine was quickly dubbed "Fanny von Galgenberg", after the famous Viennese ballerina Fanny Elssler (1810-84).

Scientists are still uncertain about the meaning of these unusual female carvings.

One theory is that they served as some sort of fertility symbol - hence the exaggerated focus on their reproductive organs.

But what really baffles paleo-experts, is why modern humans across Europe came to carve similar statuettes, with very similar characteristics, over the same period of time. The art must be influenced by broad issues affecting everyone.

Venus Figurines: Chronology

Here is a chronological list of the oldest venus figurines from the Aurignacian and Gravettian periods of the Upper Paleolithic era.

References

(1) "The Galgenberg figurine from Krems, Austria." Robert G. Bednarik. Rock Art Research. 6. 118-25. (1989)
(2) "Galgenberg-Stratzing/Krems-Rehberg and its 32 000 years old female statuette". Neugebauer-Maresch C., 2008: Wiss Mitt Niederösterr. Landesmuseum 19 119-128 St. Pölten 2008.

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