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Avdeevo Venuses

Russian venus figurines, Kursk.
Avdeevo I and II: 21,000 BC

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Photo of a pair of veus figurines known as the Avdeevo Double Venuses
The Avdeevo Double Venuses, a pair of figurines discovered on the left bank of the Rogozna River near the city of Kursk, Russia. In its layout, stone/bone artifacts, figurative art, and items of personal adornment, the Avdeevo site is almost identical to Kostenki 1, on the Don River south of Voronezh. Image created by arretetonchar.fr/ (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Venus Figurines of Avdeevo

The ivory Venuses of Avdeevo are an important collection of prehistoric sculpture, from central Russia.

Together with the nearby "Zaraysk Venus", as well as the "Gagarino Venuses" and the "Venus Figurines of Kostenki", the Avdeevo sculptures form a centre of Upper Paleolithic art, within the Kursk-Voronezh-Lipetsk triangle.

Note: For details of other Russian venus carvings, see: "Mal'ta Venuses" (20,000 BC, northwest of Irkutsk), "Buret Venuses" (20,000 BC, near Mal'ta), and the later "Venus of Eliseevichi" (13,000 BC, Bryansk region).

Differing Venus Styles

Venus figurines are not unique to Russia. They emerged in Western Europe during the early Aurignacian period (40,000-25,000 BC) with the Venus of Hohle Fels (Germany).

Later, they proliferated during the Gravettian period (30,000-20,000 BC), as illustrated by the Venus of Dolni Vestonice (Czech), and the Venus of Lespugue (France). Even so, Russian Stone Age artists had their own style.

The Avdeevo sculptures, for instance, depict more mature women who are rather less obese and less well defined than archetypal European specimens such as the Venus of Moravany (Slovakia).

This is only a relative difference, since the Kostenki-Avdeevo-Gagarino sites seem to have two basic venus shapes: one very obese, one less so - with the Avdeevo venuses inclining to the latter.

Another difference between Russian and non-Russian venuses, is that (with a few exceptions) the genitalia of the former tend to be less exaggerated.

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Location and Discovery

There are two main archaeological sites at Avdeevo from which a variety of mobiliary art has been recovered.

The sites, about 20 km apart, are referred to as "Avdeevo-Old" (Avd-I), and "Avdeevo-New" (Avd-II). In both cases, human occupation commenced around 21,000 BC.

The sites are located at the confluence of the rivers Sejm and Rogozna, about 40 km from the city of Kursk.

They were discovered in 1941 during the Great Patriotic War, and excavated in the post-war period. The excavations - exclusively of "Avdeevo-Old" - were led by state archaeologists M.V.Voevodskij (1946), and A.N.Rogachev (1949).

Later, during the 1970s, a new series of excavations were carried out on "Avdeevo-New" by researchers from the Leningrad Institute of Archaeology (under G.P.Grigorev), and the Museum of Anthropology of Moscow University (under Professor Mariana Gvozdover).

For more about the chronology of Ice Age sculpture, see: Timeline of Prehistoric Art (from 540,000 BC).

Avdeevo I and Avdeevo II

The Avdeevo sites contain oval living areas, within a network of partly underground lodges and pits. The Avdeevo-I living area is twice the size of that at Avdeevo II. The floors are coloured red from ochre pigments (Avdeevo-I) or black from charcoal (Adeevo II).

In their overall physical structure and tool inventories (notably Kostenki knives, shouldered points, and leaf points on blades), the Avdeevo sites are very similar to the sites at Kostenki (especially Kostenki I, XIII and XVII), located near Voronezh, some 200 miles to the east.

Carbon-dating shows that both Avdeevo sites were occupied by 'modern man' from about 21,000-20,000 BC, although some older artifacts dating to 25,000 BC have been unearthed, that must have been imported from elsewhere.

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Avdeevo Venuses: Description

The prehistoric art found at Avdeevo consists almost exclusively of venus figurines. The most famous of these is the "Avdeevo Double Venus", made up of two ivory figures carved back to back. In addition, according to Gvozdover (in her book "Art of the Mammoth Hunters: The finds from Avdeevo"), the other catalogued venus figurines included:

Venus No. 1

This primitive ivory statuette measures 14.5 cm in height, and 5 cm in width. It shows a female with narrow shoulders but a wide pelvis, albeit without excessive fat. The legs are missing and the pelvis tapers into an extended triangle. Seems unfinished.

Venus No. 2

This partially polished ivory figure is 12.5 cm tall, and 3.6 cm wide. It has drooping shoulders, arms bent at the elbow, undefined breasts, a flat abdomen, naturalistic buttocks and stout legs. The genitalia are not highlighted. Looks unfinished.

Venus No. 3

Discovered at Old Avdeevo, this half-finished ivory carving is 8 cm in height and 4 cm in width. It has a large head, prominent arms, a large bust, and narrow though undefined legs.

Venus No. 4

This upright male figure stands 21 cm in height and about 6 cm wide. The overall impression is of a man standing straight up, legs together, and holding his head erect; one arm stretched along the body, the other across his chest. Actually, its head is almost zoomorphic.

Venus No. 5

This primitive ivory statuette measures 16 cm in height and 3 cm in width. It depicts a tall woman with flat buttocks and small lower legs. The narrow figure has narrow drooping shoulders, indistinct arms, sagging breasts, a wide pelvis and flat abdomen, leading to a clearly defined pubic triangle. Legs are short and the feet are missing.

Venus No. 6

This ivory figurine is 9.5 cm tall, and 3 cm wide. It depicts a mature, pregnant woman with huge breasts, fat hips, bulging belly and extremely obese buttocks. The head and face are decorated with wedge-shaped notches, and the detailed hands are ornamented with bracelets. Together with No 9, this figure is the closest to the stereotypical Western venus.

Venus No. 7

This carving is 10 cm in height and 2 cm in width. It depicts a slim woman with sagging shoulders, a flat chest and drooping breasts. Fingers are clearly defined on the hands, one of which has a bracelet. It has a somewhat swollen belly and flat buttocks. Its uniqueness lies in the detail of its coiffure and face, including nose and eyes. This figure is the closest to the stereotypical "thin" Russian venus.

Venus No. 8

This ivory figure measures 9.5 cm in height and 2.3 cm in width. It shows an obese mature woman, whose head bears a coiffure pattern. It has drooping shoulders, pendulous breasts, a sagging abdomen and a wide middle. In contrast, it has delicate features with carefully defined fingers and bracelets on the hands.

Venus No. 9

This ivory figure measures 9 cm in height and 3 cm in width. It depicts a woman with a hugely obese torso topped with an undefined head. It has narrow shoulders above pendulous breasts and massive thighs. Its legs are missing below the knees. Overall, an uneven shape but excessively obese.

Venus No. 10

This ivory fragment of a female torso runs from the shoulders to the pubic area. It measures 8 cm in height and 9 cm in width. Researchers calculate the original figure stood roughly 20 cm tall. It has massive teardrop-shaped breasts, similar to those of the Venus of Willendorf, a rounded belly and hands showing fingers and bracelets.

For the Top 100 works of Stone Age art, see Oldest Art in the World (from 540,000 BC).

Characteristics: Summary

The Kostenki-Avdeevo venuses tend to be slimmer and less 'voluptuous' than Western European equivalents.

The style is characterized by a faceless sculpture, inclination slightly forward with head down. A standing position with a relatively vertical orientation of the back and legs, to knee level or lower.

For the world's oldest wood carving, see the Russian Shigir Idol (10,000 BC).

Other Carvings at Avdeevo

In addition, researchers also found a quantity of carved woolly mammoths. Most were made out of mammoth tusk ivory, reindeer horns and other animal bone, but some were made from soft rock (limestone, shale, sandstone and marl).

Compare these with the mammoth carvings in the Vogelherd Cave in the Swabian Jura of southern Germany. In addition, a significant amount of beads were found, made from the teeth of wolves and foxes. However, no cave painting or engravings were found.

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Dating

The earliest Avdeevo Venuses have been indirectly dated to about 21,000 BC.

For the oldest cave paintings in Russia, see: Kapova Cave at Shulgan-Tash (14,500 BC).

Interpretation

It is generally believed that venus figurines are fertility symbols designed to boost childbirth. Another view is that they celebrate the survival benefits of obesity. Indeed, some paleontologists think that Russian venuses are less obese only because obesity was less prevalent on the Steppes.

Other European Venuses

Other famous venus sculptures from outside Russia, not mentioned above, include:

References

(1) "Art of the Mammoth Hunters: The finds from Avdeevo." Gvozdover, M. Oxbow Monograph 49. 1995. ISBN-10:0946897859
(2) "L'Art paléolithique d'Europe orientale et de Sibérie." Abramova Z. 1995: Grenoble: Jérôme Millon.

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