Buret Venuses

Bouret/Buryet venus figurines
Baikal Siberia: dated: 20,000 BC

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One of five Siberian Buret venuses, made out of mammoth ivory
Front and back photo of Buret Venus figurine No 3, one of five female effigies carved at Buret, Siberia. Image by Robert Bednarik (Pleistocene Palaeoart of Asia) (CC BY 3.0)

Buret Venuses: Summary

The Buret Venuses are a collection of five prehistoric venus figurines, which were recovered from the Angara river valley in the Baikal region of Siberia.

This cache of prehistoric sculpture is dated to 20,000 BC - the final period of the Gravettian culture.

Buret is close to Mal'ta, where the "Mal'ta Venuses" were discovered some years earlier.

Together the two sites, who are, incidentally, responsible for the oldest art in Siberia, form the Maltinsko-Buretskaya culture of the Baikal region. They are later related to the Afontova Gora-Oshurkovo tool culture.

The Mal'ta-Buret figurines are not like those carved in Western Europe. They have clothes and facial features, but none of the emphasis on female reproductive features that we see in (say) the "Venus of Willendorf" (Austria 28,000 BC) or the "Venus of Moravany" (Slovakia 20,000 BC).

The Mal'ta-Buret figures are also different from Russian venuses, like the famous "venus figurines of Kostenki" (22,500 BC), the "Avdeevo Venuses" (21,000 BC), the "Gagarino Venuses" (20,000 BC), and the "Zaraysk Venus" of central Russia, which share many of the characteristics of Western European venus figurines.

Compare also the later "Venus of Eliseevichi" (13,000 BC) from the Briansk region.

The Buret venuses are now in the collection of prehistoric art at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.

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Location and Excavation

The Buret archaeological site is located on the right bank of the Angara, at the mouth of the Sukhaia Valley, near the village of Buret (also Buryet or Bouret), in the Bokhansky District, about 120 km northwest of Irkutsk.

The Buret site was discovered in 1936 by the Siberian archaeologist Alexei Pavlovich Okladnikov (1908-81) who, along with Vera Zaporozhskaya, began excavations in the same year.

Over the period 1936-40, he unearthed five "venus figurines" from three separate dwellings.

These dwellings - one of which was set in its own semi-subterranean pit - were arranged along the river terrace overlooking the river.

Buret Venuses: Characteristics

The five figures recovered from Buret were catalogued as follows:

Unlike other venuses in Europe and elsewhere in Russia, all the Buret figures are clothed and have defined facial features.

There is no exaggeration of female characteristics, and genitalia are mostly left undefined.

Mobiliary art, like a small carving, is typically easy to exchange or trade. Hence a style from one region may rapidly be adopted by others.

The fact that the Buret style is so different, even from those developed at the Kostenki-Borshevo complex near Voronezh, seems to confirm the general belief that the Mal'ta-Buret (Maltinsko-Buretskaya) culture was geographically isolated.

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Reevaluation of Mal'ta figures

In Feb 2016, the Siberian Times published the findings of an in-depth evaluation of the Mal'ta Venuses, conducted by Dr. Lyudmila Lbova and Dr. Pavel Volkov, as part of the 'Interdisciplinary Study of Primitive Art of Eurasia', sponsored by Novosibirsk State University's Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, and the University of Bordeaux.

In a nutshell, Lbova and Volkov conclude that the Mal'ta figurines are not idealized nude females: they are carvings of ordinary people - men, teenagers, and children, as well as women - and they are not nude but fully clothed.

Using microscopic technologies, which enabled researchers to identify lines depicting details of clothes and other effects, that were invisible to the naked eye, researchers were able to see hats, shoes, bracelets, bags - even back packs.

They saw how the hunter-gatherer artists had drawn different hairstyles, hats, and other accessories, while taking care to highlight the different fabrics such as fur and leather.

Although unable to shed light on why these figures were made, Lbova and Volkov are convinced that the realistic details of clothes and hairstyles proved that the figurines portrayed real people, not symbolic images.

As a result, Lbova said, "I strongly doubt that these were the images of abstract goddesses or spirits in the sense often used to understand so-called Venus depictions."

In light of this in-depth study of Mal'ta sculptures, it seems clear that the symbolic meanings currently attributed to the Buret Venuses will also have to be reevaluated.

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

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

Related Articles

Here is a short list of the most famous venus figurines from Western Europe not mentioned above:


(1) "From artifact to icon: an analysis of the Venus figurines in archaeological literature and contemporary culture" (PDF). Louise Muriel Lander (2005). Durham University. pp. 475–476. (2) "The Siberian Paleolithic site of Mal'ta: a unique source for the study of childhood archaeology." Lbova, L. (2021). Evolutionary Human Sciences, 3, E9.
(3) "World famous ancient Siberian Venus figurines are NOT Venuses after all." Olga Gertcyk. Feb 18th, 2016, Siberian Times.

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