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Venus of Dolní Věstonice

World's oldest ceramic figurine
Gravettian art: 29,000–25,000 BC

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Venus of Dolní Věstonice or Věstonická Venus: oldest known ceramic figurine
Venus of Dolní Věstonice. Image by Petr Novák. (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Venus of Dolní Věstonice: Summary

The Venus of Dolní Věstonice is a famous ceramic figurine of a nude female, dating to 29,000-25,000 BC. A masterpiece of prehistoric art, it belongs to the genre of venus figurines produced during the era of Upper Paleolithic art, and is the oldest known ceramic sculpture in the world.

The Venus of Dolní Věstonice is kept in the Moravské zemské muzeum, Brno.

Another similar item of prehistoric sculpture at the museum, is the Dolní Věstonice Portrait Head (25,000 BC), the oldest known portrait bust.

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Location and Discovery

The Venus of Dolní Věstonice was recovered in July 1925 from an Upper Paleolithic encampment in the Moravian basin near Brno, in the Czech Republic.

The clay-fired sculpture was found in two pieces buried under a layer of ash in a fire pit once used by woolly mammoth hunters.

At the time of the discovery, the Stone Age settlement had been excavated for almost a year by the paleontologist Karel Absolon (1877-1960).

Since then, further digs have produced numerous ceramic objects dating back to paleolithic culture.

They include more than 2,300 clay-fired figurines of different animals, which were found in and around the remains of a kiln - one of the oldest kilns in existence. See: Ancient Pottery (from 34,000 BC).

Other Gravettian sites in the locality have yielded thousands more clay-fired mobiliary art, including ceramic figures of bears, foxes, horses, lions, mammoths and rhinos, although there is no sign of any cave painting in the district.

In 1986, the bones of two young men and a woman, marked by ritualistic injuries, were excavated from a shallow burial pit at Dolni Vestonice, underlining the mystical significance of the site.

Similar figures from Eastern Europe include:

The "Venus figurines of Kostenki" (22,500 BC), the "Avdeevo Venuses" (21,000 BC), the "Gagarino Venuses" (20,000 BC), the "Mal'ta Venuses" and "Buret Venuses" (20,000 BC) and the "Zaraysk Venus" (18,000 BC).

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Venus of Dolní Věstonice: Details

Characteristics

The Venus of Dolní Věstonice possesses many of the stylistic characteristics common to other venus figurines from the same period.

The strong focus on the female reproductive organs is seen as evidence that venus figurines were designed and used as fertility symbols.

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Other Venus Figurines

The Venus of Dolní Věstonice is one of the oldest venus figurines, preceded only by the German Venus of Hohle Fels (38,000 BC), and the two Austrian statuettes - the Venus of Willendorf and the Venus of Galgenberg (both, 28,000 BC), from the late Aurignacian period.

Later figurines from the Gravettian culture, include:

Prehistoric Ceramics

The timeline of ancient pottery records very few examples of ceramic sculpture before the Neolithic era.

The next significant site of Stone Age ceramics after the cache at Dolni Vestonice, is the Vela Spila Cave pottery figures (15,500 BC) on Korcula Island, off the coast of Croatia.

One of the last masterpieces of Stone Age terracotta art is The Thinker of Cernavoda (5,000 BC), a seated figure discovered in the lower Danube, in Romania.

It was found with a similar female figurine, known as The Sitting Woman of Cernavoda.

The oldest unbroken tradition of pottery-making is in East Asia, where the two oldest sites include: Xianren Cave (18,000 BC) in Jiangxi; and Yuchanyan Cave (16,000 BC) in Hunan province. This prehistoric tradition then spread to Japan to influence Jomon Pottery around 14,000 BC.

NEXT: Guide to Archaeology: Prehistoric & Ancient.

References

(1) "The Origins of Ceramic Technology at Dolni Věstonice, Czechoslovakia". Vandiver, Pamela B.; Soffer, Olga; Klima, Bohuslav; Svoboda, Jiři (November 24, 1989). Science. Vol. 246, no. 4933. pp. 1002–1008.
(2) "Forensic analysis of the Dolni Vestonice figurine". Thursday 31 August 2017. bradshawfoundation.com

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