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Venus of Eliseevichi

Magdalenian female ivory carving
Venus Impudique style: 13,000 BC

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Venus of Eliseevichi, Magdalenian Russian figurine
Venus of Eliseevichi. Image by Thilo Parg. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Russian Venus Traditions

The Venus of Eliseevichi is a singular work of prehistoric sculpture dating to the Magdalenian era, which was found in Bryansk Province, southwest of Moscow.

It is loosely attributed to the category of mobiliary art known as venus figurines, although most of these were carved during the era of Gravettian art (30,000-20,000 BC).

The figure is not similar to earlier figurines made in central Russia, such as the famous Venuses of Kostenki (Voronezh), the Avdeevo Venuses (Kursk), the Gagarino Venuses (Lipetsk), or the Zaraysk Venus (Briansk).

Nor is it like the Siberian Mal'ta Venuses or the Buret Venuses, from Maltinsko-Buretskaya culture.

Nor does it resemble Western European venuses from the Magdalenian, such as the "Venus figurines of Petersfels" (Germany) or the "Venus of Monruz-Neuchâtel" (Switzerland).

For more about the evolution of Paleolithic sculpture, see: Prehistoric Art Timeline (from 540,000 BC).

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Discovery and Location

There are two archaeological sites at Eliseevichi (Yeliseevichi).

"Eliseevichi 1" was discovered in 1930, by K.M. Polikarpovich, on a promontory of the Sudost river, a tributary of the Desna, in the Bryansk region of western European Russia, 370 km southwest of Moscow.

"Eliseevichi 2", about 20-50 metres from "Eliseevichi 1", was uncovered in 1979, during construction work.

The venus figurine and other items of prehistoric art were unearthed at Eliseevichi 1.

The river valley is wide and shallow in the locality of the site, and during the Magdalenian the river would have frozen over, for at least 5 months of the year.

Other Stone Age sites in the area of the Desna River, include: Bugorok, Chulatovo, Mezin, Suponevo, Timonovka and Yudinovo.

Excavation

Eliseevichi 1 was excavated by K.M. Polikarpovich, in 1935, 1936 1946 and 1948; by V.D. Budko, in 1963 and 1965; and by L.V. Grekhova, in 1970, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1980 and 1986.

In 2010-11, new investigations began, led by G.A. Khlopachev, in collaboration with geologist Yu. N. Gribchenko, geochemist M.A. Kul’kova, and paleontologists T.A. Sapelko and M.V. Sablin.

Radiocarbon dating of deposits found at the site provided results between 31,000 and 10,600 BC. However the majority of dates correlated with cultural artifacts, were between 14,000 and 12,000 BC.

Eliseevichi 1 yielded more than 200 artifacts, including a female ivory statuette - the Venus of Eliseevichi - and a limestone figurine of a mammoth, as well as awls, needles, and ivory plaques.

Most of these items were recovered from a mound of mammoth bones piled up against a dwelling.

Judging by the quantity and quality of ivory debris, and by the tradition of bone carving in complex abstract designs, Eliseevichi artists were particularly adept at working with these materials, as were those at Timonovka, Suponevo, Yudinovo and Mezin.

Eliseevichi is also noted for its skeletons of Ice Age dogs: one dating to 15,000 BC, the other to 12,000 BC. Both resembled Siberian huskies but larger - similar in size to wolves.

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Eliseevichi Venus: Characteristics

The Venus of Eliseevichi is an ivory carving of a female nude.

It measures 15 cm in height and depicts the shapely figure of a young woman, though without head, hands and feet.

Her breasts are defined but not large, while her waist and torso are slim. Her thighs and buttocks are fuller and more noticeable but entirely naturalistic. Her pubic triangle is indicated, but has no detailed definition.

Unlike typical European venuses from the Gravettian, who are severely obese, with pendulous breasts and grossly exaggerated buttocks, bellies and genitalia, the Eliseevichi figurine has a far more realistic, shapely appearance.

Overall it bears a strong resemblance to the French ivory carving known as the "Venus Impudique", which was recovered in 1864 from the Laugerie Basse rock shelter in the Dordogne. It is now part of the display of Upper Paleolithic art, at the Musee de l'homme, in Paris.

Magdalenian Art in Russia

Several stunning works of paleolithic art were created in Russia during the Magdalenian period.

They include the Kapova Cave Paintings (14,500 BCE), and the wood carving known as the Shigir Idol (10,000 BC) - the oldest art of its type in the world - among many other works. (See: World's Oldest Art.)

European Venus Figurines

The most famous female figurines carved in Europe, include:

References

(1) "From mammoth to fox: functional identification of Eliseevichi 1 within Upper Pleniglacial settlements of the the Desna valley." L. Demay, M. Patou-Mathis, S. Péan, G.A. Khlopachev, M.V. Sablin. Vita Antiqua, 2017. 902.67 (477.51) (632), pp.1-26.
(2) "L'image de la femme dans l'art préhistorique." Henri Delporte: Ed. Picard 1979. p.182.
(3) "On the Origin of Art and Symbolism." D'Errico F., Nowell A. Science Vol 323 6 February 2009.

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