Magazine article ROM Magazine

An Ancient Venus Uncovered

Magazine article ROM Magazine

An Ancient Venus Uncovered

Article excerpt

A 35,000-year-old sculpture found in Hohle Fels, Germany, last year could be the first known depiction of a human female. Carved from mammoth ivory, the figurine was found by Nicholas Conard of the University of Tubingen, Germany. Conard says the discovery could radically change our thinking about Paleolithic arts. There have never been female figures among sculptures found in this region and this figure, with exaggerated female characteristics, predates the famous Gravettian Venuses by more than 5,000 years. Four ROM curators weigh in on the meaning of this discovery.

The early date of the Venus of Hohle Fels helps us to better understand the series of dramatic changes in early human cognition that is often called the Upper Paleolithic Revolution. Dated between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago, the Upper Paleolithic Period provides the first strong evidence for composite tools, deliberate burial, language, music, and art. For several decades, archaeologists and physical anthropologists thought that art did not appear until the middle of the Upper Paleolithic and that the "revolution" unfolded relatively slowly throughout the period. The discovery of the Hohle Fels Venus, when combined with other recent finds, challenges this long-held belief by pushing the date of the earliest art back in time. Instead of a gradual awakening, our ancestors appear to have made the leap to cognitively modern humans in an evolutionary burst.

Justin Jennings, Archaeologist

The discovery of the Hohle Fels Venus has intriguing implications for the history of art. What strikes me is not so much the actual discovery of the piece as the contemporary preoccupation with a search for "origins," for ever-earlier examples of art that connect with representations in our own times. This figurine's association with the female divine is a matter of conjecture, yet the details of its form and composition seem to cross cultural and geographic boundaries. …

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