WORLD OF SCIENCE – BOB BROCKIE
We all know about those hand-sized Ice Age women carved in stone – those plump ladies with huge breasts and behinds, tiny heads, artful hairdos and no faces.
They’re known as Palaeolithic Venuses and they raise a lot of puzzling questions: How come these almost identical figurines were found all the way from France to Siberia? How come this stylised carving tradition was practised and passed down over 20,000 years? What purpose did they serve?
There are as many answers to these questions as there are archaeologists and art critics. Frankly, the Venuses are a mystery. But the mystery has just deepened and widened.
The latest issue of the journal Antiquity tells of dozens of small portable statuettes recently unearthed in Germany, France, Poland, and the Czech Republic.
The figurines, chipped in flint, or carved in ivory or bone between 14,000 and 16,000 years ago, are of stylised women, or parts of women, with over- sized buttocks, long straight or arched trunks, small or missing breasts, and no heads, arms or feet. At Wilczyce, in Poland, the archeologists have also dug up more than 100 ancient stylised pictures of these women’s long straight backs and large bustles engraved on schist plaques.
Some of these strangely-shaped flint objects were discovered years ago when archaeologists misidentified them as early tools, and called them “strangled blades”. Last year, however, the research team, led by Romuald Schild at the Polish Academy of Sciences, discovered the tools are all in mint condition. They have never been used to scrape, cut, or hammer anything.
Professor Dale Guthrie, from the university of Alaska, and author of The Nature of Paleolithic Art, is surprised that while Paleolithic people were surrounded by plenty of things – babies, men, animals, plants, battle scenes, clan symbols – these things were never represented in their art, only well-endowed women. Guthrie suggests that all the figurines were made by young men and “it’s not too difficult to theorise about what was on their minds in their free time”. He thinks the similarly stylised Venus figures represent a cross-cultural view of women shared by prehistoric Europeans – well prehistoric men – for more than 20,000 years.
That a fashionable body shape should persist for 20,000 years is almost beyond the comprehension of modern Europeans. Our fashionable shape- shifting ladies have rapidly morphed from the Belle Epoche hourglass, to the Edwardian bustle shape, to the curveless boy-like creatures of the 1920s, to today’s skeletal catwalk strutters foisted on us by women and poofter fashion designers.
These days a red-blooded man can lose all respectability by admitting to a penchant for well-endowed women. But, underground, hankering after Ice Age beauties is alive and well.
A minute on the Internet will reveal about a million adult sites displaying beckoning super-curvy ladies with acres of arched backs and Paleolithic backsides.
But back to the figurines. Other schools of archaeologists don’t go along with the caveman porn theory. They suggest these carvings served as fertility symbols or for some mystical or religious purpose.
Any better suggestions?