The Venus of Laussel - La Femme à la Corne
This low relief venus is from Laussel, Dordogne. 44 cm (17.5 inches) high. Musee d'Aquitane, Bordeaux. The body swells out towards the viewer from this convex block of limestone. It formed one of a set, a frieze which included other female figures and a male figure.
It probably dates to 27 000 - 22 000 b.p. Although now detached, it should be classed as parietal (non portable, in place) rock art since it was originally carved on a block of 4 cubic metres (140 cubic feet), and was originally covered in red ochre. The bison's horn and the series of 13 lines on it have often been linked with the moon or menstruation. The lines may represent the thirteen days of the waxing moon and the thirteen months of the lunar year.
The venus was discovered in 1911 by a physician named J. G. Lalanne carved into the wall of a limestone rock shelter (named Laussel) in the Dordogne not far from Lascaux. The shelter, under an overhang, is a terrace over 300 yards long which looks out over the valley below. Although originally thought to have been a dwelling site, it is now believed to have served as a ceremonial center.
Photo: P. Bahn 'Prehistoric Art'
Venus of Laussel, detail, photograph of the original kept at the Musée d'Aquitaine in Bordeaux
Date: September 2008
Photo: User 120
Permission: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
I Am the Venus of Laussel
A poem by Ken Sanes
My name is the Venus of Laussel.
At least that’s the name people use
when they talk or write about me in English.
I am the figure of a woman
that was engraved on a limestone block
more than a thousand generations ago,
and I’d like to tell you about myself.………………
La Femme à la Corne, height 43 cm. The figure bears evidence of having been coated in red ochre at one time.
Photo: © Roussot 2000
Source: Jaubert (2008)
This is a reconstruction of what the original Femme à la Corne may have looked like.
It shows a woman with long hair, and drinking from a horn.
Artist: Illustration © Libor Balák
A good quality image of the second Femme à la Corne. It is also known as the Berlin Venus.
This is a facsimile in the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Berlin, the Berlin Museum of Prehistory and Early History.
The original was taken as spoils of war to Russia.
(which explains why the piece is virtually unknown! - Don )
Photo: Einsamer Schütze, Lone Shooter
Permission: GNU Free Documentation License , Version 1.2 or any later version
Another version of the second Femme à la Corne, a replica in the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Berlin, the Berlin Museum of Prehistory and Early History, ca 30 000 BP.
The stone bas-relief of a woman with a horn in her hand, which is often interpreted as a cornucopia, thus bestowing fertility. From the Abri Laussel site come five reliefs of human figures, a spear throwing man and four women. The similar "Venus of Laussel" is shown in the Museum of Bordeaux.
Source: Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Berlin, the Berlin Museum of Prehistory and Early History.
Femme à la tête quadrillée, from Laussel.
This is a little known piece, which is also completed on a piece of sandstone found at Laussel. The net or grid on the head is especially interesting.
(Given the existence of the second Femme à la Corne just above, it is tempting to see this Femme à la tête quadrillée as another version of the Femme à la Corne, with the arm holding the horn broken off - Don )
Photo: Mussi (2010)
Femme à la tête quadrillée, from Laussel.
Photo: Cohen (2003)
This facsimile from Laussel, dated from 32 000 BP to 20 000 BP has been identified as a male-female copulation scene, a birthing scene, or most recently as a Double Goddess in mirror reflection. Perhaps as a 'Playing Card' image of two women, it represents the changing of the seasons from winter to summer, and the resulting dark and light cycle that occurs.
It was discovered in 1911 at almost the same time as the Femme à la Corne, and was created by pecking the stone. It is engraved on a sandstone block, probably originally attached to the wall.
It was discovered 'in the rubble', and may have been completed on the stone after it had detached from the wall. The photo on the left is the traditional way to look at the sculpture, but if we rotate it through 180° a second venus appears, shown at right, with the head at the top, a neck, and breasts.
Text adapted from: Noble (2003) and http://www.jacquesvlemaire.be/blog/tag/venus-a-la-corne
Source: Musée d'Aquitaine à Bordeau
This is a male figure on a limestone block from Laussel. This has one of the most naturalistic depictions of the human torso and lower body including the pelvis and upper legs that I have ever seen.
Photo: (left) Cohen (2003)
Photo: (right) © Wellcome Library, London, after a photograph by Lalanne, Creative Commons by-nc 2.0 UK: England & Wales
This is known as the Laussel priapus, found in a Gravettian layer aged 22 000 BP.
In Greek mythology, Priapus was a minor rustic fertility god, protector of livestock, fruit plants, gardens and male genitalia. Priapus is marked by his absurdly oversized, permanent erection, which gave rise to the medical term priapism. He became a popular figure in Roman erotic art and Latin literature, and is the subject of the often humorously obscene collection of verse called the Priapeia.
In archaeology, priapus is a term commonly given to a figure which is phallus like, or has a large phallus.
Source: J.P. Duhard tracing
Text: adapted from Wikipedia.
The Laussel priapus.
Photo: Rau et al. (2009)
Mousterian mill: two sides of a volcanic rock pebble covered with ridges (75 mm x 55 mm x 55 mm). Petit abri de Laussel, Dordogne. Typical Mousterian. Musee d'Aquitaine, coll. Lalanne.
Neanderthal man already used crude tools to crush various substances, as evidenced by the presence of rudimentary mills at the end of the Mousterian (ca. 50 000 years).
Photo and text translated from: de Beaune (2002)
Glans penis, Laussel, kept in the Musée d'Aquitaine.
This has been carved from a fairly coarse sandy limestone. The object is broken at the former level of the preputial sulcus, the fold between the glans and the foreskin.
The total length of the fragment is 64 mm, that of the glans itself 50 mm, with a maximum width of 43 mm. The diameter of the penis, substantially oval, varies from 46 to 39 mm. This piece comes from the upper Aurignacian level (i.e. Upper Perigordian), although the workers placed it in a box of the Aurignacian (i.e. Périgordien). The Laussel excavations were carried out by a team of workers under the direction of R. Peyrille, who regularly shipped material to Bordeaux by train.
No serious scientific surveillance was exercised, and the stratigraphic position of many finds remains unclear. However, the assignment of the object to the Upper Perigordian is very probable.
Photo and text: Duhard et Roussot (1988)
Representation of a vulva, Laussel.
Photo: Duhard et Roussot (1988)
Cross Section of the gisement.
Photo: Lalanne et Bouyssonie (1946)
L'abri sous-roche du moulin de Laussel (Dordogne)
The Rock Shelter of the Laussel Mill, Dordogne.
When, starting from Les Eyzies, one goes up the valley of the Beune (which flows into the Vézère just downstream of Les Eyzies), and after having seen on the right, first, Font de Gaume, then les Combarelles then leaving on the right also the small tributary valley where lies Bernifal (all caves with carvings and paintings), the valley becomes a little wider, rugged, very picturesque, but with a wild aspect.
At 9 kilometres from Les Eyzies the valley narrows. To the right stands the imposing ruins of the beautiful medieval castle of Comarque and just across the other side of the valley the little 17th Century castle of Laussel, still inhabited, and where M. E. Rivière excavated and reported to l'Association francaise à Montauban in 1902.
At 300 metres upstream, we find the Laussel mill, located on the right bank of the Beune. Just above the mill, there are some large shelters, raised about 12 metres above the valley bottom and having an average height of 12-15 metres and a depth of 5 to 8 metres, covered by a rock overhang like the classic type along the Vézère Valley. These shelters extend for 150 metres. The part above the mill has been completely cleared for use as a barn.
There still exists an oven and a little farther on a little masonry hut for livestock or poultry. But a little further upstream the floor of the shelter is formed by prehistoric hearths measuring from 50 cm to 100 cm thick. Their top was more or less disturbed, perhaps a part had been removed, but underneath they are intact.
Some preliminary explorations have allowed us to collect artefacts with the characteristic features of the Solutrean. The 30 pieces that I present here, chosen from a much larger number, form, as can be seen, a systematic series where all types of the Solutrean are well represented.
These are, first, nuclei, cleverly knapped, which have provided blades measuring up to 13 cm in length. The edges of the nuclei are carefully re-worked so as to give backed blades and of which we have found some good specimens with a large number of thin blades, although less fine and less narrow than those of the pure Magdalenian.
Some of these blades are fairly broad, which have been carefully retouched on one edge or both edges, they are usually worked to a point. It is one of the Solutrean types showing the general shape of the Mousterian point, but thinner and notably less triangular.
A large scraper made from a wide blade 13 cm long by 5 cm wide, and a very well retouched small disc also very well retouched were equally characteristic.
Single burins, sometimes double, are larger and less skilfully made than those of the full Magdalenian. They are sometimes retouched on the edges.
Awls are quite plentiful and usually very well retouched. Some are elongated and fairly sharp, other wider ones were used as reamers retouched on opposite sides of the tip. Some were fashioned at the end of a large flake, fairly thick, giving a good hand grip.
Scrapers are abundant, some are re-worked at the end of a thin blade, but the largest number were quite large, well retouched, the retouches going a fair way along the back of the blade. There were a few scraper/burins and some double ended scrapers. There were also some small scrapers completely discoidal in shape.
Also note the square type scraper and a curious scraper 15 cm long made with the remains of a nucleus and which is a type of thick scraper (pente abrupte Salmon) pointed out long ago by Piette, in his excavations of the Solutrean industry.
As for tips, they are of the most pure Solutrean type, very fine laurel leaf, thin, beautifully retouched. We have collected broken parts of tips measuring 8 to 10 cm.
Tanged points are frequent. We have a whole series from the notch barely indicated to specimens whose back is completely retouched with extreme skill and the notch carefully reworked. Sometimes the alterations are only on one side, the other being flat, sometimes both sides are beautifully reworked. Unfortunately most of these pieces, as usual, are more or less broken. Some almost intact specimens have a size of 5 to 8 cm.
We see the industry of this interesting gisement as quite remarkable and very pure. Nowhere did we find any trace of Magdalenian deposits, nor of Acheulean or Mousterian levels.
As for fauna, this was poorly represented, we found only bones from a fairly large horse and some reindeer remains. These researches were conducted during August and September last.
- Capitan L., Peyrony D., 1903 L'abri sous-roche du moulin de Laussel (Dordogne), Bulletins et Mémoires de la Société d'anthropologie de Paris, V° Série, tome 4, 1903. pp. 558-560.
- Cohen C., 2003: La femme des origines. Images de la femme dans la préhistoire occidentale,, Paris, Belin-Herscher, 2003, 191 pages.
- de Beaune, S., 2002 Origine du matériel du mouture: innovation et continuité du Paléolithique au Néolithique, Meules à Grains Actes du Colloque International de la Ferté-Sous-Jouarre 16 - 19 Mai 2002
- Duhard J., Roussot A., 1988 Le gland pénien sculpté de Laussel (Dordogne), Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française 1988, tome 85, N. 2. pp. 41-44.
- Jaubert, J., 2008: L'art pariétal gravettien en France : éléments pour un bilan chronologique, Paléo, 20 | 2008, 439-474.
- Lalanne, J., Bouyssonie J., 1946: Le gisement paléolithique de Laussel. Fouilles du Dr Lalanne, L'Anthropologie, t. 50, pp 1-163, 123 fig., 1 pl.
- Mussi M. et al., 2010: "Les « vénus » du Gravettien et de l’Épigravettien italien, témoignages de rapports sur longues distances au travers de l’Europe et de l’Eurasie" IFRAO Congress, IFRAO Congress, September 2010 – Symposium: Pleistocene art in Europe (Pre-Acts)
- Noble V., 2003: The double goddess: women sharing power, Inner Traditions / Bear & Co, 31/07/2003
- Rau, S., Naumann D., Barth M., Mühleis Y., Bleckmann C., 2009: Eiszeit: Kunst und Kultur, Thorbecke, 2009, 396p. ISBN: 978-3-7995-0833-9