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The Venus of Willendorf


The Venus of Willendorf is a superbly crafted sculpture of a naked obese woman from the stone age. It is made of oolitic limestone, and was covered with red ochre when found. The vulva is particularly well carved, by someone with a good knowledge of anatomy. The feet are rendered as very small, with no indication of ankles. Opinion is divided about the pattern around the head. Some say it is braided hair, others say it is a woven (or crocheted) hat pulled low over the face. There is evidence for woven textiles from that time. It could also be basketry.

venus of willendorf

The Venus of Willendorf was carved from oolitic limestone, and was covered with a thick layer of red ochre when found. The figurine was unearthed during the Wachau railway construction in 1908.

Age: 30 000 - 27 000 BP Photo: Vienna Natural History Museum Postcard


venus of willendorf
I spent some time in the Vienna Natural History Museum one day in September 2008. This is the best image of the Venus of Willindorf from that session.

Opinion is divided about the pattern around the head.

Some say it is braided hair, others say it is a woven (or crocheted!) hat pulled low over the face. There is evidence for woven textiles from that time. It could also be basketry. Note the "golf ball" venus (at the bottom of the page on the link) from Kostienki, which is a head totally covered with basketry, and the similar full figure with the head almost covered in a similar texture.

But all agree that it is deliberate, to hide the face. The question is, why?

All sorts of theories have been put forward - that it is an anonymous female, or that it is the earth mother, whose face not only cannot be seen, but must not be seen.

All conjecture, and your guess is as good as anyone else's.

The thick circles at the top of the breasts of the Willendorf venus are vestigial arms. If you look at the figure closely, you can see the matchstick arms starting at the shoulders, and continuing down the body and across the breasts. Look closer still, and you can see bangles or arm ornaments at the wrists. Even hands with fingers are indicated.

Depending on your browser, you may have to click on this image a couple of times to see it at full magnification.

Photo: Don Hitchcock, 2008

Source: Original in the Vienna Natural History Museum


Willendorf panorama

View from the site of the discovery of the Venus of Willendorf, Willendorf II. The Venusium museum is the red walled, dark tiled roof structure below the railway track on the right.

Larger image, 1.1 Mb

Depending on your browser, you may have to click on this image a couple of times to see it at full magnification.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

willendorf site on the Donau

View of the Willendorf II site, from the cycle track, the Radweg, along the Danube.

From this viewpoint we can see the flags that mark the spot, and the shelter for the information boards and the actual profile cut into the loess.

The railway line may be seen a little below the flags and shelter.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008




willendorf on the Donau

Willendorf on the Donau, where the Venus of Willendorf was discovered, viewed from a ship on the Donau.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2000




 willendorf scene





'Lösswand bei Willendorf' (Loess cliff at Willendorf), a painting of Willendorf on the Danube by Hugo Darnaut before the railway was constructed, and before the venus was discovered.

Photo: Antl-Weiser (2008a)




 willendorf scene

View of the Wachau valley in the Willendorf area, view from southeast. Indicated in red are the sites:
Willendorf I (WI), Willendorf I Nord (WI-Nord), Willendorf II (WII), Willendorf III (WIII), Willendorf IV (WIV), Willendorf V (WV), Willendorf VI (WVI), and Willendorf VII (WVII).

Photo: T. Bence Viola, Graphic: Philip R. Nigst
Source and text: Nigst et al., 2008


The eastern bank of the Danube Valley is formed by cliffy and steep slopes. The western bank shows flatter slopes because of the loess accumulation in the lee of the dominating winds from the west.

Further, large alluvial fans, formed by streams from the hinterland (e.g. Willendorfer Bach) transporting large amounts of material into the Danube Valley, are recognised on this western bank. The deposits of the site Willendorf II are lying on top of a lower terrace of the Danube.

The Palaeolithic layers are found in the upper half of the about 20 m thick deposits. The site is part of the Willendorf site cluster, a total of 8 sites are known: Willendorf I, Willendorf I North, and Willendorf II to VII.

Text above: Nigst et al., 2008




During the Upper Palaeolithic, ice age hunters used the slopes of the Danube valley repeatedly. The area around the left bank of the Danube between Aggsbach and Krems along with the tribitary valleys to the west and north of the Danube valley was an important habitat for ice age man living in the east of what is now Austria. The Palaeolithic settlements between Willendorf and Schwallenbach are located in a somewhat broader section of the Wachau on the west bank of the Danube. Nussberg, the hill to the west, sheltered the settlement near Willendorf from westerly winds. From very early on, the Danube connected eastern and western Europe and was of particular significance for cultural contacts and the ongoing development of Palaeolithic cultures.

The four lower excavation levels at Willendorf reveal early Upper Palaeolithic or Aurignacian settlements, while the five levels above originated in the Mid-Upper Palaeolithic period during the Gravettian culture. Both of these cultures are named after archaeological sites in France.


Text above from a display at the Venusium, the Museum at Willendorf devoted to the Venus of Willendorf and its discovery.

Vienna Natural History Museum

The Vienna Natural History Museum, in which the Venus of Willendorf is on display.

Photo: Don Hitchcock, 2008


venus of willendorf venus of willendorf venus of willendorf

Although available light does not give good resolution, it shows sculptural forms clearly.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008, Canon, available light

Source: Original in the Vienna Natural History Museum







A series of photographs in rotational sequence

Photos below by Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Original in the Vienna Natural History Museum


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Showing the decoration on top of the head.




Smaller photographs

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venus of willendorf venus of willendorf


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Images with good depth of field, but with less detail

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Working traces between belly and thighs





Working traces between belly and thighs

At the middle of the body it appears that breast, belly and the thighs were first modelled by deep vertical scratching. These scratches were smoothed by horizontal scraping. At the thighs horizontal traces are overlain by vertical ones.

A view of the Venus of the left thigh shows scraping traces at the breast as well as the horizontal traces on the belly and the vertical ones on the thighs.

Photo and text: Antl-Weiser (2008a)


working traces on thighs

The working traces on the thigh are more easily seen on this photograph of the right thigh.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008, Canon, img_1472


knee





The knee was produced by vertical scratching which first diminished the size of the thighs. There is an overlay of clear horizontal scratches.

Beneath the knee there are again vertical scratches

Photo and text: Antl-Weiser (2008a)


working traces on thighs

These vertical scratches below the knee on the calf may be more easily seen in this photograph.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008, Canon, img_1472


venus of willendorf





Crossing traces of working at the back.

A view to the back of the figurine shows traces of horizontal smoothing and parts where horizontal traces are overlain by vertical ones. The same scheme is to be seen at the back side of the thighs.

Photo and text: Antl-Weiser (2008a)


venus of willendorf head venus of willendorf





The venus of Willendorf was once covered with red ochre, and presumably it was removed during the process of 'cleaning up' for display in a museum.

Here we can see traces left, especially in the depressions left in the head ornamentation, and in the grooves outlining parts of the figurine.

Photo(left): Antl-Weiser (2008a)
Photo (right): Don Hitchcock 2008, Canon
Source: Original in the Vienna Natural History Museum


venus of willendorf vulva venus of willendorf vulva





The vulva is well defined in the figurine, though not grotesquely enlarged as in some other venus figurines such as Monpazier.

Photo: (left) Kern et al. (2008)

Photo: (right) Don Hitchcock 2008


venus of willendorf venus of willendorf


venus of willendorf venus of willendorf

Venus of Willendorf posters. When I arrived in Viena in September 2008, there were posters advertising the Venus of Willendorf everywhere.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008, Canon







Venus of Willendorf II

venus of willendorf II venus of willendorf

Venus of Willendorf II

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008, Pentax

Source: Original in the Vienna Natural History Museum


venus of willendorf II



In 1926 Bayer found the Venus II from Willendorf in a hole which had been dug into the sequence of cultural layers by clandestine excavators. In 1927 he made a systematic excavation on this spot.

In the course of this excavation he found the evidence of a deep pit which was dug from layer 9 down to layer 5. The pit contained bones from mammoth and a jaw of a mammoth.

Bayer (1930)) reports that the original position of the ivory figurine Venus II was on top of the jaw. The head of the only roughly cut figurine is broken off.

Photo and text: Antl-Weiser (2008a)


venus of willendorf II venus of willendorf II venus of willendorf II

Venus of Willendorf II

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008, Canon

Source: Original in the Vienna Natural History Museum


venus of willendorf II venus of willendorf II





Venus of Willendorf II

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008, Canon

Source: Facsimile in the Vienna Natural History Museum


venus of willendorf II





Side View.

The front view shows that the sculpture is slightly twisted in the middle of the body. The area of the shoulder is well modelled. Below the neck on the left side of the breast there is a rather indistinct structure possibly representing the left arm.

Between belly and thighs there is only a roughly cut depression. The back of the figurine seems unmodified, only the transition from the bottom to the legs is clearly cut. In the area of the shanks the separation between left and right leg is clear.

The Venus II is rather roughly cast in most parts, only the shoulders and the legs seem well modelled. Perhaps it was left unfinished when the head broke off.

Photo and text: Antl-Weiser (2008a)


venus of willendorf II

Venus of Willendorf II reconstruction.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008, Canon

Source: Vienna Natural History Museum







Venus of Willendorf III

venus of willendorf III





The so called Venus III from Willendorf is certainly a modified piece of ivory but was often doubted to be a figurine . Only the side view gives an illusion of the shape of a human sculpture possibly with head, bottom, feet, belly and neck.

In ethnological contexts wooden pieces are used as puppets but would never be recognised as such without a description. Thus we cannot be sure what the piece meant to the ice age hunter, although there are too few indications to classify the piece as figurine from a formal point of view.

Photo and text: Antl-Weiser (2008a)


venus of willendorf III venus of willendorf III

Venus of Willendorf III

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008, Pentax

Source: Original in the Vienna Natural History Museum


venus of willendorf III venus of willendorf III

Venus of Willendorf III

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008, Canon

Source: Original in the Vienna Natural History Museum


venus of willendorf III venus of willendorf III

Venus of Willendorf III

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008, Canon

Source: Facsimile in the Vienna Natural History Museum


venus of willendorf III



Venus of Willendorf II and III

Photo: Matthias cable

Date: 14th January 2007

Permission: GNU Free Documentation License







The stone used for the Venus of Willendorf

The dumpling in the ice

Matthias Schulz, Schulz (2008)


The geologist Alexander Binsteiner made a thorough study of the venus of Willendorf and the stone used to make it.

Five times the precious object was removed from its alarmed display case and placed under the microscope.

antl-weiser binsteiner

Researchers Antl-Weiser and Binsteiner with the Venus of Willendorf.

Photo: Schulz (2008)




Scratches and the traces of tools show that the nearly 11 cm high statuette was shaped with a flint tool. A hair net or braided cap covers her head. On the upper right arm are horizontal notches. Traces of colour show that she was originally covered with red ochre, which had ritual significance, since the dead were routinely covered in the same substance.

The piece is made of a rare oolitic (stone eggs) limestone. The structure of this material means that sometimes small round pock marks appear on the surface when one of the spheres falls out.

'One of these unsightly dents has been skilfully used by the artist to indicate a navel' said Binsteiner, and the sculpture was, for him, a 'brilliant performance'.

Particularly striking was that even the quarry from which the sculptor once took the stone for the figurine was eventually able to be found after a long search.

The raw material came from Stránská skála.

Stránská_skála

When hunting horses before 18 000 years ago, hunters used the steep north walls and the gradual slope on the other side of Stransky rocks, Stránská skála, near Brno, to drive the horses over the cliff. At that time Dolní Věstonice was not inhabited.

Source: Display, Dolní Věstonice Museum

Artist: Unknown

Text: Translated and adapted from the display.


Stránská_skála



Stránská skála is an isolated limestone hill, situated about 5 km north and east of the centre of Brno. It is 1.5 km long, almost 400 m wide, and lies 310 m above sea level. While the southeastern slope is quite moderate, and passes gradually into a plain, the northwestern boundary is steep, the limestone walls falling vertically into the valley.



Text accompanying the photo above is adapted from Musil (1968)

Photo: Description English: Stránská rock in Brno, Czech Republic.
Datum Date: 2005-10-09 (original upload date)
Source: Originally from cs.wikipedia
Author: Original uploader was Onovy at cs.wikipedia
Permission: Dual-licensed under the GFDL and cc-by-sa-2.5.
Source: Wikipedia, http://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stránská_skála




On the hilltop, as large as a child's head, lie boulders of oolitic limestone. One of these was picked up to make the Venus.

Binsteiner estimated that the time needed to make the venus was about 10 to 20 hours. 'From there, the small sculpture was taken 130 km to the Danube near Willendorf. Such distances were not unusual for the nomads of the Gravettian.

In parkas and shoes cushioned with grass, they trudged through the icy landscape. They were armed with spear throwers, and long stone blades hung from their belts.

Climatic data from Greenland ice cores show that the hunting band initially lived in abundance. The weather was cold but dry. A treeless tundra stretched before them. At the end of March the rain melted the thin layer of snow, and fresh green shoots of grass and herbs sprang up. This provided an abundance of food for large herds of mammoth and bison, giant deer and saiga antelope. What a meat supply!

The groups were partially settled, with women, infants and craftsmen in one location, while the hunters spread over large areas of the landscape looking for game. In the settlements the venus figures were found. Many were hidden in the dwellings, some were buried in small pits. But what ceremonies lie behind the fat women? The artists showed them naked, sometimes with jewellery such as necklaces or bands of clothing, sometimes with bangles on their arms. The statues were not erotica for lonely men. Not all were portrayed as provocative and naturalistic. Many were quite abstract in style. Who or what were they intended to evoke?

The Venus of Lespugue in southern france is particularly interesting in this respect. The globular, large breasts dangle from the body, the buttocks are like footballs. The work could have come from a modern artist, and it was obviously not about prurient sex, but about reproduction.






The Site of the Discovery of the Venus of Willendorf

Museum Museum Museum

Hugo Obermaier, Josef Szombathy, and Josef Bayer at the centre of the excavations where the Venus of Willendorf was found.

Wilendorf had already been known as a Palaeolithic site for over 20 years when, in 1908, systematic excavations by Szombathy, Bayer and Obermaier began.

By the 1870s at the latest, the owner of the Brunner brickyard at Willendorf had found flint tools there. Leopold Koch and Ferdinand Brun learned of these finds in late 1883. Brun had noticed bones at the surface of the Brunner brickyard on several occasions. He carried out initial archaeological investigations in 1884. At the end of the 1880s, bones were discovered during digging for a new clay pit on the Ebner property. Ludwig Hans Fischer carried out excavations of this site in 1890. Remains of human skeletons were reported to have been discovered while digging for clay between 1904 and 1905.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Venusium, the museum at Willendorf. © NHM Wien

Text: Display at Venusium, the museum at Willendorf.


willendorf discovery

Willendorf II, 7th August 1908: discovery of the Venus I of Willendorf. The man standing at the findspot of the figurine is J. Bayer.

Johann Veran, one of the workers, found the statuette. Szombathy, who stood nearest to Veran, saw the figurine first and showed it to Bayer, who worked not far away from Veran. Szombathy took some photographs of the situation, as shown here.

(This photo shows more of the site than the one on the right, above - Don )

Photo: J. Szombathy; © Archive of the Department of Prehistory, Museum of Natural History, Vienna; nr. 4796)
Source: Nigst et al., 2008
Text: Partially from Antl-Weiser (2008a)




bayer letter

Szombathy’s diary

Obermaier excavating further to the west heard of the find in the evening because Szombathy and Bayer didn’t want the public to take notice of the find. The molestation by various private collectors was already big enough.

Obermaier wrote about this moment of finding that all of them, the workers, Bayer and he himself, were excavating in a line when the figurine was found. Therefore it was not unusual that at that very moment none of them – neither Bayer nor Obermaier – was present. This passage led to doubts that the finding had been documented adequately. But Obermaier did not mean that they had not been at the site when the Venus was found. He only said that none of them stood behind Veran, because all of them were working.

Only Szombathy went along this line of workers and saw the figurine near Veran or perhaps even watched Veran unearthing the Venus. There are two authentic statements which support the above mentioned interpretation of Obermaier’s passage about the finding. Although Obermaier’s diary has been lost in Freiburg in Switzerland, we have a handwritten transcript of some parts of the diary written by Felgenhauer.

Obermaier wrote into his diary that Veran had found the Venus. He also mentioned the names of the eye witnesses: Szombathy and Bayer. The second statement was made by Szombathy on his visit on the 7th of August in Willendorf. He wrote the following note into his diary:

'Dr. Bayer and Dr. Obermaier are busily excavating layer II/7. They have already finished half of it. Layer 7 contains some dark spots and in one place a 40 cm deep hearth. (FA-PA, Willendorf) Photo 5 and 6 findspot from the north'

Photo and text: Antl-Weiser (2008a)




Museum
Map of the Willendorf digs I, II and III by Bayer on 19th May 1908.

As early as 1904, Szombathy made a drawing of the Grossensteiner brickyard and noted that the Wachaubahn railway would pass just above or below it. Excavation for the railway began in January of 1908. On January 18, Josef Bayer published and appeal to the population of the Wachau to be watchful for any finds made in the loess. He also informed Szombathy that the excavation work had already touched on levels of finds from the Palaeolithic period. Szombathy then charged Hugo Obermaier and Josef Bayer with observing the excavation work.

On May 11 the two of them followed the railway bed from Krems to Willendorf and noted three additional archaeological sites besides the former brickyard. They purchased some of the finds and made sketches of the sites. In early June, an engineer of the imperial railway construction authority named Kann reported finds from the railway bed to the central commission in Vienna. Szombathy carried out negotiations with Kann and Albus, the subcontractor from Groisbach who was supplying tools and labour. On July 22 he summoned Bayer and Obermaier to Willendorf on July 29.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Venusium, the museum at Willendorf. © NHM Wien

Text: Display at Venusium, the museum at Willendorf.




grid paper map


Plan of the excavation at Willendorf I in 1908 with the position of the figurine.

Photo and text: Antl-Weiser (2008a)




free hand sketch


Bayer’s description of the layers in 1909, which is presumed to be information for Szombathy’s speech in Potsdam in that year.

Photo and text: Antl-Weiser (2008a)




Museum

Josef Bayer on the 7th August 1908 on the level where the Venus of Willendorf was discovered.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Venusium, the museum at Willendorf. © NHM Wien




Museum
The site of the dig at Willendorf.

On the morning of August 7, Josef Szombathy arrived in Willendorf on a routine visit. He and Josef Bayer were present when a worker, Johann Veran, discovered the Venus of Willendorf. Hugo Obermaier learned of the find only later, in the course of the day. In 1925 Hugo Obermaier wrote to his friend Menghin, head of the Institute of Prehistory and Early History at Vienna University, that no one had been present when the statue had actually been found. He and Bayer had been occupied with excavating the levels. Szombathy alone had gone from one worker to another and noticed the object lying among the finds made by Veran.

Obermaier's letter became a source of later speculation. Some suspected that none of the three researchers had actually been at the excavation site when the Venus had been found. This may be ruled out, however, since Obermaier himself also wrote that he and Bayer had been working above and Szombathy had been observing their work.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Venusium, the museum at Willendorf. © NHM Wien

Text: Display at Venusium, the museum at Willendorf.


Museum
The site of the dig at Willendorf.

The people in the photo are standing at the place where the Venus figures were found. The person in the foreground is standing at the site where the Venus I was found, and the person in the background is standing at the site where the Venus II was found.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Venusium, the museum at Willendorf. © NHM Wien

Text: My translation of the caption on the photograph.


Willendorf 1908



View of Willendorf I, I-North, and II from the eastern bank of the Danube in 1908 after the completion of the railroad.

Photo: Szombathy; © Archive of the Department of Prehistory, Museum of Natural History, Vienna; nr. 4777)
Source: Nigst et al., 2008




Willendorf thighbone
Human thighbone, Willendorf I.

Age: 24 000 BP.

This looks like a facsimile.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Vienna Natural History Museum.




Willendorf jawbone
Human jaw, Willendorf II.

Age: 24 000 BP.

This looks like a facsimile.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna




Willendorf layers one and two tools
Willendorf II, layers 1 (1-2) and 2 (3-5).

1. retouched flake
2. core
3. bec (nosed end scraper)
4. sidescraper
5. denticulate

Layer 1 contains only three artifacts, all undiagnostic. Their characters did not allow us to specify a chrono-cultural attribution.

Layer 2 yielded a slightly more important assemblage, which, nevertheless, is insufficient for a real typo-technological characterization. The Vienna collections contain 41 pieces corresponding to 32 tools, 7 unretouched blades and 2 cores. Blade debitage seems to be exclusive and there is no clear evidence of a specific flake production.

Layers 1 to 3 are very poor. Their interpretation is all the more difficult because the quantitative and qualitative value of the assemblages changes from one layer to another. In fact, layer 4 is the only one to offer a rich and diversified assemblage containing more than 100 tools in association with numerous debitage products.

Flakes are preferentially used for the manufacture of a diversified tool-kit dominated by retouched flakes, which are generally heterogeneous and only partially retouched. The assemblage also includes a small proportion of notches, denticulates (no. 5) and scrapers (no. 4), as well as one bec (no. 3) and one truncated piece, both on flakes.

Photo and text: Haesaerts et al. (2003)
Drawings: N. Teyssandier




Willendorf layer two tools
Willendorf II, layer 2.

1-4 single endscrapers
5-6 retouched blades
7-8 retouched flakes

Blade tools are not so numerous; they are represented by five endscrapers (no. 1-4) - more often than not on cortical blades - and four retouched blades (no. 5-6). Among the retouched blades, a more elongated and regular specimen (no. 5) indicates that it has been detached with a soft organic hammer. This is testified to by the carefully abraded unfaceted butt and the particularly well developed lip.

Photo and text: Haesaerts et al. (2003)
Drawings: N. Teyssandier




Willendorf layers 1-4 display
The beginnings of the open air camp site in Willendorf.

Willendorf II/Layers 1 - 4, in the district of Krems, Lower Austria.
Older Upper Palaeolithic, Aurignacian.
Layer 4:   32 000 ± 250 BP.

Over many millennia, the inhabitants here put up their camps on the east facing slope made of wind blown rock flour, loess, of the left bank of the Danube at Willendorf. Little remains to be found of the first three layers, except for some stone tools and some jewellery, a pierced snail shell.

In the fourth layer are numerous stone tools and multiple blades, awls and points made ​​of bone. They hunted, in particular, Ibex and Reindeer. This indicates that the climate was very cold.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna




Willendorf layers 1-4 display scrapers
Scrapers from Layer 4 of the Willendorf II site, 32 000 ± 250 BP.

Scrapers are unifacial tools that were used either for hideworking or woodworking purposes. Whereas this term is often used for any unifacially flaked stone tool that defies classification, most lithic analysts maintain that the only true scrapers are defined on the base of use-wear, and usually are those that were worked on the distal ends of blades - i.e., 'end scrapers' or grattoirs. Other scrapers include the so-called 'side scrapers' or racloirs, which are made on the longest side of a flake, and notched scrapers, which have a cleft on either side that may have been used to attach them to a handle.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna
Text: Adapted from Wikipedia




Willendorf layers 1-4 display shells
Shells from Layer 4 of the Willendorf II site, 32 000 ± 250 BP.

These are marine snail shells brought by humans from the sea a long distance away and thus very valuable, pierced to be strung on a leather thong.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna
Text: Adapted from Wikipedia




Willendorf layers 1-4 display bone points





Bone points from Layer 4 of the Willendorf II site, 32 000 ± 250 BP.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna




Willendorf layers 2 - 4 dig


A young team of dedicated prehistorians and anthropologists focused in 2006 on the lower layers 2-4 of the Willendorf profile, horizons that have yielded relatively few artefacts, but are important because they were deposited between 42 000 - 30 000 years ago, at a time when Anatomically Modern Humans were replacing Neanderthals in the fossil record.

Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna




Willendorf layers 1-4 display kielkratzer




Kielkratzer, keeled or carinated end scrapers, from Layer 4 of the Willendorf II site, 32 000 ± 250 BP.

Note that the scraper on the bottom left looks very much like a muzzle shaped scraper, often known as a 'nose' scraper, or a grattoir à museau.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna




Willendorf layer 5 display
Willendorf II / Layer 5, in the district of Krems, Lower Austria.
Middle Upper Palaeolithic, Gravettian.
Layer 5: ca  30 000 BP.

Sharp spear points

Five superimposed Camps of the Gravettian (layers 5-9) completed the deposits at the site where the Venus of Willendorf was found. At the oldest of this group of camps, layer 5, bones of mammoth, reindeer, ibex and deer have survived as remnants of the animals they hunted, once again pointing out the periglacial climatic conditions that prevailed in this area 30 000 years ago.

Only a few bone tools were found. The people of Willendorf used scrapers, burins, and minute stone points known as 'Gravettespitzen' (Gravettian points, Pointes de la Gravette), and 'microliths' - for their work. Fossil Dentalia shells extracted from ancient limestone deposits, as well as perforated deer and fox teeth, were hung as pendants around the neck.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna




Gravettian points Gravettespitze
Pointe de la Gravette - a term introduced by Henri Breuil in 1906.

Different views of the same specimen.

A Gravettespitze or Gravettian point is a narrow, pointed blade, usually made of flint, having a steep retouched back (right end in the figure). The retouching was used as a hafting area for gluing to a grooved shaft of wood or bone.

The retouching is applied to the base of the point, (proximal end) gradually disappearing as it gets to the point (distal end). This suggests it was used as reinforcement when used as a tip in a spear. Another form of the Pointe de la Gravette is the Micro-Gravettian point, which is sometimes defined by a Gravettian point with a length of less than 30 mm.

Gravettian points are the signature tool of the older Gravettian, 31 000 to 25 000 years ago, or the Perigordian IV, a culture of the Upper Paleolithic.

Material: Flint
Dimensions: 60 × 10 × 4 mm - 2 grams.
Origin: Gavaudun, Lot-et-Garonne, France
Photo: Didier Descouens , 8 January 2011
Source: Muséum de Toulouse, MHNT.PRE.2009.0.231.2
Permission: GNU Free Documentation License , Version 1.2




Willendorf layer 5 spear and microliths







Willendorf II, Layer 5: ca  30 000 BP.

Bone point and microliths.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna




Willendorf layer 5 dentalium
Willendorf II, Layer 5: ca  30 000 BP.

Dentalium shells, fossil shells extracted from ancient limestone, and another item of jewellery.

The modern descendants of Dentalium shells are still highly prized as jewellery, and are commonly used by Native North American artists. They are often referred to as tusk shells or tooth shells, and are used in indigenous jewellery and personal decoration in Western Canada and the United States.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna




Antalis pretiosum
The modern equivalent of Dentalium is Antalis pretiosum, which occurs from Alaska to Baja California, but were mostly harvested, because of (only just!) suitable local tidal and sea conditions, off the coast of Vancouver Island. They were regarded as very precious, and were widely traded. These tusk shells are a kind of seashell, specifically the shells of scaphopod mollusks. The name 'dentalium' is based on the scientific name for the genus Dentalium, but because the taxonomy has changed over time, not all of the species used are still placed in that genus, however all of the species are certainly in the family Dentaliidae.

This 'Indian Money Shell', Antalis pretiosum, was formerly Dentalium pretiosum. It has a smooth shell, and lacks the longitudinal linear sculpture of a true Dentalium, and for this reason amongst others was transferred to the Antalis genus (Ron Shimek, pers. comm).

'Dentalium' shells in the trade now are mostly Asian, and of inferior quality.

In the Pacific Northwest, 'dentalium' shells were only available from the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island. They were an indicator of wealth and were highly prized. 'dentalium' shells were used as decorative elements on clothing accessories and for personal adornment. This wawáq’aqt or choker is from the Rydryck Collection, and combines 'dentalium' shells, blue glass beads and brass beads sewn onto a single piece of leather with buckskin ties. The bracelet on the left is from the Spalding-Allen Collection and combines 'dentalium shells,' black pony beads and leather spacers with buckskin ties. It is assembled with sinew.

Choker Plateau c 1875-1900 Shell (Antalis pretiosum, glass beads, sinew, brass beads. L 33 cm. Nez Perce National Historical Park, NEPE 2194
Bracelet 1830s Shell (Antalis pretiosum), glass beads, leather. L 26 cm.
Nez Perce National Historical Park, NEPE 8762
Date: 1875-1900
Photo: Nez Perce National Historical Park, NEPE 8762
Permission: This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States Federal Government.
Text: Partly adapted from Wikipedia.


Willendorf layer 5 scrapers


Willendorf II, Layer 5: ca  30 000 BP.

A range of scrapers.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna




Willendorf layer 5 blades


Willendorf II, Layer 5: ca  30 000 BP.

Some skilfully made blades, and two small drills or augers on the far left, almost out of frame.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna




Willendorf layer 5 burins


Willendorf II, Layer 5: ca  30 000 BP.

Burins, or engravers.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna




Willendorf layer 5 burins
Willendorf II / Layers 6 and 7 in the district of Krems, Lower Austria.
Middle Upper Palaeolithic, Gravettian.
Two dates are given in this one display case for Layers 6 and 7:  (ca)  27 000 - 26 000 BP, and ca  26 500 - 25 100 BP.

A striking feature of the layers 6 and 7 are the ancient forms of stone tools used there, such as scrapers and broad points similar to the earlier Mousterian (Neanderthal) type.

Points typical of the age, such as Gravettian points and microliths, were apparently rarely made or used.

The people who left their mark on camps 6 and 7 of Willendorf were also avid collectors of curiosities that could have had little practical benefit for them: shark teeth, probably from the ancient marine deposits in Eggenburg, as well as Moldavite from the Waldviertler area. Moldavite is an olive-green or dull greenish glassy substance formed by meteorite impact.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna




Willendorf layers 6 and 7  tools
Willendorf II, Layers 6 and 7: ca  27 000 - 25 000 BP.

The display has been organised to show the atypical tools and artefacts found in these layers, from the typical Gravettian at the top to what appears to be Mousterian, or Neanderthal at the bottom, with 'in-between' tools between these two extremes.

We can see, at the top, a typical Gravettian point and some Gravettian microliths, with quite a well made large point to the right.

Below that are two nondescript tools, and at the bottom what are apparently Mousterian flint implements.

Off to the right we can see the glassy remnants of a meteorite impact, known as tektites, and below these are some fossil shark teeth extracted from nearby limestone deposits.

The binary meteorite which created the glassy tektites, impacted the earth and created the Ries Crater, 24 km in diameter, and the Steinheim crater, 3.8 km diameter, about 14.4 million years ago, when a binary asteroid with one portion having a diameter of 1.5 kilometres (Ries) and the other 150 metres (Steinheim) hit western Bavaria. The impact velocity is thought to have been about 20 km/s (45 000 mph). The resulting explosion had the power of 1.8 million Hiroshima bombs. All life would have been exterminated for 100 km around the impact zone. The sound would have been heard around the world.
(Wikipedia and http://www.realgems.org/list_of_gemstones/moldavite_info.html.)

(These green/brown tektites were thrown off at the moment of impact as molten rock, which hardened so quickly as it flew through the air that crystals did not have time to form, thus resulting in a small, hardened glass object by the time it hit the ground - Don )

On the bottom right are three fossil shark teeth from the sediments fifty kilometres away near Eggenburg, the Burgschleinitz Formation, which contains remnants of vertebrates: fish teeth (sharks, rays, breams) and bones of dolphins, whales, crocodiles, turtles and sea cows. (Pervesler et al., 2011)

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna




Willendorf layers 6 and 7
Willendorf II, Layers 6 and 7: ca  27 000 - 25 000 BP.

Despite what was implied in the text with the previous photo, there were some fine artefacts, beautifully made, in these layers.

Left to right, top to bottom:

A set of well made blades, an engraved ivory rod, and three bone tools.

Nine points in the Gravettian tradition.

Six well made burins, and some scrapers, including a long, superbly made example.


Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna




Willendorf layers 6 and 7 long scraper





Willendorf II, Layers 6 and 7: ca  27 000 - 25 000 BP.

The huge grey scraper on the left of the photo is a tour de force. The knapper was in total control of the material. What a great piece!

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna




Willendorf layers 8 and 9
Willendorf II / Layers 8 and 9  ca  25 800 - 24 000 BP, in the district of Krems, Lower Austria.

Middle Upper Paleolithic, Gravettian. Layer 8:  25 800 ± 800 BP.

The famous "Venus of Willendorf" was discovered in the 9th layer, 25 cm below the 9th layer upper boundary (at Willendorf II). The figurine has great similarity with 24 000 year old Russian statuettes. Another connection with Russian sites are the stone tools discovered here, such as the tanged knives, and other similar points.

Because of these important analogous discoveries in both Russia and Austria, this is called the Gravettian Kostenki-Willendorf culture.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna




It was a beautiful August morning in 1908, when the 'Venus of Willendorf' again awoke from thousands of years of sleep in sunny Wachau. It was discovered in my presence in the village of Szombathya, at a depth of approximately 25 cm beneath an undisturbed layer of ash near a large kiln (the 9th and highest cultural layer)…"

(J. Bayer in the Neues Wiener Tagblatt newspaper dated 4.2.1910, cited in: Antl-Weiser, S 11)
Source: http://www.projektvenus.eu/

Willendorf layers 8 and 9
Willendorf II / Layers 8 and 9  ca  25 800 - 24 000 BP, in the district of Krems, Lower Austria.

Middle Upper Paleolithic, Gravettian. Layer 8:  25 800 ± 800 BP.

Clockwise from bottom left:

a) (l to r) A piece with notches, ornamented rod, pierced horse tooth, fossil dentalium shell extracted from ancient limestone.
b) handles made from reindeer antler.
c) bone tools.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna




Willendorf layers 8 and 9 Willendorf layers 8 and 9


Willendorf layers 8 and 9
Willendorf II / Layers 8 and 9  ca  25 800 - 24 000 BP, in the district of Krems, Lower Austria.

Middle Upper Paleolithic, Gravettian. Layer 8:  25 800 ± 800 BP.

Various views of:

(l to r) A piece with notches, ornamented rod, pierced horse tooth, fossil dentalium shell extracted from ancient limestone.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna




Willendorf layers 8 and 9

New Raw Material

At the time in Level 9 when the Venus of Willendorf was carved from a piece of limestone, a big change took place so far as the source for the supply of raw materials for tools. Up until 25 000 BP, the main raw materials were the ones ready to hand in the Danube river gravels below the campsites. Just 800 years later, at the time of the Venus, almost 30% of the flint was taken from the terminal moraines of the northern ice sheet, a considerable distance to the north of Willendorf. The inhabitants had decided that it was worth the effort to travel greater distances to get more high quality material for their knives and other tools.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna




Willendorf layer  9

Tools from Layer 9, from top left to bottom right:

Polished stone
Retouched blades
Retouched flake points
Scrapers
Awls
Burins

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Natural History Museum of Vienna









Layers at Willendorf



Josef Bayer continued excavations in Willendorf in 1909. After these excavation works he renamed the levels found in 1908 (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6a, 6b, 6 and 7) to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9, recognising that layers 6a and 6b were refuse layers from different occupations of the site. Further excavations at Willendorf were hindered by the outbreak of the First World War. Bayer was informed in 1926 of substantial damage to the soil strata.

Upon initial investigation of unauthorised digging, Bayer discovered an ivory figure about 22 cm tall - Venus II of Willendorf, resting on the lower jawbone of a mammoth. It had not been completed and the head had been truncated. Bayer carried out intensive research at the site in the following years. In addition to drawing a plan of the most significant finds, he packed them individually, so that even today we are able to faithfully reconstruct the original position of each. This is an indication of the high scholarly standards Bayer followed in his archaeological research.

The nine levels of finds encompass a period spanning more than 20 000 years, from around 20 000 BP to 40 000 BP

Photo: Nigst et al. (2008)
Text: Display at Venusium, the museum at Willendorf.




As a result of differences between Szombathy, Bayer and Obermaier, the finds from Willendorf were not published. Only after the Second World War Fritz Felgenhauer of Vienna University worked through the great amount of material that had been discovered. He himself conducted excavations at Willendorf. With his work Felgenhauer created a high standard of presentation which allowed researchers for the first time to obtain an impression of the finds and the excavation site without actually viewing the original material. The percentage shares of the various types of tools as well as clearly defined tool types were specified so as to enable comparisons of similar archaeological sites throughout Europe.

The first C14 data was gathered in order to verify level chronology in absolute terms. Integration of natural sciences (i.e. mineralogy, palaeontology and others) became a standard for prehistoric research work. Whereas the Venus of Willendorf had occupied researchers' attention up to this time, after Felgenhauer the level sequence moved into the focus of interest of European scholars.

Text: Display at Venusium, the museum at Willendorf.

Venus statue

Venus statue at the site.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008




Venus statue
(This is an excellent display which illustrates graphically the time scale involved in the various layers of the Willendorf site. Each successive occupation was covered by wind blown fine material called loess, blowing from its source in the glaciated regions to the north, where the advance and retreat of the ice cap and associated glaciers ground rock into rock flour and left it piled up in front of the ice. This dust was then picked up by the strong, icy winds of the time and blown south. It accumulated here, on the northern bank of the Danube, and was responsible for the shallow slope leading down to the river, giving an ideal living environment, and for the subsequent burial of each succeeding layer at this open air site - Don )

The uppermost layer of the excavation from 1908 was situated two metres below the surface. The two ivory figurines (Venus II and III) were found there, in layer 9. The famous Venus I from Willendorf was unearthed in the 9th layer, 25 cm below the 9th layer upper boundary (at Willendorf I). The radiocarbon data are between 23 000 and 25 000 BP.

At that time at least one other Willendorf site and another in Aggsbach were being used by Palaeolithic hunters. Due to the important finds of this layer, this part of the Gravettian is also called the Willendorf-Kostenkian after Willendorf and the Russian site of Kostenki.

Layer 8 is about 25 000 years old. It is the uppermost layer of the Willendorf sequence which can be seen today.

The Gravettian Layers 6 and 7 contain bigger tools than Layer 5. Shark teeth and Moldavites have been collected.

(Moldavite is an olive-green or dull greenish vitreous substance formed by a meteorite impact. It is one kind of tektite. It was named for the town of Moldauthein (Czech: Týn nad Vltavou) in Bohemia (the Czech Republic), where it occurs. It is sometimes cut and polished as an ornamental stone under the name of pseudo-chrysolite. - Don, from Wikipedia )

The layers date to between 26 000 and 27 000 BP. At that time the babies from Krems Wachtberg had been buried.

Layer 5 is the lowest Gravettian layer and dates to between 27 000 and 30 000 BP. It ranks among the oldest layers of this culture and contains many microlithic tools.

Layer 4 is the second and uppermost Aurignacian layer. It is characterised by a series of bone tools, scrapers and carinated (keeled ) endscrapers. This layer dates to between 31 000 and 32 000 BP. At that time the female statuette of 'Fanny' from Galgenberg was made.

Layer 3 is the first Aurignacian layer and is about 38 000 years old.

In Layer 2 there are tools from the Early Upper Palaeolithic which dates to about 42 000 BP. Layer 1 contains no characteristic material.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Venusium Museum, Willendorf




Willendorf dwelling
(The people who lived here left no evidence of their dwellings. This is an artist's recreation of a possible habitation, which uses skins and available tree branches well guyed to the ground to construct a small semi-permanent structure which would have kept out the howling winds and snows of winter.

Notice the slope of the ground towards the river, and the slope of the tent roof, which would have needed to be almost horizontal to the north in order to provide the least purchase on it by the prevailing strong northerly winds, tempered somewhat by the position of the encampment in the valley of the Donau.

The upslope floor of the tent may well have been dug out to provide more space inside, though I know of no evidence for this conjecture. This artwork seems to be showing the tent in spring, after some of the snow had melted. In winter, the snow on the roof would have helped somewhat to insulate the occupants from the worst of the weather, and keep the skins in place.

Dwellings of this type can be surprisingly comfortable, if cramped. Double layers of skins with dry grass between can help to keep the temperature inside the tent reasonably warm and weatherproof, even in the ice age conditions of the time - Don 
)

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Display, Venusium Museum, Willendorf




Willendorf II tools Willendorf II tools


Willendorf II tools Willendorf II tools

This is part of the staggering number of tools from levels 8 and 9 at Willendorf II, the Gravettian, ca 25 000 - 24 000 BP.

The Venus of Willendorf was found in Layer 9, 25 cm below the top of the layer, marked by undisturbed ash from a nearby modern brickworks.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Vienna Natural History Museum


Willendorf II tools Willendorf II tools

As noted above, this cornucopia of superb tools was the result of going north to the ice sheet to pick through the terminal moraines to obtain high quality flint, instead of just using the river gravels easily available from the Danube, a few hundred metres away.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Vienna Natural History Museum




willendorf II soil profile
Willendorf II, section cleaning 1993.

In 1981 Paul Haesaerts started his work in Willendorf II. His team cleaned a small section and took a number of samples. It was the first stratigraphic work on Willendorf II using modern methods. The results including the first set of 14C-dates for the whole sequence were published (Haesaerts, 1990).

About 10 years later, in 1993, Paul Haesaerts, Freddy Damblon, and Gerhard Trnka started a collaborative research program on Willendorf II in order to enlarge the 1981 section and to collect more well provenienced (provenience refers to the three-dimensional location of an artefact or feature within an archaeological site - Don ) samples for dating and palaeoenvironment reconstruction, as shown in the photo at left. The results of this analysis form the basic description of the sequence up to now. Haesaerts et al. (1996)

Photo: G. Trnka
Text: Nigst et al. (2008) with definition from Wikipedia.




In 1996 the local museum society wanted to protect the section left by Paul Haesaerts’ team with a wooden roof construction and clean the section. The cleaning of the section was done by a team led by Spyridon Verginis of the University of Vienna. In the course of this work Verginis' team removed between 5 and 30 cm of sediment from Paul Haesaerts' section and collected a number of samples. These results are not yet published.

Text above: Nigst et al. (2008)




Soil Profile Soil Profile Soil Profile

This is the shelter put up by the local museum society, which has protected the site, and added valuable information for those who visit.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008




Soil Profile





Soil Profile at the discovery site, Willendorf II.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008









The Venusium - A museum in Willendorf devoted to the Venus of Willendorf and associated material.

Museum Poster

On a cold, wet and windy Monday afternoon in September 2008, my wife and I arrived on our bicycles, looking like drowned rats, at a Pensione in Willendorf. We were on a trip from the source of the Danube in the Black Forest of Germany, cycling along the banks of the Danube to Budapest in Hungary. After warming up with a hot shower, I looked out the window and saw this sign, and my heart sank - the museum is only open for a few hours each weekend.

However, we talked to our hosts, and they arranged for the curator of the museum to open it especially for us, for which we were very grateful.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008


Museum Museum

The Museum is fairly new, and beautifully organised, with excellent displays.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008


Museum Museum Museum Museum


Museum Museum Museum

This display has been set up to recreate the hearth and materials near where the Venus was discovered.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Venusium, the museum at Willendorf.




Museum Museum Museum

These are some of the huge number of flint tools found at the site.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Venusium, the museum at Willendorf.




Museum Museum

Deer antler modified for human use, and the jaw of a wolf.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Venusium, the museum at Willendorf.


Museum Museum Museum

Mammoth tusk.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Venusium, the museum at Willendorf.


Museum

Reindeer antler

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Venusium, the museum at Willendorf.


Museum

Dentalium shells used as jewellery

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Venusium, the museum at Willendorf.


Museum

Bone and a Dentalium shell used as jewellery

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Venusium, the museum at Willendorf. Photographer A Schumacher, © NHM Wien


Museum

Individual gastropod shells found at the site.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Venusium, the museum at Willendorf. © NHM Wien


Museum Museum

Bear Skull

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Venusium, the museum at Willendorf.


Museum

Mammoth molar.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Venusium, the museum at Willendorf.


Museum Museum Museum

Mammoth femur.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Venusium, the museum at Willendorf.


Museum Museum


Museum Museum

A model dressed in the clothes of the time, carrying a spear thrower and a spear.



Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Venusium, the museum at Willendorf.


Museum
Hunting the hairy mammoth by driving it into marshland using men and fire.

Research by anthropologists has determined that adult males at the time were from 160 to 190 cm tall, and females between 150 and 175 cm tall. People wore jewellery made of mussel and snail shells or pendants carved from ivory, antlers or stone.

There were permanent settlements as well as hunting camps. Hunting camps were preferably located in areas favourable for finding a certain kind of animal. There the hunt was slaughtered and the unusable parts left behind. Bones from meat-rich parts of the animal, or which could be used for fashioning tools were more likely to be found at the main camp. Due to the wide variety of tasks carried out at the main camp, one would expect to find a greater variety of tools there. For these reasons, a main camp for ice age man is believed to have existed at level 9 of Willendorf II.

The temperature during the glacial periods was an average of about 3° to 6°C colder than today. With little precipitation in winter, only a thin layer of snow covered the ground, hence there was an adequate supply of nourishment even for large herbivores such as the mammoth. Yet the sequence of layers found at Willendorf spans a period of 20 000 years, and accordingly contains evidence for widely varying climatic stages. Layers 1 to 4, assigned to the period of the Aurignacian culture, consist of deposits which formed 42 000 to 31 000 years ago, at a time when the climate was more moderate than when level 5 was formed.

Following a period of extreme cold, a period characterised by wind deposits of loess began about 26 000 years ago, when culture level 6 was formed. This period lasted until approximately 24 000 years ago, until the time of the culture layer 9, the 'Venus layer'. Tiny snails, good indicators of climatic and environmental conditions in the ice age, are found in the loess in the upper levels at Willendorf and denote a dry, cold climate. The environment consisted of an open plain with a few bushes and trees. Nussberg, a hill to the west belonging to the Jauerling massif, while providing the settlement with some shelter from westerly winds, was probably bare.

Among the finds in layers 8 and 9 at Willendorf are the remains of animal bones, including foxes, arctic foxes, rabbits, wolverines, bears, cave lions, elk, reindeer, mountain goats, horses, mammoths and golden eagles. Particularly worthy of note is the large number of arctic foxes and foxes at level 9. Large numbers of small animals among the spoils found at a site are seen as evidence of a more sedentary lifestyle, i.e. animals found in the vicinity provided a sufficient supply of food. The particular species of animals hunted at Willendorf suggest that the site was used in the cold season.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Venusium, the museum at Willendorf © NHM Wien

Text: Display at Venusium, the museum at Willendorf.


Willendorf II and its place in the context of the early Upper Paleolithic in central Europe

Abridged and adapted from Teyssandier et al (2002)

willendorf tools

Willendorf II, lithic tools from layers 2 (1-4) and 3 (5-9):

1. sidescraper
2. retouched blade
3-4. single endscrapers
5, 7. carinated endscrapers
6. nosed endscraper
8-9. retouched blades
(after Teyssandier, 2003).

Photo: Teyssandier et al (2002)




Willendorf II belongs to a set of Upper Paleolithic sites located on the western bank of the Danube along the Wachau, some 70 km to the west of Vienna. The site was excavated from 1908 to 1927 by Josef Bayer of the Museum of Natural Sciences of Vienna. The excavations revealed the existence of at least nine Paleolithic layers (1 to 9 from the base to the top) in the upper half of loamy deposits about 20 m thick, preserved on the top of a lower terrace of the Danube. The lowest cultural layers 1 to 4 are of critical importance in the debate concerning the appearance of Upper Paleolithic industries in central Europe.

Cultural layers 1 and 2 are non-diagnostic from a chrono-cultural perspective. The paucity of artifacts and more particularly of diagnostic items make attributions and comparisons extremely difficult. Only non-diagnostic tools are found in these assemblages; typical Aurignacian or transitional forms are totally lacking.

The available lithic assemblage of layer 3 was numerically equivalent to that of layer 2 and consisted of only 38 pieces. However, the morphology of the different tool-types changes: more tools are made on blades, thick endscrapers appear for the first time, and retouched blades are more diversified with two true Aurignacian blades (Fig. 6, nos. 8-9) that are very similar to those usually assigned to the Aurignacian elsewhere. Layer 3 has always been interpreted as Aurignacian.

We, however, stress the small number of diagnostic artifacts and the small size of the assemblage, which make comparisons extremely difficult. We need thus to be cautious in using data of layer 3 of Willendorf II in theoretical and global models. Nevertheless, the best points of comparison for layer 3 are found in Early Aurignacian contexts. Recently, several hundred artifacts from layer 3 of Willendorf II have been re-discovered in the cellar of the Department of Prehistory of the Museum of Natural History in Vienna. These artifacts apparently confirm the classification of the Willendorf II, layer 3 assemblage as Aurignacian.






Adapted from: http://aace.metapress.com/index/WEBUVLCTJ77MXE4J.pdf

58 ENDOCRINE PRACTICE Vol. 4 No. 1 January/February 1998

Obesity in the Palaeolithic Era?


The Venus of Willendorf


Eric Colman, M.D.


The Venus of Willendorf is one of numerous similarly shaped, uniquely feminine, statuettes dating to the Upper Paleolithic Period (circa 20 000 to 30 000 BC)

This faceless work of art, with its pendulous breasts, fleshy hips, and protruding buttocks, has been considered by some to be a true to life depiction of obesity. Are we to believe that obesity plagued prehistoric women? Although we cannot discount the existence of a singular case of obesity due to Cushing's disease, hypothyroidism, or pituitary dysfunction, several lines of reasoning suggest that obesity must have been exceedingly rare, if it existed at all, during prehistoric times.

Excessive dietary fat and calories, sedentariness, and aging (particularly after menopause) are commonly associated with weight gain and obesity. These factors, in all probability, did not have a major role in the lives of prehistoric women. First, the people of that era lived as hunter gatherers. Obtaining food supplies required daylight, accommodating weather, time, and luck.

Provisions were probably scarce. In addition, primarily because of the leanness of wild animals, our prehistoric ancestors consumed a diet low in fat, approximately 20% of total calories. Therefore, consumption of an overabundance of calories by those women is difficult to imagine. In fact, the studies of paleonutritionists support the contention that undernutrition was a pervasive health problem during prehistoric times.

Second, the nomadic hunter gatherer lifestyle was not sedentary. Indeed, some archeologic data suggest that prehistoric people engaged in perennial treks from mountainous to coastal regions to take advantage of seasonally abundant food sources. Third, the life expectancy of prehistoric women was short. Studies of skeletal remains indicate that most people of that time did not live beyond their mid 30s. Accordingly, age and menopause related increases in body weight would not have manifested themselves in most cases. Collectively, therefore, the lifestyle of Paleolithic women seems unlikely to have fostered the development of obesity.

What then remains as an alternative interpretation of the Venus of Willendorf? Some may argue that because obesity was rare and may have conferred a survival benefit during times of food shortage (much like non insulin dependent diabetes mellitus and the thrifty genotype), it was desirable and worthy of ritualisation in the form of statuettes. At first glance, this is a reasonable hypothesis; yet when one considers that no portly male figurines have been discovered, this theory falls into disfavour.

In addition to a short life expectancy, prehistoric women seemed to have suffered an increased risk of death during their 20s. This finding may reflect mortality associated with pregnancy and childbirth. It takes little imagination to see the similarities (albeit exaggerated) between the Venus and a pregnant woman. Although admittedly speculation, the Venus of Willendorf may have been used as a talisman in a precarious world of heightened obstetric related mortality. Similarly, some have proposed that this figurine was the object of a cult: a fertility goddess used to conjure deities and obtain from them fertility for the species.

Obviously, we will never know exactly what inspired the creation of the Venus of Willendorf , nor will we know its true meaning. Nonetheless, this ancient work of art serves as a valuable reminder that obesity is a disease unique to the modern world and one in which environmental factors, such as diet and exercise, assume critical etiologic roles.







Obesity, Venus figures, Marilyn Monroe and Barbie dolls

Comment by Don Hitchcock

Firstly, the words above "obesity is a disease unique to the modern world and one in which environmental factors, such as diet and exercise, assume critical etiologic roles" are not my words, but those of Eric Colman, M.D., from a respectable medical journal.

I am aware that obesity was until recently desirable in western countries, and indeed in some societies is still highly desirable.


Lager Velho
Some have said that Marilyn Monroe would be considered obese today. This is not correct. Marilyn Monroe would not even be considered overweight today, let alone obese. She had a perfectly healthy weight. Like most people, her weight varied, and according to her dressmaker was between 118 and 140 pounds.

Her BMI, even after she had gained a lot of weight because of depression before filming 'Some Like it Hot', and weighed 140 pounds, and had a height of 5'5", was only 22.9, well under the 25 cutoff for overweight, and way below the 30 cutoff for obese. If we take the studio's estimate of her weight, 120 pounds, her BMI was 19.7. Underweight is less than 18.5.

The present fashion for models to be very thin indeed is just that, a fashion. Marilyn Monroe was a healthy weight. And as others have said, she looked like a million dollars, invested in all the right places!

Photo: Cropped screenshot of Marilyn Monroe from the trailer for the film Some Like It Hot, 1959. This work is in the public domain because it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1977, inclusive, without a copyright notice.




Some venus figures are patently exaggerated in the same way as modern day Barbie dolls are exaggerated. Neither should be regarded as an accurate picture of what ordinary people look like.

If you would like to see a Palaeolithic Barbie figure, you have only to look at

The Hohlefels Venus

True obesity, however, has deleterious health effects. This is indisputable.

Obesity is associated with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus type 2, obstructive sleep apnea, some types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. It reduces life expectancy.

In palaeolithic times, the generally low life expectancy may have masked many of obesity's bad effects, and indeed may at that time have been associated with increased life expectancy because of the person with a high BMI having reserves of fat to survive famine more easily, and this may be part of the reason for the carving of venus figures with such rotund characteristics.

Even in Palaeolithic times, while obesity may have been seen as desirable for those who spent their time at the hearth, and did not move around much, it would not have been desirable for a hunter who had to move quickly and cover large amounts of ground in the chase. There are no obese marathon runners.






And I don't know where this came from, and the dates are wrong (should be ~20 000 BP, not 4 000 BP) but I can't resist….

Museum









References

  1. Antl-Weiser W., 2008a: The anthropomorphic figurines from Willendorf, Wiss. Mitt. Niederösterr. Landesmuseum 19 19-30 St. Pölten 2008
  2. Antl-Weiser W., 2008b: die Venus von Willendorf, ihre Zeit und die Geschichte(n) um ihre Auffindung, Wien : Verlag des Naturhistorischen Museum, 2008
  3. Bayer J., 1930: Die Venus II von Willendorf, Eiszeit und Urgeschichte 7, 48-54
  4. Haesaerts P., Teyssandier N., 2003: The early Upper Paleolithic occupations of Willendorf II (Lower Austria): a contribution to the chronostratigraphic and cultural context of the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic in Central Europe, Instituto Português de ArqueologiaThe Chronology of the Aurignacian and the Transitional Technocomplexes Dating Stratigraphies Cultural Implications (2003), Volume: 33, Pages 133-151
  5. Haesaerts P., 1990: Nouvelles recherches au gisement de Willendorf (Basse Autriche)Bulletin de l’Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique, Sciences de la Terre60, 203-218
  6. Haesaerts P., Damblon, F., Bachner, M., Trnka G., 1996: Revised stratigraphy and chronology of the Willendorf II sequence, Lower Austria. Archaeologia Austriaca 80, 25-42
  7. Kern A., Antl-Weiser L., 2008: Venus, Edition Lammerhuber, Baden, Österreich
  8. Musil, R., 1968: Stranska Skala: Its Meaning for Pleistocene Studies, Current Anthropology, Vol. 9, No. 5, Part 2 (Dec., 1968), pp. 534-539
  9. Nigst, P., Viola T., Haesaerts P., Trnka G., 2008: Willendorf IIWiss. Mitt. Niederösterr. Landesmuseum 19 31-58 St. Pölten 2008
  10. Pervesler, P., Roetzel R., Uchman A., 2011: Ichnology of shallow sublittoral siliciclastics of the Burgschleinitz Formation (Lower Miocene, Eggenburgian) in the Alpine-Carpathian Foredeep (NE Austria)Austrian Journal of Earth Sciences Volume 104/1 81-96 Vienna 2011
  11. Schulz M., 2008: Pummel aus dem Eisder Spiegel, 16/2008
  12. Teyssandier, N., Bolus M., Conard N., 2002: The Early Aurignacian in central Europe and its place in a European perspective Trabalhos de Arqueologia 45 Towards a definition of the Aurignacian - Proceedings of the Symposium held in Lisbon, Portugal, June 25-30, 2002




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