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The Woman (or Venus) of Willendorf: Paleolithic Fertility Icon or Obesity

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The Woman (or Venus) of Willendorf: Paleolithic Fertility Icon or Obesity

The most famous example of prehistoric sculpture in Paleolithic Period was The Venus of Willendorf, now known in academia as the Woman of Willendorf. She is considered a significant symbol of what known about beauty from the past. She is thought to represent the Earth and its fertility and continuation of life, the Mother Goddess. They were revered as priestesses. Since this figure's discovery, several similar statuettes have been discovered. She is the finest example of Prehistoric sculpture and stands today as a symbol of feminism and womanhood. Her purpose was believed to show women their strengths that they possess, and what their purpose was in society, which was in this case child birth, potential life, symbolizes a new life, or a new beginning. The people lived in a harsh ice-age environment where features of fatness and fertility would have been highly desirable. Women in the Paleolithic era were recognized as the life-givers and sustainers.

The original Venus of Willendorf is a 4 3/8 inch high statuette of a female figure estimated to have been created between 24,000 BC -- 22,000 BC. It was discovered in 1908 by archaeologist Josef Szombathy at a paleolithic site near Willendorf, a village in Lower Austria near the city of Krems. It is carved from an oolitic limestone that is not local to the area, and tinted with red ochre. They are collectively referred to as Venus figurines, although they pre-date the mythological figure of Venus by millennia. The purpose of the carving is subject to much speculation. The statue's feet do not allow it to stand on its own. It has been speculated that it was meant to be held, rather than simply looked at. The Venus is an idealization of the female figure. Her features are heavily pronounced, suggesting a strong connection to fertility. Her tiny arms are folded over her breasts. The figure has no visible face, her head being covered with circular horizontal bands of what might be rows of plaited hair, or a type of headdress. The figurines may have been created as self-portraits. When thought of as a woman looking down at her own body, the physical features seem correct. There are striking similarities between such figurines and a pregnant woman when perceived from above. Venus of Willendorf is part of the collection of the Museum of Natural History in Vienna.

Some scholar suggests that the figurine may have served as a good luck charm. Its diminutive size led archaeologists to assume that it may have been carried by the men during their hunting missions in which it served not only as a reminder of their mates back at home but also as a charm to bring them success in their hunting. This is further strengthened by the facelessness of the figurine giving it an air of mystery and anonymity which suggests that it may have been of more importance as an object rather than as a person. Also, the figurine's hair is braided in seven concentric circles, seven in later times being regarded as a magic number used to bring about good luck. Another significance put forth is that of the figurine serving as a mother goddess (earth mother or female deity). This comes from a suggestion that the statue was a woman whose specialness was indicated in her obesity since in an era when food was scare. With all the suggestions that have been put forward about the significance of the sculpture, tentative conclusions can be made about the social, political and religious beliefs of the foraging society in which it was found. The use of the figurine as a deity suggests the practice of religious



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