She is the mother to us all, the original Earthy Mama! Found near the Austrian town of Willendorf in 1908, she is over 20,000 years old and doesn’t look a day over 15,000!
Who or what was she? The consensus among anthropologists is that she is a cult figure, probably representing fertility. She, or at least some of her sisters (and she has many, from Spain to Russia), were found under the hearth of homes, which seems to imply that she was there to somehow bless the home and make it fruitful. There is a hypothesis that before people realized that sex leads to babies, woman ruled because that mystery was theirs alone. Looking at our closest relatives, we see the chimps with a violent patriarchy and the bonobos with a gentler lesbian matriarchy, so it’s hard to say what prevailed in our own distant past. Her discoverers ironically named her Venus of Willendorf, contrasting the “primitive” ideal of beauty with the “civilized” one of Greek and Renaissance sensibility.
Is she pregnant? The big belly and distended breasts might indicate so, but her shape is fairly common today. Was it then? Did it represent some sort of ideal, the inactive woman who could feed everyone without any effort? It’s hard to believe that she really represented the earth, as the earth would not be seen as the source of fertility that she would be for the later farmer. Going down into the bowels of the earth as in Lascaux, was there that sense of entering the mother? I think not. What does it all mean? She was covered with red ochre, which some have interpreted as representing menstrual blood. But since everyone from the Neanderthals to the Neolithics covered everything, including themselves, with red ochre at every opportunity, this is hardly conclusive.
Less lofty speculations suggest that she was the equivalent of today’s skin mag or porn site, and much more tactile; just the right size (11cm, or 4.25″) to hold in the palm of the hand. Has she been tested for DNA? Unfortunately she has been handled so much since her discovery that she must be totally contaminated now by modern genetic material. But she has many sisters from many lands, and the next one discovered could maybe be examined in this way. An objection to this idea is that she is so unlike the ‘ideal’ body shape which cross-cultural studies assure us is universal among the males of all human cultures: though the large breasts and wide hips do imply fertility, but men seem to generally prefer the waist to be slimmer than either bust or hips, and that is not the case here.
Whatever her purpose, she has been charming and intriguing us for over a century… and the mystery continues!