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Updated: Aug 16, 2023

The numerous finds indicate veneration of the Great Mother. A pictorial journey to the Stone Age


Numerous female figurines have been found from the (Upper) Palaeolithic period. Although there are representations of women well into the Neolithic, we will devote ourselves here specifically to the finds referred to as Venus figurines.

The civilisations of ancient Europe migrated along beneath the glaciers that covered much of the northern hemisphere at that time, spreading from the Pyrenees to Siberia. Along these routes, figurines depicting women have been excavated again and again in the last century.

The theory of what they represent and why they were created is widely divergent. However, they probably point to the existence of peaceful, matrifocal and goddess-centred civilisations.


  • over 250 known female figures so far

  • made of different materials: bone, mammoth tusks, (limestone, bacon) stone, horn, clay or loam.

  • seize: 4-25 cm

  • Locations: from Western Europe to Siberia, found in caves and over 90 excavation sites

  • Time: from 35,000 to about 10,000 BC (dates vary in sources). From then on, the representations became more specific and were no longer called Venus figurines.

  • Depictions of women are the most common, at 80-90 %. There are also depictions of animals and men, as well as figurines with diverse genders.

Goddess Timeline

Artist Constance Tippett has created a poster on that gives an overview of figurine finds from about 30,000 BCE to about 4000BCE. There are other posters just for Ancient Europe, Egypt and Mesopotamia.


When palaeoanthropologists refer to figurines as "Venus", they usually do so in air quotes, because Venus figures predate the myths about the goddess Venus (of antiquity) by thousands of years. The name derives in part from theories that associate these figures with fertility and sexuality, two qualities associated with the Roman goddess.

Dr Kirsten Armbruster believes that the term itself is part of the patriarchal abuse of naked female corporeality: "The naked female figurines from the Palaeolithic era about the divine representation and sanctification of naked mother corporeality in the matrifocal understanding, which focuses on the fact that all human life is carried into life and born umbilically bound in the mothers' abdominal cavities, whether female, male, intersex or genderfluid. So the naked female figurines from the Palaeolithic represent attachment, detachment and reattachment to the mother."

Today, archaeologists usually prefer the designation "female statuettes".


Ideas vary widely as to the functions of these representations. There is the idea that these representations depicted clan mothers of matriifocal associations rather than goddesses.

Some of the figurines were small enough to carry around or had small eyelets to string them on. They could, for example, have served as protection during pregnancy and childbirth. Or they were held in the hand during ceremonies.

Some were covered with red ochre, others were decorated with symbols representing the lunar cycles. Both indicate a connection to menstruation and fertility.

The thesis that some of these depictions testified to a pornographic nature cannot be ruled out. But such interpretations undoubtedly reveal more about the dominant thought patterns in our society than about prehistoric people, who probably understood coitus as a natural act and perhaps did not ascribe as much importance to sexuality as is currently the case.

Physical features

Faces were hardly depicted, the individual receded into the background, according to researcher Marylène Patou-Mathis. Legs and arms were also hardly depicted, many lacked feet.

In general, the figurines are often described as women's bodies with exaggerated features such as protruding breasts, bellies and hips. Some also use terms like sagging breasts and bellies, which is supposed to indicate advanced age of the figurines, and bodies that have gone through many births.

Some of the depictions appear to be pregnant, which gave rise to the theory that they are fertility symbols.

The women are depicted standing or sitting.

Grafic depictions

There are differences in graphic characteristics depending on the region and culture. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that artists often created such similar works 30,000 years and thousands of kilometres apart, sharing so many similarities.

Around 17000 BCE, an important change occurred: the female outline now became more stylised and dynamic, male figures were added, and the connection of vulva and phallus became somewhat more frequent. This could be due to a profound change in the world view of these groups.

Theory of a portait

Professor Leroy McDermott (1996) theorised that the figures were of a Palaeolithic woman shaped as she sees herself (probably during pregnancy).

If we look down at our body, it presents itself to us in a distorted view, the so-called lozenge perspective. The breasts appear larger and the legs are shortened. This perspective dispenses with anatomical accuracy in favour of an individual view of one's own body. It could never be proven right.


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