February 19, 2013

Dolni Vestonice: The Black Venus of the Czech Republic

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , at 6:14 am by Babs

The Venus of Dolní Věstonice (Czech: Věstonická Venuše) is a Venus figurine, a ceramic statuette of a nude female figure dated to 29,000–25,000 BCE (Gravettian industry), which was found at a Paleolithic site in the Moravian basin south of Brno. This figurine, together with a few others from nearby locations, is the oldest known ceramic article in the world.   It has a height of 111 millimetres (4.4 in), and a width of 43 millimetres (1.7 in) at its widest point and is made of a clay body fired at a relatively low temperature.

The statuette follows the general morphology of the other Venus figurines: exceptionally large breasts, belly and hips, perhaps symbols of fertility, relatively small head and little detail on the rest of the body. It is speculated that these figurines, whose manufacture with these same exaggerated female characteristics spans many millennia, were symbols of fertility and success, or representations of a female mother goddess.

The township of Dolni Vestonice is not easy to find – too small for most maps, and only the larger neighbor village Horni Vestonice has a sign from the main road.  There are no signs for tourists, no fast-food offerings of “Venus Burgers” and this is what makes it so very special.  In Dolni Vestonice, the traveler interested in archeo-mythology does not get it all ready to eat, you have to find it yourself and talk with the people who live there today.

Dolni Vestonice is situated in the South of the Czech Republic close to the city of Mikulov.  Dolni is a small village with approximately 500 inhabitants – the most important thing seems to be the main road with some restaurants and little stores and ships.  There are no signs that say “museum” or “archeological exhibition” but a simple sign saying “Archeologicke Exposize”.  There are lots of text in and around the showcases, but all in Czech language.  The leaflet in English, available at the cashier, explains that only remakes of the originals from Dolni Vestonice and the neighboring village Pavlov.  The archeologist Karel Absolon made excavations from 1924 to 1938 and found, among many other interesting tools and items, the statuette of a woman made from burnt clay (today plastic).  She became famous as the “Venus of Vestonice”.

Like her sisters from other archeological excavations worldwide, the “Willendorf Venus” from Austria, the “Venus of Laussel” and the “Venus of Lespugue” in France, the “Venus of Vestonice” is depicted as a voluptuous woman with heavy breasts and broad hips standing in an upright position.  But unlike all the others who don’t have face features, she has eyes – slit carvings that make her look like she is squinting in the sun.  They are all very old, those ladies – the village Pavlov gave its name to a complete time period, the Pavlovien as the older phase of the Gravettien, 30,000 to 25,000 years before our time.  Along with the Venus, zoomorphic statuettes have been found, made of clay, stone and bone, carved or modelled.  And there is another Venus figurine who did not become as famous as her darker colored sister – she is very special, because her face is carved very carefully, and her body is nearly complete.  Both Venuses are shown in the same showcase next to each other.

The museum offers a lot of interesting and very special details of our ancestors – hints on how colors were made and used and the reconstruction of a burial site of three young people, a woman and two men – the woman was found with shamanic headbands made from teeth, claws and shells.  Strange and rare circumstances gave us even the fingerprints of one of our forebears on a lump of clay; so much for the historical details of the museum.  I was interested to find out more about the experiences which the famous archeologist Marija Gimbutas called “archeo-mythology”.

Another excavation site of Pavlov is located right under the ruins of Pavlov castle.  The ruins still look the same today and they did in the pictures from the museum.  Near the site is a large artificial lake, and one has to wonder how many wonderful treasures it may hide from us forever.  At the site there are signs of active digging and there are mammoth bones lying around as big as a Dalmatian.  Wolf skulls have been found with the spear heads still sticking in their jaw bones.  Here our ancestors fought against their enemies and the Venus and other goddess figurines have been waiting in the lap of mother Earth for us to discover.

These figurines are small, possibly to hold in one’s hand during times of great crisis or pain such as childbirth or burying a loves one.  whatever the use, this Venus appears to have given great comfort to our ancestors.

The following is taken from James Shreeve’s book The Neadertal Enigma (William Morrow and Company, New York, 1995)

In 1986, near a village called Dolni Vestonice in the Czech province of Moravia, the bodies of three teenagers were discovered in a common grave.  A specialist was immediately summoned from Brno, some 25 miles to the north, and under his care the remains were exhumed and faint remnants of the youths’ identities revealed.  Two of the skeletons were heavily built males.  By its slender proportions, the third was judged to be female, aged seventeen to twenty.  A marked left curvature of the spine, along with several other skeletal abnormalities, suggested that she had been painfully crippled.  the two males had died healthy, in the prime of their lives.  The remains of a thick wooden pole thrust through the hip of one of them hinted that his death might not have been entirely natural.

The bodies had been buried with curious attention.  According to the expert Bohuslav Klima, of the Czech Institute of Archeology in Brno both young men had been laid to rest with their heads encircled with necklaces of pierced canine teeth and ivory; the one with the pole thrust up to his coccyx may also have been wearing some kind of painted mask.  All three skulls were covered in red ochre.  the most peculiar feature of the of the grave, however, was the arrangement of the deceased.  Whoever committed the bodies to the ground extended them side y side, the woman between her two companions.  The man on her left lay on his stomach, facing away from her but with his left arm linked with hers.  The other male lay on his back, his head turned toward her.  Both of his arms were reaching out, so that his hands rested on her pubis.  The ground surrounding this intimate connection was splashed with red ochre.

The skeletons lean into each other, like nestled question marks.  In his written report, Klima speculated that the arrangement of the grave might reflect “a real life drama which precipitated the burials.” His drama revolved around a young woman who had died in childbirth.  The two male skeletons where those of her husband and a medicine man – the man wearing the mask.  Held responsible for her death, the men had been compelled to follow her into the afterlife.

In August 1986, this multiple burial was unearthed.  It was a shallow pit grave located near hearths carbon-data to about 26,000 years ago.  Interestingly, this burial was outlined in Jean Auel’s book Plains of Passage.

Dolni Vestonice was an Upper Paleolithic habitation in Czechoslovakia on a swamp at the juncture of two rivers near the Marovian mountains.  It is not only the site of the burial outlined above and of the Venus Vestonice, but is also the site of the earliest known potter’s kiln.  For acres around, the fertile clay soil is seeded with carved and molded images of animals, women, strange engravings, personal ornaments, and decorated graves.  In the main hut where the people ate ans slept, two items ere found: a goddess figurine made of fired clay and a small and cautiously carved portrait of made from mammoth ivory of a woman whose face was drooped on one side.

Above the encampment in a small, dry-hut, whose door faced towards the east, was the kiln.  Scattered around the oven were many fragments of fired clay.  Remains of clay animals, some stabbed as if hunted, and other pieces of blackened pottery still bear the fingerprints of the potter.

The goddess figurine is the oldest known baked clay figurine. On top of its head are holes which may have held grasses or herbs. The potter scratched two slits that stretched from the eyes to the chest which were thought to be the life-giving tears of the mother goddess.  The so-called Black Venus of Dolni Vestonice has a featureless, possibly masked face, squared shoulders, pendulous breasts, and a belt beneath her broad hips.  Only four inches tall, she is one of the earliest known depictions of a female figure, but what inspired her creation is cloaked in mystery.

A jagged crack runs along her right hip, damage sustained when the clay figurine was fired in a kiln at temperatures of up to 1,500 degrees Farenheit.  More than 700 figurines, nearly all depicting Ice Age animals such as lions, rhinos, and mammoths were fired in the oval earthen kilns of Dolni Vestonice.  At nearby sites of similar age, thousands more terracotta figurines and clay pellets have been excavated.  Almost all the Vestonice figurines exhibit breaks and cracks which represent the shattering shock of the flames that baked them.  Were the world’s first ceramic artists also the world’s worst craftsmen or were these figures props for a pyrotechnic ritual.

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1 Comment »

  1. D. Greenwood said,

    Thank you so much for this, I visited Dolni Vestonice last year and have been looking for more information.


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