The people of the Gravettian culture were hunter-gatherers who lived across much of Europe during a bitterly cold prehistoric period from about 20,000 to 30,000 BC. Archaeologists have found cave sites in France, Spain and Britain as well as Central Europe and Russia. The culture is named from the site where it was first identified at La Gravette in the Dordogne, South Western France. Finds from this culture include stone tools, knife blades and personal ornaments, but it is best known for the Venus figurines carved usually from limestone or ivory.
More than 100 of these small portable figures have been found across Europe and they all share the ‘steatopygic’ characteristics of a very specific physical type with large breasts, broad hips and prominent posteriors. Most of the figures lack facial details and have no limbs.
The Venus of Renancourt was discovered in 2019 during excavations in the Northern French city of Rheims. The figure is carved from chalk and is 4 cm high, though other similar figures discovered were as high as 15 cm. Typically, the figure has no face but has large breasts and buttocks and fleshy thighs. The figure also has a navel and either hair or some kind of head covering indicated by incised lines. Similar lines can be found on the Gravettian Venus figurines found at Willendorf in Germany and Brassempouy in France. Indeed the Venus of Brassempouy is sometimes known as the “Lady with a Hood”.
At Renancourt archaeologists also found thousands of fragments of chalk which could be waste chips, leading them to believe that the site might have been a figurine workshop.
The function and meaning of the Gravettian Venus figurines remains a mystery, but the exaggerated sexual features suggest that they are fertility deities.
Source Current World Archaeology magazine
Text Alun Harvey