August 7, 2008
Austrians Celebrate Prehistoric Venus Figurine
On Thursday, Austrians in Vienna are celebrating the 100 year-old discovery of a tiny but voluptuous figurine that dates back 25,000 years to a time when mammoths roamed the region.
Austria is going all out Friday to fete the limestone beauty known as the Venus of Willendorf for the hamlet along the Danube where archaeologists stumbled upon her a century ago.
They will celebrate with Venus wine, Venus chocolates, and pancakes with Venus jam.
The Venus of Willendorf is just 4 inches tall but is celebrated for her undeniably curvy, feminine figure.
The statuette dating back to the Paleolithic era is among the world's oldest depictions of a woman, experts say.
But questions about her origin still hang in the air. Who carved her all those thousands of years ago - remains a mystery. Was she a fertility symbol, a lucky charm, a goddess - maybe even a prehistoric piece of pornography?
"That's of course an interpretation question," said Walpurga Antl-Weiser, an expert at Vienna's Natural History Museum who has written a book about her.
She says it's hard to know what the humans of that era were thinking.
Antl-Weiser said the figurine wasn't made from local materials, and over the years, similar statuettes have been found elsewhere, including France and Russia.
According to the Natural History Museum, during that era, mammoths, bison and woolly rhinos roamed Willendorf, with humans living in camp communities
Modern-day archaeologists found the statuette during an excavation in 1908 and brought her for safekeeping at the Natural History Museum. She made her public debut in 1998.
Venus will make a brief homecoming trip back to Willendorf before Friday's big bash. The Venus of Willendorf - along with several "sisters" from Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic - will be on display starting Saturday at the Natural History Museum until February.
People are still fascinated by the figurine.
Reproductions of the Venus are widely available - as chocolate, marzipan, even as soap. Austria's post office will officially unveil a special stamp in her honor on Friday.
To Antl-Weiser, the interest is easy to explain.
"She's very corpulent but still very beautiful," she said. "One gets the feeling she has become an icon."
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