Monaghan Patricia - Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines

Author : Monaghan Patricia
Title : Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines
Year : 2014

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Introduction. In 2008, archaeologists in Germany made a startling discovery. In Swabian Jura, where caves in limestone cliffs sheltered ancient humans, a figurine was unearthed from rubble. Carved from mammoth ivory, the figure showed a naked woman. Such figures have been found before where this “Venus” emerged, for the figure found in Hohle Fels Cave was named for a Roman goddess, as has been common since these figures were first discovered more than a century ago. In Austria (Willendorf and Galgenberg), France (Brassempouy, Laussel), and other European sites (Dolní Vûstonice in the Czech Republic, Moravany in Slovakia, Monruz in Switzerland, Mal’ta in Russia), archaeologists have found tiny figures of naked women. They are among the most ancient artworks of humanity, carved from stone or bone or molded from clay between twenty and thirty thousand years ago. That long ago, during the Paleolithic Era, humans lived in small groups hunting and gathering foods. Recent studies suggest a large proportion, up to 80 percent, of their diet came from plant foods like berries, fruits, and roots, which scholars assume were gathered by women. Meat, while providing necessary nutrients, was less readily available and required significant strength and skill to acquire, and it is presumed hunting was a predominantly male occupation, although women may have trapped small mammals and caught fish. What distinguishes this period of human history from earlier ones is that for the first time humans began to use stone tools. This revolution led to others, such as the establishment of year-round villages and the invention of art. What knowledge we have of these ancestors comes from scanty traces of their daily lives. Only material resistant to decay survives the millennia: bone, stone, fired clay. We have no way of knowing how ancient humans dressed or what footwear they favored. We have no Paleolithic fishing nets or traps, no spears, no baskets. We do not know how they organized their societies or traced their descent lines. We have no idea what languages they used. But because they carved bone and painted on stone, we can see and appreciate their art. The cave paintings at Lascaux and Pech-Merle in France show that these ancient humans had a sophisticated sense of beauty and a command of painterly techniques. In Lascaux, animals leap and prance around the walls and roof of a series of interlocking caves. At Pech-Merle, spotted horses and woolly mammoths adorn the walls, and the outline of a hand suggests the presence of the artist. In addition to such painted galleries, we have dozens of examples of Paleolithic portable art in the form of expressive incised drawings of animals on bone and delicate carvings of “Venus” figurines. Before 2008, experts dated these figures to between 28,000 and 24,000 years ago. ...

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