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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Obsession with Naked Women Dates Back 35,000 Years

History
Obsession with Naked Women Dates Back 35,000 Years


By Clara Moskowitz, LiveScience Staff Writer


posted: 13 May 2009 01:04 pm ET


090513-figurine-02.jpg
Side and front views of the Venus of Hohle Fels. Credit: H. Jensen;
Copyright University of Tubingen
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If human culture seems obsessed with sex lately, it's nothing new.
Archaeologists have discovered the oldest known artistic
representation of a woman — a carved ivory statue of a naked female,
dating from 35,000 years ago.


The figurine, unearthed in September 2008 in Hohle Fels Cave in
southwestern Germany, may be the oldest known example of figurative
art, meaning art that is supposed to represent and resemble a real
person, animal or object. The discovery could help scientists
understand the origins of art and the advent of symbolic thinking,
including complicated language.


"If there's one conclusion you want to draw from this, it's that an
obsession with sex goes back at least 35,000 years," University of
Cambridge anthropologist Paul Mellars told LiveScience. He was not
involved in the new finding. "But if humans hadn’t been largely
obsessed with sex they wouldn’t have survived for the first 2 million
years. None of this is at all surprising."


The fixation wasn't just for naked women, though. Early carvings of
phalluses appeared in Europe at about the same time.


Little 'Venus'


The tiny statue is carved out of the tusk of a woolly mammoth and is
less than 2.5 inches (60 millimeters) long. Instead of a head, it has
a ring that scientists think meant it was worn as a pendant looped
through string. Paleoanthropologist Nicholas Conard of Germany's
Tubingen University reported the discovery in the May 14 issue of the
journal Nature.


The oldest human art dates back much further, to between 75,000 and
95,000 years ago in Africa. But that art was abstract, and consisted
of geometrical designs engraved on pieces of red iron oxide. This is
the first known art to represent a woman, and possibly the first art
to represent anything real at all. Another find, a simple drawing that
may represent a half-man, half-animal, could be a few thousand years
older, but the date on that is uncertain.


The jump from abstract art to representative art seems significant,
and might reflect a leap in the cognitive capacity of the human brain
around this time. Some experts think that the development might have
gone along with a leap in the complexity of human language.


"Language is a symbolic system — words are symbols for things. And so
is art," Mellars said. "Art is a glaring illustration of a capacity
for symbolic thinking. Since symbolic thinking lies at the core of
language, people have often tried to link the two."


Mellars pointed out that there isn't enough evidence to really
understand how complex human language was at this point, though.


Sex on the brain


The statue is notable not just for its symbolism, but for its style —
particularly its sexuality.


"The figure is explicitly — and blatantly — that of a woman, with an
exaggeration of sexual characteristics (large, projecting breasts, a
greatly enlarged and explicit vulva, and bloated belly and thighs)
that by twenty-first-century standards could be seen as bordering on
the pornographic," Mellars wrote in a commentary essay in Nature.


Scientists guess that it may have represented female fertility, or
been related to shamanistic rituals and beliefs.


http://www.archaeologynews.org/story.asp?ID=438230&Title=Obsession%20...


and


http://www.nature.com/nature/videoarchive/prehistoricpinup/


and


Letter


Nature 459, 248-252 (14 May 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature07995; Received
24 January 2009; Accepted 17 March 2009


A female figurine from the basal Aurignacian of Hohle Fels Cave in
southwestern Germany


Nicholas J. Conard1


1. Abteilung für Ältere Urgeschichte und Quartärökologie, Institut
für Ur- und Frühgeschichte und Archäologie des Mittelalters,
Universität Tübingen, Schloss Hohentübingen, 72070 Tübingen, Germany


Correspondence to: Nicholas J. Conard1 Correspondence and requests for
materials should be addressed to N.J.C. (Email: nicholas.conard@uni-
tuebingen.de).


Abstract


Despite well over 100 years of research and debate, the origins of art
remain contentious1, 2, 3. In recent years, abstract depictions have
been documented at southern African sites dating to approx75 kyr
before present (bp)4, 5, and the earliest figurative art, which is
often seen as an important proxy for advanced symbolic communication,
has been documented in Europe as dating to between 30 and 40 kyr bp2.
Here I report the discovery of a female mammoth-ivory figurine in the
basal Aurignacian deposit at Hohle Fels Cave in the Swabian Jura of
southwestern Germany during excavations in 2008. This figurine was
produced at least 35,000 calendar years ago, making it one of the
oldest known examples of figurative art. This discovery predates the
well-known Venuses from the Gravettian culture by at least 5,000 years
and radically changes our views of the context and meaning of the
earliest Palaeolithic art.


1. Abteilung für Ältere Urgeschichte und Quartärökologie, Institut
für Ur- und Frühgeschichte und Archäologie des Mittelalters,
Universität Tübingen, Schloss Hohentübingen, 72070 Tübingen, Germany


Correspondence to: Nicholas J. Conard1 Correspondence and requests for
materials should be addressed to N.J.C. (Email: nicholas.conard@uni-
tuebingen.de).


http://www.nature.com/nature
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