"Venus figurine" is the name given to a nearly universal type of art, appearing first in the Upper Paleolithic period between 31,000 and 9,000 years ago. These small, portable objects include carved plaques and 2- and 3-dimensional representations of humans, made of clay, ivory, bone, antler, or carved stone. Although the typical Venus figurine is traditionally assumed to be a voluptuous female, men, children, and animals are also depicted. Venus figurines have been found throughout Europe and Asia at sites such as Willendorf (Austria), Brassempouy (France), Hohle Fels (Germany) and Dolni Vestonice (Czech Republic).
Theories about the function of Venus figurines vary widely, and include emblems of a goddess religion, educational materials for children, sex toys for men, and physiological depictions of pregnant women. Intriguingly, one view suggests that they are self-portraits of women, arguing that the body parts are exaggerated because they are seen from a distorted perspective.
Dobres, Marcia Ann. 1996. Venus figurines. Pp 740-741 in Oxford Companion to Archaeology, B. Fagan, ed. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Lesure, Richard G. 2002. The Goddess diffracted: Thinking about the figurines of early villages. Current Anthropology 43(4):587-610.
McDermott, LeRoy. 1996. Self-Representation in Upper Paleolithic Female Figurines. Current Anthropology 37: 227-276.
Soffer, O., J.M. Adovasio, and D.C. Hyland. 2000. The "Venus" Figurines: Textiles, basketry, gender, and status in the Upper Paleolithic. Current Anthropology 41(4):511-537.
This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.