Avdeevo Double Venus
(from 10,000-variable BCE)
(Ends about 2,000 BCE)
The Avdeevo Venuses exemplify prehistoric
sculpture in the European heartland of Russia, during the period of
Gravettian art (25,000-20,000 BCE). Along
with the Venus of Kostenky (22,000
BCE) and the Venus of Gagarino (20,000
BCE) they form a centre of Paleolithic
art, within the Kursk-Voronezh-Lipetsk triangle. Although they belong
to the wider European tradition of venus
figurines, the Avdeevo sculptures depict mature women in different
phases of the reproductive cycle, who (overall) are somewhat less obese
and less well defined than such archetypal figures as the Venus
of Willendorf (25,000 BCE), or the Venus
of Moravany (24,000 BCE). This is a relative difference only. Indeed,
the central-Russian tradition - as illustrated by the Kostenky-Avdeevo-Gagarino
sites - appears to have two venus paradigms: one fat, and one thin
- with the Avdeevo figurines inclining to the latter. A more significant
difference, perhaps, between the Russian and non-Russian venuses, is that
the genitalia of the former are less exaggerated. If, as believed, venus
figurines were fertility symbols that embodied the mysteries of childbirth,
Russian Stone Age artists clearly leaned towards a different representation
of this than their counterparts in central and western Europe.
For the chronology of ancient
art in Russia and the rest of the world, please see: Prehistoric
Art Timeline (from 2.5 million BCE). For details of contemporary
parietal works, see: Cave Art (40,000-10,000
There are two archeological sites at Avdeevo
from which a variety of prehistoric art
has been recovered - chiefly figurines. The sites are known as "Avdeevo-Old"
(Avd-I), and "Avdeevo-New" (Avd-II) and, at both, human
occupation dates back to about 20,000 BCE. The two sites, some 20 kilometres
apart, are situated at the confluence of the river Sejm and its tributary,
the Rogozna, not far from the city of Kursk, in central Russia. They were
discovered in 1941, and excavated immediately after the war: first, by
M.V.Voevodskij in 1946, then by A.N.Rogachev in 1949. During the mid-70s,
new excavations were conducted by a team of archeologists from the Museum
of Anthropology of Moscow State University (led by Mariana Gvozdover)
and the Leningrad Institute of Archeology (led by G.P.Grigorev).
The 'archeological site' of Avdeevo contains
two oval living areas, each set within a network of semi-subterranean
lodges and pits. The living area at Avdeevo-I is roughly twice the size
of that at Avdeevo II. The archeological floor layer is, in parts, dyed
red from ochre pigments (Avdeevo-I) or black from charcoal (Adeevo II).
Stone and bone tools found at Avdeevo, include Kostenky-type knives, shouldered
points, bone awls, burnishers and shovels, along with a series of functional
objects with anthropomorphic or zoomorphic 'heads', mostly associated
with the sculptural representation of female humans and animals. Carbon-dating
shows that both sites were inhabited by 'modern man' from at least 20,000
BCE, although some artifacts have been unearthed which date back to 27,000
BCE. In respect of their overall physical structure and organisation,
assemblages of stone tools, range of statuettes, and items of personal
adornment like bracelets and beads, the Avdeevo sites are closely connected
with the sites at Kostenky - located on the Sozh River, near Voronezh,
some 200 miles to the east - notably Kostenky I, XIII and XVII.
For an example of Paleolithic Russian
cave painting, please see the: Kapova
Cave Paintings (12,500 BCE) in the Shulgan-Tash Preserve. For more
art from the Russian interior, see: Amur
River Basin Pottery (from 14,300 BCE).
of Avdeevo Venuses
Age art found at Avdeevo consists almost entirely of mobiliary
art, notably venus figurines and ivory carvings of woolly mammoths.
(See also the German Ivory
Carvings of the Swabian Jura.) Most of these sculptures were carved
from mammoth ivory, reindeer horns and animal bones, but scientists also
found some stone sculpture carved
from soft rock (marl, sandstone, shale, limestone). In addition, a large
quantity of cylindrical beads were discovered, made from the teeth of
arctic wolves and foxes. However, no pictographs
or petroglyphs were found.
Of the venuses, probably the most famous
one is the "Avdeevo Double Venus", consisting of two
ivory figures carved back to back. The other catalogued figurines include
the following ten items:
Venus No. 1
Discovered at Old Avdeevo, this unsmoothed rather primitive ivory statuette
is 14.5 centimetres in height, and up to 5 centimetres in width. It depicts
a female with quite narrow shoulders but a wide pelvis, though without
excessive fat. It has no legs and the pelvis tapers into an extended triangle.
Venus No. 2
Recovered from Old Avdeevo, this partially smoothed ivory figurine is
12.5 centimetres in height, and up to 3.6 centimetres wide. It has slightly
drooping shoulders, arms bent at the elbow, indistinct breasts, a flat
abdomen, realistic buttocks and stout legs. Genitalia are not highlighted.
Looks chunky and unfinished.
Venus No. 3
Discovered at Old Avdeevo, this unfinished ivory
carving is 8 centimetres tall and up to 4 centimetres in width. It
has a large head, prominent arms, a protruding upper breast/abdomen, steep
hips and narrow legs carved in a trapezoid plane.
Venus No. 4 (Male)
Found at New Avdeevo, this large, upright ivory figure stands roughly
21 centimetres in height and up to 6 centimetres in width. The shoulders
are as wide as the hips, there are no breasts, the abdomen is flat, and
leads into an elongated pubic triangle. The overall posture differs from
that of the female figurines, notably in the arrangement of the arms,
and the pubic area, indicating that this is probably a male figure. Actually,
its head is almost zoomorphic.
Venus No. 5
Recovered from Old Avdeevo, this smoothed ivory statuette is 16 centimetres
tall and up to 3 centimetres wide. Depicting a tall, slender woman, who
is not pregnant, it has very flat buttocks and small lower legs. The excessively
elongated torso, topped with a rounded head, has narrow drooping shoulders,
indistinct arms, sagging, pendulous breasts, a wide pelvis and flat abdomen,
leading to the pubic triangle. Legs appear separately down to the knee.
Venus No. 6
Discovered at New Avdeevo, this ivory figurine stands 9.5 centimetres
tall, and is 3 centimetres at its widest point, the pelvis. It portrays
a mature, pregnant woman with a slim torso and legs but huge breasts,
severely protruding belly and extremely obese buttocks. The head and face
area are decorated with a wedge-shaped pattern, the arms are prominent
at the top, but indistinct thereafter, although the hands are shown complete
with fingers and bracelets. The figure maintains its detail below fat
hips and protruding belly. Figurine No 6, along with Figurine No 9, is
the closest to the Russian "fat" paradigm.
Venus No. 7
Taken from New Avdeevo, this ivory carving is 10 centimetres tall and
up to 2 centimetres wide, at the pelvis. Its head has a detailed coiffure,
or cap, and it has drooping shoulders, a flat chest, drooping breasts,
hands with fingers and bracelet. It has a slightly swollen belly and flat
buttocks. Its uniqueness lies in the detail of its hair and facial features,
including nose and eyes. Overall, perhaps the closest to the Russian "thin"
Venus No. 8
Discovered at New Avdeevo, this ivory figure is 9.5 centimetres tall and
up to 2.3 centimetres wide. It has a tilted head with hair, drooping shoulders,
excessively drooping breasts, a keel-shaped abdomen. Its dominant feature,
aside from the breasts, is a fat middle (hips and torso), but it has delicate
features including fingers and bracelets on the hands.
Venus No. 9
Found in Old Avdeevo, this ivory figurine has Willendorf-style breasts,
an obese middle and obese thighs. It is 9 centimetres tall and up to 3
centimetres wide. Its legs are missing below the knees. It has a head
with an unfinished type of coiffure or face, narrow shoulders and wide
hips. More primitive, more uneven and less finished than No 6, but equally
Venus No. 10
Recovered from New Avdeevo, this ivory fragment of a female torso (from
the shoulders to the pubic area) was reassembled from two smaller pieces.
It is 8 centimetres tall and up to 9 centimetres wide. Archeologists estimate
that the original figurine measured some 20 centimetres in height. As
reassembled it has massive teardrop-shaped breasts, below which are forearms,
and hands with fingers and bracelets. The rounded belly protrudes forward.
In addition, like Kostenky, the Avdeevo
site yielded a quantity of rock art, namely
fragments from a number of female figurines caved out of chalk, marl and
other soft stone.
For another exceptional example of Stone
Age sculpture from Russia, see the Shigir
Idol (7,500 BCE), the oldest surviving wood carving.
Here is a short list of the most celebrated
venus statuettes from the Upper Paleolithic, carved outside Russia.
of Hohle Fels (ivory) (35,500 BCE) Germany.
- Venus of Galgenberg (steatite)
(30,000 BCE) Lower Austria.
- Venus of Dolni Vestonice
(baked clay) (26,000 BCE) Czech Republic.
- Venus of Willendorf (limestone) (25,000 BCE) Lower Austria.
- Venus of Monpazier (limonite) (25,000
- Venus of Savignano (24,000 BCE) Italy
- Venus of Moravany (ivory) (24,000 BCE) Slovakia.
- Venus of Brassempouy (ivory head)
(23,000 BCE) France.
- Venus of Laussel (limestone low-relief)
(23,000 BCE) France.
- Venus of Lespugue (ivory) (23,000
For more about parietal art, see:
Cave Painting (40,000-10,000 BCE).
For more about rock carving, see:
We gratefully acknowledge the use of material from "Art of the Mammoth
Hunters" (1995) by Professor Mariana D. Gvozdover, one of the lead
archeologists at Avdeevo.