Venus of Dolni Vestonice
Description, Characteristics of Prehistoric Ceramic Figurine.

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Venus of Dolni Vestonice (26,000 BCE)
Vienna Natural History Museum.
Earliest Czech Sculpture.
See: Oldest Art.

Venus of Dolni Vestonice (26,000 - 24,000 BCE)


Location and Discovery
Description and Characteristics
Earliest Ceramic Art
Other Stone Age Venus Figurines


(1) To see how the ceramic Venus of Dolni Vestonice fits into the evolution
and development of ancient sculpture, see: Prehistoric Art Timeline.

(2) For the world's oldest example of ceramic pottery,
see: Xianrendong Cave Pottery (c.18,000 BCE).

(3) For another important example of Aurignacian art from Central Europe, please see: Coliboaia Cave Art (30,000 BCE).

For more details of early Stone Age
works, see: Oldest Stone Age Art.


The Czech prehistoric sculpture known as the Dolni Vestonice (Vestonicka Venuse) is the oldest known work of terracotta sculpture in the world. Belonging to the genre of Venus figurines carved predominantly during the era of Gravettian art, this astounding item of prehistoric art was found at a Stone Age settlement in the Moravian basin south of Brno, in the Czech Republic. Like the famous Venus of Willendorf (c.25,000 BCE), the Venus of Dolni Vestonice now resides in the Vienna Natural History Museum. Although recently exhibited in the Mammoth Hunters Exhibition (2007) at the National Museum in Prague, and at the Prehistoric Art in Central Europe exhibition in Brno, this exquisite example of mobiliary art is rarely displayed in public, and whenever it leaves Vienna, it is usually accompanied by an armed escort.



Location and Discovery

The Venus of Dolni Vestonice was found in two pieces in late July 1925, buried in a layer of ash at a paleolithic encampment in Moravia, formerly a region of Czechoslovakia. At the time of the discovery, the site had been been under close archeological investigation for nearly a year under the direction of Karel Absolon. Since then, further extensive digs have unearthed numerous items of ceramic art dating back to Paleolithic culture, including more than 700 animal figurines, all fired in the primitive kilns at Dolni Vestonice. Other Gravettian sites in the vicinity have yielded thousands more terracotta figurines and clay balls, although there are no ancient rock shelters with cave art in the district. In 1986, the skeletons of two young men and a woman, marked by ritualistic injuries and annointments, were excavated from a shallow burial pit at Dolni Vestonice, underlining the ceremonial significance of the site. The next example of European ceramic art after the cache at Dolni Vestonice, is the Vela Spila Pottery (15,500 BCE) from Croatia, discovered in 2006 in a cave on Korcula Island, off the coast of Croatia.

Description and Characteristics

Measuring 4.4 inches in height and 1.7 inches in width, (111 mm x 43 mm) the Venus of Dolni Vestonice is made from local clay mixed with powdered bone and fired in an earthen oven at a relatively low temperature about 1300 F, or 700 C. Her characteristics are consistent with those found in most other ivory or stone Venus figurines from the same period. For instance, she has a featureless face, devoid of any detail, enormous pendulous breasts, and wide hips and buttocks. An uneven crack runs along her right hip, while there are four holes in the top of her head, possibly fixture points for herbs or flowers. In 2004, a scan of the figurine's surface revealed the fingerprint of a child aged 7-15 years, although he/she is not thought to have been the ceramicist involved.

For more about the chronology of clay-fired ceramics (sculpture and pots), see: Pottery Timeline (26,000 BCE - 1900). The oldest unbroken tradition of ceramic-making is in East Asia, where the four oldest finds include: the Xianrendong Cave Pottery (18,000 BCE) in Jiangxi, Yuchanyan Cave Pottery (c.16,000 BCE) in Hunan province, and Amur River Pottery (14,300 BCE) from Russia's Far East. This Paleolithic tradition spread across the Sea of Japan to influence early Jomon Pottery throughout the Japanese archipelago.


Earliest Ceramic Art

The Dolni Vestonice venus is the earliest art ever created using fired clay. By comparison, the earliest ceramic pottery - made during the Japanese Jomon culture - has been carbon-dated to between 14,540 and 13,320 BCE. Ancient pottery from the Mediterranean area did not appear until the Neolithic Stone Age (c.7,000 - 3,500 BCE), while the Chinese Terracotta Army was sculpted at late as 230 BCE, during the era of Qin Dynasty art (221-206 BCE). She is also among the earliest depictions of a female figure, preceded only by the likes of the Swabian Venus of Hohle Fels (38,000-33,000 BCE) and the Austrian Venus of Galgenberg (c.30,000 BCE).

Other Stone Age Venus Figurines

Small portable female statuettes, known as "Venuses", have been excavated by archeologists and paleontologists across Europe, from the Pyrenees to Siberia. Carved from mammoth ivory tusks, reindeer antlers or soft rocks such as limestone, steatite, serpentine and jet, most were created during the Gravettian tool culture, although a handful were produced during the earlier period of Aurignacian art (40,000-26,000 BCE). Other famous venus figurines not cited above include the French Venus of Monpazier (c.25,000 BCE), the Italian Venus of Savignano (c.24,000), the Slovakian Venus of Moravany (c.24,000-22,000), the French bas-relief Venus of Laussel (c.23,000-20,000), the French Venus of Brassempouy (c.23,000), the French Venus of Lespugue (c.23,000), the Russian figurines known as the Venus of Kostenky (c.22,000), the Venus of Gagarino (c.20,000), the Avdeevo Venuses (c.20,000), the Zaraysk Venuses (c.20,000), the Mal'ta Venuses (c.20,000) and the unique Venus of Eliseevichi (14,000 BCE), from Bryansk. In contrast, neither of the two Middle Paleolithic effigies - namely the Venus of Berekhat Ram (230,000-700,000) and the Venus of Tan-Tan (200,000-500,000) - belong to the category of Upper Paleolithic venuses which only begins about 40,000 BCE.

• For more about prehistoric artifacts, see: Stone Age Art.
• For information about prehistoric artworks, see: Homepage.

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