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What We're Allowed To Say We Know About Venus Figurines
Previously in this series: What We’re Allowed To Say We Know About Druids Is Nothing and Shut Up. Obvious debt to Nicole Cliffe’s Things We Know For Sure About Marilyn Monroe: “She was buried in a green Pucci dress, which will probably come up at auction in your lifetime. When it does, someone will measure the waist, and that person will be paid to come on television and tell us how many inches it was”).
For reasons that remain opaque to me, every three or four years Scientific American or Smithsonian Magazine publishes a semi-splashy article titled something like “Why We Still Don’t Know What So-Called Venus Figures Mean.” I don’t want to contribute to anti-intellectualism in art, and I heartily repent of every instance I might have said “A toddler could draw that” on museum trips in junior high, but we do know what Venus figures mean. They’re little statues of women! Come on.
I can appreciate that nobody wants to be the first archaeologists who steps across the “probably used for ritual purposes” line to make a verifiable claim like “They were all called Mandy” and runs the risk of being discredited and made to look a fool. And of course one doesn’t want to speak carelessly and generally on behalf of the dead. But just as the Marilyn Monroe Measurements Industrial Complex remains eternally invested in relitigating the question of her dress size, what I call the Venus Figurine Bafflement Cohort seems equally invested in generating an infinite number of potential explanations for why someone might have wanted to sit down and “carve a little statue of a woman” 30,000 years ago. But why must an explanation be furnished? Was it not enough to sit somewhere warm and carve a beautiful woman, huge?
I can’t help but feel like we’re all being punished for some older archaeologist’s overstatement a hundred years ago or something, such that now we have to say things like “Well, we may never know why anyone would sculpt a little statue of a woman, these things are shrouded in mystery,” when they’re not shrouded in very much mystery at all. They’re pretty concrete!
“Carved in an era before written language, there is no clear proof about what these figurines represent.” They represent some great gals! Little statue of a woman, to carry around with you, for fun, for luck, little friend to carry around with you throughout the Magdalenian Era. Who wouldn’t want one?
“Say, friend, would you like a little carved figurine of a woman?”
“I sure would. Thanks awfully!”
Conrad put his interpretation bluntly: “Head and legs don’t matter. This is about sex, reproduction,” he told Smithsonian Magazine in 2012.
Bosh! The hands and feet probably just fell off first because they’re smaller and more easily breakable and they’re 40,000 years old, it’s not that people didn’t used to care about hands and feet.
In conclusion, of course we don’t know everything there is to know about Venus figures, but we can probably stop describing them as unsettling paradoxes that threaten to tear apart the very fabric of knowledge.