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"Willendorf" is the name that was given to the first known human figurine, a woman. The statue was found in 1908 near the town of Willendorf in Vienna. It was carved from limestone and colored with red ochre. It measures 110 mm in height and is dated 30,000 and 25,000 BC.

Willendorf is an important icon of prehistory. Archeologists have suggested many different ways of understanding its significance for the nomadic society which made it. The first suggestion is that it was a "Goddess" used as a symbol of fertility. Apart from being female, the statue has an enlarged stomach and breasts, its pubic area is greatly emphasized, probably serving as a representative of procreativity, and the red ochre pigment covering it has been thought to symbolize or serve as menstrual blood seen as a life giving agent. The second suggestion is that the figurine may have served as a good luck charm. Its diminutive size led archaeologists to assume that it may have been carried by the men during their hunting missions in which it served not only as a reminder of their mate back at home but also as a charm to bring them success in their hunting. Also, the figurine's hair is braided in seven concentric circles, seven in later times being regarded as a magic number used to bring about good luck. A third possible significance is that of the figurine served as a mother goddess (earth mother or female deity). This comes from a suggestion that the statue was a woman whose specialness was indicated in her obesity since women in a hunter gatherer society would probably not have had the opportunity to gain much body fat.

It has been surmised that women's socioeconomic and cultural role in the society that produced the Willendorf statue was likely related to the value and reverence it had for creativity, production and responsibility of the mature maternal feminine.

Last modified March 03 2008 10:25 PM

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