The back-slapping homosocial bonding continues. This time, it’s over a Palaeolithic sculpture.
You heard right.
This Aurignacian mammoth-ivory carving has been found in Germany by Nicholas Conard, and published in a letter to Nature. It’s thought to be the oldest human figurative art known to us. The life-giving breasts and vulva are particularly prominent, reminiscent of the famous Venus of Willendorf fertility goddess statue of a few thousand years later.
Science writer Ed Yong calls it a “Prehistoric Pin-up“. [Edit 16 May 09 – Ed has re-thought this in response to this thread, apologised, and changed the headline.]
Yahoo News headlines it “Obsession with Naked Women Dates Back 35,000 Years“.
The Independent goes for “erotic art for cavemen“.
Reuters decided it’s a “Sexy Venus“.
ScienceNow has “The Earliest Pornography?”
The Sun, unsurprisingly, headlines it “The world’s first Page 3 Girl”.
Blogger the Crusty Curmudgeon’s take is “It’s Official: Cavemen Were Obsessed With Sex Too!“, and Neatorama commenters went for “men have had their head in the gutter for 35,000 years. Abandon all hope for us” [Gauldar], “I sure do love the rubenesque woman.” [Loomis], and “Maybe this was early lesbian art?” [Medussa].
“How we interpret it tells us just as much about ourselves as about people 40,000 years ago.”
And what I’m getting from this is that the sexual male gaze is the only lens through which many men can see the world. The ubiquity of the pornographic gaze oozes out over everything it touches, attempting to obliterate other explanations and all nuance. Fertility is sexy to some, sure; it can also be about life and beauty and mystery and spirituality. I suspect this is the women’s business of some of my ancestors, not an ancient Playboy bunny.
ETA 15 May 2009: I have the full Nature paper now, and I think what we have here is the usual complete failure of the scientific press to read the source. The paper talks about the figure as a fertility symbol, not as a wank object. It is possible that some more mainstream sources got confused at the word “sexual features”, not realising that in academia this means “reproductive characteristics”. But that’s no excuse for the science press.
Quotes from the source:
[detailed description of object] … The split between the two halves of the buttocks is deep and continues without interruption to the front of the figurine, where the vulva with pronounced labia majora is visible between the open legs. There can be no doubt that the depiction of oversized breasts, accentuated buttocks and genitalia results from the deliberate exaggeration of the sexual features of the figurine.[…]
Many of the features, including the extreme emphasis on sexual attributes and lack of emphasis on the head, face and arms and legs, call to mind aspects of the Venus figurines well known from the European Gravettian, which typically date from between 22 and 27 kyr BP16,17. The careful depiction of the hands is reminiscent of those of Venuses such as the archetypal Venus of Willendorf.[…]
With this discovery, the widespread notion that three-dimensional female depictions developed in the Gravettian can be rejected. Interpretations suggesting that strong, aggressive animals or shamanic depictions dominate the Aurignacian art of Swabia, or even of Europe as a whole, must be reconsidered. Although there is a long history of debate over the meaning of Palaeolithic Venuses, their clearly depicted sexual attributes suggest that they are a direct or indirect expression of fertility.