Technology A Paleolithic Venus discovered in Amiens

A Paleolithic Venus discovered in Amiens

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Gravettian Venus with hair, Amiens-Renancourt 2019
Gravettian Venus with hair, Amiens-Renancourt 2019 STEPHANE LANCELOT / INRAP

The most harmless places, archaeologists sometimes leave the most exceptional pieces. Thus this small Paleolithic effigy, exhumed this summer of a dig located close to a commercial activity zone (ZAC) of Renancourt, a district southwest of Amiens (Somme), and presented for the first time. time, Wednesday, 4 December, by the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap).

About 23,000 years old, the "Venus of Renancourt" is only 4 centimeters high, but it is one of the rare statuettes of women from the Gravettian period found in France. It completes a series of fifteen other effigies, uncovered since 2014 on the same site but in fragmentary form. The previous major discovery on the national territory was the Venus Tursac, in 1959, in the Dordogne. "The only Renancourt site has doubled the corpus"says archeologist Clement Paris (Inrap) who directs the excavations.

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Last of this exceptional series, the "Venus of Renancourt" was discovered in July "On the last day of excavations, on the last square meter excavated"says Clément Paris. Breasts imposing and falling on the torso, broad thighs, prominent buttocks, belly bounced, absence of figuration of the face, arms and legs just sketched: the effigy is almost reduced to a trunk, except for the stylized headdress, under shape of a finely incised mesh on top of a skull embryo. It responds to the canons of the Gravettian style, this Upper Paleolithic culture that unfolds in Europe, from the Pyrenees to Siberia, between 28,000 and 22,000 years ago.

Made on site

This representation of the woman, summed up to ample sexual attributes, is characteristic of the Paleolithic. It is at the center of many hypotheses and speculations of prehistorians. Some have seen the mark of matriarchal societies, and others a representation of fertility …

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The only sprain known to these stylistic canons: the famous Dame de Brassempouy, fragment of ivory statuette discovered in 1894 in Brassempouy (Landes), whose head and face are distinguished, marked like Renancourt's with a thin grid. The Venus of Renancourt, it has no face and is not engraved in ivory, but in a block of chalk.

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The analysis of the material indicates, according to the researchers, that it was taken locally. This suggests, as Mr. Paris says, that the statuette – as well as other fragments of objects found on the 100 m² excavated so far – was made on site. Tens of thousands of fragments have been found, including fine flint points characteristic of Gravettian culture, an ivory tool and ornaments. But also a shell probably coming from the Atlantic facade, several hundred kilometers away. The careful analysis of the traces of tools – invisible at first glance or even to the naked eye – on the statuette will, hope Paris, hope to specify the techniques used by men of the Upper Paleolithic to execute these statuettes.

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