Priceless artefact undergoes scanning

La Vénus de Věstonice, photo: Filip Jandourek, ČRo

The Venus of Dolní Věstonice, a ceramic sculpture of a female figure believed to be 29,000 years old and considered one of the oldest artefacts of its kind in the world, left its secret hiding place at the Moravian Museum on Wednesday to undergo a detailed scan under a special 3D microscope. Scientists hope that it will provide them with more information about how the statuette was made.

Venus of Věstonice | Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio
Three cars with armed police escorted the Venus of Věstonice on Wednesday morning from the Moravian Museum in Brno to the city’s FEI Technological Institute. There, the eleven centimetre shapely figurine of a nude female body was placed under a special microscope to undergo a detailed scan, which is able to map all the particles within the statue in micrometre resolution.

The ceramic figurine was discovered in South Moravia in July 1925 by a team of scientists led by Karel Absolon. The statuette, broken in two pieces, was found amidst remnants of a prehistoric fire pit once used by mammoth hunters. What makes it so unique is the fact that it was made by burning the clay, a technology commonly used only in the Neolithic period. However, scientists are not sure to this day what exactly it is made of.

Petr Neruda is a curator at the Moravian Museum in Brno:

“In 1938, Karel Absolon carried out a chemical analysis of the statue and claimed that it contained crushed bones, pieces of mammoth ivory, mixed with fat and some other things. So we must take this analysis into account and we’ll either prove him right or we’ll find out that the composition is different.

Scientists will now analyse the scans and they are hoping to present the results to the public within the next two months. However, the scan has already shown some discoveries:

Petr Neruda,  photo: archive of Moravian Museum in Brno
“Unfortunately we have discovered some micro-cracks that probably originated during the process of burning the figurine in fire. Now we have to analyse how the cracks have affected the condition of the statue. That will be one of our main tasks for the future.”

Despite the state-of-the-art technologies that the scientists have at hand, Petr Neruda admits that some things surrounding the priceless artefact will always remain a secret:

“We may be able to reconstruct the composition but we know nothing about the ideas related to the creation of the statue. We don’t know why it was made and we are also not sure if it was made by a man or a woman. It is impossible to find answers to such questions and I believe it will always remain a secret.”

The Venus of Dolní Věstonice is normally kept in a special safe at the Moravian Museum and it is rarely exhibited. Last time it went on public display was at an exhibition at the British Museum in London in 2013.