Shapely Czech Venus reveals secrets

Venus of Dolní Věstonice, photo: archive of Moravian Museum in Brno

First results from a scan of the famous Venus of Dolní Věstonice show it was made from one piece of clay from the local site.

Venus of Dolní Věstonice,  photo: Petr Novák,  Wikipedia
It is exactly one year ago when the Venus of Dolní Věstonice, a ceramic statuette of a naked woman believed to be 29,000 years old and considered one of the oldest artefacts of its kind in the world, went under a detailed scan in a special 3D microscope. Now historians from the Moravian Museum in Brno have presented the first scan results so far.

The special microscope, located in Brno’s FEI Technological Institute, was able to map all the particles within the statue in microscopic resolution, providing the researchers with around eight gigabytes of data. Now, exactly a year after the priceless artefact went under the scan, they have presented an analysis of the first findings.

One of the biggest discoveries was that the shapely eleven centimetre figurine was not made of two or more pieces of clay, as it was initially expected, but was evidently created from one single piece.

Historians also discovered more details about the composition of the statuette. Petr Neruda is a curator at the Moravian Museum in Brno, who took part in the research:

Petr Neruda,  photo: archive of Moravian Museum in Brno
“I discovered impurities inside the body, which are quite randomly distributed. It shows that the material came from the site where the statue was created.

“There were a lot of charcoals, bone fragments and parts of mammoth ivory, so the creator of the statue must have used the sediment on the site. These impurities were evidently not added to the clay with any special intent, it is just natural contamination.”

Scientists at the Moravian Museum have also confirmed an earlier hypothesis of Karel Absolon, the historian who discovered the Venus of Dolní Věstonice. He believed the statue’s head was originally ornamented with four feathers. Petr Neruda again:

“I used digital technology and I created 3-D models of the holes, and it is now quite clear that they we all produced by one tool with a relatively sharp tip. They resemble the point of bird feathers, which is what Karel Absolon thought.

“Now I want to print the models in a 3D printer. Then it might be possible to find which bird species feathers were used. It is really quite interesting.”

Press conference in the Moravian Museum in Brno,  photo: archive of Moravian Museum in Brno
The ceramic figure was discovered in South Moravia in July 1925. The statuette, broken in two pieces, was found amongst the remnants of a pre-historic fire pit once used by mammoth hunters.

Although many similar figures have been found since then, Venus of Dolní Věstonice has not lost any of its value. What makes it so unique is the fact that it was made by burning the clay, a technology commonly used only in the later Neolithic period.

Analysis of the findings of the scan should continue until the end of the year and Petr Neruda believes it might still bring to light some unexpected facts. Nevertheless, some questions such as who created the statue or what its purpose was will likely remain unanswered despite the latest state of the art technologies.