The Venus of Willendorf is an 11.1-centimetre-tall (4.4 in)m Venus figurine estimated to have been made 30,000 years ago. It was found on August 7, 1908, by a workman named Johann Veran during archaeological excavations at a paleolithic site near Willendorf, a village in Lower Austria near the town of Krems. It is carved from an oolitic limestone that is not local to the area, and tinted with red ochre. The figurine is now in the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria.
The figure is believed to have been carved during the European Upper Paleolithic, or "Old Stone Age", a period of prehistory starting around 30,000 years ago. A wide variety of dates have been proposed. In a 2009 reexamination of the stratigraphy at the site, researchers estimated that the age of the archaeological layer in which the figurine was found is about 30,000 years ago.
Similar sculptures, first discovered in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, are traditionally referred to in archaeology as "Venus figurines", due to the widely-held belief that depictions of nude women with exaggerated sexual features represented an early fertility fetish, perhaps a mother goddess. The reference to Venus is metaphorical, since the figurines predate the mythological figure of Venus by many thousands of years.
Very little is known about the Venus' origin, method of creation, or cultural significance; however, it is one of numerous "Venus figurines" surviving from Paleolithic Europe. The purpose of the carving is the subject of much speculation. Like other similar sculptures, it probably never had feet, and would not have stood on its own, although it might have been pegged into soft ground. Parts of the body associated with fertility and childbearing have been emphasized, leading researchers to believe that the Venus of Willendorf may have been used as a fertility fetish. The figure has no visible face, her head being covered with circular horizontal bands of what might be rows of plaited hair, or perhaps a type of headdress.
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