Home LATEST NEWS The Venus of Willendorf is not Austrian, but Italian

The Venus of Willendorf is not Austrian, but Italian


The 30,000-year-old statuette was collected in 1908 on the left bank of the Danube, near Krems, Austria.

The origin of this prehistoric Venus remained unknown since it was modeled in oolite, a limestone rock formed of very small spherical concretions that are not found in Willendorf or its surroundings.

An Austrian research team led by anthropologist Gerhard Weber from the University of Vienna has found, using high-resolution tomographic images, that the material from which Venus was carved probably originated from northern Europe. Italy.

This discovery sheds new light on the mobility of early modern humans south and north of the Alpssay the researchers whose work is the subject of an article published in the journal Scientific ReportsHave (New window)Have (in English).

The oolite used to create Venus is porous.Enlarge imageHave (New window)Have

The oolite used to create the Venus is porous, a characteristic which probably explains the choice of this material, which is much easier to work with by the sculptor.

Photo: University of Vienna/Gerhard Weber

A unique work

This work of art is special, not only for its design, but also for its material.

While the other Venuses are usually made of ivory or bone, sometimes also of different stones, the oolite used in that of Willendorf makes it unique. »

A quote from Gerhard Weber

Until today, this Venus kept in the Museum of Natural History in Vienna had only been examined from the outside. In the present work, the Austrian team used a new technique, computer-assisted microtomography, to analyze the interior of the work.

Representation of the density of Venus.  It is possible to see three fragments of molluscs. Enlarge imageHave (New window)Have

Representation of the density of Venus. It is possible to see three fragments of molluscs.

Photo: University of Vienna/Gerhard Weber

Over several scans, the scientists obtained images with a resolution of up to 11.5 micrometres, a precision that can otherwise only be achieved under a microscope.

This examination shows that the Venus is not uniform inside. A particular property that could be used to determine its originnotes Gerhard Weber.

Professor Weber’s team includes two geologists, Alexander Lukeneder and Mathias Harzhauser, who know oolites well. They got samples from all over Europe to compare them. These samples were sawn and then examined under a microscope.

The tomographic analysis of the Venus makes it possible to establish that the sediments were deposited in the rocks with different densities and sizes. In between, there are also small pieces of shells and six very dense and larger grains, called limonites.

According to the researchers, the presence of these limonites explains the hemispherical cavities of the same diameter, hitherto mysterious, on the surface of Venus.

The hard limonites probably erupted when the creator of the Venus was sculpting it. »

A quote from Gerhard Weber

The oolite used to create the Venus is porous, a characteristic which probably explains, according to the researchers, the choice of this material much easier to work by the sculptor.

Scientists also discovered a tiny piece of shell, just 2.5 millimeters long, that dates to the Jurassic period. They thus ruled out all the other potential deposits of this rock dating from the much later geological era of the Miocene, such as those in the nearby Vienna basin.

A statuette from afar

The research team also analyzed the grain size of other samples collected across Europe. Hundreds or even thousands of grains have been marked and measured. None of them came from the 200 kilometer region around Willendorf.

This analysis showed that the Venus samples were statistically indistinguishable samples from a location near Lake Garda in northern Italy.

This result is remarkable, because it means that the Venus (or at least its materials) started a journey from the south of the Alps to the Danube, north of the Alpsnote the researchers.

Humans of the Gravettian, an Upper Paleolithic culture, moved according to climate and availability of prey. They mostly moved along rivers. Such a journey could take generationsnotes Gerhard Weber.

If the data seems to point to northern Italy as the place of origin of the Venus oolite, it could also come from eastern Ukraine, more than 1600 linear kilometers from Willendorf. The samples from this region do not match Venus as clearly as those from Italy, but better than those from all the others.

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