Recent prehistoric archaeological finds seem to point to a general consensus: that all of our ancestors, no matter what culture or country you hail from now, were sex crazed. Like nymphomaniac status.
By our ancestors, I’m talking Homo sapiens during the Paleolithic era. And by sex crazed, I am referring to the cliche, hormone drenched mind of a teenage boy. Apparently cavemen were obsessed with doing the nasty, as archaeologists seem to find phallic, yonic, and straight up sexy imagery everywhere.
These ideas appear most prevalent in relation to the Venus figurines, a broad term for a group small, prehistoric statuettes that resemble women.
Venus figurines boast large breasts, buttocks, and sometimes, no heads. Thus, many scientists and science oriented media has interpreted the statuettes’ overwhelming emphasis on female sexual organs as evidence of their being “erotic,” “pornographic,” and “prehistoric pinups” for men. Some have even gone so far as to claim Venus figurines show that the present day “…objectification of women extends deep into the mists of prehistory.”
You see how this may be problematic, don’t you? Here we are projecting Western ideals of sexuality (albeit, misogynistic “ideals”) on to cave art that is thousands of years old to support our modern way of seeing things. Yet luckily, not everyone thinks this way.
Anthropologists April Nowell and Melanie L. Chang have voiced their critique against what they deem is the “Venus theory”–that Venus figurines are inherently sexual. In their essay, “Science, the Media, and Interpretations of Upper Paleolithic Figurines,” published in the September issue of the American Anthropologist, Nowell and Chang debunk a few “studies” that support the Venus theory.
Mainly, the two comment on how many scientific publications assume the Venus figurines were made by and for men by a heteronormative culture, that these sexual ideas have not been ascribed to Paleolithic nude male figurines, and that many view the female statuettes as if they are all the same–ignoring different culture standards that may have existed at the time.
Nowell and Chang argue for a more scientific approach to the investigation of these artifacts. Perhaps some contextualization and actual scientific processes, rather than hyped up theories. It seems obvious that today’s idea of an unclothed figure is generally considered sexy, while the idea of nude figure in the Paleolithic era could mean a whole slew of things other than smut.
No matter what you believe, whether you see these figurines as prehistoric porn or simply some carved up rock, keep one thing in mind: this connects us all. Whether you were born in Africa, Norway, America, Asia, these Prehistoric artifacts are a peek in to our past. Their meanings can be be a source of munition for present day ideas. Nowell and Chang aptly concluded their article with a quote from Nicholas Conrad, and it seems only necessary to repeat it here: “how we interpret [the Hohle Fels ﬁgurine] tells us just as much about ourselves as about people 40,000 years ago.”