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34,000 year old ivory Venus discovered in Saxony-Anhalt

Within the framework of an international cooperation project, the Research Centre and Museum for Human Behavioral Evolution MONREPOS in Neuwied, an institution of the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz (RGZM), has been conducting excavations on the early palaeolithic site at Breitenbach near Zeitz in the Burgenland since 2009, in close cooperation with the State Office for Monument Conservation and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt.

34,000 year old ivory Venus discovered in Saxony-Anhalt
Credit: RGZM
The extensive open-air settlement site on a spur above the Aga River has been known since the 1920s and represents one of the northernmost stations of the so-called Aurignacian (ca. 40,000 - 33,500 BP), the earliest phase of the Upper Palaeolithic in Europe.

The 34,000 year old Breitenbach site has already produced spectacular results in the past. Five years ago, tiny pearls from the world's oldest ivory workshop with clearly defined work areas were found there. Not only "fresh" but also much older mammoth ivory was processed in this workshop, which was obviously washed and deposited in Breitenbach well over 200,000 years ago.

Also in 2012 several ivory fragments were discovered, which were recently recognized by excavation leader Dr. Olaf Jöris and his team as fragments of a so-called "Venus" figure made of ivory. This is a statue of a woman in the Palaeolithic period.

Three small ivory fragments from Breitenbach, which are only between 1.4 cm and 1.8 cm in size and seem to be very inconspicuous at first glance, but have been carefully worked and polished on the surface, can be fitted effortlessly into completely preserved figures such as those known from the "Hohle Fels" in the Swabian Alb.

Until now, sculptures made in the Aurignacian period were only known from caves in the Swabian Alb, which is one of the reasons why they were included in this year's UNESCO World Heritage List. Only with the following "Gravettien" phase (approx. 33,500 - 23,500 BP) can figurative sculptures be found throughout Eurasia.

The finds by Breitenbach show that figuratively crafted sculptures in the Aurignacian form part of a tradition that originated in Central Europe and was not limited to southern Germany alone. In addition, they show that this idea did not spread until the transition from the Aurignacian to the "Gravettien".

Breitenbach is thus at the turning point of a supra-regional cultural upheaval, which can probably be understood as a change in the worldviews of the time and in social interaction.

Open land finds from this early phase of the late Palaeolithic period are relatively rarely preserved. Most of the finds from this period originate from caves, which however are often transformed by later use.

At the end of the Aurignacian phase, Breitenbach was situated on the northernmost edge of the inhabited world due to pronounced glaciation.

A little more than 40,000 years ago, modern man, Homo sapiens, first settled Europe. He encountered populations of Neanderthals, which he gradually suppressed, although there was also limited genetic exchange between the two.

With the appearance of modern man, jewellery and art can be found in Europe for the first time.

Source: Romisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum [November 25, 2017]

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