500,000 – 233,000 Years Ago – The venus of Berekhat Ram (Israel) is a red stone figure with symbolic intent and possibly intended to represent an anthropomorphic female figure. Surface is a bright high red with a large hole lined with black volcanic glass is at the approximate position of a ‘navel.’ Venus figurines are often found in different elements or mediums from limestone, serpentine, ivory, clay, and bone ash and are dispersed from western Europe to Siberia. These figurines are often faceless with down turned heads, large breasts, buttocks (many-extreme fat), some possibly pregnant, several stuck into the ground, and found near cave walls or in hearths. So what are the possible explanations of venus figurines? They could be some kind of good luck charms (evidence of polish), symbols of fertility, cult objects, art, Paleolithic porn, or representations of women by women or men (some look like modern pregnant bodies and some very skinny) but overall there may be no one reason. These figurines may have been created for several different reasons depending on time, place, and people but we just do not know. Though calling them all goddesses or venus is at least misleading if not outright uncalled for because of mythologizing motivated by current projections and this is true even if a few where seen as some kind of goddesses. However, the venus of Berekhat Ram even if just anthropomorphic art (i.e. ascribing human form or attributes to a thing not human) could be seen as possibly the earliest known archaeological manifestations of any kind of elements that later become more defined religious belief systems. This is reasonable because anthropomorphic character design in art is a symbolic use of design to portray personality and thus, natural objects resembling the human body (or parts of it) which have received minor amounts of intentional modification in order to bring out the similarity further for a desired purpose. One could possibly even surmise that for some, there may have been a character that can play a possible part in telling stories. Thus anthropomorphic art such as venus figurines may connect or be a larger growing fantasy of symbolism, superstitions, and supernaturalism thus to socio-cultural-religious transformations or evolution. Although one cannot at present rule out a purely fortuitous association with the venus of Berekhat Ram and the piece can hardly be described as artistic, the possibility remains that it can be placed in the figures category as unambiguous indicators of early symbolism, let alone ritual, and we should not write it off as casual ‘lithic art’. Instead, the appearance of precocious lithic technologies such as end-scrapers and stone chisels at Berekhat Ram, symbolism (and by extension perhaps ritual) drifted in and out of use over evolutionary time.

By Damien Marie AtHope

References

Wikipedia (2013). Venus of Berekhat Ram. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_of_Berekhat_Ram

Harrod, J.B. (n.d.). Near Eastern – North African Acheulian figurine symbolizing traditon / a)berekram, female figurine, Berekhat Ram, Israel, Upper Acheulian, 35 mm. high, basaltic tuff, 233,000-470,000 BP. Retrieved from http://originsnet.org/nenatoolsfems/pages/a)berekram.htm

Encyclopedia of Stone Age Art (n.d.). Venus of Berekhat Ram (230-700,000 BCE). Retrieved from http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/prehistoric/venus-of-berekhat-ram.htm

Unknown (2015). Archaeology exam 3. Retrieved from http://quizlet.com/3757367/archaeology-exam-3-flash-cards/

Insoll, T. (2012). The Oxford handbook of the archaeology of ritual and religion. Oxford, United Kingdom. Oxford University Press.