It was dubbed the Venus of Laussel after other so-called Venus figurines depicting similar subjects. These figures are believed to be from the Gravettian Upper Paleolithic culture (about 25,000 years old).
This carving was kept in Lalanne's private collection until 1960 when it was donated to the Museum of Aquitaine (Musée d'Aquitaine) in Bordeaux where it resides today.
The bas relief carving is 54 x 36 x 15.5 centimeters in size. It was carved into a fallen block of limestone with flint implements. Traces of red ochre (an iron oxide mineral) indicate that it may have been stained a rusty-red color.
The carving depicts a naked woman holding what appears to be a wisent horn (more on this in a minute). There are no details on her face (which is facing the horn), but her pendulous breasts, swollen belly, large thighs ("saddle-bag" hips), and vulva are accentuated. Her free hand is placed on her belly (womb?).
There's so much to say about this figurine I scarcely know where to start...
Wisents were hunted for meat, furs, and to produce drinking horns. They would have been an important resource for Upper Paleolithic hunters.
The wisent horn held by the Venus figure has 13 inscribed notches. We'll return to this later.
The rock, as mentioned previously, is limestone. The region in southwestern France where it was found is characterized by a Jurassic-Cretaceous Period limestone plateau dissected by river valleys (the largest being the Dordogne River). Since limestone is so soluble, the region is riddled with natural caves which were exploited by our ancestors who hunted in the fertile valleys. Once of the most well-known caves in the area is Lascaux famous for its exquisite cave paintings.
The carving was found in a grotto (not quite a cave, more like a cliff overhang) near the Château de Laussel, commune of Marquay, Dordogne department, region of Aquitaine (commune, department, and region are similar to township, county, and state in the U.S.).
Approximate area of Château de Laussel is within red circle
Château de Laussel from Google Earth (44° 56' 42" N, 001° 06' 08" E)
hâteau de Laussel from the ground
An old photograph of the site shows where the Venus carving was found (white cross).
A few words about the Gravettian culture that produced this sculpture. The Gravettian denotes a toolmaking culture in Europe that existed between 32,000 and 22,000 years ago during the Upper Paleolithic (Late Stone Age). It's characterized by specific technological advances in the manufacturing of stone blades used for the hunting of of big game such as horse, bison, reindeer, mastodons, and mammoths. The culture is named after a type site at a location called La Gravette which is also in the Dordogne area.
The Gravettian culture is also famous for the carving of Venus figurines out of soft stones (like the limestone Venus de Laussel), bone, or ivory (from mastodon and mammoth tusks). The figurines shared similar characteristics showing naked females with exaggerated breasts, bellies, hips, thighs, and vulva with poorly-developed hands and feet and generally no facial features.
So why were these Venus figurines so important and what specifically was being represented by the Venus of Laussel? Short answer, no one knows for sure. Long answer, there are a lot of speculations.
I'll discuss some interpretations in my next post...