NYU Anthropologist Says Female Statuettes From Ice-Age Europe Were Carved To Protect Health Of Pregnant Mothers

NYU anthropologist Randall White has uncovered evidence that female statuettes carved in various parts of Europe during the Paleolithic period were intended primarily to protect the health of mother and child during childbirth. White's findings contradict the long-held assumption that the main intent of these statuettes was to promote fertility.

White's findings are based on a comprehensive examination of some 100 female statuettes that were carved in Europe between 30,000 and 20,000 years ago. The statuettes were excavated from 5 sites: Brassempouy in France, Grimaldi in Italy and Gagarino, Kostienki I and Avdeevo in Russia.

White will present his findings in a talk entitled "The Female Image in Upper Paleolithic Art" at the University of Pennsylvania Museum's Birth of Art conference on November 21st, 1998. His research is also highlighted in an upcoming issue of Science magazine.

White will present the following evidence to support his thesis:

  • The statuettes emphasize the various physical effects of pregnancy on the mother. They do not emphasize or seem to encourage procreation. In those statuettes that have explicit sexual features, the reference is to obstetrics. For example, statuettes from the Grimaldi excavation depict dilation for birthing.

  • Where statuettes were well excavated, they were found buried in carefully dug pits as if they were being ritually offered.

  • The statuettes show little evidence of long-term use. All of the marks from the tools used to make them are well-preserved, and there is no evidence of polishing by handling that might lead one to believe that they were passed on from one generation to the next. This suggests that they were ritually buried shortly after production.

Professor White said, "Based on our close examination of these statuettes, we believe that their purpose was not so much fertility as it was protecting the health of mother and child during birth. Furthermore, t

Contact: Josh Plaut
New York University

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