3D scans show 30,000-year-old stone sculpture unearthed in Austria likely comes from Italy | Smart News
A 30,000-year-old full-figure woman statue unearthed in Austria may have come from nearly 600 miles away in Italy, reported Alex Greenberger of ART news at the beginning of this month. Scientists made the discovery after studying 3D scans of the sculpted rock to determine its source.
Known as the Venus of Willendorf, the 4.3-inch-tall statuette, believed to be one of the oldest known examples of figurative sculpture, was found in 1908 on the banks of the Danube in Austria, according to Mindy Weisberger of Live Science. Archaeologists say an ancient sculptor carved the ochre-coloured figurine from oolitic limestone during the Ice Age.
In a new study published in the journal Scientific reportsthe researchers say the stone used in the carving – carved as “a grown, faceless woman symbolized with exaggerated genitalia, pronounced hips, a protruding belly, heavy breasts and a sophisticated headdress or hairstyle” – closely matches the material found near Lake Garda in the southern Alps in Italy.
The samples were “virtually indistinguishable”, suggesting “a very high probability that the raw material originated south of the Alps”, the scientists wrote in the study.
Scientists speculate that the Gravettians – an Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherer culture that inhabited Europe tens of thousands of years ago – took the statue with them when they migrated north to the Danube, to a walking distance of almost 600 miles from the site where she is thought to have originated, by Ross Pomeroy of RealClear Science.
According to lead author Gerhard W. Weber, ancient people likely moved into Europe over generations in response to changing climatic conditions around 30,000 years ago.
“People from the Gravettian – the tool culture of the time – sought out and inhabited favorable places,” the head of the department of evolutionary anthropology at the University of Vienna said in a statement. “When the climate or prey situation changed, they moved, preferably along rivers.”
In collaboration with the Walpurga prehistorian Antl-Weiser and the Natural History Museum of Vienna, owner of the Venus of Willendorf, researchers at the University of Vienna used a technology known as microcomputer tomography, a type X-ray computed tomography, to examine the stone. interior slice by slice, reports ART news. For comparison, scientists obtained rock samples from France, Ukraine, Crimea, Germany and Sicily.
“We found a surprisingly close match to the grain size distribution near Lake Garda in the Southern Alps,” the researchers say in the study.
Using very high-definition photography, the team also detected fragments of bivalve fossils in the statue of the same type found in the oolite limestone of northern Italy, according to Live Science. The now extinct genus known as Oxytomidae existed 251 to 66 million years ago.
By ART news, Venus of Willendorf sports a fairly large navel. Researchers believe this may be due to the presence of a limonite particle in the stone at this location. The sculptor may have removed the grain, leaving a gaping space for the large naval.
“Based on its size, the cavity at the level of the navel could indeed result from a concretion of limonite which broke up and turned into an element,” the study states.
While it’s hard to pinpoint when the limestone was quarried or when it was carved – or even when it was transported from the Alps to the Danube – researchers say the Venus of Willendorf statue clearly shows how the Gravettian people moved around in Europe millennia ago.
“This sheds new light on the remarkable mobility of early modern humans south and north of the Alps,” the researchers say in the statement.