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

November 17, 1998

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:

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, the primary focus was on the well-being of the mother.

"This finding makes sense, based on what we know about more modern peoples. There are few, if any, hunting and gathering peoples today who seek greater levels of fertility. Indeed the opposite is true; the focus is on restricting the number of mouths to feed."

White will also present more general information about the production of the statuettes. These findings include:

Randall White is an associate professor of anthropology at NYU. He is also the executive director of the Institute for Ice Age Studies. The focus of his research is the origins of art and personal adornment in Europe, a project that has taken him to various excavation sites and museums throughout Europe. He is currently the co-director of excavations at the 35,000 year old site of Abri Castanet in SW France. In 1986, he was the curator of a major exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History entitled Dark Caves, Bright Visions: Life in Ice Age Europe.

New York University

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