Monday, November 19, 2012

Were Prehistoric Statues Pornographic?

The Venus of Hohle Fels
Photograph by Gerbil/Wikimedia Commons.

Our interpretations say more about modern sexism than life in the Paleolithic.

April Nowell is a Paleolithic archaeologist at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. The idea that curvaceous figurines are prehistoric pornography is an excuse to legitimize modern behavior as having ancient roots, she says. Her paper, "Pornography is in the eye of the beholder: Sex, sexuality and sexism in the study of Upper Paleolithic figurines," co-authored with Melanie Chang, will appear next year.

Jude Isabella: Which Paleolithic images and artifacts have been described as pornography?
April Nowell:
The Venus figurines of women, some with exaggerated anatomical features, and ancient rock art, like the image from the Abri Castanet site in France that is supposedly of female genitalia.

JI: You take issue with this interpretation. Who is responsible for spreading it, journalists or scientists?

People are fascinated by prehistory, and the media wants to write stories that attract readers—to use a cliché, sex sells. But when a New York Times headline reads "A Precursor to Playboy: Graphic Images in Rock," and Discover magazine asserts that man's obsession with pornography dates back to "Cro-Magnon days" based on "the famous 26,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf statuette ... [with] GG-cup breasts and a hippopotamal butt," I think a line is crossed. To be fair, archaeologists are partially responsible—we need to choose our words carefully.

Read the rest of this article...

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