By Katie Austin
In Part 1 of The Jewelblog’s (Abridged) History of Jewelry, I ended with the notion that around 40,000 years ago, our Eastern European ancestors began carving jewelry out of mammoth tusks and set the stage for the eventual use of gemstones and metals in jewelry-making. While those are both important groups of materials that we at The Jewelbox work with on a daily basis, I’d like to give mammoth tusk carvings some due attention by introducing you to a very important lady: Venus of Hohle Fels, discovered in 2008 in an ancient cave in Schelklingen, Germany.
No doubt, some of you recognize this style of statue, as this is far from the first such statue ever discovered; I distinctly remember stumbling across a photo of one in an aged encyclopedia as a young kid over two decades ago. What you may not have known is that this particular statue has been carbon-dated to about 40,000 years old. This makes Venus of Hohle Fels the oldest undisputed example of prehistoric figurative art ever discovered. In fact, her discovery forced historians to push back the date of the advent of figurative art by several thousand years. But perhaps the most fascinating fact about Venus of Hohle Fels is that she holds the distinction of steering our knowledge of human jewelry-making in an entirely new direction. Why? Upon further inspection by archaeologists, the Venus of Hohle Fels wasn’t just an ancient statue or a symbol of fertility and femininity. She was a pendant.
The Venus pendant is fascinating to me because it’s so markedly different from just perforating objects that nature had already provided. It took time, having been painstakingly scraped and carved into existence with a simple stone blade. Keep in mind that humans didn’t settle in one place to form civilizations for another 28,000 years so this pendant was most likely carved by a nomadic individual with very limited belongings in order to stay on the move. Something about Venus and what she represented was important enough to not only add to those limited belongings, but to keep adorned on one’s person. From what we theorize now about the pendant’s purpose, Venus was likely a constant guardian for the wearer, worn to assure good reproductive fortune for his or her family group. It’s not terribly unlike how we wear modern spiritual symbols around our necks to bring us a sense of peace and protection. It seems that very early on, jewelry became a tangible symbol of who we are, what we value and what (or who) is on our minds.
It’s fascinating to know that ancient pendants like Venus of Hohle Fels influenced the gorgeous Micky Roof pendants that I admire at The Jewelbox every workday. In order for Micky’s pieces to have developed the way that they have, though, findings –the materials used to link multiple parts of a piece of jewelry together- had to come into being. Tune in next week for the inside scoop on mankind’s invention of the findings that make our favorite jewelry so much more than a pile of parts!