THE IDEAL figure ages ago.
photo: Courtesy of SNM

THE LONGEST and the oldest period in the history of mankind is the second period of the Stone Age, known as the Paleolithic Age. It started one and a half to two million years ago, and lasted till the end of the last ice age, approximately 10,000 years ago.

During this immense period of time, mankind gradually adapted to new climate conditions and developed into the modern human beings we are today, populating all the continents, with the exception of Antarctica. But the number of people on the earth was still very small, that being one reason why there was little interference in nature.

Modern human beings appeared in Europe about 35 to 40 thousand years ago. There were still groups of roaming Neanderthals at that time, but with double the intelligence and development of new stoneworking and carving techniques, particularly from bone, horn and wood, Homo sapiens prevailed.

These early Homo sapiens were able to produce remarkably good tools and armanents. They also hunted efficiently in groups and formed temporary settlements and camps.

The development of human society and consciousness brought with it a more complex view of their environment, including perhaps feelings of helplessness in the face of extreme climactic change, particularly during the final period of the Ice Age.

This may be the reason why they developed superstitions and beliefs in "supernatural" phenomena, giving rise to various magic rituals. This is the point when mankind first discovered the joy of creating, and where the roots of paleolithic art are to be found.

Approximately 20 to 30 thousand years ago the so-called Gravettian culture was spreading across Europe. Its creators were able to traverse vast distances of hundreds and even thousands of kilometres during their hunting raids. This is how the similarity of the archaeological findings in Ukraine and in the Váh valley, around Piešťany in Slovakia, can be explained.

The Slovak village of Moravany nad Váhom is the place where a small sculpture of a naked female figure - the Moravian Venus - comes from. It is 7.6 centimetres long, and made out of the tusk of a mammoth. Similar pieces were found in Ukraine.

Perhaps because using likenesses of people was forbidden in ancient magic ritual, the sculpture has no head. Stress was given to the perfect elaboration of the belly, and a heavy bosom, probably indicating pregnancy.

Under the belly there is a strong line downwards in the middle of a triangle, symbolising the sex.

The sculpture is certainly one of Slovakia's oldest known art works. According to carbon dating analysis it was made around 22,860 BC, give or take 400 years, and was used during magic rituals which we can bearly imagine.

The recent history of the sculpture is also interesting. It seems it was accidentally ploughed up sometime in the 1920s or 1930s. Later, after much ado, it appeared in Paris. The sculpture was finally returned to Slovakia due to the work of German explorers Zotz and Freund, and Dr J Bárta.

Today, the statue can be seen at the Slovak National Museum (SNM) in Bratislava.