Discovered in Austria in 1908, the c.11cm-tall Venus of Willendorf (above) is one of the most famous pieces of Palaeolithic art. Researchers have studied the 30,000-year-old figurine using micro-CT imaging to try to trace the origins of the oolite rock it was made from.
Published in Scientific Reports, a study led by Gerhard Weber from the University of Vienna compared the oolite to other samples from across Europe, finding a close match in its grain sizes to those in stone from the Lake Garda area in northern Italy. Either the material or the finished object would have made the journey north of the Alps, perhaps going around the Alps and into the Pannonian Plain, or travelling through them.
Larger, dense grains called limonites were identified. Some of these may have fallen out in the carving process, leaving behind the hemispherical cavities on the surface. This may even explain the origins of the figurine’s navel, a blemish that the sculptor adapted into ‘a virtue out of necessity’, Weber suggests.