Thesis abstract ‘‘Figurine It Out’: Re-examining the Morphological Composition of Upper Palaeolithic ‘Venus’ Figurines through Time and Space via the Application of Cladistic Methods’

03rd May 2014

Phylogram of Venus figurines' morphology.

Phylogram of Venus figurines’ morphology.

Jessica Heidrich

BA(Hons), School of Social Sciences, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, October 2013

The form of cultural artefacts reflects a specific history. However, the methodology of inferring that history and of reconstructing relationships between existing and new artefact forms has often been lacking in the archaeological discipline. This is unfortunate, given that characterising morphological variation among artefacts is pertinent to developing a comprehensive understanding of the factors that generate and maintain cultural change. This thesis aimed to address this by re-examining the morphological composition of a set of Upper Palaeolithic Venus figurines from a phylogenetic perspective. Venus figurines are a unique archaeological phenomenon characterised by exaggerated formal characteristics and a discernible temporal and geographic pattern to their occurrence. Yet current knowledge of the nature and development of their morphology is far from exhaustive. The intention was to generate new morphological data and to use cladistic methods to test whether the distribution of morphological characteristics could inform new understandings of the evolution of Venus figurine morphology across time and space.

This study identified that the morphological composition of Venus figurines is variable and a function of their geographic distance/proximity. However, the phylogenetic patterns produced conflicted with the relationships observed among Venus figurines. Although the results are preliminary, it was concluded that the distribution of morphological characteristics among these figurines are best explained by a combination of branching and blending processes of cultural transmission, rather than a phylogenetic history based exclusively on common ancestry. This suggests that Venus figurines are not necessarily a coherent, homogeneous cultural phenomenon; rather, they are a variable, yet still historical, group of artefacts maintained by the differential innovation and representation of morphological characteristics.

Heidrich, J.
June 2014
Type: Thesis abstract

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