Austrians Celebrate Discovery of 25,000-Year-Old Statue of Voluptuous Venus

It's Venusmania in Vienna, where Austrians are celebrating the discovery 100 years ago Thursday of a tiny but voluptuous figurine that dates back 25,000 years to a time when mammoths roamed the region.

Venus wine, Venus chocolates, and pancakes with Venus jam — Austria is going all out Friday to fete the limestone beauty known as the Venus of Willendorf for the hamlet along the Danube where archaeologists stumbled upon her a century ago.

The Venus of Willendorf is just 4 inches tall but is celebrated for her undeniably curvy, feminine figure. Experts say the statuette dating back to the Paleolithic era is among the world's oldest depictions of a woman.

But exactly what she represents — or who carved her all those thousands of years ago — remains a mystery.

Was she a fertility symbol, a lucky charm, a goddess — maybe even a prehistoric piece of pornography?

"That's of course an interpretation question," said Walpurga Antl-Weiser, an expert at Vienna's Natural History Museum who has written a book on the topic and is one of the few to personally handled the Venus.

She wasn't made from local materials, and over the years, similar statuettes have been found elsewhere, including France and Russia, Antl-Weiser told The Associated Press.

And, she noted, it's tough to know the exact motives of humans who lived so many centuries ago.

At the time she was made, Willendorf was a steppe populated by mammoths, bison and woolly rhinos. The humans' then lived around several campgrounds, according to the Natural History Museum.

Modern-day archaeologists found her during an excavation in 1908 and brought her for safekeeping to the Natural History Museum in Vienna.

She made her public debut in 1998, and is just finishing a stint at a museum in the Austrian city of St. Poelten.

Before Friday's big bash, she'll make a brief homecoming trip to the hamlet where she was discovered.

There, Willendorfers and others will have a chance to see the town's most famous ancestor before she is whisked away — amid high security — to Vienna, where she will be welcomed back by Mayor Michael Haeupl.

Starting Saturday, the Venus of Willendorf — along with several "sisters" from Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic — will be on view at Vienna's Natural History Museum as part of a special exhibit that runs until Feb. 1, 2009.

Fact is, the figurine continues to fascinate.

Reproductions of the Venus are widely available — often as chocolate, marzipan or even as soap. On Friday, Austria's post office will officially unveil a special, three-dimensional stamp in her honor.

To Antl-Weiser, the interest is easy to explain.

"She's very corpulent but still very beautiful," Antl-Weiser said. "One gets the feeling she has become an icon."