Prehistoric Feminine Icons

In this blog post I’d like to take you with me on a recent visit to the special exhibition “Arts and Prehistory”* in the Museum of Mankind (Musée de l’Homme) in Paris.**

Like the Feminine Power in London exhibition I wrote about last year, this is another ode to human imagination and creativity in connection to the mystery of life.

The exhibition features women figurines and cave paintings from dating between 26.000-34.000 years old, and I wonder how these prehistoric icons can inspire us to look at female bodies today…

As an anthropologist, ethnographic museums like these are among my favourites, with superb displays taking you on a journey through the incredible diversity of human culture, art, biology, evolution, medicine, spirituality and ritual across the world. Masks, mythology, ritual practice, divination and healing tools, what’s not to like?

The Exhibition

Did you know that the female body engraved in rock walls, sculpted from mammoth teeth or bones, antlers, soapstone, limestone or even wood, is one of the most prominent ‘topics’ of our artistic ancestors?

The exhibition displays women figurines and cave paintings from all over Europe, Russia and the Middle East dating between 26.000-34.000 years old. To date, over a 100 such statuettes have been discovered, and archeologists dubbed them ‘Venuses’, in honour of the Greek/Roman Goddess.

Sculptures either emphasise the voluptuousness and curviness of the female body, with round bellies, buttocks and thighs and voluminous breasts, or display a stylised vulva with a simple triangle. Sometimes the focus is on the torso only, without arms or legs. Sometimes they appear Maiden-like with flat bellies, other times pregnant, or with empty, saggy breasts. Each is beautiful in her own right, in one of the phases of womanhood.

Like so much of the prehistoric art, we don’t know why they feature so prominently – indeed they appear much more often than representations of male bodies! Perhaps as a matriarchic icon they referred to social organisation, or they served a fertility talisman during rituals or to mark births… Perhaps they were portraits of actual women the artists loved. 

Whatever the reason of these prehistoric artists, such “iconic representation of femininity” (quote from the exhibition displays) were so important that our ancestors spent precious time on carving them.

Meeting the Goddess

Although there were many more, the next three Venuses feature prominently in the exhibition. 

Venus de Pataud

20 cm high, limestone, 26-21.000 years, Dordogne

In the centre of the limestone block you see a slender but pregnant female form. Here you can get a better idea of her shape. It was quite mesmerising to be drawn into the stone and hang out with her.

Venus de Lespugue 

15 cm high, mammoth tooth, 27.000 years, Haute-Garonne

This “Mona Lisa of prehistoric art” has a voluptuous front and back, and when turned around, even intricately detailed hair coming all the way down her buttocks. It was possible to hold a replica, which brought out these details and made the connection with the artist come alive after all this time.

The Immodest Venus

8 cm tall, carved from ivory, 17.000 years, Dordogne

Without arms and a clearly visible vulva, this statue was a shock to the 19th century finder. Where other Venuses are often named after the place where they were found, this one was contrasted with the more modest Roman sculptures of Venus in which the goddess hides her sex behind a hand.

Mother Goddess de la Valette

I also spent quite some time with this replica of the Mother Goddess from Malta. Do I see a Snake on her lap, or is that my imagination? I really love her seated posture with folded legs, as solid and grounded as the earth herself.

The Venus of Laussel, or ‘Venus with a Horn’

46 cm, sculpted in a limestone rock, 29.000 years, Dordogne limestone

She holds an object that looks like a horn or crescent moon. The horn has 13 lines filled in with red ocher that may refer to the lunar and menstrual cycles. ***) 

Phallic Staff with Vulva

5 cm, carved from reindeer antler, 19-14.000 years, Carente

Aside from several stylised penises and a double-headed penis, this unusual staff combines a penis and vulva, as a two-in-one essentials for reproduction!


It was such a joy to meander through this ancient ode to womanhood. I am really curious to hear what these images bring up for you. And we can ask ourselves:

  • How can our ancestors empower us in the 21st century?
  • How can these prehistoric icons inspire us to look at female bodies today?
  • How can they help us to love our bodies just a little bit more, with the flabby and knobbly bits, the scars, stretch marks and croaky joints? 

I think, whatever her age, shape or size, the view of a woman at home in her body is one of the most beautiful things in the world. One of my earliest ballet teachers, Monique Diederen, told us “Feel beautiful, then you are beautiful.” Well before I knew about quantum physics, she taught me about the power of spirit over matter in this very simple yet potent way. 

It is not what (most) men or the beauty industry are inclined to tell you, but there is nothing as enticing as the twinkle in a woman’s eyes who embodies the profound secret of the female mysteries… 

Reconnect with that inner spark inside you. I know it’s there, however deep you might think it’s buried. It’s more potent than any make-up, body cream or surgery. 

Call on the power of maiden, mother and crone regardless of your life-stage, and let these strong female archetypes infuse your womanhood, femininity, sexuality, and mothering (whether or not you have physical children). Confidently radiate your beauty from within. You are one helluva spark!


Image Credits: Eline Kieft, Musée de l’Homme, Exhibition Art & Préhistoire, visited 14 January 2023.

*) This exhibition runs until 22 May 2023 so should you find yourself in Paris before then, I can highly recommend it!

**) I did reflect on the name of the museum, and like the English equivalent ‘mankind’, the word in French refers to one gender only (homme = man). Especially in light of exhibitions that strongly celebrate womanhood and femininity, perhaps it’s time to rename the museum ‘Musée de l’Homme et Femme’ or another more inspired alternative!


Read my previous post on Re-Anointing the Body, discussing feminine and masculine spirituality, the notions of cultural, challenged and unsafe bodies, before shifting to your beloved body and sacred self touch.

Read more about the Triple Goddess in her Maiden, Mother and Crone form in an earlier post.

Kieft, Eline (2022). Dancing in the Muddy Temple. A Moving Spirituality of Land and Body. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books.


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If you like to explore your connection to nature, your body and the body of the earth through improvised dance movement and you find yourself in France this summer, I’d love to meet you for this workshop! Payment and registration happen directly via the Ecolonie venue when the details are finalised, but please add your name to the course email list via this link so I can contact you with details closer to the time!


Eline Kieft danced from a young age, including rigorous classical and contemporary training to become a professional dancer. She then studied anthropology, deepening her fascination with worldwide similarities between indigenous traditions regarding intangible aspects of reality and other ways of knowing, including embodied epistemologies and shamanic techniques. 

She completed her PhD in dance anthropology at Roehampton University, trained in depth with the Scandinavian Centre for Shamanic Studies and the School of Movement Medicine. Eline worked at the Centre for Dance Research (C-DaRE) at Coventry University for five years, where she created a Somatics Toolkit for Ethnographers, and pioneered soulful academic pedagogy. Her recent book Dancing in the Muddy Temple: A Moving Spirituality of Land and Body was well received as a unique blend of theory and practice and a medicine for our times. 

She is now a full-time change-maker and facilitates deep transformation through coaching and courses both online and in person. Her approach The Way of the Wild Soul offers a set of embodied, creative, and spiritual tools to re-connect with inner strength and navigate life’s challenges with confidence. 

Website: Also on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | LinkedIn

Author: Eline Kieft

I'm passionate about tending and mending the soul in everyday life! I offer Qi Gong, courses on embodied spirituality and shamanic techniques, and safe online community spaces away from Facebook, especially through The Art of Thriving Network!

11 thoughts on “Prehistoric Feminine Icons”

  1. Thank you for this insightful post! When we look at those images from across of the world, but so long ago, it really does show how out of sync with reality the current beauty standards for women are. None of the statues look like what would be acceptable in the mass media, yet for the much greater part of humanity’s existence, these are the images of women and goddesses that humans created. As I get older and look much more like your images than anything in a magazine, this makes me feel very in tune with humanity across the ages!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Carolyn, yes isn’t that nice, to have a new ‘reference’ to something that indeed was ‘revered’ so that they used time and skill and attention to sculpt it – in many ways so much more ‘lasting’ than a photograph in a magazine!


  2. These astonishing images are about honoring the female body and yet you say “Well before I knew about quantum physics, she taught me about the power of spirit over matter”.

    The power of spirit over matter? Aren’t we privileging spirit over body and the rest of nature? Isn’t this how we destroy women and are destroying the planet we live on?

    I am so aware that even our language privileges spirit over body when the two are inseparable with one flowing into the other…

    Even today although I honor my body most of the time extreme stress pulls me out and I forget to feed or care for myself…. the old hook is still there. keep going – ignore your body – treat yourself like a machine. It sickens me how ingrained and powerful this patriarchal dictate really is…. earnestly hoping for more awareness is a daily prayer – let me see what I am doing…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh so true, Sara; the privileging of spirit over body is all too easy to do. Like any habit that hurts us though, it’s important that we notice it, forgive ourselves, do whatever we can to rectify it, and then move on … until the next time. Like any other harmful habit we need to discard.


      1. Hi Sharon, please see my reply to Sara, as this was not how I meant the phrase. Apologies for the confusion! And indeed I also touched on the gentle reminders and not giving ourselves a hard time when we forget!


    2. Hi Sara,

      YES ABSOLUTELY, and I see how my sentence was clumsily phrased. What I meant was ‘the power of (the state of) our spirit affects how we feel about our bodies’… If we feel beautiful from the inside (honouring the spirit that resides in the body), then this radiates out from our eyes, as confidence and beauty.

      I didn’t mean privileging spirit over body and nature, but the shift from a mental state of ‘I don’t look like a magazine therefore I don’t belong/am unworthy/have no right to be, be loved’ etc, to one of ‘my spirit/soul/life spark/being is healthy, strong, beautiful, confident’ within this beautiful body I live in and with…

      And yes, I also hear you the extreme stress and forgetting to care for our body. It takes a real shift and gentle reminders to ourselves when we forget! Let’s keep shifting this paradigm together!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the description of this exhibit! Wish I could go! A couple of pretty famous icons shown there! Does the show exhibit ~100 of them? What’s great is that they’re being recognized for what they are. So often there’s a herstorical female image included in an exhibit and it’s not named nor recognized appropriately. New name for the museum – Musee de l’humanite?


  4. There were a great many, but probably not as many as 100! There were also many animal-related carvings from bones, antlers, rendered in clay etc. Yes that’s what I thought for a new name of the museum too :-)


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