Saturday, July 7, 2018


Venus of Laussel, France.
25,000 BP. Photo Wikipedia,
Public Domain.

The cornucopia (from Latin cornu copiae) or Horn of Plenty is a symbol of abundance and nourishment, commonly a large horn-shaped container overflowing with produce, flowers, nuts, other edibles, or wealth in some form. It supposedly originated in classical antiquity, and it has continued as a symbol in Western art, particularly associated with the Thanksgiving holiday in North America. (Wikipedia)

Venus of Laussel, France.
The horn in her right hand.
25,000 BP. Photo Wikipedia,
Public Domain.

I have long been fascinated, however, by the Paleolithic carving known as the Venus of Laussel who holds what appears to be a cornucopia in her right hand.

“The Venus of Laussel is a Venus figurine, a 1.5 foot high limestone bas-reliefof a nude female figure, painted with red ochre. It was carved into a large block of fallen limestone in a rock shelter (abri de Laussel fr: Abri de Cap Blanc) in the commune of Marquay, in the Dordogne department of southwestern France. The carving is associated with the the Gravettian Upper Paleolithic culture (approximately 25,000 years old). It is currently displayed in the Musée d'Aquitaine in Bordeaux, France.
The figure holds a wisent horn, or possibly a cornucopia, in one hand, which has 13 notches. According to some researchers, this may symbolize the number of moons or the number of  menstrual cycles in one year.” (Wikipedia)

I must admit that I have always thought of these so-called “notches” as growth rings but I suppose it is possible that they were intentionally cut into the horn. If the menstrual cycle does actually apply we assume that gives them a fertility connotation, which would certainly be in keeping with the fertility symbolism and abundance symbolized by the cornucopia. Most interpreters seem to go with the fertility and abundance interpretations.

Bison rib rasp, Oneota site,
Minnesota, ca. 1700 AD,
Oak wood rasp, Ute Indian.

Another possibility for the notches down the side of the horn that should be considered is that it is a musical instrument. Just as the Ute Indians of southwest Colorado used a notched stick or rasp with the bottom end resting on some sort of resonation chamber and rubbed with another stick as a rhythm instrument for their annual Bear Dance, this notched horn could be rubbed with a stick or bone for the same effect(although I would have expected the notches to be along the inner curve of the horn if this was the case). In this case the hollow horn might act as its own resonation chamber.
Now, while I know of no examples of the cornucopia symbol used in Native American rock art, at least in the context that our western cultures give it, the example from Laussel certainly is carved in stone and that is all the connection I need. If the horn held by the Venus of Laussel does carry implications of fertility and abundance (as is the case with our cornucopia) this would imply a cultural belief that has lasted some 27,000 years, and that is an amazing run of continuity.

NOTE: Some images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them.



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