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11 December 2011
Striking 'earth mother' figurine discovered in France

Striking 'earth mother' figurine discovered in France

French archaeologists have discovered an extremely rare example of a Neolithic 'earth mother' figurine on the banks of the river Somme. The 6,000-year-old statuette is 8in (20cm) high, with imposing buttocks and hips but stubby arms and a cone-like head. Similar figures have been found before in Europe but rarely so far north and seldom in such a complete and well-preserved condition.
     The 'lady of Villers-Carbonnel', as she has been named, can make two claims to be an 'earth mother'. She was fired from local earth or clay and closely resembles figurines with similar, stylised female bodies found around the Mediterranean. Although Neolithic experts are revising their opinions, the figures have long believed to have been connected with the existence of a cult which worshipped a goddess of fertility.
     The Somme figurine may owe her survival, paradoxically, to the fact that she was broken while being made, between 4300 and 3600 BCE. Her various pieces were discovered in a collapsed Neolithic kiln or oven at an archaeological dig near Villers-Carbonnel on the banks of the river Somme in the region of the same name.
     The figurine may be just the beginning of a vast archaeological harvest in Northern France in the next few years. The French government's 'preventive archaeology' agency, Inrap, has been given permission and the funds to explore 77 sites along the 60-mile course of the new 50m-wide Seine-Nord Europe canal for ocean-going barges linking the river Seine to Belgium and the Rhine.
      "The statuette is very beautiful and remarkably preserved. We sometimes find fragments of such statuettes but rarely the whole figure," the archaeologist in charge of the Villers-Carbonnel dig, Françoise Bostyn, said. Ms Bostyn added that the stylised figure closely resembled similar figures from the period found as far away as the Middle East.

Edited from The Independent (10 December 2011)

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