Reasons to Believe

New Statue Figures into Biblical Case for Human Origins

New Evidence of Profound Behavioral Differences between Modern Humans and the Hominids

During his career as an artist, Vincent Van Gogh painted over thirty-seven self-portraits. Considered one of the most prolific self-portraitists in modern times, Van Gogh's self-depictions are characterized by the artist's piercing gaze and intensity of color.

The creation of self-portraits became widespread in the mid 1400s, with increased availability of high quality, low cost mirrors. But the practice extends back to the earliest times.

Recently, an archeologist uncovered a remarkable example of human self-representation: a "Venus" figure carved in ivory from a mammoth's tusk that dates at 35,000 years in age. This work is the earliest known attempt by humans to depict themselves.* Prior to the discovery of this statue, no human representations have been known from the archeological record until 7,000 years later as part of the Gravettian culture (28,000 to 22,000 years ago). Several "Venus" figures comprise the archeological remains associated with this culture.

This latest find has been heralded because it sheds important light onto the behavior of early humans and the origin of art, and adds evidence for the biblical understanding of human origins.

Over the past seventy years, archeologists have been investigating a number of caves in southern Germany near the Danube Valley. These caves are considered to be exceptionally important because they comprise part of the route the first modern humans took when they migrated into central and western Europe. The remains from these caves give insight into the behavior of the earliest human beings.

Archeologists have uncovered a treasure trove of art from these caves that include ivory carvings of animals, the famous lion-man statue, and a flute carved from ivory, all dating between 30,000 and 37,000 years in age. Yet, they found no artifacts depicting the human figure–until now.

This figurine, measuring about three inches in size, displays a female with exaggerated sexual characteristics. Its small size and the attachment point in the head region suggest it was used as a pendant. The figurine goes beyond merely representing the human form. It possesses symbolic importance, given the exaggerated and distorted features that dominate the statue. It likely was used for some type of shamanistic activity or fertility emblem.

The date of this Venus figure corresponds to the Aurignacian culture, associated with the first people to enter Europe. It indicates that modern humans brought the ability for sophisticated art with them into new lands. This recognition implies that these people must have had the capacity for symbolic thought and a propensity for religious expression well before they made their way to the European continent.

Aurignacian culture contrasts sharply with that associated with Neanderthals. These hominids existed in Europe prior to the arrival of modern humans. Compared to the Aurignacian, Neanderthal culture was crude and cumbersome, lacking evidence for artistic or musical expression. (For a detailed discussion about the differences between modern humans and the hominids, see Who Was Adam?.)

This cultural difference fits well with the creation model espoused by RTB. Based on the biblical accounts of human origins, we argue that the image of God uniquely belongs to human beings. As a corollary, this view regards the hominids, like Neanderthals, as creatures with some intellectual and emotional capacity, but lacking a spiritual makeup. Based on this key difference, it's expected that the hominids and humans would behave in fundamentally different ways. The discovery of the Venus figurine associated with the Aurignacian culture indicates that artistic expression and the use of symbolism belong inherently and uniquely to humanity. The co-occurrence of culture and human appearance fits the notion that human beings were created recently in the image of God as a result of his direct activity.

*When this discovery was announced, its scientific and biblical implications were discussed on our podcast, Science News Flash. Go here to listen.

Subjects: Human Origins and the Bible

Dr. Fazale Rana

In 1999, I left my position in R&D at a Fortune 500 company to join Reasons to Believe because I felt the most important thing I could do as a scientist is to communicate to skeptics and believers alike the powerful scientific evidence—evidence that is being uncovered day after day—for God’s existence and the reliability of Scripture. Read more about Dr. Fazale Rana