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Newly found "Venus" figurine from Zaraysk (Courtesy H. Amirkhanov and S. Lev) Click here for more images in photo gallery.

My first year with ARCHAEOLOGY, we reported on the remarkable discovery of a Paleolithic bison figurine carved from mammoth ivory. Unearthed at the Russian site of Zaraysk, about 100 miles south of Moscow, the 20,000-year-old naturalistic statuette was my favorite discovery of 2002. The bison was strikingly well-preserved and gave archaeologists a new appreciation for the artistic abilities of the Kostenki-Avdeevo culture, one of many Paleolithic groups famous for creating so-called "Venus" figurines.


Bison head found at the site in 2002 (Courtesy H. Amirkhanov and S. Lev) Go to photo gallery.

But it turns out the people living at Zaraysk were just as interested in female statuettes as they were in bison. This year archaeologists Hizri Amirkhanov and Sergey Lev of the Russian Academy of Sciences announced in the journal Antiquity that they had discovered two Venus figurines at Zaraysk, one of which was not completely carved. They also found a number of other objects of portable art, giving them a fuller picture of the rich variety in the settlement's artistic repertoire.

The most enigmatic artifact is what Amirhanov and Lev have dubbed a "truncated cone" made of mammoth ivory. Almost an inch in diameter, the cone's purpose is a mystery. Other objects are more straightforward, and include a fragment of mammoth rib carved with depictions of three mammoths that was likely damaged during a ritual.

The team, which has been excavating outside the walls of Zaraysk's medieval fortress since 1995, discovered the figurines in storage pits within two days of each other. "It was an incredible success for one season," says Lev.

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