And from the LA Times:
The 2008 excavations at Hohle Fels Cave in the Swabian Jura of southwestern Germany recovered a female figurine carved from mammoth ivory from the basal Aurignacian deposit. This figurine, which is the earliest depiction of a human, and one of the oldest known examples of figurative art worldwide, was made at least 35,000 years ago. This discovery radically changes our views of the context and meaning of the earliest Paleolithic art.
Between September 5 and 15, 2008 excavators at Hohle Fels near the town of Schelklingen recovered the six fragments of carved ivory that form the Venus. The importance of the discovery became apparent on September 9 when an excavator recovered the main piece of the sculpture that represents the majority of the torso. The Venus from Hohle Fels is nearly complete with only the left arm and shoulder missing. The excellent preservation and the close stratigraphic association of the pieces of the figurine indicate that the Venus experienced little disturbance after deposition.
The figurine originates from a red-brown, clayey silt at the base of about one meter of Aurignacian deposits.The Venus lay in pieces next to a number of limestone blocks with dimension of several decimeters. The find density in the area of the Venus is moderately high with much flint knapping debris, worked bone and ivory, bones of horse, reindeer, cave bear, mammoth, ibex, as well as burnt bone.
Radiocarbon dates from this horizon span the entire range from 31,000 – 40,000 years ago. The fact that the venus is overlain by five Aurignacian horizons that contain a dozen stratigraphically intact anthropogenic features with a total thickness of 70 – 120 cm, suggests that figurine is indeed of an age corresponding to the start of the Aurignacian around 40,000 years ago.
And from the LA Times:
A 40,000-year-old figurine of a voluptuous woman carved from mammoth ivory and excavated from a cave in southwestern Germany is the oldest known example of three-dimensional or figurative representation of humans and sheds new light on the origins of art, researchers reported Wednesday.
The intricately carved headless figure is at least 5,000 years older than previous examples and dates from shortly after the arrival of modern humans in Europe. It exhibits many of the characteristics of fertility, or Venus, figurines carved millenniums later.
Many researchers believe that they were fertility totems, but their ultimate meaning may remain a mystery.