This is part of our First Exhibit here at the Web Doll Museum. I used to read that dolls, or figurines, of the earliest Venus or Goddess figures were the oldest human artifact. In fact, Max von Boehn, a museum curator of the 20s and 30s makes a good argument for this point in his seminal work, Dolls, 1927. Now, I'm not that sure. After reading Ardrey and other anthroplogists; I'm beginning to think the first human artifact was a weapon, e.g., a club. He notes that human-like apes may have clubbed to death orangutangs in a pre-Stone Age murder that probably occurred half a million years ago or so. Perhaps the little limestone and ivory Venus figures, usually found in Austria and mentioned in Jean Auel's Earth's Children Series, are the oldest surviving cultural artifacts.
We do know that these figures were not toys, that they had their hair carved in elaborate corn rows, that they are fertility figures, with breasts, hips, and genitals indicated or exaggerated. Most have no faces, giving rise to theory that like many religions after them, the Stone Age people had a taboo against protraying human faces, because they were made in the image of The Goddess.
There are one or two extremely rare male figures, and most date from 20,000 to 40,000 years ago. These were sacred objects, more like santos or votive figures than toys.
Yet, what made humans so long ago want to reproduce themselves, either in cave paintings or in tiny sculptural dolls? Auel invents soft dolls of leather for her Neanderthal children in her books, but we do not know if such toys existed in a frantic hunter/gatherer society. Still, it is not that far fetched an idea to imagine a child picking up a root [mandrake,ginger?] that could resemble a human form, or a rock that seemed to have a human face embossed on it. Perhaps a parent took a stick that was unusual and used it to amuse a child, or a little girl wove her own baskets to play with, so she could pretend she was gathering herbs like her mother.
Scientists are not even sure Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon people lived together, but play is an integral part of many animals and fish. And, children do have a way of taking things that have been discarded, or even attactive to them, no matter how verboden they might be, and making toys of them. I posted three phots of Goddess figures. I have good replicas from museum shops or made by artists, and New Age religions still revere The Goddess. She also appears as a statue in Hell Boy II.