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Made from materials as varied as mammoth bone, ceramic clay and bone ash, as well as various types of stone like steatite, oolitic limestone, serpentine, and volcanic rock, these venus figures have been located in sites across Europe, from Russia to Spain. Mesolithic art witnessed more bas-reliefs and free standing sculpture such as the anthropomorphic figurines unearthed in Nevali Cori and Gobekli Tepe near Urfa in eastern Turkey, and the statues of Lepenski Vir (eg. It also witnessed the creation of the Shigir Idol (7,500 BCE) - the world's oldest surviving wood carving - found near Sverdlovsk in Russia.Anthropologists believe they may have been used in fertility rituals, although why fat women should be so iconic remains a mystery. Arguably the greatest Mesolithic work of art is the terracotta sculpture from Romania, known as The Thinker of Cernavoda, an unmistakable image of cognitive thought.

Neolithic art is noted above all for its pottery, but it also featured free standing sculpture and bronze statuettes - in particular from the Indus Valley Civilization, the North Caucasus and pre-Columbian art in the Americas.

The most spectacular form of Neolithic art was Egyptian pyramid architecture whose burial chambers led to an increased demand for various types of reliefs as well as portable statues and statuettes.

As well as being the most enduring form of art, sculpture is certainly the most influential.

Historically, nearly all Kings, Popes and tyrants have recognized the propaganda effect of inspirational sculpture.

Hellenistic Greek Sculpture (c.323-27 BCE) During this period (characterized by the spread of Greek culture throughout the civilized world), classical realism was replaced by greater heroicism and expressionism.

See: Pergamene School of Hellenistic Sculpture (241-133 BCE).

• Introduction • Prehistoric Sculpture • Sculpture of Classical Antiquity (c.1100-100 BCE) • Celtic Metal Sculpture (400-100 BCE) • Roman Sculpture (c.200 BCE - c.200 CE) • Byzantine Sculpture (330-1450 CE) • Sculpture During The Dark Ages (c.500-800) • Romanesque Sculpture (c.800-1200) • Gothic Sculpture (c.1150-1300) • Italian Renaissance Sculpture (c.1400-1600) • Baroque Sculpture (c.1600-1700) • Rococo Sculpture (c.1700-1789) • Neoclassical Sculpture (Flourished c.1790-1830) • 19th Century Sculpture • 20th Century Sculpture: The Advent of Modernism • Post-War Sculpture (1945-70) • Postmodernist Contemporary Sculpture Any chronological account of the origins and evolution of three-dimensional art should properly occupy several volumes, if not a whole library of books.

Compressing it into a single page means that most of the story is unavoidably omitted. From Prehistory, through Classical Antiquity, the Gothic era, the Renaissance to the 21st century, the history of sculpture is filled with extraordinary artists - most sadly anonymous - whose visual expressiveness remains with us in the form of wonderful marble statues, stone reliefs, and immortal bronzes. The earliest known examples are the two primitive stone effigies known as The Venus of Berekhat Ram and The Venus of Tan-Tan.

In short, prosperous and ambitious communities were good for sculpture.

Following the flowering of architecture and other arts in Egypt, the Levant also witnessed the rise of the Minoan culture on the island of Crete, which was noted for its sculpture and metalwork.

For bronzes - statues and reliefs, see: Bronze Sculpture. The Venus of Berekhat Ram (dating from c.230,000 BCE or earlier) is a basaltic figurine made during the Acheulian Period, which was discovered on the Golan Heights.