Having lots of fun in Vienna. We went to the Natural History Museum this afternoon, mainly because we'd discovered that it housed the Venus of Willendorf, a carving of a satisfyingly chunky woman made over 20,000 years ago. I wrote about it in my book Talking Cock, whilst propounding the theory that attitudes towards men and women throughout the ages have been influenced by the commonly held beliefs about who was responsible for creating children. Early on gods were female, maybe because it seemed the power of creating life was solely down to women. Then it became clear men had a part to play as well and male deities joinged the pantheon. Next, incredibly it became accepted that men were the ones responsible for creating life and women were nothing more than growbags (though it was a bit more fun sowing the seed). Finally, as embarrassingly late as the 19th Century the duality of baby-making was properly discovered. And coincidentally or not the feminsist movement sprung up around the same time. I can't remember all the details of my theory (or if it is even my theory) - you'll have to read the book!
But as an archaeology geek I was properly excited to see this early representation of the female figure, even though its purpose is lost in the mists of time: whether a fertility symbol or represenative of fungal growth (look at wikipedia) or some horny caveman or woman's attempt at porn (unlikely, but let's make history fun, hey?). Funnily enough seeing it reminded me of some of my own archaeological adventures as an eight year old. I loved digging up our back garden in Cheddar, looking for treasure, finding bits of broken plate and tile and keeping them in mu museum/shed. On one excavation I found an ochre coloured blob that to me looked like a big-bellied god of some kind. I can't have known about the Woman of Villendorf then (can I?) but it wasn't too different. I wondered if it had been carved by some ancient hand. I took it to show my teacher at school and she pointed out that it was probably just a melted bit of plastic. Which was probably correct, but quite a way to crush my archaeological dreams. And funnily enough remembering that has also reminded me that the shed I tried to make my own (if you've read the Thriling Three then you will know that they had a shed too, which was based on this one) had a big pile of lime under a work top. I tried to dig out all this lime as I attempted to make this ramshackle abode worthy of the real-life Thriling Three. I didn't get too far, but I do recall finding a delicate woman's lace glove amongst the lime. Given that powdered lime is traditionally used by murderers to get rid of bodies (I am not sure it really works though), perhaps that was a more grizzly discovery than I realised. Or maybe I just imagined that as I tried to come up with Thriling Three cases. Clearly I had quite an active imagination.
Anyway, that's by the by. Meeting the Venus was a proper high for me, but the rest of the museum is pretty impressive too. And it's only 10 euros to get in. There's some particularly impressive bit of meteorite and some nice interactive stuff, including a dinosaur model that (spoiler alert) unexpectedly springs to life and a model of one of the first amphibians which is emerging for one of the glass cases. I really liked a film of the formation of the solar system and the planet, including the collision which created the moon. We only had time to look round the first floor properly, though at a brief glance the second floor seemed to consist of creepy taxidermy animals, including a little ape that I was particularly taken with, due to his outstretched arms and limp wrists. "That's either the gayest or the most homophobic monkey in the world", I said to my wife.
Of course you can't use the word monkey in a joke nowadays without being racist and either I or the monkey are homophobic too. But the people who will be most annoyed are the ones who'll be screaming, "it's a gibbon". And they are the real intended victims of the joke. Just to make that clear.
We didn't really care for these exhibits, but needed to leave anyway. But the museum was a big hit nonetheless. Very much enjoying our long weekend so far.