Right: the Venus of Tan-Tan (Morocco) is about 400,000 years old, 6 cm high.
These statuettes were probably stones that had a strong resemblance with human females. They were slightly changed, e.g. around the neck. They are the work of the late Homo erectus or Homo heidelbergensis. They prove, if necessary, that aesthetic feeling and thinking in symbols are very old. The mental distance between us and people they lived hundreds of thousands of years ago might be smaller than was thought before.
As time progressed more objects were altered by man. Stones found in nature were more and more retouched.
This is not surprising, the spread of acheulean techniques, where man was able to make hand axes (stone tools) with a two-sided altered form was proof that there was a more than a sufficient mental and technical basis for art production. It is probable that artifacts made from wood and bone were the bulk of art production.
The Venus of Berekhat Ram:
“The base object is an anthropomorphic red tufic pebble, 35 mm (1.4 in) long, which has had at least three grooves, possibly incised on it by a sharp-edged stone. One is a deep groove that encircles the narrower, more rounded end of the pebble, two shallower, curved grooves run down the sides. These grooves can be interpreted as marking the neck and arms of a figure. They closely resemble marks made in similar material by sharp-edged tools during exercises in experimental technology.” (Wikipedia)
The Venus of Tan-Tan:
“The Venus of Tan-Tan is an alleged artifact found in Morocco. It is 6 centimeters long quartzite rock, and has been interpreted as a depiction of the human form, gender indeterminate and faceless, dated between 300,000 and 500,000 years ago. It was discovered in 1999, during an archaeological survey by Lutz Fiedler, in a river terrace deposit on the north bank of the Draa River a few kilometers south of the Moroccan town of Tan-Tan.” (Wikipedia) Red ochre was found on this statuette. Red ochre was a symbol for blood/life across the world and across different types of man. Applied on a statuette it may have meant that it represented a female ancestor. The pronounced forms of the statuette might imply that it was (also) a sexual token.
Not all researchers agree that man changed some small aspects of these statuettes. They think that these statuettes are geofacts, that had a strong natural resemblance with a woman. They miss the essential point: acheulean technique was since at least 1,7 M BP on a level that making slight changes on a geofact was not a problem at all for man. The main point however is not the use of technique but the proof of thinking in symbols. That red ochre was found on the Venus of Tan-Tan is a proof beyond doubt of symbolic thinking.
It is important to note this is portable art. These are small objects suited to be transported by people who were hunters and gatherers and lived as nomads. Heavy objects were not suited to be taken on trips.
The Venuses of Tan-Tan and Berehat Ram link to the pebble of Makapansgat that proofs that a predecessor of man, probably australopithecus, had aesthetic feeling and the much younger Venuses of Europe and northern Asia that could have had the same function(s).