Apparently I am behind-the-times in regards to recent prehistoric discoveries. I heard that the world's oldest instrument was recently discovered in Hohle Fels, Germany - it's a flute (carved from the bone of a griffon vulture) that is at least 35,000 years old. (You can read more about this flute here and can listen to a replica of the flute played here). I didn't know, though, that this flute was discovered in sediment next to a female statuette (the discovery of which was announced last May).
This nude, buxom female figurine, the Venus of Hohle Fels, is at least 35,000 years old (shown above). It is one of the oldest known examples of figurative art. The exaggerated emphasis on the female genitalia and breasts are a common feature in prehistoric art, as can be observed in statuettes like the Venus of Willendorf (ca. 28,000-25,000 BC, shown below). It is thought that statuettes like these were used for some type of fertility ritual.
However, there is one major difference between these two statuettes. The Venus of Willendorf has a head full of tight, stylized curls, whereas the Venus of Hohle Fels is headless. Intentionally headless. Instead of a head, there is a carved ring at the top of the figurine, supposedly so that the statuette could be dangled from some type of string. I think it's especially interesting that the head is missing - this reinforces the fact that these statuettes were not intended to represent specific individuals (which is also the reasoning for why the Venus of Willendorf does not have any facial characteristics).
If you're interested, you can read more about the Venus of Hohle Fels here.
What do you think of these new discoveries?