Conservation Goddess or Real Gardener?

Conservation Goddess or Venus of Willendorf?

Written by Alana Jolley

March 16, 2016

Conservation Goddess or Real Gardener?

I have a friend that I consider a Conservation Goddess–she is a real gardener! Most of my women friends are involved in some kind of gardening and/or conservation activities, either artistically, utilitarian, or just for fun. They spend a lot of time and energy gardening and . . . also gathering.

The study of ancient societies reveals we were ALL hunters and gatherers during paleolithic times.  The women were most often the ones who were the gatherers. When we talk about women as gatherers a long time ago, what did they gather? Food. What did gathering entail? Gathering was the fast-food of the day, rather than hunting; and gathering was much more reliable, too.

Gathering required knowledge about locations of the best edible plants. The “job” of gathering also required knowledge of soils and seasons. Women understood which specific environmental conditions were necessary for the food plant to grow. Women as the gatherers, in reality, were the first environmental scientists and environmental conservationists. After all, women have always had primary knowledge of fertility, so I’m sure even soil fertility.

I have always thought women were the first agriculturists, the ones who discovered how seeds from one year could produce edible food for the next year. Their gathering activities gave them on-the-job training about the life-cycle of the life-giving foods,  they gathered. Women have exceptional knowledge of how life works, since their own bodies are incubators of human life.

When my friend shared an article from the Mother Nature Network, it seemed to reinforce my thinking about women and the science of gathering. The article invites us to learn about women and their cultural contributions in making conservation history. The article by Jaymi Heimbuch, cites contributions of nine women conservationists that most of us have never heard of, until now. I bet Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, and others were modern-day gardeners first–but gatherers, too. They probably learned about nature in a hands-on environment before they became scientists, conservationists and activists.

March is Women’s History Month, so we focus on women’s important contributions in many genres. Their hard work and diligent science has  made life better for all of us.  Women, over a long period of time, and all over the world have made inroads in medicine, law, and technology innovations. How many women can you name for contributions to environmental science and conservation?  The first one that comes to my mind is Rachel Carson, and her “Silent Spring,” but she isn’t mentioned in this article. After you read about these little-known women and their feats of achievement in this category, you will  definitely remember them!

One historian pointed out, years ago, the most obvious thing, which only women can do.  He stated,

“The one thing that women alone do is produce life from their own bodies. Childbirth must have seemed like magic to early men. The oldest human art testifies to the importance of female fertility in the minds of these hunters and gatherers. The oldest statues that archeologists have found are statues of women, or, more accurately, of womankind, since they emphasize sexual features.

Typical of these is the Venus of Willendorf, with full breasts, pregnant belly, and large buttocks and thighs. This statue, made fifteen thousand years ago, and the many others like it seem to have been objects of worship. Many such statues have been found near what appear to be altars next to charred bones, suggesting animal sacrifice. Their emphasis on fertility must have had religious meaning for hunters and gatherers.

It seems very likely, then, that in the oldest human societies the gods were not gods at all, but goddesses. The most magical and mysterious of human experiences was the giving of life, and that was woman’s work. The fertility goddess enshrined woman’s magical “labor” and her regular daily work: producing life and sustaining it. “

The West and the World: A History of Civilization by Kevin Reilly (Harper and Row: 1989)

You can read the full excerpt here:

Producing life and sustaining it has much to do with environmental protection, environmental science, and conservation. The amazing women cited in the Mother Nature Network article may not be goddesses of fertility; but each might certainly be called a Conservation Goddess!

Short History and Cultural lessons about the Venus of Willendorf, featured as the visual above, are found on the following YouTube links:

English –

Spanish –

Explore More:  Learn about cultural contributions of people and cultures.  Explore the Global Villages where different cultures originated. Sign up for free cultural anthropology courses and lessons.  Learn anytime, anywhere – mobile app accessible.

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