After a wide variety of proposed dates, following a revised analysis of the stratigraphy of its site in 1990, the figure has been estimated to have been carved 24,000–22,000 BCE.
Very little is known about its origin, method of creation, or cultural significance.
The purpose of the carving is the subject of much speculation. It never had feet and does not stand on its own. The apparent large size of the breasts and abdomen, and the detail put into the vulva, have led scholars to interpret the figure as a fertility symbol. The figure has no visible face, her head being covered with circular horizontal bands of what might be rows of plaited hair, or a type of headdress.
The nickname, urging a comparison to the classical image of "Venus," is now controversial. According to Christopher Witcombe, "the ironic identification of these figurines as 'Venus' pleasantly satisfied certain assumptions at the time about the primitive, about women, and about taste." Catherine McCoid and LeRoy McDermott hypothesise that the figurines may have been created as self-portraits.
^"Woman from Willendorf". Her headdress replicates shell formations. Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe. 2003. "The rows are not one continuous spiral but are, in fact, composed in seven concentric horizontal bands that encircle the head and two more horizontal bands underneath the first seven on the back of the head."
The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory by J.M. Adovasio, Olga Soffer and Jake Page, ISBN 978-0-06-117091-1, gives a new 'view' of headdress as possible model for weaving a basket; Lauran Miller review at Salon.com: