Ishtar, the goddess of Lepenski vir

As the last glacial period ended, some 12-10,000 years ago, the first waves of Middle East tribes began resettling Europe. The drier climate allowed for the more permanent settlements and the traces of these settlements are now painting the picture of the early migrations.

In Turkey, the archaeological site of Göbekli Tepe became a worldwide sensation in recent years. The site had been occupied from 10th to the 8th millennium BC and it yielded the finds that shook the very foundations of what we thought we know about this period.

But there is another site on the banks of the Danube river, in modern-day Serbia, known as Lepenski Vir. It was occupied from 9,500BC-6,000BC, and although not as majestic as Göbekli Tepe, it still stands as one of the most important Mesolithic discoveries in Europe.


Lepenski Vir introduction

A recent genetic study on the samples from this site had shown that the majority of males belonged to the Ice age Europeans, represented mainly by the haplogroups I and R1b. Around 80% of females also belonged to the Ice age European mitochondrial haplogroups – U5+U4+U8. But strangely enough, it seems that the first influx from the Middle East was mainly female, represented by the mitochondrial haplogroups K1+H+J2 – a total of 20% of the analyzed samples.

There are many interesting facts about Lepenski Vir. Some of them are:

  • unusually shaped dwellings, that seem to mirror the shape of the mountain located on the opposite side of the river
  • the signs of the first urban planning, as well as the cosmological orientation of the settlement
  • the unique stone idols, some of them being hybrids between the fish and the men, some of them having elongated skulls
  • the unusual burials, ranging from the crossed-leg, sitting pose, to the extended and contracted position

The mysterious amulet

From all the interesting artifacts of Lepenski Vir, there is one object that I would like to point out. It is an amulet that became one of the symbols of the site, although its meaning remains unexplained by the scholars.


Lepenski Vir amulet, National Museum of Serbia

This amulet had caused a certain controversy amongst the researchers. Here is an example of an Italian website proposing many different theories to its symbolism.

The only “official” explanation I managed to find is that this is an “anthropomorphic” amulet. The assumption is, that being this far back in time, we can only guess what sort of deity or ancestor it represented.

But is it really so?

An ancient goddess?

First of all, this amulet depicts a goddess. This is an easy guess as the form remained unchanged for thousands of years to come. Here are a few examples:


But more importantly, this amulet has a striking resemblance to the specific image – that of the Phoenician goddess Tanit:


The image of Tanit that looks the most like the one from the Lepenski Vir amulet comes from the Phoenician settlement of Sardinia. (top right corner) Sardinia has an unusually high percentage of the Ice age European I haplogroup – more than 37% according to Eupedia. This fact still has to be explained by mainstream historians.

But even though there is a striking resemblance between these symbols, could there really be a connection, given the five millennia gap between them?

A Phoenician connection

Before we answer that question, I would like to mention something else. Namely, the traditional Phoenician ceramics look exactly like the traditional ceramics of the Balkans.

When I first noticed this fact I believed that the influence came from the ancient Illyrian and Thracian trade routes with Phoenicia. However, the first ceramics in Balkans appears precisely with the waves of Middle Eastern immigrants. Therefore the connections could be much older. Here are some examples of the similarities:


But back to Tanit. Luckily for us, the Phoenicians are not in such a remote past as the people from Lepenski Vir. We do have an idea of what this goddess represented. Tanit was a goddess of fertility, war, and the heavens. Before wiping off the Phoenician culture, the ancient Romans equated her with Juno Caelestis.

The trapezoid shape

The symbol of Tanit is usually described as a trapezoid shape, with a circle that represented the full moon above it. The base of the houses of Lepenski Vir is also described as the trapezoid.

An interesting idea proposed by a Serbian author, Mr. Pedja Ristic, states that the base of the Lepenski Vir house fits nicely with the human proportions of the earliest burials, with the navel positioned in the place of the heart.

At the same time, the houses are mimicking the shape of the mountain across, meaning that the cult had to be of a local nature, not an import.

Note how the place for the head is missing on the floor of the house, even though one of the main points of construction is located there. As if it was intentionally left out to emphasize the mystical, symbolized by the head, the celestial object above the mountain, or the circle of the amulet.

Child burials

I will dedicate another article to the celestial alignments of the Lepenski Vir site, as the topic is too wide. Here, I would like to point out another connection with Phoenician Tanit. This goddess is closely related to the child sacrifice, for which we have substantial evidence in the archaeological record. In Lepenski Vir, newborn children were buried under the dwelling floors. In both cases, the reasoning behind this custom remains unclear.

The continuity

Less than two hours away from the Lepenski Vir site, the museum of the city of Zaječar hosts an interesting collection of jewelry. It belongs to the Slavic period of the 7th century, and even though it does not look exactly like the amulet, it clearly has the same symbolism. Here it is, compared to the Minoan goddesses of Crete.

The role of the goddess

When scholars depict mother goddesses, they usually see them as depictions of mother Earth. At the same time, they are most commonly referred to as Venus-es. And also, they are quite often related to the Moon.

How to make any sense out of this?

The fact is that the Earth blossoms in spring. For the ancients, especially during the Matriarchate, it was the Moon that marked the passage of time (hence “month”). It is also the fact that the cycles of Venus are closely related to the passing of the seasons. For example, at the moment of writing this article, through my window I can see the Venus standing right next to the Moon. It is the beginning of the spring.

Therefore we have not one but three main goddesses, and sometimes it is not so easy to determine which one is in question. However, Venus, not being the constant, needed special attention, and in the case of Tanit, I think that this is what it represented.

Tanit, Inanna, Ishtar

Even in ancient times, it was common knowledge that these are three different names for the same goddess. A Phoenician text was discovered, equating Tanit with Ishtar – the queen of heaven. Nowadays it is not a secret that the word for Easter comes directly from Ishtar.

In the minds of the ancients, the fertility of the Earth depended on the life-giving forces of the heavens. Ishtar was the goddess of passion and sexual energy, the same attributes that are valid for Venus in traditional astrology. In this light, I find it interesting that the Old Slavic verb “to want” was “Ishtati”.

But what is much more interesting is that the oldest recorded name of both, Danube and the Dniester river was Ister. In the case of Danube, it related specifically to the course of lower Danube, where Lepenski Vir is located.

Is it just a coincidence, or could it be that these rivers were named after the fertility goddess whose roots could be traced all the way to Lepenski Vir? And damn it, did a person who carved this amulet some 7-8000 years ago, also call it… Ishtar?



    • Thank you, this was a perfect contribution as I completely forgot about Ostara.

      In fact, the genetic record on the archaeological sites across Danube shows that the original inhabitants were moving North, pushed by the new waves of immigrants from the Middle East during later Neolithic. The same haplogroups from Lepenski vir had been found around eastern Hungary and then much further north, but from the 4th millennium BC.

      I did not mention the fact as I did not see it as relevant, but if we add Ostara to equation, it only works towards the theory that the origin of the cult was around Lepenski vir, from where it became Ishtar in the South and Ostara in the North. It is in fact, the same goddess.

  1. May I ask what are your academic background? Very sorry to sound so direct and rude but I am impressed … but I want to know how you came to know so wide a field and where do you come from?

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