(ORDO NEWS) — They are among the oldest known works of art in the world. Strange figurines of female figures dating back to the late Stone Age, many of which have strongly rounded breasts, buttocks, thighs, thighs and belly.
These iconic stylized images of Upper Paleolithic women – often referred to as figurines of Venus, in some way a nod to the Roman goddess of beauty – have been found scattered throughout Europe and Eurasia.
More than 200 of these mysterious figurines have been discovered, dating from 38,000 to 14,000 years ago.
While there is much debate in academia over what the Venus statuettes represented in the eyes of their ancient creators, many researchers have interpreted the statues’ characteristics as symbols of fertility, sexuality, beauty, and motherhood.
Others, however, also noted that enlarged bodies provide a very realistic depiction of what human obesity looks like. Obesity is a serious problem for people in the 21st century, although it is not entirely clear why our ancient ancestors had it 30,000 years ago.
“Some of the earliest art in the world are enigmatic figurines of obese women from hunter-gatherers in Ice Age Europe, where you never expected to see obesity,” says medical researcher Richard Johnson of the University of Colorado.
In a new study, Johnson and his fellow researchers offer an alternative explanation for the conundrum of over-physique figures.
The researchers analyzed dozens of figurines, measuring the statues’ waist to hip and waist to shoulder ratios. When these measurements are compared to where the statues were found, in particular the distance to the ancient glaciers that existed, an interesting connection was found.
Many Venus figurines were carved during an extreme period of climate change called the Last Glacial Maximum, when temperatures plummeted and ice masses spread to many parts of the world.
The statues were carved amid adversity; Perhaps, the researchers say, their shapes were created as a kind of response to the creeping cold.
“During this period, people faced the onset of glaciers and falling temperatures, which led to food stress, regional extinction and population decline,” the researchers explain in the study, noting the strange connection they found.
“The figurines become less obese as the distance from the glaciers increases … In particular, the proportions of body size were greatest when the glaciers advanced, and decreased when the climate warmed and the glaciers receded.”
According to the team’s hypothesis, the full-bodied Venus existed as a symbol of survival in the face of a pitiless winter, demonstrating the virtues of overeating women, whose fat bodies could better withstand the harsh freezing conditions.
“We assume they convey body size ideals for young women, especially those who have lived near glaciers,” Johnson says.
However, if researchers are correct, these iconic figurines – many of which have been worn out as if they were treated like heirlooms for generations to come – may have played a greater symbolic role than ever known in guiding humanity through one of the the most severe climatic problems.
“Thus, art aesthetics play an important role in emphasizing health and survival in order to adapt to increasingly harsh climates.”
The results are reported in Obesity magazine.
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