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They reveal the true meaning of prehistoric Venuses: why were they obese women?

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One of the first examples of art in the world, the enigmatic paleolithic venus Carved about 30,000 years ago, they have intrigued and baffled scientists for almost two centuries. Now, a researcher at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus believes he has gathered enough evidence to solve the mystery behind these curious totems.

The representations of obese or pregnant women, which appear in most art history books, were long seen as symbols of fertility or beauty. But according to Richard Johnson, lead author of the study published in the journal Obesity, the key to understanding the statues lies in climate change and diet.

“Some of the oldest works of art in the world are these mysterious figures of overweight women from the time of hunter-gatherers in Ice Age Europe, where you wouldn’t expect to see obesity at all,” said Johnson, a professor of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “We demonstrate that these figures correlate with moments of extreme nutritional stress“.

Climate change

The first modern humans entered Europe during a warming period about 48,000 years ago. Known as Aurignacians, they hunted reindeer, horses and mammoths with bone-tipped spears. In summer they dined on berries, fish, nuts and plants. But then, as now, the climate did not remain static.

As temperatures dropped, the ice sheets advanced and disaster struck. During the coldest months, temperatures dropped to 10-15 degrees Celsius. Some hunter-gatherer bands disappeared, others moved south, some sought refuge in the forests. Big game was hunted.

It was during these desperate times that obese figurines appeared. They were between 6 and 16 centimeters long and made of stone, ivory, horn or occasionally clay. Some were threaded and used as amulets.

Johnson and his team measured the statues’ waist-hip and waist-shoulder ratios. They found that those closest to the glaciers were the most obese compared to those further away. They believe that the figurines They represented an idealized body type for these difficult living conditions..

“We propose that conveyed body size ideals for young women“We found that body size ratios were higher when the glaciers advanced, while obesity decreased as the climate warmed and the glaciers were receding.

Desired condition

Obesity, according to researchers, became a desired condition. An obese woman in times of scarcity could carry a child during pregnancy better than one who suffers from malnutrition. So the figurines may have been imbued with spiritual meaning: a kind of fetish or magical charm that could protect a woman during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.

Many of the figurines are worn, indicating that they were heirlooms inherited from mother to daughter from generation to generation. Women entering puberty or in the early stages of pregnancy may have received them in the hope of imparting the desired body mass to ensure a successful birth.

“The increased fat would provide a source of energy during gestation through weaning of the baby and also as much-needed insulation,” the authors said. Promoting obesity, Johnson said, ensured that the band would continue for another generation in these more precarious climatic conditions.

“The figurines emerged as an ideological tool to help improve fertility and survival of the mother and newborns,” Johnson said. “The aesthetics of art, therefore, played a significant role in emphasizing health and survival to adapt to increasingly austere climatic conditions.”

The team’s success in accumulating evidence to support their theory came from applying measurements and medical science to archaeological data and behavioral models from anthropology. “These types of interdisciplinary approaches are gaining momentum in the sciences and show great promise,” Johnson said. “Our team also has other Ice Age art and migration topics in its research sights.”

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