Obesity was the desired condition for young women who wanted to survive the melting of ice sheets during the Ice Age. That’s because obese females could carry and nourish a child in times of food scarcity and even in the most hostile environments, a new study suggests.
Scientists also believe that it’s the rationale for the mysterious overweight Venus figurines that early modern humans wore as amulets and passed as heirlooms to the next generations. For centuries, people believed that these depictions of overweight women carried some kind of spiritual meaning.
Some interpretations even went as far as claiming that the figurines were magical, protecting women through their pregnancy, birth and up until they nurse their little ones. Even scientists spent decades deciphering the mystery of the overweight Venus figurines that became one of the world’s oldest forms of art.
In a study published on Dec. 1 in the journal Obesity, a team of scientists theorized that these Venus figurines were the depiction of real women during the time of hunter-gatherers in Ice Age Europe. During this time body fat and higher body mass can protect the bodies from cold, therefore protecting their babies as well.
“Increased fat would provide a source of energy during gestation through the weaning of the baby and as well as much needed insulation,” Richard Johnson, MD, lead author of the study and professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said in a press release.
When the early modern humans who came to Europe about 48,000 years ago experienced harsh environmental conditions and extreme nutritional stress, it also became the time when Venus figurines became popular as amulets.
The Venus figurines were carved from stone, ivory, horn or clay between six to 16 centimeters in length. They were passed on as heirlooms from mothers to daughters. They were also given to young girls who were entering puberty. This was when the small statues earned its mystical interpretation.
“The figurines emerged as an ideological tool to help improve fertility and survival of the mother and newborns. The aesthetics of art thus had a significant function in emphasizing health and survival to accommodate increasingly austere climatic conditions,” Johnson added.