New Theory of Oldest Art Sculptures of Humans “Venus Figurines” Explained

A new study published on Obesity with the title “Upper Paleolithic Figurines Showing Women with Obesity may Represent Survival Symbols of Climatic Change”, has supported the hypothesis regarding the mystery of the Venus Figurines exaggerated physiques as survival symbols and researchers have proposed that the Venus representation relates to human adaptation to climate change.

“We propose that the Venus representation relates to human adaptation to climate change. During this period, humans faced advancing glaciers and falling temperatures that led to nutritional stress, regional extinctions, and a reduction in the population.”

“….we hypothesize that the figurines were meant to enhance survival of the hunting and gathering band. Especially during pregnancy, obesity helped assure survival during episodes of severe food shortage.”

-Statement on the New Study

About the Venus Figurines

Here are the things that are already known about the Venus Figurines according to the study:

  • Venus figurines or Figurines of women with obesity or who are pregnant from Upper Paleolithic Europe rank among the earliest art and endured from 38,000 to 14,000 BP.
  • It is the oldest art sculpture of humans known and tend to be of women who have obesity or are pregnant.
  • Venus Figurines tends to show realistic obesity despite the fact that obesity was thought to be rare in this hunter‐gatherer population.
  •  Venus Figurines with obesity are always women and of which some are pregnant and these led to the long-standing interpretation of the figurines as a representation of beauty or fertility figures however there is little supporting evidence.

According to the study, the researchers have suggested the best way to explain the meaning of the figurines is by understanding the climatic and environmental changes that were occurring during that time and how these factors affected their nutrition and survival.

Climatic Change in Upper Paleolithic Europe

Researchers have explained that during Climatic Change in Upper Paleolithic Europe most figurines of women with obesity were created during the ebb and flow over 24,000 years of the last glaciation.

These are some of the things that happened in the climatic change in Upper Paleolithic Europe:

  • Less rainfall fell and the plant growing season shortened and some human populations near the glaciers succumbed, whereas others relocated to sheltered, forested valleys south
  • Survival relied on smaller animals, such as hares, rabbits, marmots, and birds as large game became overhunted.
  • The shortage of food dramatically reduced population size.

With that, researchers have tested the hypothesis that the severity of obesity might be greatest during the periods of nutritional stress and advancing glaciers based on empirical measurements of the figurines as they are related to a location relative to the glaciers.

“We hypothesized that the degree of obesity of the female figurines related to changes in climate and proximity to the glaciers by measuring the waist‐hip and waist‐shoulder ratios of all known female Venus figurines,” the researchers stated.

And to ensure the unbiased determination of data, the researchers coded images randomly and measurements were made by an independent person unfamiliar with the story. The data was decodified and analyzed after all measurements were performed.

As the researchers have performed systematic measurements on all published Venuses from Upper Paleolithic Europe they evaluated obesity as a culturally normative practice to counter nutritional stress for women engaged in childbearing.

“The photographs and measurements support a relationship in which the degree of obesity is greatest for figurines closest to the glacial front compared with those farthest away. Specifically, the body size proportions were largest when the glaciers were advancing, whereas obesity decreased when the climate warmed and glaciers retreated.” the researchers explained in the study.

According to the study, researchers have stated that the end of the Last Glacial Maximum in 22,000 BP marks the climatic shift as the bodies of the figurines became leaner, especially in southern Europe.

“Figurines are less obese as distance from the glaciers increases. ”

-Statement on the new study

And, as people experienced nutritional stress, they carved fatter figurines and depicted leaner figurines when securing food became more predictable.

Researchers have summarized that environmental and nutritional stress of the Upper Paleolithic period correlates with the appearance of figurines of women with obesity among hunter‐gatherers in Europe as they adapted to environmental stressors that reduced population and stature and, in some regions, resulted in outright extinction.

And it was concluded by the researchers that, “During this period, 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.”

“Because survival required sufficient nutrition for child‐bearing women, we hypothesize that the overnourished woman became an ideal symbol of survival and beauty during episodes of starvation and climate change in Paleolithic Europe.”

-Statement on the new study

Venus Figurines from Europe and Russia


Photo Source: Wikipedia | Obesity

In these photos provided in the study published  in the Obesity, here are Venus Figurines which are from Europe and the steppes of Russia ((38,000 to 14,000 BP):

Figure A: Venus of Dolni Vestonice, Czech, 26,000 BP.

Figure B: Venus of Savignano, Italy, 24,000‐23,000 BP.

Figure C: Venus of Zaraysk, Russia, 19,000 BP.

Figure D: Venus of Abri Pataud, France, 21,000 BP.

Source: Obesity

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