16

votes

Paleolithic women carvings are obese! Why?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created February 01, 2012 at 4:44 PM

I was reading about paleolithic art and culture and came upon the famous Venus of Willindorf (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_of_Willendorf). I was shocked to see that she is quite portly! From my understanding, there are several interpretations of what this particular figurine, and others like it from the same era, meant to our paleolithic ancestors, ranging from a goddess-like deity for a female-centric religion (maybe we could adopt that part of paleo-life too?! ha), to a self-portrait, to cave-man porn. My question is: if everyone in the paleo era was eating (ahem) paleo , then how does that square with the creation of such images of corpulent women? Is it possible that paleo women were actually this obese?

B7e1ad6bb9ab814b8e90bdad4a472d5e

(289)

on January 04, 2013
at 01:30 PM

You have to think back then 20000 years ago most religions where sex cults so it would make sense to over exaggerate the female body when its pregnant. That is what that Statue is.

E7adfe31507efb7c935f618a829f56d6

(1507)

on July 27, 2012
at 08:18 PM

thanks! appreciate the link (and the refreshing opinion on RW)

Bdc6244bdbd664d2168a8e326018ffbe

(431)

on July 20, 2012
at 08:20 PM

Honestly, it wasn't that good- I tried listening to Robb Wolf's podcasts for a bit, but I don't find them that informative or interesting, really. But you may disagree, here you go! http://robbwolf.com/2012/03/27/dietary-fat-fat-loss-episode-125/

E7adfe31507efb7c935f618a829f56d6

(1507)

on July 20, 2012
at 04:20 PM

link to the podcast please?! sounds like a good one.

E7adfe31507efb7c935f618a829f56d6

(1507)

on July 20, 2012
at 04:19 PM

upvote for good luck :)

E7adfe31507efb7c935f618a829f56d6

(1507)

on July 20, 2012
at 04:19 PM

ooh another visit from the troll! i am getting closer and closer to the troll's treasure, i can feel it! ;)

E4faef53346e45f644ef905ab99ccb28

(83)

on April 25, 2012
at 04:17 PM

Yep. Dr. McDermott argues that women made the figurines based on their perception of their own bodies, possibly to document the stages of puberty or pregnancy, and to serve as health records or ritual objects.

Ecb90bbbd5a15868b2592d517a4a5e82

(280)

on April 24, 2012
at 11:03 PM

Ms. Venus looks plenty preggers to me - with big milk-swollen baby bottles. :) However it's important to note that we have about 100 such female images, some clearly and intensely gravid, some merely with lots of junk in da trunk, and some of "normal" weight. Some of them are fertility idols, some are probably not. It's tough to tell with art - will future people look at a Picasso? Or that the Egyptians were really 2D? :) Few cultures have literal, perspective-oriented art as we in the West do. Each image has to be considered in context: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1525/ap3a.1

6120c989fd5b69f42a0834b69b87955b

(24553)

on April 24, 2012
at 10:58 PM

So these figurines were self portraits?

E7adfe31507efb7c935f618a829f56d6

(1507)

on April 24, 2012
at 09:38 PM

"t is probable that these Venus figures represent an idealised version, people who were plumper would have had some advantages and it could also be a symbol of status or of fertility." That's basically what firestorm was saying I think. Not sure the variation in the modern paleo diet has much to do with it.

E7adfe31507efb7c935f618a829f56d6

(1507)

on April 24, 2012
at 09:35 PM

And none of the statuettes look preggers, or are shown holding a baby, etc. That's the argument I keep reading about in opposition to the theory that these figures are a representation of fertility.

E7adfe31507efb7c935f618a829f56d6

(1507)

on April 24, 2012
at 09:32 PM

this paper is fascinating: "As self-portraits of women at different stages of life, these early figurines embodied obstetrical and gynecological information and probably signified an advance in women's self-conscious control over the material conditions of their reproductive lives." Very interesting theory and makes me wonder how the body distortions that occur from self-visualization affect women today (even with mirrors).

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on April 24, 2012
at 08:47 PM

That statuette does look obese and obesity isn't usually helpful in fertility is it?

E7adfe31507efb7c935f618a829f56d6

(1507)

on April 24, 2012
at 05:38 PM

HERE, HERE! But, did you actually look at the statuette? that's not 22% body fat...

03fa485bfd54734522755f47a5e6597e

(3944)

on April 24, 2012
at 03:28 PM

I've wondered if a future era will dig up copies of Cosmo and GQ, and decide *that's* what people looked like today.

Ddfdaa75ac9f47e01fc71162dd0d38dc

on April 24, 2012
at 01:47 PM

Fitness in the evo sense doesn't mean Crossfit. It's means the ability to have babies, lots of them, and have them survive the first year. Living in small bands, people lived with the real possibility of having their tribe totally die out. They worshipped fertility. And we know women with 22% body fat are the most fertile with the most regular periods. In my yoga class I see former dancers who boast about their 17% body fat, but then wonde why they can't get preggers. Modern standards of "fitness" are anti-evo fitness.

Eea6a68f5a7190d13c60e1c72417a581

(1376)

on April 23, 2012
at 10:03 PM

For sources, check out the work of Maria Gimbutas.

E7adfe31507efb7c935f618a829f56d6

(1507)

on February 01, 2012
at 07:50 PM

Firestorm, thank you so much for your thoughtful answer! One follow-up question for you--do you have sources for the information in your answer that you could point me toward?

6120c989fd5b69f42a0834b69b87955b

(24553)

on February 01, 2012
at 05:44 PM

I've always chalked it up to a case of "the grass is always greener", and idolizing whatever is the most difficult body to attain. We're just on the other side of the fence these days. Until just this last century prostitutes worked hard to stay plump so as to attract customers....and for some reason I have the song "Big Bottoms" from Spinal Tap stuck in my head now.

96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on February 01, 2012
at 05:29 PM

That's exactly the answer that surfaced in my mind when I saw the question. +1

Bdf98e5a57befa6f0877f978ba09871c

on February 01, 2012
at 05:27 PM

+1. Couldn't have said it better myself.

B0fe7b5a9a197cd293978150cbd9055f

(8938)

on February 01, 2012
at 04:55 PM

I've thought about this too :) Those sculptures represent fertility, and women need a minimum of fat to make babbies.

  • E7adfe31507efb7c935f618a829f56d6

    asked by

    (1507)
  • Views
    6.1K
  • Last Activity
    1427D AGO
Frontpage book

Get FREE instant access to our Paleo For Beginners Guide & 15 FREE Recipes!

9 Answers

best answer

38
Ca1150430b1904659742ce2cad621c7d

(12540)

on February 01, 2012
at 05:10 PM

Most of the educators from whom I've learned about these statues and the culture surrounding them, from an anthropological standpoint, are pretty much in agreement that these images represent abundance in a culture that had to work hard for every bit of food... They represented fertility, over-abundance, and generosity. They weren't the 'ideal' for the culture, but were recognized as being a sort of unattainable 'perfect generosity'. This being said, it is to be noted that many "medicine women" or female shamans in cultures who shared (and still do share) that perception of the female 'creatress' tend to the rotund, and were typically generously fed by their people, even when other members of the group went hungry, because they were considered to be the "vessels" of their representation of divinity, and they did not want their divine personage to feel "restricted" or be unable to exercise her full power while in the shaman's body.

Male shamanic individuals, on the other hand, often practiced asceticism and would go long periods without food or drink, for similar reasons -- in their case, to avoid any personal physical condition that might prevent their male divinity from being able to fully take up residence -- there was the sense that, for men, greater physical presence tied them too much to the physical world, and prevented the necessary release of the body to their deities.

96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on February 01, 2012
at 05:29 PM

That's exactly the answer that surfaced in my mind when I saw the question. +1

Bdf98e5a57befa6f0877f978ba09871c

on February 01, 2012
at 05:27 PM

+1. Couldn't have said it better myself.

E7adfe31507efb7c935f618a829f56d6

(1507)

on February 01, 2012
at 07:50 PM

Firestorm, thank you so much for your thoughtful answer! One follow-up question for you--do you have sources for the information in your answer that you could point me toward?

Eea6a68f5a7190d13c60e1c72417a581

(1376)

on April 23, 2012
at 10:03 PM

For sources, check out the work of Maria Gimbutas.

3
631b29d5ab1146e264e91d08103bb72c

on April 24, 2012
at 01:17 PM

Could it be because Paleo woman actually had a high bodyfat percentage?

Could it be because high bodyfat (by modern-paleo standards) is actually healthy?

Could it be because having high bodyfat (by modern-paleo standards) is actually sexually desirable?

http://huntgatherlove.com/content/why-women-need-fat WFS

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on April 24, 2012
at 08:47 PM

That statuette does look obese and obesity isn't usually helpful in fertility is it?

Ecb90bbbd5a15868b2592d517a4a5e82

(280)

on April 24, 2012
at 11:03 PM

Ms. Venus looks plenty preggers to me - with big milk-swollen baby bottles. :) However it's important to note that we have about 100 such female images, some clearly and intensely gravid, some merely with lots of junk in da trunk, and some of "normal" weight. Some of them are fertility idols, some are probably not. It's tough to tell with art - will future people look at a Picasso? Or that the Egyptians were really 2D? :) Few cultures have literal, perspective-oriented art as we in the West do. Each image has to be considered in context: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1525/ap3a.1

E7adfe31507efb7c935f618a829f56d6

(1507)

on April 24, 2012
at 05:38 PM

HERE, HERE! But, did you actually look at the statuette? that's not 22% body fat...

Ddfdaa75ac9f47e01fc71162dd0d38dc

on April 24, 2012
at 01:47 PM

Fitness in the evo sense doesn't mean Crossfit. It's means the ability to have babies, lots of them, and have them survive the first year. Living in small bands, people lived with the real possibility of having their tribe totally die out. They worshipped fertility. And we know women with 22% body fat are the most fertile with the most regular periods. In my yoga class I see former dancers who boast about their 17% body fat, but then wonde why they can't get preggers. Modern standards of "fitness" are anti-evo fitness.

E7adfe31507efb7c935f618a829f56d6

(1507)

on April 24, 2012
at 09:35 PM

And none of the statuettes look preggers, or are shown holding a baby, etc. That's the argument I keep reading about in opposition to the theory that these figures are a representation of fertility.

3
5b5abb28f3cacf4f5a01497f2895d072

(238)

on April 23, 2012
at 11:00 AM

These carvings come from a period when the hunting of large herds of megafauna was at its peak.

The high density of large animals, compared to the low density of people, would have made hunting very different to our modern conception. There would very likely have been times of incredible bounty and also really low levels of food. However, the level of art , artifice and cultural development found from this era suggests it was an era of plenty - contrast this with the later mesolithic where the great herds disappeared and hunting changed to stalking with bows rather than communal battue spear hunts

It's also very likely that people in this time period didn't follow our version "paleo" diet. There would have been a much, much greater array of plant foods consumed and fruits and starchy tubers would have been the most valued things, with greens and dried meat providing a lot of the day to day calories. They would have been desperate to eat the very things we try to cut down on as this would help them get lots of calories. Surviving hunter gatherer diets in Australia put an emphasis on tubers and ground seeds provided by women and meat by men - this is worth noting as it runs counter to our perception but could as easily be an adaptation due to climate rather than representative of pre-agricultrual diets as a whole.

The basis of diet in the Paleolithic would have been similar to what we see as a Paleo diet, but with different priorities and food stuffs (no coconuts outside the tropics, bigger variety of green plants). Their diet would have been more seasonal than what many of us eat now with some periods of year (late summer and autumn) being times of high caloric intake and an abundunce of more carbohydrate rich foods. Winter diets would have relied more heavily on dried meats, frozen meats (it was an ice age after all) and other preserved foods. Spring would likely have been the trickiest time, with the diet again being more meat based as there's relatively little vegetation available.

It is probable that these Venus figures represent an idealised version, people who were plumper would have had some advantages and it could also be a symbol of status or of fertility. There would certainly have been times of enough surplus for people to become overweight and there would have been some interest in foods which are linked to getting the Venus shape.

I'm in no way wishing to criticise the modern "Paleo" diet - I think it makes evolutionary sense, works well and helps create healthy, happy people. I just think it is an over-simplification of what people actually ate in the late Paleolithic era.

Some sources of interest: Modern stone age hunter gatherer experimental living in Norway http://livingprimitively.com/ Ray Mears & Gordon Hillman Wild Food (not the best wild food book but with lots linking it to the mesolithic era) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wild-Food-Ray-Mears/dp/0340827904 Archaeological article on starch in the mesolithic (PDF) http://sites.google.com/site/mesolithicmiscellany/journal-information/journal-volumes/18.2.pdf?attredirects=0&d=1 Types of meat eaten by paleolithic cultures in France (PDF) http://faculty.washington.edu/grayson/jas25.pdf An interesting dissertation which touches on diet in Paleolithic Portugal http://www.scribd.com/doc/21744890/Diet-and-subsistence-in-Upper-Paleolithic-Portugal#page=36

E7adfe31507efb7c935f618a829f56d6

(1507)

on April 24, 2012
at 09:38 PM

"t is probable that these Venus figures represent an idealised version, people who were plumper would have had some advantages and it could also be a symbol of status or of fertility." That's basically what firestorm was saying I think. Not sure the variation in the modern paleo diet has much to do with it.

2
Bdc6244bdbd664d2168a8e326018ffbe

(431)

on July 20, 2012
at 11:35 AM

I was just listening to a podcast on this- so, the gene or whatever that predisposes one to be fat did manifest itself in the Paleolithic era- very infrequently, however. It is likely that very infrequence, coupled with the fertility-related things that other people responded with, that made it so attractive. It did exist, obesity in the Paleolithic, just not often.

E7adfe31507efb7c935f618a829f56d6

(1507)

on July 20, 2012
at 04:20 PM

link to the podcast please?! sounds like a good one.

Bdc6244bdbd664d2168a8e326018ffbe

(431)

on July 20, 2012
at 08:20 PM

Honestly, it wasn't that good- I tried listening to Robb Wolf's podcasts for a bit, but I don't find them that informative or interesting, really. But you may disagree, here you go! http://robbwolf.com/2012/03/27/dietary-fat-fat-loss-episode-125/

E7adfe31507efb7c935f618a829f56d6

(1507)

on July 27, 2012
at 08:18 PM

thanks! appreciate the link (and the refreshing opinion on RW)

2
E4faef53346e45f644ef905ab99ccb28

on April 24, 2012
at 08:15 PM

It all boils down to perspective. Paleo women didn't have mirrors. It's what they thought their bodies looked like just from what they could see of themselves looking downward. In my anthropology of gender class we had Dr. Leroy McDermott present his research into this topic - really interesting stuff!

http://ucmo.edu/art/facstaff/documents/Self-RepresentationinUpperPaleolithicFemaleFigurines.pdf

6120c989fd5b69f42a0834b69b87955b

(24553)

on April 24, 2012
at 10:58 PM

So these figurines were self portraits?

E4faef53346e45f644ef905ab99ccb28

(83)

on April 25, 2012
at 04:17 PM

Yep. Dr. McDermott argues that women made the figurines based on their perception of their own bodies, possibly to document the stages of puberty or pregnancy, and to serve as health records or ritual objects.

E7adfe31507efb7c935f618a829f56d6

(1507)

on April 24, 2012
at 09:32 PM

this paper is fascinating: "As self-portraits of women at different stages of life, these early figurines embodied obstetrical and gynecological information and probably signified an advance in women's self-conscious control over the material conditions of their reproductive lives." Very interesting theory and makes me wonder how the body distortions that occur from self-visualization affect women today (even with mirrors).

0
Ae90772d6e49e7632fbcaeda87f2cd5b

on January 04, 2013
at 12:13 PM

The women were fat, how did they know how obesity curves?

0
Afc0b8e755ac7cdde6b517fdadb50026

(778)

on July 20, 2012
at 03:58 PM

they survived the famines and men arent valued like that (see media reaction to missing man vs missing woman)

0
Ba09704971e33481f5716c4790648966

(1794)

on July 20, 2012
at 02:21 PM

Obese people ate the most food.

They had the resources to obtain the most food.

That is attractive.

Maybe?

-2
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on July 20, 2012
at 05:34 AM

I think we should withhold speculation until we find out what Jimmy Moore thinks. After all, he has the anthropological background to properly weigh in on this. Most of these commentators are just amateurs.

E7adfe31507efb7c935f618a829f56d6

(1507)

on July 20, 2012
at 04:19 PM

upvote for good luck :)

E7adfe31507efb7c935f618a829f56d6

(1507)

on July 20, 2012
at 04:19 PM

ooh another visit from the troll! i am getting closer and closer to the troll's treasure, i can feel it! ;)

Answer Question


Get FREE instant access to our
Paleo For Beginners Guide & 15 FREE Recipes!