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The Venus figurines were small statues which depicted large, curvy women. Most of the statues date back between 26,000 and 21,000 years and found in 1908. However, more than a century on, scientists are still trying to determine their origin, purpose and what they represent.
The figurines date back to a time when Europe was in the midst of an Ice Age.
According to new research, this could offer insights into the woman’s voluptuous curves.
Richard Johnson, MD, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and lead author of the study published in the journal Obesity said that when the figurines were carved, the continent was going through a period of nutritional distress.
As such, it was seen as desirable to be obese, as it was considered to be a sign of a good hunter-gatherer.
Dr Johnson said: “Some of the earliest art in the world are these mysterious figurines of overweight women from the time of hunter gatherers in Ice Age Europe where you would not expect to see obesity at all.
“We show that these figurines correlate to times of extreme nutritional stress.”
The first humans entered Europe around 48,000 years ago when the continent was going through a warm patch.
Food was plentiful at the time, with Europe abundant in mammals such as deer and a wide array of fruits in the summer months.
However, over the ensuing thousands of years, temperatures plummeted by up to 15 degrees Celsius as an Ice Age set in.
Food eventually died out, leading to widespread famine and deaths of tribes across Europe.
It was in this time that the Venus figurines were carved, all of which depict overweight women.
The new research found that the closer the artist was to the northern glaciers, where it was much colder, the more weight was depicted on a Venus figurine.
According to the new study, people at the time may have seen the extra weight as ideal for living in colder regions.
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Dr Johnson said: “We propose they conveyed ideals of body size for young women, and especially those who lived in proximity to glaciers.
“We found that body size proportions were highest when the glaciers were advancing, whereas obesity decreased when the climate warmed and glaciers retreated.
“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 emphasising health and survival to accommodate increasingly austere climatic conditions.”
The study stated: “Increased fat would provide a source of energy during gestation through the weaning of the baby and as well as much needed insulation.”
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