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Art & Literature Throughout the Ages - Original

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Author Topic: Art & Literature Throughout the Ages - Original  (Read 2220 times)
Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #60 on: November 20, 2008, 03:24:00 pm »

Dawn Moline

Member # 2173

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   posted 07-26-2006 10:01 PM                       
Some interesting notes on the Venus of Willenorf:

Obesity in the Palaeolithic Era?

The Venus of Willendorf

Eric Colman, M.D.

The Venus of Willendorf is one of numerous similarly shaped, uniquely feminine, statuettes dating to the Upper Paleolithic Period (circa 20 000 to 30 000 BC)

This faceless work of art, with its pendulous breasts, fleshy hips, and protruding buttocks, has been considered by some to be a true to life depiction of obesity. Are we to believe that obesity plagued prehistoric women? Although we cannot discount the existence of a singular case of obesity due to Cushing's disease, hypothyroidism, or pituitary dysfunction, several lines of reasoning suggest that obesity must have been exceedingly rare, if it existed at all, during prehistoric times.

Excessive dietary fat and calories, sedentariness, and aging (particularly after menopause) are commonly associated with weight gain and obesity. These factors, in all probability, did not have a major role in the lives of prehistoric women. First, the people of that era lived as hunter gatherers. Obtaining food supplies required daylight, accommodating weather, time, and luck.

Provisions were probably scarce. In addition, primarily because of the leanness of wild animals, our prehistoric ancestors consumed a diet low in fat, approximately 20% of total calories. Therefore, consumption of an overabundance of calories by those women is difficult to imagine. In fact, the studies of paleonutritionists support the contention that undernutrition was a pervasive health problem during prehistoric times.

Second, the nomadic hunter gatherer lifestyle was not sedentary. Indeed, some archeologic data suggest that prehistoric people engaged in perennial treks from mountainous to coastal regions to take advantage of seasonally abundant food sources. Third, the life expectancy of prehistoric women was short. Studies of skeletal remains indicate that most people of that time did not live beyond their mid 30s. Accordingly, age and menopause related increases in body weight would not have manifested themselves in most cases. Collectively, therefore, the lifestyle of Paleolithic women seems unlikely to have fostered the development of obesity.

What then remains as an alternative interpretation of the Venus of Willendorf? Some may argue that because obesity was rare and may have conferred a survival benefit during times of food shortage (much like non insulin dependent diabetes mellitus and the thrifty genotype), it was desirable and worthy of ritualization in the form of statuettes. At first glance, this is a reasonable hypothesis; yet when one considers that no portly male figurines have been discovered, this theory falls into disfavor.

In addition to a short life expectancy, prehistoric women seemed to have suffered an increased risk of death during their 20s. This finding may reflect mortality associated with pregnancy and childbirth. It takes little imagination to see the similarities (albeit exaggerated) between the Venus and a pregnant woman. Although admittedly speculation, the Venus of Willendorf may have been used as a talisman in a precarious world of heightened obstetric related mortality. Similarly, some have proposed that this figurine was the object of a cult: a fertility goddess used to conjure deities and obtain from them fertility for the species.

Obviously, we will never know exactly what inspired the creation of the Venus of Willendorf , nor will we know its true meaning. Nonetheless, this ancient work of art serves as a valuable reminder that obesity is a disease unique to the modern world and one in which environmental factors, such as diet and exercise, assume critical etiologic roles.

Scarce as it was to find food back then, 30,000 to 20,000 bc, perhaps it is a wonder that human beings even survived at all.

"The unexamined life is one not worth leading."

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