Even though we’ve all taken it for granted that Willendorf’s venus symbolizes fertility, a new interpretation suggests that we’re actually seeing something else.
The venus of Willedorf, and other venus, would be a sign of fear or hope of hunter-gatherers due to the sudden drop in temperatures and the lack of food associated with them. The venus, therefore, would be a symbol of caloric depletion .
Climate change and diet
This is what a researcher at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Richard Johnson , suggests in a study published in the journal Obesity .
The first modern humans entered Europe during a warming period about 48,000 years ago; as he explains:
We show that these figures correlate with moments of extreme nutritional stress.
Known as Aurignacians, they hunted reindeer, horses, and mammoths with bone-tipped spears. As temperatures dropped, the ice sheets advanced and disaster struck. During the colder months, temperatures dropped to 10-15ºC .
It was during these desperate times that the obese figurines appeared. They were between 6 and 16 centimeters long and were made of stone, ivory, horn, or occasionally clay. Johnson and his team measured the statues’ waist-hip and waist-shoulder ratios. They found that those closest to the glaciers were the most obese compared to those further away. Obesity, according to the researchers, became a desired condition .
We found that body size ratios were higher when glaciers advanced, while obesity decreased when the climate warmed and glaciers receded.
The figurines may also have been imbued with a spiritual meaning – a kind of fetish or magical charm that could protect a woman during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.
The increased fat would provide a source of energy during gestation through weaning of the baby and also as much-needed insulation.