Paleolithic obesity


By John DiTraglia - Contributing Columnist



I just read an interesting report by Dr. Richard Johnson et al. titled “Upper Paleolithic Figurines Showing Women with Obesity May Represent Survival Symbols of Climatic Change.” You last heard from me about Dr. Johnson on January 21 of this coronavirus year when we reviewed his book “The Fat Switch.” In that book, I’m sure you remember, he told us about primates who developed a fat switch to allow them to fatten up before ever colder, ever leaner winters of an ice age that finally actually drove them out of Eurasia and back into Africa about 14 MILLION years ago. Back in Africa those apes later went on to evolve into modern primates, including humans, who to this day have that fat switch gene. This new report by Dr. Johnson tells us that humans much more recently had to idealize obesity again in response to a much more recent ice age of 38 to 14 THOUSAND years ago. The evidence for this is in the form of female figurines with obesity and/or who are pregnant (“Venus figurines”) from Upper Paleolithic (or Old Stone Age) Europe that rank among the earliest art of ancient humans.

The biggest group of 17 figurines with this recurring artistic motif (like this one https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_of_Willendorf) are carved from limestone (but also from mammoth ivory, horn, other stone, or rarely clay) and are just over 4 inches long. They very anatomically accurately represent the curves of extreme obesity. The figurines have no arms or feet or faces. They compared these figurines with otherwise similar “Venus” figurines that were not so zaftig from further south or during less severely cold years. They propose that this correlation of the obesity of these figurines with colder areas and time periods indicates they conveyed desirable body size for young women and furthermore suggest that starvation and nutritional stress directly related to why those endowed to more likely survive might be portrayed as more beautiful. Promoting obesity might help ensure that a small band would survive until the next generation.

Makes you think. Makes me think that since we modern humans suddenly got obese only in the last 30 years and that since both the fat switch and the Venus figurines span many thousands of years it doesn’t really say much about our present predicament. This time obesity correlates with global warming. It also makes you think that you can get obese on the paleolithic diet.

Johnson RJ et al. First published: 01 December 2020 https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.23028

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By John DiTraglia

Contributing Columnist

This writer’s opinion is their own and not the opinion of this newspaper

John DiTraglia M.D. is a Pediatrician in Portsmouth. He can be reached by e-mail- jditrag@zoomnet.net or phone-354-6605.

This writer’s opinion is their own and not the opinion of this newspaper

John DiTraglia M.D. is a Pediatrician in Portsmouth. He can be reached by e-mail- jditrag@zoomnet.net or phone-354-6605.