A long look at obesity : The Lancet
So why was this early sculpted image of a human being obese? The Hohle Fels Venus bears remarkable similarities to a series of Venus figurines unearthed in locations across Europe—but thousands of years as well as miles apart. Were those carving these tiny obese figures reflecting a shared imaginary stylised form or were they reflecting how the women around them really looked? There are more contentious claims surrounding even earlier hominid artifacts that possibly depict obesity; the so-called Venus of Berekhat Ram discovered in the Golan Heights is said to date from 230 000 to 500 000 BCE, while the Venus of Tan-Tan found in Morocco is also said to be a relic of the early to mid-Acheulian period. These would not have been the work of Homo sapiens, but of Homo erectus. Could Homo erectus have suffered from obesity? Surviving fossils don't seem to provide sufficient information for conjecture.
Current speculation has focused on the idea that these ancient depictions of obesity represent important fertility symbols that show a rare and exaggerated phenomenon. Yet the fact that these Venus sculptures from diverse times and places appear to depict classic forms of obesity perhaps lends some justification to a more liberal interpretation about the natural and apparently widespread propensity to become obese. As R Hautin suggested in his 1939 essay A Historical Framework for the Development of Ideas About Obesity: “The women immortalized in stone age sculpture were fat; there is no other word for it. Obesity was already a fact of life for palaeolithic man—or at least for palaeolithic women”.
Images of obesity have recurred over the ages. It may be supposed that obesity became more common as agricultural settlements began to take over from hunter gatherer tribes some 12 000 years ago. Figurines from Çatalhöyük in Turkey had pendulous breasts and swollen abdominal and gluteal regions. In their recent study, Carolyn Nakamura and Lynn Meskell proposed that: “At Çatalhöyük, the figures with both prominent breasts and stomachs are often depicted as flattened, drooping, and angular, rather than robust and rounded in shape. Many breasts are not portrayed symmetrically and appear to be somewhat flattened and pendulous. Similarly, stomachs, while exaggerated, are not evocative of pregnancy, but rather of advanced maturity or even obesity.” Early depictions of obesity, although rare, also seem to have existed in ancient Egypt. Joyce Tyldesley has postulated that Queen Hatchepsut might have been obese, with diabetes and cancer among her comorbidities. As well as the evidence of “pendulous breasts”, which Tyldesley points to as a marker for obesity found in her mummified remains dating from 1500 BCE, a contemporary wall painting depicts her unequivocally as an obese woman.
Would I be putting a grain-feed cow on a fad diet if I took it out of the feedlot and put it on pasture eating the grass nature intended?