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30,000-year-old Venus of Monpazier (160x464)Sticking-out Buttocks
September 26, 2002

Why Sticking-out Buttocks?

ALT= A Bushman woman (214x371)
Venus of Monpazier
A Bushman woman
in the 19th century AD
with a steatopygia (“fat bottom”)

If you take a look at the venus of Monpazier, you might think that this figurine has extremely exaggerated abdomen and buttocks. But, in those remote days, women appeared fat with a sticking-out bottom and a slightly protruding abdomen as you find in the Paleolithic venuses.

Even today, in some parts of Africa, you might be able to meet some women with the shape of the Monpazier venus as shown above.

A black woman carrying her baby on the buttocks. (hotten2b.jpg--160x464) And there is a good reason why the buttocks stick out like that if you take a look at the picture at right.

In the paleolithic days, gathering food must be a crucial task for women and men. If she had a number of children, she would have to carry her baby somehow. The shape of her buttocks apparently helped her carry her baby while gathering some food.

One historian wrote fifty years ago, “The Venuses are “sculptures of feminine form, with the maternal parts grossly exaggerated”.

So, laymen naturally think that those figurines might have come out of imagination.

If we look back to the fairly recent history (though some 3500 years ago), we can take a look at the famous queen of Punt. She is depicted on the walls of the mortuary temple of Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut, who reigned in the fifteenth century BC.

Queen of Punt (465x399)

The southern portico of the second terrace (141x180) Mortuary temple of Hatshepsut (178x128)
Top: Queen of Punt (an exotic place—what is now Ethiopia or northern Somalia)
Right: Mortuary temple of Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut (built in the 15th century BC)
Left: the so-called Punt portico (the southern portico of the second terrace)

To obtain myrrh and incense and other precious goods, and trees to plant in the temple, Queen Hatshepsut sent an expedition to Punt. For a century scholars have tried to pin down the exact location of Punt, which the ancient Egyptians steadfastly refer to only as a “Holy Land”. Many authorities think Punt is Ethiopia or Somaliland, but this does not account for the innumerable geological, racial, and botanical anomalies in the realistic depiction on the walls. Semitic and African races are shown together or in adjacent scenes that cannot correspond to any real geographical site.

Probably, Punt might have included the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. However, if you take a close look at those people depicted in the walls (including the queen), this holy land should unmistakably include part of Africa.

The natives welcomed the Egyptians and brought a variety of goods for exchange. The native chief is accompanied by his wife, who has generated considerable speculation in her own right. Some scholars consider her to be strikingly, grotesquely deformed. Others regard her as a rare instance of humorous caricature. Yet other scholars think that she suffered from some strange tropical disease. Medical experts have suggested elephantiasis.

Paul Ghalioungui, Egyptologist and medical doctor, believes that the queen suffered from Dercum’s Disease, which resulted in this peculiar kind of deformity. Ghalioungui claims the princess shown in the same relief shows incipient signs of the disease.

More than likely, as you see in the following section, Queen of Punt might have been a member of the steatopygous African tribe characterized by big buttocks. To our eyes, her shape appear grotesque. But in the Paleolithic days, many women might have possessed such buttocks in some region—if not everywhere.

As a matter of fact, in Africa, there are many women who have such buttocks as shown in the pictures at top and below. Let’s go to Africa to meet those women.


Into Africa

Big-bottomed Onge woman (ongewoman.jpg--160x377)
a steatopygous or big-bottomed Onge woman.

Steatopygia (“fat bottom”) was common among some African tribes—especially among women—such as Bushman, Hottentot and Andamanese, and still is among Onge (one of the Andamanese groups) today as shown in the picture at right.

“Fat bottom” is the storage of excess reserve fat in the buttocks. Best known in the Khoikhoi and San (Hottentot and Bushman) people of the south African deserts, it is also known in other populations with a tendency towards dwarfism.

Some scholars believe that a big bottom is a natural adaptation for survival, and that, in the ancient days, steatopygia was advantageous in the African tropical environment because the unpredictable rainfall and the narrow economic base remained a constant threat.

The condition has also been linked to reduced fertility so that its survival in the African context could be linked to the need for population control.

However, others disagree on the reduced fertility. Instead, they propose that an enlarging pelvic region of human females was an evolutionary trend, required to deliver a big-brained baby safely. On the contrary, they insist, a “fat bottom” helped the woman give birth to more babies.

Venus of willendorf (227x438) Venus of Lespugne (161x364) Armless lady (232x480)

Three “Venus figurines”
from the European Paleolithic Age
(30,000 - 25,000 years ago)
All show what has convincingly been interpreted as steatopygia

Left: Venus of Willendorf, Austria, chalk
Center: Venus of Lespugue, France, mammoth ivory
Right: Armless lady, mammoth ivory, contemporary with Venus of Willendorf

If the pressures selecting for a particular characteristic last long enough, then that characteristic eventually becomes genetically determined in the general population. This is what must have happened to the big-bottomed tribe women.

Gathering food used to be a critical task for men and women. However, if a woman had to carry a baby or two, she could not gather food with ease. If she carried her baby as in the manner shown in the near-topmost picture, she could gather food much easier.

Of course, the “reserved fat” in her bottom might have helped when food shortage hit them hard.

How come other African people lost their big buttocks?

What many such big-bottomed groups have in common is a long-term residence in a tropical deep-forest environment. The African pygmies, for example, are not genetically related to the black people beyond their common humanity but they, too, have been living in a heavily jungled tropical environment for hundreds of generations.

In Africa, the Khoikhoi and San people, unlike the African blacks, have lived in the relatively high latitudes of southern Africa for a long time, whereas the African blacks are relatively recent immigrants there.

Unlike the newcomers, the Khoikhoi and San people retain their age-old way of life: hunting and gathering. So women still need their big bottoms. On the contrary, most African blacks gave up the traditional life style and adapted themselves to the sedentary and agricultural way of life. Compared to the hunting and gathering people, therefore, the African blacks didn’t suffer from many more occasions of severe food shortage. Hence, they lost their “reserved fat”.

As expected in a people who survived exclusively on their hunting and gathering skills, the Andamanese possess an amazing acuteness of vision and hearing, and their agility and dexterity are remarkable. The Onges have no trouble spotting tiny frogs sitting immobile and well-camouflaged high up in trees, completely invisible to anyone but the Onge hunter.

Among the Aryoto of Great Andaman, turtle is often hunted in complete darkness. They can locate the animal by the slight sound made when it surfaces to breathe. The Aryotos of all tribes—both sexes, regardless of age—turn out excellent swimmers and divers. Their children learn to swim as soon as they walk and spend much of their time on the beach and in the water nearby.

Without any doubt, these people retain more traits of our ancestors. For one thing, their amazing ability as a superb swimmer and diver might adequately reinforce the theory that human beings, long time ago, adopted an amphibian way of life, which explained why our ancestors lost their natural fur coats while apes still keep theirs.

For more information on this, please visit this page: How Did We Lose Our Natural Fur Coat? (When and How Did We Become Human? [Part 1 of 3])

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I wonder if all the Paleolithic women possessed such large buttocks.
    - Jenny Jones

No, not all, but there must have been quite a few because not many skinny figurines have been discovered. This fact suggests that the majority of women might have remained big-bottomed during the Paleolithic age. If you haven’t visited the page (Paleolithic venuses), please do so for more information.
    - Akira
Copyright Akira Kato
About this author:
  • Educated both in Canada and Japan
  • Traveled extensively in Europe, Far East, and North America
  • Worked as management consultant, computer systems analyst, college instructor and freelance writer.
Akira Kato

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