Waist-to-Hip Ratios of Jomon Figurines

By Hudson, Mark J.; Aoyama, Mami | Antiquity, December 2007 | Go to article overview

Waist-to-Hip Ratios of Jomon Figurines


Hudson, Mark J., Aoyama, Mami, Antiquity


Introduction

Jomon Japan was one of the main centres of ceramic figurine production in the prehistoric world. Within Japanese archaeology there has been a long debate over the meaning and function of these figurines and a broad range of analytical approaches exists even in the English literature (e.g. Kidder 1965; Maringer 1974; Nagamine 1986; Yamagata 1992; Naumann 2000; Ikawa-Smith 2002; Matsumoto 2004; Togawa 2004; Kawashima 2005). Unlike many other regions, such as south-east Europe and Mesoamerica, Jomon figurines are associated with a hunter-gatherer economy--although the terra 'Neolithic' is often applied to the Jomon because of the presence of pottery and relatively sedentary villages. Despite this different economic context, however, the interpretation of Jomon figurines has been remarkably similar to that in other parts of the world, in that most scholars have traditionally assumed that the figurines are primarily female and can be associated with fertility and reproduction (Figure 1). More recent work has begun to emphasise the diversity of representations within the Jomon figurine corpus; in this context, figurine research bas become one of the main areas in which debate on gender and archaeology has been conducted in Japan (e.g. Ikawa-Smith 2002; Matsumoto 2004).

In this paper we attempt to look at Jomon figurines from a new perspective, that of the waist-to-hip ratio (WHg). Our primary aim is to further the understanding of the representation of sex on these figurines. Humans display a marked sexual dimorphism in body shape which is unusual amongst primates (Schultz 1969). A significant part of this dimorphism is the ratio between waist and hips. Human WHRs have a bimodal distribution with little overlap between the sexes (Molarius et al. 1999) and, despite geographic variation in actual values, 'male WHR has exceeded female WHR in all published reports' (Singh 2002: 81). In recent years the WHR has received growing attention in medical and related fields due to its importance as an indicator of health, particularly female reproductive health. A range of medical studies from several countries supports the idea that female WHR is a reliable indicator of reproductive endrocrinal status and fecundity (DeRidder et al. 1990; Zaadstra et al. 1993; Singh 1993; 2002; Guo et al. 1994; Kissebah & Krakower 1994; Wass et al. 1997). Psychological testing has found that both men and women tend to find a low WHR--usually around 0.7--attractive in females (Singh 1993; 1994; Henss 1995; 2000; Furnham et al. 1997; 1998). Actual WHR for healthy premenopausal women is 0.67-0.80 and 0.85-0.95 for healthy men (Marti et al. 1991). A study of men in northern Norway found slight seasonal variations in WHR (Svartberg et al. 2003), probably because abdominal fat is typically greatest in the early autumn (Zahorska-Markiewicz & Markiewicz 1984). This seasonal WHR variation most likely also applies to women but, although prehistoric hunter-gatherers may have had greater variation in seasonal fat levels than modern populations, this change would have little or no effect on the basic approach followed here.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Two aspects of WHR research are of relevance for this paper. Firstly, this ratio exists as a real difference between males and females, yet it is a secondary sexual trait that has yet to be formally discussed in figurine studies, although some archaeologists have noted that certain figurines do have female 'body proportions' (Yamagata 1992: 131). Secondly, studies of prehistoric figurines may be able to help us understand if preference for a low female WHR is a universal human trait. If preference for low female WHR is universal, then it should be present amongst hunter-gatherer populations (Marlowe et al. 2005). Many studies of WHR preferences have used university students in North America and Europe as test subjects, but similar findings have come from non-Western samples such as groups in Indonesia (Singh & Luis 1995), India (Singh 2002), Africa (Singh 2002), the Azore Islands (Singh 2002), and China (Dixson et al. …

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