The Meaning of Stone Age Porn

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Via Arts & Letters Daily comes a Der Spiegel story about XXX archeology, specifically a cache of seemingly pornographic figures near Leipzig.

The only depictions of sexual activity known until now were Greek paintings, but they were created more than 4,000 years later. Given this enormous difference in time, the Saxony find has created some confusion. Some believe it was a toy. Archäo, a professional journal, speculates that it may have been "chic" to display these types of sculptures in the "houses of the first farmers between the Saale and Elbe rivers." Researchers speculate that the figure could also be evidence of a "fertility cult"—a theory that sounds as straightforward as it is vague….

But how should researchers interpret these recent finds? The discoveries have reopened an old rift in the academic world, in which two camps are at odds over a fundamental issue. The question they're quarreling over is this: Did our ancestors live relaxed and uninhibited lives, or was asceticism the order of the day in the primeval age?

The two sides of the debate are clearly defined: Socio-biologists believe that the early hominids were basically promiscuous, and that they spent their lives running around the fields and woods of their day, constantly in pursuit of sex, following the genetic dictates of their rampant hormones. The other side of the equation are those—sometimes referred to as "tabooists"—who assume that even early man lived under a strict system of sexual abstinence, and that the sex lives of Neanderthal man were everything but orgiastic.

Whole story here.

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  1. If they were anything like modern Germans, then they were screwing everything in sight.

  2. Not that there’s anything wrong with that….

  3. I’m no archeologist, but it seems there’s some common sense applications to this question.

    First, consider that while all human societies have taboos, they differ vastly from one society to another. I was once watching a TV show on the horrors of childhood sex with a roommate who hailed from Ethiopia who was beside himself over the presumption taken by the makers of the show that childhood sex was bad. In Africa kids have sex all the time and it’s no big deal, he said. Another time I asked him about strip clubs in Ethiopia and he said they had no such thing because it was such a conservative society. One of many examples of what seems profane in one society is often normal in another and vice versa.

    Next, consider that there are no lack of sexual rules among other animals, especially primates. Maybe they don’t write books about ’em, but watch any racy nature show, and there’s a lot about what is and isn’t accepted in the animal kingdom.

    Thus, I would conclude that there were probably plenty of sexual rules in humankind’s primeval stage, but that they were likely much different from those found in today’s world.

    Easy, huh?

  4. It’s funny (in a sad way) that doing what is genetically natural is seen by some as abnormal.

    Samuel Clemens said that man is the only animal that blushes. Before our ancestors invented anti-human nature religions, they had no basis to decide what was taboo.

    I think the natural drift of internet usage speaks volumes about true human nature. We are what we are, and there’s really no point in pretending we’re something else.

  5. Interesting you should say that, kmw… I just read somwhere that the most popular sites are porn, but the second most popular sites are religious. Now if only I could find a profitable way to combine the two…

  6. Now that I’ve read more of the article, I find some of the theories just stupid.

    Especially the one about lack of fertility being desirable. We would have gone into extinction a long time ago if that were the case.

    Most ancient superstitions revolved around how to get the “spirits” to give them more kids, not less. Smells like an agenda to me.

  7. Randolph…

    I find your observation fascinating, considering that the two main theories about the meaning of these statues are 1) porn and 2) religion. Any possibility those urges are somehow related or intertwined in human nature?

    Or maybe just in our modern culture. I suppose that would explain why those are the two main theories…

  8. Carter…too late, the web has plenty of nun fetish sites.

    What I want to know is if there has ever been a time when a Ph.D. holder evr uttered the words “I have no clue what this means”

  9. Very interesting observations about the intertwixing of sex and religion. Maybe they are both relating to an urge to somehow “survive” after death?

    Now if only I could find a profitable way to combine the two…

    Already been done, I think. Google “+nuns +rubber” some time. (But not at work.)

    Next, consider that there are no lack of sexual rules among other animals, especially primates. Maybe they don’t write books about ’em, but watch any racy nature show, and there’s a lot about what is and isn’t accepted in the animal kingdom.

    True, true. For example, it’s almost impossible to get a cat to wear a tight latex nurse’s uniform.

  10. Oops, cross-post. And now I’m disturbed that nun fetishes popped almost simultaneously into the heads of both Eryk and me.

  11. I’m pretty sure the Kama sutra has depictions of sexual activities….

  12. I’ve racked my brain, and I can’t think of any porn/religion combo that’s not deeply disturbing (at least within the dominant judeo-christian system… But the Greeks and Romans had some good kink going

  13. What I want to know is if there has ever been a time when a Ph.D. holder evr uttered the words “I have no clue what this means”

    You’ve obviously never watched a professor trying to read an undergraduate’s term paper.

  14. What I want to know is if there has ever been a time when a Ph.D. holder evr uttered the words “I have no clue what this means”

    Every day, if they’re honest.

  15. Now that I’ve read more of the article, I find some of the theories just stupid.

    Especially the one about lack of fertility being desirable. We would have gone into extinction a long time ago if that were the case.

    Most ancient superstitions revolved around how to get the “spirits” to give them more kids, not less. Smells like an agenda to me.

    That part actually sounds about right to me. If you have five kids, only two of them might live to adulthood anyways. You’d be better off killing three of them early on, or preventing them from being born, rather than wasting time and resources raising them, only to have them die. People don’t just want to have kids; they want to have kids who will live to adulthood and reproduce (at some level).

    And remember, before the Agricultural Revolution, there was no real way to expand the carrying capacity of the environment. You could make minor improvements, but until you start growing crops and keeping herds you just can’t have high population densities (except for fishing environments).

  16. On a serious and timely note, has anyone noticed that the Venus of Willendorf could be Andrea Dworkin’s twin?

  17. grylliade,

    We’re talking pre-medicine here. It might take 10 births to get two adults.

    Also, the concept of fertility (no pun intended) wasn’t fully realized for them. There’s no way they could know if their efforts were being wasted or not. And they weren’t making conscious efforts to have kids. They didn?t fully understand the link between intercourse and pregnancy. That’s why they implored the fertility gods to help them.

    Even 100 years ago, infant mortality rates were fairly high. I’m not aware of any archeological records that indicate a lack of fertility centric superstitions.

  18. You could make minor improvements, but until you start growing crops and keeping herds you just can’t have high population densities.

    Who said anything about high population densities? In harsh environments, kids die easily. Any culture that wanted to help things along would have died off fast.

  19. If you have five kids, only two of them might live to adulthood anyways. You’d be better off killing three of them early on
    So, mortality is high, and you want to thin out the herd without knowing, for example, which one would have survived the next plague… On top of that, they had the data that happily suggests the perfect Nuclear family 🙂

    I>People don’t just want to have kids; they want to have kids who will live to adulthood and reproduce
    I would think they wanted to have kids to help them around the farm and to manage it when they start getting too old to manage it themselves.

    before the Agricultural Revolution, there was no real way to expand the carrying capacity of the environment.
    Well, there is getting more backs out into the fields hoeing..

  20. We’re talking pre-medicine here. It might take 10 births to get two adults.

    The Iceman aparently was using accupuncture; he also had madicinal herbs. They lacked modern medicine, but they had medicine.

    Also, the concept of fertility (no pun intended) wasn’t fully realized for them. There’s no way they could know if their efforts were being wasted or not. And they weren’t making conscious efforts to have kids. They didn?t fully understand the link between intercourse and pregnancy. That’s why they implored the fertility gods to help them.

    How do you know that?

    Even 100 years ago, infant mortality rates were fairly high. I’m not aware of any archeological records that indicate a lack of fertility centric superstitions.

    Yes, but in many cases, going to a doctor 100 years ago was worse than not; and there is archeological evidence that the size and health of humans pre-agriculture was superior, and IIRC, only recently we have surpassed our pre-agriculture ancestors.

  21. The two sides of the debate are clearly defined: Socio-biologists believe that the early hominids were basically promiscuous, and that they spent their lives running around the fields and woods of their day, constantly in pursuit of sex, following the genetic dictates of their rampant hormones.

    Early hominids!? 6,000 years ago we are talking modern humans with advanced cultures. Perhaps 4 Million years ago Lucy was a slut, but I don’t know any way to confirm. But 6,000 years ago we are talking modern humans with a fairly advanced culture. The Iceman indicates much more advanced people than previously thought.

    The other side of the equation are those — sometimes referred to as “tabooists” — who assume that even early man lived under a strict system of sexual abstinence, and that the sex lives of Neanderthal man were everything but orgiastic.

    Neanderthal!? Relatively modern (probably existed alongside modern humans), but now you are talking 40,000 years ago.

  22. Don sez:

    How do you know that?

    Because the pre-written-language archeological evidence suggests it. Humans starting herding animals when they figured out the could breed them at will. It was a that point that they understood the relationship of sex and children.

  23. I don’t have a cell phone, so I’m fascinated by it.
    Is it ever like a “divining rod” pointing its holder to sex?
    Or is a cell phone like the dilemma of Tantalus? Its holders think of it as the mystical remover of obstacles to sexual congress.
    But it ain’t. No way.

  24. Great. Yet another field for the MacDworkin types to claim patriarchal domination.

  25. Given what developed at the dawn of history, I would guess earlier societies were a lot like high school. The quarterback gets as much as he can handle, and the nerd goes home alone.

  26. Because the pre-written-language archeological evidence suggests it.

    News to me. What evidence?

    Humans starting herding animals when they figured out the could breed them at will.

    Seems to me that hearding would pre-date efforts at breeding.

    It was a that point that they understood the relationship of sex and children.

    Maybe they understood that relationship much earlier.

    In any case, it is one thing hearding animals (and allowing them to reproduce, and understand how they do so, etc.), and another thing to engage in selective breeding.

  27. Before our ancestors invented anti-human nature religions, they had no basis to decide what was taboo.

    The “noble savage” theories don’t hold up well when applied to modern hunter-gatherer groups. Human nature includes things like envy, and “anti-human nature” religious beliefs can build adoptive structures to deal with such things. Further, females with children and no adult males tend to do poorly in primitive situations; “anti-human nature” religious beliefs can work to prevent that situation.

    Frankly, promiscuity is poorly adapted for primitive human life. Modern civilization makes promiscuity much less costly to the social system, by providing security for single females, occupations where small females can “bring home the bacon”, effective birth control, etc. Primitive socities tend to be prudish, from Native American tribes to the Gran Valley Dani.

  28. The theory I was taught in my anthro classes was that we descended from a ?generalized chimpanzee? something like 4 million years ago. Basically, our ancestors were the ?chimp? that went out on the savanna and learned to walk. A bipedal hunter-gatherer lifestyle drove brain development (some theories reversed this, but this was dominant when I was at school, further, the hunter-to-gatherer ratio was hotly debated).

    The ?generalized chimp? may have been promiscuous much like the modern pygmy chimps, but on the savanna early humans would have probably quickly evolved a relatively prudish lifestyle. Women would have needed the support of men providing food and protection. On the other hand, the lifestyle of hunter gatherers doesn?t support a ?big man? with lots of women at his call. The ?big man? of the group may have more than one woman, but probably not more than several?he simply couldn?t support more than that. These would have to be small, closely related groups involved in a basic hunter gatherer lifestyle. The women couldn?t afford promiscuity (they couldn?t afford to ?give it away?). On the other hand, men couldn?t afford to support other men?s children.

    And it doesn?t matter if they didn?t understand that sex resulted in children?natural selection would choose the women who held out for a mate and men who selected women who were not promiscuous. Natural selection favored jealous men and selective women (and a lot of other stuff some of you also don?t much care for, I?m sure).

  29. Given what developed at the dawn of history, I would guess earlier societies were a lot like high school. The quarterback gets as much as he can handle, and the nerd goes home alone.

    Doesn’t work since the “quarterback” has to provide to get some–and he can’t provide that much more than other males. Keep in mind, we are not talking kids raised in NRA/NFL/NASCAR/Ted Nugent homes competing with PhD/computer geek/YUPPY/soft jazz kids; they all had the same background, the delta would have been based upon genetics and therefor would have been minimized. One male might have been more capable, but not to the extent that it made more sense to be his third “wife” as oposed to a slightly less capable male’s first “wife”.

  30. The other side of the equation are those — sometimes referred to as “tabooists” — who assume that even early man lived under a strict system of sexual abstinence,

    Which means, of course, that mankind became extinct in a single generation…

  31. This is all nonsense. We’re just as God made us. And you call yourselves Republicans….

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