Tuesday, October 06, 2020

The Prehistory of Sex: An Inventory

I doubt you could make a book called The Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture boring, and Timothy Taylor does not.  Nor does he pretend to be entirely clinical when he describes (or reproduces photos of) the things dirty really old men painted on rocks and other surfaces.  His occasional voyeurism is narrated in a "pop science" tone: it's not pornographic or titillating in the slightest, but at times it's not always exactly not a pre-history of pornography, either.

Why is a Christian scholar like myself reading such a book?  Well, because I'm writing a book on "How Jesus Liberates Women."  And if you want to know what liberation is, you have to look at how things were before we (men, too) were liberated.

The story is interesting, too, though Taylor's worldview seems to be such that he gets some of the background facts wrong, and doesn't always highlight what he gets right purposefully.  But it is, as I said, a good read nonetheless, not merely for subject matter.

My purpose here is not to do a classical book review, but to take stock of some of the more interesting passages, and comment on a few, as part of my on-going research project.  I think visitors to my blog will find much of this interesting as well.

"Women lost their hair, (Darwin) believed, because men found hairlessness attractive, not because it was burdensome . . . "  (35)

This reminds me of a passage from a Hindu book which recommends that men seek mates who have neither too much nor too little body hair.

"Among the many curiosities about the monogamy theory, not least is the fact that the current level of monogamy globally is largely the result of the influence of Judeo-Christian values during the past five hundred years.  Although some of the largest population blocs have adopted monogamy, a majority of individual societies worldwide still practice some form of polygamy.  There is thus no evidence for monogamy ever having 'evolved' in any species-wide sense among humans." (40)

One of the most important, and solid, quotes in the book, in my opinion.

Monogamy was not preached in the Old Testament, but was encouraged in a number of ways, as I showed in earlier posts.  The New Testament became stricter, and changed the world much for the better, as I intend to show in detail.

"The first systematic sexual division of labor, with males hunting and females gathering, might also date to this time (1.8 million years ago)."  (43) 

"I believe that the invention of the baby-sling was the single most crucial step in the evolutionary development toward larger brains." (46)

The words "I believe" here capture the probative value of Spencer's speculations about how babies developed bigger brains pretty well. He tells a "just so" story which probably has little to do with what really happened, but is interesting nonetheless.

"Marx and Engels considered that 'the first division of labor is that between man and woman for child breeding,' and Engels went on to state that 'the first class antagonism which appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression with that of the female sex by the male." (77)

This is the kind of crackpot theorizing that swept the world of "thought" in the 19th Century, and of which we have yet to be rid.  How did Engels know where "the first antagonism" appeared?   How could he not know that his circle of radicals had already proven that "free love" can be a lot more antagonistic, or predatory?  After all, he raised a young man as his "son" but reportedly later admitted the "son" had been sired by his friend Karl Marx on the housekeeper.

Of course, Marx and Engels were nothing if not geniuses at increasing the net pool of antagonism in the world.

"At Middle Stone Age sites in southern Africa dating from sometime after 300,000 B.P.  red ocher begins to be found. "  Some 200,000 years later, its use "becomes very widespread."  (99)

"The earliest firm evidence for formal burial of the dead comes from Skhul Cave in Israel, where nearly 100,000 years ago an archaic homo sapiens was laid out next to a boar's jaw." (109)

Taylor attempts to explain the "around 200 Ice Age statuettes of women" so far discovered in Europe. (116)  As he points out, even accounting for cultural differences, the women are seldom comely.  He denies that these depict a powerful matriarchy that existed at the time.  "Among archeologists this theory has very little support." (117)  The statuettes show women with no faces, and doing nothing, unlike "the vigorous goddesses of India." (119)  Nor are they pornographic: "Others feel that the Venus figurines are neither attractive nor erotic." (121) 23% are 15 years old or less (so one scholar analyzes them), mature pregnant women (17%), mature non-pregnant (38%), and women over 35 (22%).  Taylor suggests that they may have been marriage tokens, given with a woman in marriage.

"Marriage -- an institution that, however imprecisely defined, is present in all known communities." (125)

Here's a generalization that makes sense to me, and should be carefully considered for its implications for early Christian history:

"Contrary to popular belief, nonliterate societies are much more likely to do things in the same way, generation after generation, than literate societies.  The reason is that the nonliterate must commit detailed cultural knowledge to memory rather than relying on a written record.  It is entirely possible that some basic elements of meaning stayed fairly constant for over 15,000 years -- because there was no reason to change them." (135)

This might also explain awareness of God in numerous very primitive societies around the world, as described by Lang, Schmidt, Corduan, and others.

However, Columbia linguist John McWhorter argues persuasively that language is always changing, including grammar, but that writing can anchor those changes to some degree.  (As occurred with Chinese.)  

Yamana Yaghan men in Amazonia had a hut from which women were excluded, recalling a legend of a time when women "had sole power; they gave orders to the men who were obedient, just as today the women obey the men . . . " (137)

These sorts of huts and legends are apparently common in primitive societies.

"To forestall this, the men inaugurated a secret society of their own and banished forever the women's Lodge in which so many wicked plots had been hatched against them.  No woman was allowed to come near the Hain on penalty of death." (138)

Don Richardson describes such huts among the Yali in the mountains of New Guinea.

Taylor also mentions the Kayapo of central Brazil, "where the men's house is the scene of the ritualized gang rape of young girls."

He does not explain the context for this or its alleged extent.

Joan Bamberger argues:

"The myth of matriarchy is but a tool used to keep women bound to her place.  To free her, we need to destroy the myth." (139)

Taylor may be right that Ice Age figurines reflect a society in which women were faceless and powerless, though I find the evidence he offers, again, only partially compelling.  Women relied on men for their meat. He argues that Mesolithic communities are a bit more egalitarian: "obvious signs of gender inequality are fewer . . . " (146).

Civilization brought about a turn for the worse for women, he argues:

"The growing population of the Near East introduced yet another economic factor into the equation that was eventually to reforge women's economic inequality in bonds so durable that they persist into the present day: farming, and its concomitant rules of production and property." (146)

"Human beings, far from being cast out of the garden, turned themselves out of Eden."

"I believe that the first farmers in Europe had a fundamentally exploitative attitude towards everything including sex -- being violent, unbalanced people, whose idea of a good time was felling trees, erecting great stone phalluses, and sanctifying them with sacrificial victims, often women and children."

This news will disappoint those who conceive of "primitive man" in egalitarian terms.  

Mediterranean tribes knew 250 useful species of wild plants. (149)

Jericho was an early farming town, from 8500 BC, relying on a few crops, and quickly losing that wealth of botanical knowledge.

In Texas, farming increased the size of women.  In the Mississippi Valley, the opposite: "everyone got smaller, but women much more so." (152)

"Modern hunter-gatherers, even those who have been pushed into marginal environments (as most of them have been) appear to work much less in order to stay alive and well than do farmers." (164)

"The Mesolithic economy of postglacial Europe was a thriving one, yet it gave way, mile by mile, ineluctably, to a farming economy." (164)

This also sheds light on the various "falls" which the early books of the Bible describe, including the Israeli desire for a king, and the oppression which the prophet warns will follow.

"I do not believe that women built Stonehedge.  Perhaps they had a hand in it, and a woman was certainly sacrificed in one of its foundation ditches, but like guns and rockets, it is essentially a male monument." (167)

Well, come to that, most inventions are "male."  Let's not be snooty about it.

"In the long barrows, bones are placed like seeds in a womb of earth, as if waiting for the moment of rebirth.  Often, the ground beneath the barrows has been plowed." (184)

One suggestion is that the ground has been prepared for the planting of the dead.

At the winter Solstice, December 21, light "can enter the narrow opening and strike the back wall of the burial chamber." (187)

"The resurrection of the bodies of the dead is symbolically connected to the resurrection of the year itself - the point of exact midwinter, after which the sun must begin to come back or there will be no spring." (187)

Barrows were used until about 2500 BC.  (The scene in Fellowship of the Ring where the hobbits are stuck in a barrow, also evokes such antiquity, though not perhaps quite as great.  And also resurrection.  Tolkien is also right to associate the barrows with evil, apparently.)

Woodhedge, a three year old girl's body was found, her head split with an axe. (189)

"John Barber, who has excavated many sites in Scotland, suggests that several infant burials around passage graves - ten at Quarterness, twenty-four at Isbister -- represent systematic infanticide of neonates.  At Stonehedge a woman and child were buried in the great ditch close to the entrance to the monument.  Attitudes towards (at least some) women seem to have been no better than toward some unfortunate children." (189)

And people wonder why God repented of creating this race.

Ian Kinnes, British Museum, "while there are not many bodies (at Neolithic sites), where there are they tend to be women . . . " (189)

Taylor thinks these monuments exemplify a "bigger is better" attitude of farmers, who make use of just a few resources.  This may be argued, but then he lets himself go into:

"Most profoundly, the idea of a basic dichotomy in the world, of a struggle between man (in the deliberately sex-specific sense) and nature, is what lies behind our continuing lunatic progress towards ever deeper ecological disaster." (192)

Here a bit of religious clap-trap evolves into political clap-trap.  In fact, the air and water has grown far cleaner in recent decades in advanced countries, and forests have been planted or allowed to reseed themselves in vast swatches of the planet.  

1 comment:

alfonso said...

Feminism and abortion : The War Against Girls a trav├ęs de @WSJ