Sex in the Stone Age: Pornography in Clay

How promiscuous were prehistoric humans?

Exactly how we went from being animals to modest humans is still a subject of debate. Homo Erectus was already building small grass huts big enough to house between four and eight people 370,000 years ago. Clearly, there was no room for intimacy.

stoneage

So what did Homo Erectus do when he became aroused? Did he ask his wife for a quickie while the others were out gathering berries in the forest? Or did the shameless couple simply keep their hut-mates awake at night with their moans?

According to Svend Hansen, a Berlin historian specializing in prehistory and early history, “strict sexual rules were already in place 40,000 years ago. In a society of hunters and gatherers, high birth rates were unwelcome.” The reason? The fur-clad hunters of the Stone Ages spent their days traveling through the countryside in groups of 15 to 30 people — for mothers, each baby represented an extra load to carry on their backs. Thus, it was necessary for nomadic groups to restrict fertility.

In addition to “plant-based birth control agents and the use of taboos to control sexual activity,” says Hansen, nomadic early man also resorted to bloodier means, like “abortion and infanticide.”

The fragments found in Chernitz may fit together like this.

The result was that population levels remained stabile for tens of thousands of years. The only exceptions to tightly controlled sexual behavior happened during territorial disputes with neighboring clans.

The “Venus” cult

Nevertheless, even the tabooists do not deny that eroticism played a very important role among primitive man. They believe, however, that instead of constantly mating, Stone Age man tamed and “sublimated” his sexual desires, transforming them into art. And there is new evidence to support this theory: the famously buxom “Venus statuettes” from the Paleolithic. This cult was started 35,000 years ago among the first modern humans who advanced into a then cold Europe.

They had hardly arrived on the European continent before they invented sculpture. Soon, love-stricken stonemasons began carving and hammering out nude and anatomically-correct figurines. More than 200 Venus statuettes are known today — all of them plump beauties with ample hips and what would now qualify as double D cups. Some wear armbands or belts, further emphasizing their nakedness.

The statues were long considered the equivalent of pin-up girls. Rudolf Feustel, a historian specializing in the prehistoric age, concluded that the artists’ goal was to stimulate “raw animal lust.” One of the figures — a woman wearing armbands that look like shackles — was even thought to represent an S&M slave.

A fresco from the public bath in Pompeii. When did humans first start making pornographic art?This kind of evidence is practically tailor-made for the socio-biologists, who say that these sculptures prove just how uninhibited life around the campfire used to be. But were these Rubenesque dolls really made for pornographic purposes? New studies suggest that the women depicted in the figurines were not merely plump, but pregnant. The Venus of Monpazier, France, has an opened vulva. In another figure, the stomach is arched downward and a small object appears to be emerging from the womb — the moment of birth.

In other words, instead of intending to elicit arousal, the statuettes were apparently objects of worship, earth mothers, symbols of fertility and creators of life.

The sculptures are highly detailed. Some even have pubic hair, curly coiffeurs and large navels — Ice Age masterpieces.

Much is known about how Neanderthals hunted. But what were their sex-lives like?
DPA

Much is known about how Neanderthals hunted. But what were their sex-lives like?

Nevertheless, the fact that the men of the Gravettien culture (30,000 to 24,000 years ago) worshipped pregnancy was probably based on a lack of knowledge. The men simply “did not comprehend the biological function of sex,” believes Jill Cook of the British Museum in London. To the men of that period, the fact that the female body would periodically swell up until a screaming baby would emerge from the woman’s lap was nothing less than astonishing. What a miracle!

Aside from the act of procreation itself, the men appeared to be uninvolved in the process, which only enhanced their reverence for mothers. The whole thing, says Cook, had nothing to do with lust.

An explosion of sexuality

But soon the men did become involved. The Venus cult came to an end about 20,000 years ago, to be replaced by a new motif, that of “mixed images,” a term that refers to the mixed portrayal of male and female genitalia.

The walls of the La Marche cave in western France are literally blanketed with erotic images, 14,000-year-old drawings reminiscent of the Kamasutra. One image of a head plunging between a woman’s thighs seems to portray oral sex. Another shows a standing couple, their bodies entwined, while the man’s penis penetrates his partner. But these graffiti-like images can hardly be seen as proof of unbridled love in the Paleolithic Age. They are scribbled onto the walls of the cave with little skill and are reminiscent of bathroom graffiti, almost as if a lonely Fred Flintstone had etched out his erotic fantasies with a primitive chisel.

But these cave drawings are still tremendously important. Many researchers see them as the beginning of a new age — an age in which man, surrounded by slowly melting glaciers and on the verge of become settled, had recognized the connection between conception and birth. This, they believe, explains the emerging focus on the sexual act.

Venus of Hohle Fels
Venus of Hohle Fels

The Adonis of Chernitz has only reinforced these theories. The penis of the clay figure, fired at more than 600°C (315°F), is oversized, and triangles are etched into the buttocks — possibly meant to portray tattoos.

The sculptor must have been familiar with the concept of procreation. He lived in an earthy settlement of thatched-roof cottages and the village’s animal pens were filled with cows and pigs, which were already being deliberately bred by selection.

Wild, drunken orgies

Though all that remains of the female figure are the thighs, the fracture line shows that above the legs the figure arched upward into balloon-like buttocks. Harald Staeuble conjectures that the 30-centimeter-tall figures were displayed in an elevated, sacred location. After all, they were deliberately broken and thrown into the trash to destroy their “magical power.”

But what fertility festival was being celebrated when the statues were broken? Ethnic groups in Africa were known to have copulated in corn fields to encourage the crops to grow. And among the groups that developed band ceramics 7,000 years ago, everything revolved around sowing, growing and harvesting.

But perhaps the idols were also the focal point of a sort of carnival, a drunken orgy in which Europe’s first farmers would let off steam. The mysterious ancient temple on the banks of Lake Constance proves that special erotic rituals already existed at this early juncture, long before Egypt’s pyramids were built. “The cult building stood on pylons directly on the shore,” explains archeologist Helmut Schlichtherle. The interior was painted with white dots. But the site’s truly unique feature is that eight large clay breasts seemed to grow out of the walls, evoking images of a place devoted to the erotic.

There is more evidence that the temple was once a place filled with billowing smoke and ecstasy. Bits of fabric, perhaps parts of priestly robes, were found. Also among the rubble was an imposing ceremonial vessel filled with birch resin, a substance that produces a bewitching scent when heated. Perhaps birch resin was the incense of the Stone Age.

Thanks to   Matthias Schulz

hard slit separator

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