AUS DEM SPIEGEL
Ausgabe 14/2005

Sex in the Stone Age Pornography in Clay

New pornographic figurines from the Stone Age have been discovered in Germany. But researchers can't agree on what the 7,000-year-old sculptures mean. Were our ancestors uninhibited sex fiends, or was reproduction strictly controlled to improve mobility? An increasing number of finds seem to indicate the Stone Age was an orgy of sexual imagination.

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The project itself was far from extraordinary. Workers near the Eastern German city of Leipzig were digging a ditch for a new gas line. Hum drum. But what they discovered was far from routine. A backhoe unearthed a 7,200-year-old, Stone Age garbage pit -- and it was filled with refuse from some of the first farmers on the European continent. Moreover, upon rushing to the site, archeologists discovered an 8.2 centimeter (3.2 inches) clay torso buried underground. The legs, abdomen and head were missing, but, according to the lucky archeologists, the figure still had its most important features intact: a "well-shaped behind" and a "short, but impressive" penis.

Since its discovery on August 19, 2003, the partially intact "Adonis from Chernitz" -- as it has been dubbed -- has been creating quite a stir at the state office of archeology in Dresden. Sculptors have carefully recreated the curve of the figure's buttocks and other anatomical minutiae are also clearly visible. Archeologist Harald Staeuble is amazed at the detail.

He's not the only one. The find is clearly a remarkable one -- and is the oldest clay figure ever found anywhere in the world.

And the project is becoming ever more fascinating as archeologists continue uncovering additional fragments while sifting through the Stone Age garbage pit. One fragment, which extends from the left calf to the pelvis, appears to be part of a female statue; Adonis, apparently, had a girlfriend. In fact, in an article soon to be published in the journal Germania, Staeuble speculates on how the pieces could fit together. He writes that "there is strong evidence that this is a copulation scene."

According to Staeuble, the fragments show that the man was standing with his pelvis at a slight angle. The woman in front of him was bent forward, almost at a 90-degree angle. Another indication that the two figures belong together is the fact that they are both made to the same scale -- both figures were originally just under 30 centimeters (11.7 inches) tall.

The fragments found in Chernitz may fit together like this.
DER SPIEGEL

The fragments found in Chernitz may fit together like this.

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.

When did humans become modest?

This seemingly wild speculation is typical. When it comes to the love lives of our diluvial ancestors, scientists quickly start running out of ideas. The social behavior of early human beings was neglected for far too long, complains historian Angelika Dierichs. And there are a number of questions that have yet to be answered. When did man first become embarrassed by sexual activity? Who invented the incest taboo and the concept of monogamy in marriage? Did all the members of an extended family sleep in the same grass hut among the Neanderthals? Anyone able to answer these questions could unlock many of the sexual secrets of primeval times. But instead of finding answers, researchers are discovering more and more gaps, and the bed of Adam and Eve remains shrouded in mystery.

But there has been some progress in the study of sexuality among early mankind. An archeological dig on the banks of Lake Constance has produced something just as spectacular as the erotic clay figures from Saxony. Researchers discovered a temple whose walls were once adorned with protruding clay breasts. The "cult temple," uncovered by archeologists from the southern German city of Ludwigshafen, is almost 6,000 years old.

The traveling exhibition titled "100,000 Years of Sex," which is currently making its way through Germany, also attempts to shed new light on our more distant ancestors. Some of the items on display include sexy underwear from the Bronze Age, ribald frescoes from Athens and cloth condoms that were dipped in milk.

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.

Some believe Stone Age humans were prudes

It's a dispute in which sharply contrasting worlds collide. The one camp paints scenarios of non-stop mating and cavorting. American anthropologist Helen Fisher believes that Stone Age women "were constantly disappearing into the bushes with different partners." The scenario portrayed by the other camp is quite the opposite.

The miniature sex god from Saxony and the clay breasts from Lake Constance can likewise be interpreted in completely different ways, mirroring the differences between the two camps. According to the tabooists, these artworks were part of strictly regulated fertility rituals. Socio-biologists, on the other hand, see them as evidence that the early farmers had only one thing on their minds -- and that they were having sex with one another whenever they felt the urge.

A fresco from the public bath in Pompeii. When did humans first start making pornographic art?
REUTERS

A fresco from the public bath in Pompeii. When did humans first start making pornographic art?

The debate surrounding large, stone, 32,000-year-old, phallic objects from the Stone Age is especially heated. The one side believes they were dildos, to be inserted into the vagina for pleasure. The other interprets them as ritualistic tools that were used in the Ice Age to deflower virgins.

The tabooists can turn to some important historical figures to find support for their theories. Charles Darwin, for example, believed that people once lived in "small hordes" led by chiefs who guarded all the women. "Given all that we known about jealousy," he writes, "a general mixing of the sexes in the natural state seems highly unlikely."

Only the weak masturbated, Darwin believes

Darwin theorizes that instead of lust and eroticism, the Early Stone Age was dominated by constant strife. The strongest men took harems, while the weaker males were homosexual or began (like the chimpanzees) to masturbate. Weaker males, according to the Darwin, could also have taken their revenge and murdered the leaders. Sigmund Freud believes that in order to put an end to permanent unrest and make living within a social community possible, upright man came up with the world's oldest moral law: totemism, a sort of early religion that associated a group with a specific symbol or set of symbols. Although this system helped bring about peace and orderliness, it also tended to impose a restrictive code of sexual abstinence on the individual.

Even by as late as the 19th century, many primitive peoples in Africa and Australia still lived in totemistic communities and their interactions with one another were characterized by shyness and shame. In some tribes, a brother was not even permitted to call his sister by her name, and touching her was taboo. Marriage between two individuals in the same village was virtually impossible.

The tabooists are convinced that man would never have risen to the top of the food chain if his lust and sexual appetite had not been curbed. They believe that orgiastic sexual behavior was only permitted as part of a ritual, and only on a few special days of the year. The tribes of the day would release the sexual energy and pressure they had accumulated in passionate orgies and feasts.

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