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This lively and provocative book leaves no stone unturned and no taboo untouched as it pieces together evidence from highly controversial artifacts and human remains to decipher the mysteries of Stone Age sex. Archaeologist Timothy Taylor paints a dramatic and startling picture of our sexual evolution as he follows human sexuality from its origins four million years ago to This lively and provocative book leaves no stone unturned and no taboo untouched as it pieces together evidence from highly controversial artifacts and human remains to decipher the mysteries of Stone Age sex. Archaeologist Timothy Taylor paints a dramatic and startling picture of our sexual evolution as he follows human sexuality from its origins four million years ago to modern times to answer our most titillating questions about this endlessly fascinating and powerful subject. Taylor draws on recent archaeological discoveries such as skeletons of Amazon women, golden penis sheaths, the charred remains of aphrodisiac herbs, and a wealth of prehistoric erotic art to trace practices such as contraception, homosexuality, transsexuality, prostitution, sadomasochism, and bestiality back to their ancient origins. He makes the startling claim that although humans have used contraceptives from the very earliest times to separate sex from reproduction, techniques to maximize population growth were developed only when farming began--a revolution involving control of animals' sex lives, widespread oppression of women, and an attitude to nature that continues to have devastating ecological consequences. He draws the radical conclusion that the evolution of our species has been shaped not only by the survival of the fittest but by the very sexual choices our ancestors made. And he links ancient sexuality with our own in a contemporary survey of artificial insemination, surrogate pregnancies, drag queens, brothels, pornography, and the spectre of racial dominance. How has human sexuality changed--and how has it remained the same--over the span of millions of years? How did the ideas of eroticism, ecstasy, immortality, and beauty become linked to sex? Taylor explores these questions and sets out to prove that our sexual behavior is and has always been a matter of choice rather than something genetically determined.  He eloquently and accessibly explains how our sexual politics--issues of gender and power, control and exploitation--are not new but are deeply rooted in our prehistory. Surely one of the most illuminating and controversial books on human sexuality ever written, The Prehistory of Sex invites readers to become voyeurs into the bizarre--and so far hidden--prehistoric sexual world.


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This lively and provocative book leaves no stone unturned and no taboo untouched as it pieces together evidence from highly controversial artifacts and human remains to decipher the mysteries of Stone Age sex. Archaeologist Timothy Taylor paints a dramatic and startling picture of our sexual evolution as he follows human sexuality from its origins four million years ago to This lively and provocative book leaves no stone unturned and no taboo untouched as it pieces together evidence from highly controversial artifacts and human remains to decipher the mysteries of Stone Age sex. Archaeologist Timothy Taylor paints a dramatic and startling picture of our sexual evolution as he follows human sexuality from its origins four million years ago to modern times to answer our most titillating questions about this endlessly fascinating and powerful subject. Taylor draws on recent archaeological discoveries such as skeletons of Amazon women, golden penis sheaths, the charred remains of aphrodisiac herbs, and a wealth of prehistoric erotic art to trace practices such as contraception, homosexuality, transsexuality, prostitution, sadomasochism, and bestiality back to their ancient origins. He makes the startling claim that although humans have used contraceptives from the very earliest times to separate sex from reproduction, techniques to maximize population growth were developed only when farming began--a revolution involving control of animals' sex lives, widespread oppression of women, and an attitude to nature that continues to have devastating ecological consequences. He draws the radical conclusion that the evolution of our species has been shaped not only by the survival of the fittest but by the very sexual choices our ancestors made. And he links ancient sexuality with our own in a contemporary survey of artificial insemination, surrogate pregnancies, drag queens, brothels, pornography, and the spectre of racial dominance. How has human sexuality changed--and how has it remained the same--over the span of millions of years? How did the ideas of eroticism, ecstasy, immortality, and beauty become linked to sex? Taylor explores these questions and sets out to prove that our sexual behavior is and has always been a matter of choice rather than something genetically determined.  He eloquently and accessibly explains how our sexual politics--issues of gender and power, control and exploitation--are not new but are deeply rooted in our prehistory. Surely one of the most illuminating and controversial books on human sexuality ever written, The Prehistory of Sex invites readers to become voyeurs into the bizarre--and so far hidden--prehistoric sexual world.

30 review for The Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bryn Hammond

    Often shaky but also open-minded. When he has a photo of Trash, a New York drag king, to point out why Trash isn’t in the least estranged from human prehistory… that’s the flavour of the book. It’s full of pieces of evidence that embarrass archaeologists and are left in the basement of museums. He is anti-biological determinism (sociobiology), and instead sees the work of culture – hence ‘culture’ in the title. For instance, we chose our loss of hair, and were never ‘naked apes’, for loss of hai Often shaky but also open-minded. When he has a photo of Trash, a New York drag king, to point out why Trash isn’t in the least estranged from human prehistory… that’s the flavour of the book. It’s full of pieces of evidence that embarrass archaeologists and are left in the basement of museums. He is anti-biological determinism (sociobiology), and instead sees the work of culture – hence ‘culture’ in the title. For instance, we chose our loss of hair, and were never ‘naked apes’, for loss of hair went hand in hand with our ornamenting ourselves (see the drag king). He has a theory on everything… overmuch for 300 pages, so it's a book bursting at the seams and can seem in-brief. Whether his ideas are outdated I can’t say. I find his foundations sound, because I'm on side with his stress on culture. I’m sure exciting things have happened since this book. One thing I know of – he has Bruce Bagemihl’s early work in his bibliography, but makes statements disproved by publication of Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, a book often relevant to his themes.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rosalía

    The Prehistory Of Sex is a history book with sex as a focus as opposed to wars, which is an approach most commonly used in high school history books. This book was not only unique, but it was fascinating as well. Absolutely fascinating. I have a whole new view on pieces of art that are supposedly sexually stimulating and what it means to our current culture. To anyone who loves history or appreciates art or enjoys sex will find this book interesting to say the least.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mish Middelmann

    Not surprisingly, the records of human sexual culture over 4 million years are a bit skimpy. Timothy Taylor brings a refreshingly modern perspective as he delves through the backrooms of museums for what evidence there is, and when he speculates it is with a mind open to all the sexual possibilities rather than a cloistered heterosexual normativeness. It turns out that there is a lot more in the tangible historical record than I thought, depicting wide-ranging and widespread sexual practices clas Not surprisingly, the records of human sexual culture over 4 million years are a bit skimpy. Timothy Taylor brings a refreshingly modern perspective as he delves through the backrooms of museums for what evidence there is, and when he speculates it is with a mind open to all the sexual possibilities rather than a cloistered heterosexual normativeness. It turns out that there is a lot more in the tangible historical record than I thought, depicting wide-ranging and widespread sexual practices classified in recent centuries as immoral and deviant from male and female homosexuality to masturbation to bestiality, putting us closer to the free and fun-loving sexual culture of the bonobo than the Victorians would have liked. His analysis of the earlier part of the four million years is strongly shaped by the concept of "sexual selection" - an aspect of Darwinian evolution driven by what characteristics members of the species choose as desirable in mating partners. I found it fascinating to be taken through the relatively fast changes in the emerging human species from four-leggedness to standing up and walking and from shaggy body hair to relative nakedness, all of which was accompanied by dramatic changes to sex organs. He turns on its head the credit often given to men for driving human inventiveness to improve hunting weapons. Instead he says the baby sling, invented by women to carry babies with them while they worked, was the big tech breakthrough enabling the emergence of modern humans: With upright walking, the human birth canal was restricted - and yet our species has been distinguished by our large brains. The ingenious solution enabling humans to be big-brained and walk upright was to have human babies born only partially developed, so their heads are small enough to be born, yet grow substantially after birth. The key metric he gives is brain size at birth compared to maturity: for nonhuman primates it is 42% and for humans it is 29%. We are all "premature births" compared to other species, and that allows our heads to squeeze through hips better designed for walking than for childbirth. The baby sling enabled women to both nurture and breastfeed these vulnerable young, and continue working to gather food and create shelter for the family. For Taylor, women were at least equal to or surpassed men in inventiveness enabling the emergence and world dominance of Homo sapiens. The book contains a wonderful collection of useful and interesting data and smart, modern gender-neutral interpretation.-It takes some delving for him to find existing sex-related art and artefacts which, as he said, are often cloistered in backrooms in deference to the secretive sexual culture brought into the world by European colonists. He also brings in fascinating modern comparative data about the difference between public culture and actual behaviour, including our falsely modest claims about for example the amount of alcohol we consume. This gives him scope to point out that there was almost certainly a similar range of sexual behaviour amongst early humans as amongst modern humans and primates - from heterosexual reproductive sex to a myriad of private and public behaviours spanning the full range of LGBTQI. In this context, this book is usefully read together with Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity. His takes a strong interest in gender relations throughout the book, and again his modern perspective makes him very concerned about the emergence of male domination. He takes issue with the attractive theory that once there was a period of total female domination in our species, and rather suggests that early humans were more gender-egalitarian, with the patriarchy's emergence being linked to the move to agriculture. Agriculture, for him and many other historians, drove the emergence of vastly more rigid forms of control amongst humans, pioneering the concept of land ownership (which hunter-gatherers understood be way beyond ownership by any species) and bringing with it the possibility of men controlling women and restricting them to limited reproductive roles. His data and interpretation about the way early humans were able to control their fertility, and how farming lifestyles led to far more frequent childbirth thereby restricting women's role in other areas of life, is fascinating and convincing. In summary The new permanence of houses and villages heralded the establishment of a number of binary oppositions, between wild and domestic, inside and outside, male and female, that took meaning from each other. It is interesting that this book explores issues and uses language like "binary" hot in cutting edge campus discourse in 2019, but was first published nearly 25 years ago. I'm glad I found it in a small bookshop in Windhoek, Namibia. What stopped me from rating the book higher was the strongly Eurocentric approach. He tries hard to pull back the curtains tightly shut by the Victorian era, and yet his chapter on race felt to me stuck in the debate with colonialists about their own racism. There were also times (perhaps forgivable to to the limited evidence) when the argument seemed to ramble. Yet I really liked his conclusions debunking sexual norms, backed by the weight of his pretty solid research, that there really is no such thing as kinky. It's all normal.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Great anthropological study that broadens many gender theories. Extensive and well written. Not boring which is unusual for anthropological books (in my opinion anyway).

  5. 5 out of 5

    Odessa

    Just so academic and juicy. Wait, reverse that word order. It may be aiming for a sub-PhD audience but, um, that's a good thing? Just so academic and juicy. Wait, reverse that word order. It may be aiming for a sub-PhD audience but, um, that's a good thing?

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ogi Ogas

    My ratings of books on Goodreads are solely a crude ranking of their utility to me, and not an evaluation of literary merit, entertainment value, social importance, humor, insightfulness, scientific accuracy, creative vigor, suspensefulness of plot, depth of characters, vitality of theme, excitement of climax, satisfaction of ending, or any other combination of dimensions of value which we are expected to boil down through some fabulous alchemy into a single digit.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Carrie

    fascinating stuff. the author is an archaeologist, so there is a lot of fact, followed with a lot of mostly convincing conjecture. i learned a lot, but i've forgotten most of it now. i'll edit this if i remember. fascinating stuff. the author is an archaeologist, so there is a lot of fact, followed with a lot of mostly convincing conjecture. i learned a lot, but i've forgotten most of it now. i'll edit this if i remember.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lily

    Wildly fascinating, endlessly entertaining, and some other book compliment cliche inserted here.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    Consistently uninteresting. I don't know what the hell happened here. I had high hopes for this book. I didn't like its font. Maybe that was part of the problem. Consistently uninteresting. I don't know what the hell happened here. I had high hopes for this book. I didn't like its font. Maybe that was part of the problem.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Aida

    another book full of knowledge. easy reading.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lorenza

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Bryson

  13. 5 out of 5

    Samantha Forbes

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lily Coy-Johnson

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tone

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sophie Habinger

  17. 5 out of 5

    Fernando Neeser

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Cain

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mitrian

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

  21. 4 out of 5

    oeniadaeowl

  22. 4 out of 5

    Marlin Harrison

  23. 4 out of 5

    Teresa Crancer

  24. 5 out of 5

    Emyll O'Bryan

  25. 5 out of 5

    Neil Ingram

  26. 4 out of 5

    Renee Sterner

  27. 5 out of 5

    Minerva

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sorine

  29. 5 out of 5

    Hayley

  30. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Nelson

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