Aug 032011

Filament magazine has an article on representations of humans and especially human sexuality in prehistoric art. While humans were making art fairly early on, they didn’t depict themselves until much later, and representation of human sexuality was even later after that, on the cusp of the transition between hunter-gatherer and agriculture.

The first definite image of a couple having sex appears as late as 10,000 years ago. Now in the British Museum, the Ain Sakhri figurine was found in 1933 in the Ain Sakhri cave in the Judea desert, not far from Jerusalem. At first glance, it resembles nothing more than a small white pebble. On closer inspection, two figures are clearly carved into it. The slightly smaller figure wraps its legs around its partner’s waist. The slightly larger figure holds the smaller partner’s shoulders, in what appears to be a tender embrace. They are clearly sitting upright, having sex.

To its credit, the article includes the disclaimer that we are making assumptions on a small amount of evidence, and that calling these images “porn” is likely a gross misnomer.

Even more interesting, one of the comments says:

sex shares many of the chemical and mechanical aspects of violence-that-leads-to-killing-and-eating but the result is the opposite of killing-and-eating. those aspects make sex disquieting because in theory at any moment it could go the other way & blood would flow instead of other fluids. then there arose that issue of “dom” and “sub” – i am in the midst of exploring “victimhood” at the moment. this one pretends its going to kill the other one, that one pretends to give up, joy for both results instead of the far more basic singular pleasure of killing-and-eating.

For the purposes of the study of BDSM, when did symbolic or play activities first occur in humanity? When was an actual act of violence replaced by a symbolic act? Is this uniquely human, or do highly social animals like primates and dolphins do it as well?