Lascaux cave art
French prehistorian Jacques Caurvin has argued that the invention of agriculture was preceded by a “revolution of symbols.” In the 1970s, he led a team that was excavating an area in Mureynbey in southern Syria, one of the places it is said agriculture first began. Under the layers of sediment that corresponded with the first agriculture he found layers with wild bull horns and female figurines, leading him to conclude that symbols preceded agriculture.

Surveys of European sites by archaeologist Ian Hodder led him to conclude the same thing. At the sites he investigated he found many representations of death and wild animals and theorized that they were attempts by humans to overcome their fear of wild nature. By placing the representations in caves and dwellings, he theorized, they were somehow pacified.

See Early Man Art, Hominids and Early Modern Man

Websites and Resources on Prehistory: Human Prehistory ; Wikipedia article on Prehistory Wikipedia ; Early Humans ; Prehistoric Art ; National Geographic Atlas of the Human Journey ; Early Modern Man: Evolution of Modern Humans ; Virtual Ice Age ; Stone Age Tools

Early Body Adornment

Neolithic farmers adorned their faces with tattoos of blue tridents. The oldest known tattoo is on Otzi. See Iceman

Archaeologists have unearthed palettes for grinding and mixing face powder and eye paint dating to 6000 B.C.

There is evidence that men shaved as far back as 20,000 years ago. There are cave drawings with beardless men, Sharpened flints and shells have been found in graves that may have been used as razors.

Late Stone Age Sculpture

20120207-Venus Hohlen Fels 2.jpg
Venus Hohlen Fels
The national Museum in Bucharest contains wonderful 5000-year-old fertility goddesses made from baked clay. The plump headless figures resemble abstract version of the robot from "Lost in Space" but the have a small line for the vulva and folds for fat.

Dogu were statues created in Japan thought to have been prayer figures used in prayers for prosperity and fertility. There are different types. Some female dogu have big butts and hips. Others have babies in their arms. Many are nude and pregnant. Some male dogu have heavy beards and big chests. Dogu faces are remarkably varied. Many have different expressions depending on the angle from which they are viewed.

Dogu were shaped and decorated using sticks and rope. Their designs and the situations in which they were found vary a great deal leading some to speculate that there were animism symbols, funeral objects or healing dolls. Similar ceramic figures were created in Europe and western Asia in the new Stone Age (8,300 to 5,000 B.C.) as Earth Mother figures associated with agriculture. Dogu are not associated with agriculture because they appeared in Japan before agriculture did.

Tokyo National Museum curator Yoichi Inoue told the Daily Yomiuri, “The dogu’s designs emphasized body parts that weren’t part of the male form, such as the organs needed in giving birth, showing us that those people weren’t interested in the mysteries of life. They are prayers for a safe delivery. Fertility leads to prosperity in tribes and eventually brings productiveness and prosperity in society.”

More than 18,000 dog figures have been unearthed throughout Japan. More than 2,000 dogu have been unearthed in Iwate Prefecture; so many that a guidebook on them has been published. The British Museum possesses a number of dogu and has hosted a dogu exhibition.

Early Music

20120207-Harper_playing_before_Onuris-Shu_(KV11) 2.jpg
ancient Egypt harp
The harp is the oldest stringed instrument known to. The pop in Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. It was popular in Qin dynasty era China and ancient Greece and played by the Druids. It was used David when composing the psalms.

See Early Hominids and Early Man

Chinese Firsts

See China

Origins and Science of the Kiss

Why people kiss remains largely unexplained.Leanne Italie of Associated Press wrote: “Anthropologists have their theories. So do neurologists, biologists, psychologists and endocrinologists. Einstein was interested. Darwin, too. So why doesn't anybody know how it all began and why we do it in the first place? Sheril Kirshenbaum, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, has compiled a mother lode of fragmented studies and observations from historians and sociologists, brain experts and animal-watchers in a surprisingly slim and definitely curious new book, "The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us." [Source: Leanne Italie, Associated Press, March 12, 2011]

Her conclusion? Inconclusive. The act of "osculation" --- in technical parlance --- is ingrained in more than 90 percent of cultures around the world. If they don't place lips on lips --- or lips elsewhere --- they lick or nibble with the same goals in mind. If we could unravel its origins, Kirshenbaum surmises, we could unlock a trove of evolutionary and physiological mysteries that might carry the kiss from merely interesting to incredibly valuable.

Scientists can't decide whether kissing is instinctual (newborns pucker for their first taste of mother's milk), cultural (learned, that is, for joy or survival) or deeper still (ingrained in our very DNA) --- or all of the above. They suspect, Kirshenbaum said, that the practice has come and gone through the ages and might have surfaced as an outgrowth of sniffing as a way to suss out the familiar. The first kiss as greeting, according to some anthropologists, might have been a nose-to-nose exchange to recognize, reconnect or check on a person's health through smells.

The color red may also play a prominent role in the rise of the kiss. The hue takes us back millions of years to "red as reward" for ancestors in search of ripe fruits amid leaves and bush. It's possible that over all those years of man learning to walk upright, he also became hard-wired to appreciate the flashy color, primed to seek it out wherever it occurred --- including the everted, red lips on a woman's face and other parts of her anatomy.

Kirshenbaum estimates that today more than 6 billion of us --- East and West --- lock lips socially or romantically on a regular basis. The German language alone has 30 words for kissing, including one, "nachkussen," which is a kiss to compensate for those that have not occurred, according to Kirshenbaum. Human lips, she learned, are packed with nerve endings that are extremely sensitive to pressure, temperature and other means of stimulation. They're the perfect little engines --- and erogenous zones --- since the slightest touch stimulates a very large part of the brain.

Documenting the History of Kissing

Leanne Italie of Associated Press wrote: “ Kissing was first documented in human societies around 1500 B.C., in India's Vedic Sanskrit texts that serve as the basis of the Hindu religion. One describes the practice of smelling with the mouth. Another recounts how a "young lord of the house repeatedly licks the young woman," which could symbolize a kiss or related caress, said the kissing detective Kirshenbaum. By the end of the Vedic period, she said, Satapatha Brahmana talks of lovers "setting mouth to mouth," and early Hindu law reprimands a man for "drinking the moisture of the lips" of a slave woman. From there, kissing --- in India, at least --- marched on to the Kama Sutra, a sex guide of the third century that covers a whole lot of ground and includes an entire chapter on kissing alone. [Source: Leanne Italie, Associated Press, March 12, 2011]

India wasn't only the only hotbed of kissing.In the world of Herodotus, according to his fifth-century B.C. text the "Histories," Persian kisses ranged from lip on lip for equals to the ground or feet by an exorbitantly lower status person to a higher one. A Babylonian creation story recorded on stone tablets in the seventh-century B.C. --- based on much older oral legends --- includes references to a kiss of greeting and a kiss of the ground or feet in supplication, Kirshenbaum said.The Roman emperor Caligula had subjects kiss his feet, which also was a custom throughout the Middle Ages. Charles Dickens was no fan in 1861, when he found foot-kissing of popes in the Catholic Church a "slavish self-abasement."

Mythology, literature, the visual arts are all full of kisses, let alone both testaments of the Bible. Derided by some through the ages as dirty --- or worse --- lips on lips went where Europeans ventured, and Western-style kissing spread to much of the world. Kissing turned into handshaking during the Great Plague years in 1660s London.

Gender when it comes to the kiss was something of a surprise to Kirshenbaum. "The gender differences stood out," she said. "I don't like gender stereotypes at all but I saw so much research along that divide. Men tend to describe kissing as more of a means to an end, hoping it leads to more, whereas women tend to place a lot more emphasis on the act of kissing itself." More than half of men and women --- 59 percent of men and 66 percent of women --- have ended a relationship because of a bad kiss, according to one study cited by Kirshenbaum. "It really serves as a litmus test for our future together," she said. "Very often we feel like we're with the perfect person and our lips meet and often it doesn't feel right. There's something not magical there."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Mostly from National Geographic and New York Times articles. Also from the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated March 2011

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