Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality is an in-depth look at human sexuality, mores, and behaviors in our prehistoric hunter-gatherer ancestors. The book is well-written and though-provoking and overturns many perceptions of human life in pre-history.
First the authors (Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha) dismantle the Hobbesian/Malthusian view we hold of prehistoric life. That is, that our ancestors lived shorty and nasty lives, overwhelmed with famine and misery.
In fact, citing studies of human remains from that time period, they found that humans were not under-developed and unhealthy but, rather, were quite healthy and lived lives of relative plenty and ease.
Hunter-gatherer males were on average, 5’9″ to 6′ tall with females averaging at 5’5″ to 5’7″. Examination of their bone densities showed very little of the diseases that came later to agricultural societies and that hunter-gatherers had better diets with a wider range of foods than their agricultural brethren (unlike farmers, hunter-gatherers could easily pick up and move on to where more and better food could be found).
Furthermore, hunter-gatherer societies were more egalitarian precisely because humans were a small portion of the total population of life-forms on the planet. As a result, there was no shortage of food and resources for these small bands of humans to fight over.
There being no necessity for ownership as we understand it now, hunter-gatherer society was marked with a more open sexual environment where woman’s sexuality was not owned by anyone else and the group ethic allowed for sexual freedom that has only been seen in human society recently in the past 30 years or so.
The authors do caution that we should not view prehistoric life through misty romantic lens. Like life in any time period, there were challenges for all people. However, they do make the claim that a pre-historic life of relative plenty and health puts our current linear view of history and “progress” on its ear somewhat.
It makes us question what we hold important now and possibly even wonder if the biblical story of Adam and Eve being thrown out of Eden may well have been an allegory of the shift from a hunter-gatherer egalitarian society to a hierarchical agricultural society.