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The Kangjiashimenji Petroglyphs
February 14, 2013 7:00 PM   Subscribe

The World’s Oldest Pornography. The Kangjiashimenji Petroglyphs in the Tien Shan Mountains: A Fertility Ritual Tableau.
posted by homunculus (21 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Related post.
posted by homunculus at 7:04 PM on February 14, 2013


This "paleo porn" trope that is going around for a lot of finds is driving archaeologists crazy. I mean some are participating in it but there is a lot of pushback, led by my next-office-down friend e.g., here (gallery) and here. A lot of it is bound up in the worst kind of facile Evolutionary Psychology which desperately needs, yet cannot obtain, the sort of reliable archaeological evidence for sexy behaviour + natural selection.

People are fascinated by prehistory, and the media want to write stories that attract readers - to use a cliché, sex sells. But when a New York Times headline reads "A Precursor to Playboy: Graphic Images in Rock", and Discover magazine asserts that man's obsession with pornography dates back to "Cro-Magnon days" based on "the famous 26,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf statuette...[with] GG-cup breasts and a hippopotamal butt", I think a line is crossed. To be fair, archaeologists are partially responsible - we need to choose our words carefully.

.....

Aren't other interpretations of palaeo-art just as speculative as calling them pornographic?

Yes, but when we interpret Palaeolithic art more broadly, we talk about "hunting magic" or "religion" or "fertility magic." I don't think these interpretations have the same social ramifications as pornography. When respected journals - Nature for example - use terms such as "Prehistoric pin-up" and "35,000-year-old sex object", and a German museum proclaims that a figurine is either an "earth mother or pin-up girl" (as if no other roles for women could have existed in prehistory), they carry weight and authority. This allows journalists and researchers, evolutionary psychologists in particular, to legitimise and naturalise contemporary western values and behaviours by tracing them back to the "mist of prehistory".


posted by Rumple at 7:22 PM on February 14, 2013 [14 favorites]


And here I was, thinking my dad's stack of Playboys would one day qualify for the title of World's Oldest Pornography.
posted by item at 7:26 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The fact that the world’s most sexually explicit graveyard was located a few hundred miles from the most sexually explicit petroglyphs can’t have been a coincidence

Also nearby, but lost to time because it didn't leave artifacts, was the world's most sexually explicit vegetable garden.
posted by 445supermag at 7:45 PM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yes, but when we interpret Palaeolithic art more broadly, we talk about "hunting magic" or "religion" or "fertility magic." I don't think these interpretations have the same social ramifications as pornography.

Think again. When I hear any kind of "magic" all I think of is idiotic bumper stickers. If prehistory doesn't provide a justification for "contemporary western values" it provides even less of one for the latest hot trend in "alternative spirituality".
posted by DU at 7:52 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


They're over thinking this. I'm imagining a 13 year old cave boy in the throes of puberty sitting in the back of the classroom.

Boy did he get in trouble.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:04 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


DU: That's because you have no clue about the use of the term "magic" in Anthropology as used by a professional Archaeologist.
posted by Rumple at 8:05 PM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think a lot of stuff that early archaeological and anthropologists liked to describe as ritual and magic might have just been people getting high and getting laid. I don't think jerking off to pictures of naked people was a recent invention.
posted by empath at 8:11 PM on February 14, 2013


Fooled me - thought this was another Threadless post.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 8:21 PM on February 14, 2013


I don't think jerking off to pictures of naked people was a recent invention.

Indeed.
posted by homunculus at 8:48 PM on February 14, 2013


I like how a couple of them are wearing t-shirts with a picture of their own face on it.
posted by not_on_display at 8:52 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love that there's an Official Antiquities Scholar Word for "big-dicked."
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:54 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interesting post, hommie.

While I agree it's an obvious celebration of fertility--calling it paleo porn is silly--but, I am a bit skeptical of the archeologists interpretations. Some of it feels like reaching a bit far.

They haven't even got the critters right.

The first link calls it correctly, but in your second link, looking at this section, they have described the animals as goats, which seems ridiculous. The salient feature of a goat are the horns--hornless goats are a modern breed, and goats don't have long tails. These animals are obviously horses. On the left are two stallions fighting, on the right two mares. The tails are either wrapped or just stylized. Here's a wrapped tail on a Siberian Pazyrik horseman. It's not unusual to see prehistoric horse's tails portrayed as a narrow line, and there are many instances of war horses with either wrapped or knotted tails. This petroglyph, dated 5th or early 6th century, of one of the horsemen of the Siberian Juan-juan shows a knotted tail. Equestrian styles from the Scythians to the Mongolians are similar, and those folks got around. Determining that the Tien Shan people were sedentary rather than nomadic on the basis of petroglyphs not being mobile art is reaching--even nomads stay put for a summer prior to moving on, and an important event such as a fertility rite would be the most likely to be recorded permanently.

In scene six, the animals are ambiguous--could be horses, could be dogs. I would bet dogs, as they aren't drawn with the same care as the horses.

When discussing the tigers (yes, there were tigers) they peter out and call them horses.

“The decorative tracing on the Kangjiashimenzi felines could represent (horse) harnessing, and shabraques, or it may be a graphic code of animal fur.”[29] The later is more likely as the animals have slender cat-like tails which would negate them being draft animals.

A horse's tail might be wrapped, but they don't even mention the obvious claws!

From your first link:
The last figure has a very long penis but the body of a woman and seems to be wearing a conical hat. I think of it as the artist...

Obviously, there's only one figure that could be the artist: the second guy from the left. He's the only one with a big-ass grin!
posted by BlueHorse at 9:15 PM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


There's kind of a noble savage thing going on with the idea that prehistoric people weren't interested in sex, but in "fertility magic". As if before our fall from innocence we (human beings) were like children wandering around in wide-eyed, uncomprehending wonder at the magic in everything.
posted by Pyry at 9:30 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fertility rituals are not porn.

Go to fertilityrituals.com

Case closed.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:39 PM on February 14, 2013


Strangely, I could not masturbate to it.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:13 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gee, with all this hot sexy action going on, why all the frowny faces? I mean, I know it's serious business and all, but come on...
posted by kinnakeet at 3:48 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also nearby, but lost to time because it didn't leave artifacts, was the world's most sexually explicit vegetable garden.

In Mircea Eliade's "The Forge and the Crucible" he talks about the sort of sexual rituals that go along with grafting and hybridizing fruit trees. As you can imagine, since agricultural fecundity was important and fruit is largely propagated by unnatural sex... well, you can imagine the sort of rituals.

So, yes, the worlds most explicit garden. (The records come from Mesopotamia though...)
posted by ennui.bz at 4:16 AM on February 15, 2013


There's kind of a noble savage thing going on with the idea that prehistoric people weren't interested in sex, but in "fertility magic". As if before our fall from innocence we (human beings) were like children wandering around in wide-eyed, uncomprehending wonder at the magic in everything.

Yeah, but at the same time, calling stuff like this 'porn' sort of makes the assumption that sexuality has the same place in their society as it has in ours, which seems pretty unlikely.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:07 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think I get the whole "third gender" thing here. It seems like the idea is:

(1) Claim: Females have conical headgear with antennas and males have oval heads; otherwise they're basically indistinguishable.

(2) Fact: A lot of the people with antennas also have penises.

(3) Conclusion: Therefore there were a lot of bisexuals.

But why the "females are the ones that have the antennas" assumption in the first place?

In fact, the only person I noticed who was pretty unambiguously biologically female wasn't drawn like either of the two types that are supposedly "male" and "female" (the leftmost person of figure 4). She doesn't have conical headgear with antennas. She doesn't have an oval head. She doesn't even have a face.
posted by Flunkie at 3:28 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


And actually, now that I look at figure 4 again, there's another person who is obviously biologically female (approximately in the middle, lying sideways). Her head is drawn like what they're saying males' heads are drawn like, not what they're saying females' heads are drawn like.

I think they just made up the "antennas = female, no antennas = male" thing.
posted by Flunkie at 7:31 PM on February 15, 2013


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