For understanding the origin of masculinity, we travel back in time. Since the rise of Homo Sapiens 200’000 years ago, the paleolithic world – although very different from today – profoundly sculpted the characteristics of male and female humans.
The paleolithic was probably the first era of affluent societies humanity has ever seen. Ok, we’re talking about a very crude and simple style of living, but I assume people have been pretty content without iPhones and suicide rates weren’t an issue. They probably had a lot of sex, too.
The upper paleolithic, beginning about 50’000 bc and defined by a marked increase in archeological artifacts, is our era of interest, especially for the understanding of masculinity and the sexual dynamics. Why is that?
• First of all, the stone age covers over 99% of the time span of human development. Behavior patterns and brain structures organically formed in that period mainly dominate our subconsciousness. For understanding social dynamics and the deeper human psychology, it’s only senseful to examine closely the very roots.
• Second, the upper paleolithic era is that period we know the most about. Modern technologies used in archeology like analyzing genetics of skeletons or the chemical structure of teeth and bones provide tons of indications for the human modus vivendi for the biggest part of existence.
Archeologists nowadays are able to draw a picture of paleolithic life and social dynamics with a high probability. To get a grasp of the primordial origin of masculinity, we will start with discussing the every day reality up to the social dynamics within human tribes. As they were notably centered around sexuality and spirituality, we will pretty soon deepen our understanding of the interwoven yet distinguished roles of men and women.
Let’s get it started.
Groups of mothers & children
The first hominides occuring on earth were probably mainly groups of mothers with their children. Compared with other mammals, human offsprings need the most time to raise. With 12 – 15 years until sexual maturity, an individual depends for a significant amount of his life on parental care.
Unlike other mammals, 9 months of pregnancy are a relatively long period of time, where the mother is barely able to survive by her own. Imagine this with a newborn in your arm. Individuals would’ve hardly survived alone in the wilderness. It is therefore widely assumed, that the first humanoids gathered in small mother-bound groups to take care of the children together, like their next primate relatives still do.
Contrary to the now popular paleo-diet mainly consisting of meat, the hunter-gatherer societies of the paleolithic lived mostly from collected goods like fruits, berries, roots and nuts. The herbivore-teeth of hominides, the lack of claws and fangs and the absence of weapons useful for hunting strongly indicate a mainly vegetarian lifestyle. It is assumed, that the paleolithic nourishment contained about ~75% collectibles and about ~25% meat from occassionally trapped small animals like rabbits or squirrels. The hunting of larger animals was the exception and mostly accomplished by chasing the prey to exhaustion. The picture of the spear-throwing mammoth-hunter was more legend than reality and is to locate at the end of the stone age.
Depending on the region, it is assumed, that living from collectibles was up to 2.5 times more calory-efficient than harvesting. Whereas the farmers and shepherds of the bronze age spent all day plowing their fields and keeping their cattle together, paleolithic hunter-gatherers probably needed to invest much lesser time in getting their calories.
The affluent nomads
This left a lot of time for socializing, talking, crafting goods and raising kids. Humans aren’t called a social species for no reason, in fact it’s the principle of emotional bonding, interaction and cooperation that made the human race so successful. The female instinct to chat and connect emotionally with each other is typical since hundreds of thousands of years. The origin of the language is assumed to be rooted in mother-groups exchanging emotions and needs regarding child care.
Although the living circumstances were pretty raw, some anthropologists call the paleolithic tribes the first affluent societies of humanity. Getting the food together probably didn’t require that much effort and raising children conjoint with other mothers surely wasn’t as stressful as nowadays.
But the gatherer-lifestyle came with a cost; it required the ability to absolutely adapt to natures’ circumstances. Most of the tribes were nomadic, on average they moved around 10 kilometers per generation. There was no real control about the life circumstances as today, flexibility and fast adaptability was the secret to survival.
Their whole life was centered around natures’ cycles; the seasons determined the kinds of foods they could collect and the behavior of prey animals, the lunar cycles served as accurate calendar and life in general was seen as a repetition of life and death.
Matrifocal tribe structures
In the paleolithic, humans widely kept the principle of mother-centered groups. Most tribes were about 100 – 150 people and modern genetics proved, that most of the individuals were related with each other. Females and minors were all somehow related stemming from the same mother bloodline, whereas adult men usually were genetically linked with other tribes. We can say, that the centre of paleolithic tribes were consisting of mothers, sisters and daughters. The adult men were of exogamous nature – taking the roles of sexual partners. This is called matrifocality – the mothers in the focus of attention and making consensual group-decisions.
Of all individuals, mothers have the strongest instincts to recognize what is best for the survival of the group. They are naturally equipped with intuitive senses to regard the individual childrens needs as well as the group as a whole, with a consciousness for the long-term as well as for the very moment.
The social life probably was mainly centered around the well-being of children. The 30 – 60 women and grandmothers could easily alternate in taking care of the kiddos so the others had enough time to socialise while collecting food or crafting stuff.
The female goddess
The „female“ was the leading principle of that age. Women as the actual bearer of children were seen like representators of the higher spiritual principle of life, the nurturing and life-spending goddess. In fact there are many figurines and cave drawings to be found indicating a cult around the female principle of death and rebirth and the sacredness of the vulva.
Since every man got born by a mother and experienced caring mother love (from his corporeal mother and the other women of the tribe), he deeply values fertile and nurturing traits in a woman and gets attracted by that.
Unlike in our time, men didn’t put their egozentrical sexual needs first, knowing that such a behavior would be sanctioned by the female-led societies. Since the adult males left their tribe to find sexual partners elsewhere, a man was looking for women who literally in-spired him, meaning like a mental penetration causing sexual arousal. By joining a foreign tribe, he saw his purpose in being driven by the womens’ spirit and serving them with his masculine body power.
The concept of possession was unknown in the paleolithic. The either through ancestry or sexual bonds all-related tribe members looked after each other and there was no reason not to share some tools or the collected food. In contemporary tribes, a strict egalitarianism is still observable, meaning that you have to share what you have. Since men with their hunted meat (also somewhat depending on luck) provided approximately only about 25% of the food, they couldn’t enforce meat-for-vegetables deals. It is to assume, that everyone just got what he needed. Also individual men couldn’t claim good catches as their own, since the chasing hunt strategie required cooperated action from all hunters. Either the whole group was successful or noone.
Humans shared literally everything for hundreds of thousands of years, probably even their bodies without hestation.
The crucial point in paleolithic sexual dynamics was most probably the so-called female choice. Women determined when, where and with whom to have sex with. Modern anthropologists regard the female choice as an effective evolutive-selective tool.
• First of all; chemotaxis prevents incest. The genetics of an individual get communicated over hormones and pheromones and women with their sharp senses usually don’t get attracted to close relatives. Inbreeding wasn’t an issue.
• Second; women know best when they’re fertile. Whereas men nearly always are ready for copulation, women have a measurably stronger sex drive right before ovulation, a pregnancy or the nurturing phase of a baby can significantly reduce this drive.
• Third; Women naturally get pretty horny when a fitting partner is around. Her instincts tell her through her body signals, if his and hers genetics combined would procreate a healthy offspring.
• Fourth; Unfitting circumstances like stressful life periods that would endanger a potential child lead to a decrease in sexual desires in women. Egocentric men enforcing their sexual needs certainly would do more harm than good to the whole tribe.
Nowadays, guys seem to have tons of requirements their girlfriends should come up with; they’re mostly turning around body standards and specific beauty traits for sexual satisfaction. But even today, studies suggest that the strongest subconscious attractor is simply availability. If a woman is ovulating or giving subtle signals, a man, even not conscious about, begins to sense a stronger attraction to her. This stems from the decades of thousands of years where naturally women were the ones who selected.
This doesn’t mean men just were the „sexual prey“. In fact, even amongst contemporary tribes with established female choice, men can be pretty picky about their taste in women. They have their preferences and probably as well had them in the paleolithic. For the tribes’ peace sake, both sexes had to learn to deal with rejections.
Sex probably wasn’t about procreation.
Yes, you read right. But for estimating the lifestyle of our ancestors, let’s have a quick look at some primates.
Genetically, the closest relatives of Homo Sapiens are the chimpanzees and the bonobos with 98.4% shared DNA. The latter cultivate – as we know – a highly promiscuitive sexuality, resulting in peaceful, altruistic and sensitive societies called „gyneocracies“, as the females stand in the centre of attention and mother-bonds build the structure of the clan.
Several points indicate, that our paleolithic ancestors practiced a highly promiscuitive sexuality to maintain emotional bonds within the tribe members. Some points humans have in common with bonobos:
• The relatively huge size of testicles (Only the bonobos’ are bigger)
• Relatively big size of the penis
• The vulva of humans and bonobos is frontward-directed, resulting in stronger sexual stimuli
• No visible signs for the ovulating cycle of females – Both have sex even in unfertile periods
• Small dimorphism (body differences between males and females)
• A broad variety of sex positions, missionary often prefered
• The exchange of kisses, tendernesses and the maintaining of eye contact during intercourse
• Unclear fatherhood results in males taking care of all children
• Very slow development of children compared with other primates
• Sexuality is lived out as part of social interactions
• Homosexuality observable in both species
• Bonobos have egalitarian, peaceful and matrifocal social structures
• Sharing culture of food and possessions
• Gene AVPR1A – Release of oxytocin, only found in humans and bonobos (emotional bonding)
Sex most probably was mainly about fun and served as kind of bonding institution, driven to a great extent by females living out their polyfocal sexuality. It is no wonder that modern psychologists assume a high subconscious sex drive in women (although this is often culturally hidden). Paleolithic women had sex as often and with whoever they wanted just because of pleasure and because it bonded the people together. (Sexually satisfied individuals are more happy, connected with each other and creative to develop solutions for survival-problems, in my opinion the main reason for the success of the human race).
Some anthropologists assume that paleolithic humans weren’t even aware of the link between sex and pregnancy. Due to the ovulacting mechanism, a woman who was breastfeeding her baby (estimatedly 3-5 years) couldn’t get pregnant again during this time. Assuming about 3-5 pregnancies to compensate the child mortality, then a woman was nearly always either pregnant or baby-feeding during all her fertile years anyway.
The only observation people could make was a correlation between the occurance of a bloody period or the absence of it going along with another pregnancy. They probably assumed, that it’s a womans nature to often get pregnant all by herself, what led to the spiritual projection of a fertile, bearing goddess as the source of life.
There still exist pre-agrarian tribes today who are completely unaware of the mechanisms of procreation, heck, who even believe that pregnant women must be filled up with a lot of different men’s seed in order for the baby to grow (no joke).
Unlike in our phallocentric time, men must have been pretty interested in keeping a woman sexually satisfied due to the female choice. It is to assume, that the better a woman was provided with intense pleasure, the longer she was interested in intercourse with the man. The relatively big genitals of human males probably wouldn’t have been selected, if the woman experienced it as a painful weapon (like archaic intercourse is often depicted).
Men had to develop sharp intuitive senses for recognizing the mood and fertility cycle of a woman, to 1) please her emotionally so he gets chosen and 2) to fully satisfy her sexually. Egocentric men who didn’t give a f*ck about the well-being of others probably got excluded from the access to women, so a social mechanism for keeping men loyal and careful established.
To have sex meant to be incorporated into society.
Keep that in mind, because this principle is still dominating the subconscious minds of todays’ men. Men who have sex frequently feel way more included into society as loners who masturbate.
Men had to learn how to adapt their behavior to get selected as sexual partners. Hunting adventures probably served more for bragging purposes (like todays’ business successes) than for actually providing meat, and taking care of the tribes children proved that a man had high empathetic capacities. Building stuff under the eyes of women gave them opportunity to show their strong body genetics and by exchaning jokes and tales around the bonfire men could demonstrate their wit and creative intelligence.
This is strongly reminding me on modern pickup-artists who basically 1) increase their sexual value by working out and optimize their appearance, 2) learn to read the subtle signs of women, 3) demonstrate their creative skills or sexual humor and 4) strive to become the best sexual lovers around.
Because they’re aware of the unspoken fact, that it’s actually the women who choose the men.
Sexual procreation got selected, because it provided a better genetic mix and therefore could develop offsprings biologically better adopted to the environment.
The first and most important purpose of a man is to provide a healthy genetic mix for humanity. The incest-preventing chemotaxis made it necessary for men to leave the tribe and offer his genes to other women. All boys in the age of sexual maturity left the tribe and got initiated by their older brothers or uncles into a man-group dedicated to a remote matrifocal tribe.
Once part of a new tribe, men most probably had due to their stronger built bodies the tasks of creating a safe environment and defending the tribe against predators such as wolves or lions.
Hunting is the activity we associate the most with hunter-gatherer societies. When we think of the stone age, the picture of the ripped, primitive mammoth hunter is what pops into mind first. In fact, animal bones found in paleolithic camps mostly stem from small species and examined coprolites as well as the estimated protein-intake indices that men probably went for hunts about 2-3 times a week like contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes usually do.
The purpose of the hunting groups roaming around several kilometers away from the camp was more to connect with male hunting groups of foreign tribes so their young and mature men could gain access to other women.
Roles of men
• Looking for new territory to settle down for a while
• Hunting animals
• Connecting with other tribes
• Satisfying the women sexually
• Constructing heavy stuff
• Crafting tools and traps
• Taking the lead in emergency situations
• Defending against predators
• Being a masculine role-model for the boys
I hope this paper gave you a quick picture of how paleolithic life most probably looked like. We will examine the roles of men more closely in the next articles.
Related articles: Paleo-Masculinity: Tribe Leader Mindset
Hi, I’m Ralph. I studied social anthropology and re-invented as freelancing author. Currently I am writing about sexual dynamics of the stone age and the origin of masculine concepts.
Human development, Spirituality and the Integral Theory are as well specialties of mine, as my long-term goal is to develop an integrative-natural lifestyle, tailored for the true human spirit.
Contact me for exchanging ideas or just fooling around.