No doubt you've heard that when a caveman took a fancy to a particular lady, he would spend hours selecting just the right club to bash her over the head with before dragging her back to his cave.
Clubbing one's prospective partner, like hunting any other prey, makes a great story. Of course, it's not actually true.
The myth that cavemen only liked to mate with unconscious (and probably quite badly bruised) women has only been around since the 19th century. It got its start in fiction.
In the 1920s, the term “cavemen” came to be used to describe men who were being a bit loutish, and it has since become a popular representation in cartoons.
So if they didn't bash each other on the head, how did cavemen get it on?
Like their modern counterparts, ancient humans didn't just have sex in order to procreate. They did, however, have a slightly different way of going about it.
Psychologist and historian Christopher Ryan has often mentioned that most sexual practices in those days involved multiple partners ; something now considered somewhat taboo.
Ryan argues that the egalitarian nature of early foraging groups meant they shared pretty much everything with everyone, including bodily fluids.
“There is no reason to believe monogamy comes naturally to human beings,” he says. “Evolutionary forces have cultivated human libido to the point where ours is arguably the most sexual species on Earth.”
There is also reason to believe that consensual sex was often a very public affair. After all, there were no motel rooms or back seats of cars available for privacy.
As interesting as such tidbits may be, they still don't give a real picture of what love and life might have been like for cavemen. Our ancestors didn't exactly write things down for historians to study.
But the more facts are gathered, the likelier it appears that cavemen were certainly not savage woman-clubbers at all. What's more, the females of the species were probably just as likely to be the aggressors in mating.
Gender distinctions evolved only gradually among homo sapiens. The differences between men and women that did develop served a purpose—to ensure species survival.
Neanderthals, on the other hand, never developed distinct gender roles. Many researchers believe this put them at a distinct disadvantage and ultimately led to their extinction.
What we do know for sure is that early humans copulated with sufficient frequency to achieve ever-increasing population densities. And as the two sexes became more opposite, the attraction between them obviously increased to the point where there are seven billion of us on the planet today.
Alfablue, November 2012