It's a commonly held belief that primitive people were 'savages' with little or no morals. But were our ancient ancestors really any more promiscuous than the average modern person?
The professionals are divided into two camps on this one. Early anthropologists like Morgan and McLellan thought that Paleolithic society had literally no taboos; even incest was a-OK as far as they were concerned.
Freud and a few others disagreed; they thought cavemen lived in family units a little bit like we do now, with Daddy as the boss.
Psychologist Chris Ryan claims that promiscuity was a female thing in cavemen times, and that one woman would often get it on with several men at one time. As he put it: "Women are hard-wired to behave like chimps in the bedroom."
Other science types claim it was a little less cut-and-dried, and that how promiscuous the average caveman was depended on his species.
But how do they know any of this? By looking at a load of old fingers, that's how.
Studies show that the amount of testosterone a person has directly affects the length of their ring finger. If it's longer than the index finger—boom!—chock-full of testosterone and therefore more likely to have a lot of sexual partners.
“It is believed that prenatal androgens (male sex hormones) affect the genes responsible for the development of fingers, toes and the reproductive system,” so says Emma Ryan of Liverpool University.
That's not to say Paleolithic people didn't have monogamous relationships or family units. They did. In fact, cheating on your mate was almost impossible back then.
Why? Because higher levels of testosterone also meant males were more likely to fly off the handle if they found out their mates had someone else in their lives.
The usual way of solving such disputes was through physical violence. Would you risk pursuing someone else's girlfriend if you were guaranteed to get your noggin bashed?
So paleo-promiscuity, myth or reality? Reality. But certainly not to the extent that some schools of thought—or humorous cartoons—would have us believe.
Alfablue, October 2012