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Sex, Knowledge, and Receptions of the Past$
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Kate Fisher and Rebecca Langlands

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199660513

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199660513.001.0001

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Scholarly Visions of Prehistoric Sexuality, 1859–1900

Scholarly Visions of Prehistoric Sexuality, 1859–1900

(p.177) 8 Scholarly Visions of Prehistoric Sexuality, 1859–1900
Sex, Knowledge, and Receptions of the Past

Chris Manias

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines how the sexuality of the earliest European prehistoric populations was constructed and presented by nineteenth-century anthropologists and archaeologists. It especially looks at how these scholars attempted to resolve whether prehistoric humans showed a ‘natural’ condition, or something which was rightly and necessarily surpassed with the growth of civilized morality. The chapter first traces contemporary discussions and ideas of primitive sexuality, particularly through the social basis of this research and the ‘origin of marriage’ debate. It then investigates how bones and tools were interpreted within these frameworks, in attempts to classify prehistoric sexual relations, which were often understood as taking on harsh and brutal forms. A final section examines how Palaeolithic artworks were used to understand prehistoric gender roles and sexual relations. In doing so, the chapter examines the interplay between notions of ‘savage immorality’ and social evolutionism in nineteenth-century discourse.

Keywords:   prehistory, sexuality, Palaeolithic, cave art, archaeology, anthropology, social evolution

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