Man as the Prayer: The Origin and Nature of Humankind by Yup Lee
If true, it is quite likely that our distant ancestors may have been much more responsive to such scent and that they may have had an effective method of verifying ovulation. As the relationship between male and female changed fundamentally with time, however, sexual customs and practices were also transformed, which may have resulted in the ritualization of the original ovulation checking method. Later, when the basic relationship between male and female changed further, sexual practices and customs were transformed to a greater extent, which rendered such a ritual meaningless. As it became meaningless, it was used less and less before its disappearance. This means that our ancestors had sexual swellings as well as an ovulation checking method in the remote past that became redundant and disappeared in the course of human evolution. Its vestiges are still almost everywhere around us.
To understand this matter, we have to grasp the meaning of ochre, a mineral of clay and iron oxide such as hematite and limonite, which has been found here and there in prehistoric and historic remains. Ochre exhibits various colors ranging from red through purple, brown and orange to yellow, depending on its chemical composition. Its color is yellow when hydrated in its natural state, but changes to red when oxidized or burned.
Lumps of yellow and red ochre have been found in many prehistoric and historic sites from the Lower Paleolithic era to the Iron Age.58 Examples of Paleolithic sites are Terra Amata in France, Ambrona in Spain and Becov in the Czech Republic.59 It was originally reported that two lumps of ochre was discovered at an excavation site at Bed II of Olduvai Gorge.60 But they turned out to be reddened volcanic tuff.61
Ochre was also found in prehistoric burials. They were not yet discovered in Middle Paleolithic burials but were found in at least 35 Upper Paleolithic ones.62 In fact, the discovery of red ochre in burials is a universal phenomenon across the world.63
What did the Paleolithic hominids do with lumps of red ochre? The answer lies in several pieces of red ochre found in the 300,000-year-old Terra Amata site at Nice in France. Their ends were rubbed down and smooth, which suggests that the Terra Amata hominids used them to color some of their bodies.64
If so, why did hominids color their bodies in the past? Why did they need red mineral pigment? This question is directly related to the morphological changes of sexual swellings. In fact, red ochre was a substitute for sexual swellings.
As discussed above, our distant ancestors practiced promiscuity. Our ancestresses cyclically exhibited extended sexual swellings. But, as they were forced out of the trees due to environmental changes about 2.5 million years ago, their sexual swellings seem to have become smaller and shorter as a consequence of terrestrial life. As they became smaller and less visible, some females began to look for a substitute.
Consequently, they appear to have used red flowers initially. They may have plucked red flowers to deck their head hair in order to advertise the time of their sexual receptivity more effectively to their potential mates. As a bonus, wearing flowers prevented their immature daughters from being mistaken for adults during the annual reunion. This means that mature and immature females were effectively "flower-coded."
Ironically, male adults ended up imitating the female custom of wearing flowers during the annual mating season. Flowers were fragile and not malleable. Thus, males looked for a more durable and flexible substitute. Eventually, at least 300,000 years ago, red ochre, among mineral pigments, was adopted as the material of choice to smear on their faces and/or other parts of the body during the mating season. Female hominids obtained the pigment from their mates to color their own faces and/or bodies. But ochre did not replace flowers completely. They were used continuously as a visual cue for female receptivity, separately or together with ochre.
Interestingly enough, there exist some myths and legends across the world that provide evidence for this. A good example is a legend called How Men and Women Got Together which has been handed down among American aboriginal tribes known as Bloods and Piegans.65 According to the legend, men and women originally lived in separate groups until they met, loved and lived together. It further says that they mated only after they put sacred red paint on their faces.
Initially, red ochre, was used as a pigment to smear on, or color faces and/or other parts of the body during the annual mating season. In the course of time, however, it came to be used for other purposes, too. One case is its usage in painting dead bodies in burials.
In the lives of our ancestors, ochre was of utmost importance. Consequently, they made every effort to make it flexible and manageable to use. It is speculated that originally it was used as it was in nature, for smearing. Later, it was scraped off and mixed with liquids for painting. Still later, it was baked in a fire, powdered and mixed with liquid substances with a view to make a better pigment.66 If so, it follows that its usage ultimately opened the way to the invention of stone mortars and pestles as well as the extraction of metals.
In fact, red mineral pigments represented by red ochre were the first cosmetics. Just as sexual swellings were the means for females to command the attention of potential mates, so is makeup. Red dots marked on the foreheads of Hindu women, and red dots traditionally worn on the foreheads and cheeks of Korean brides on their wedding days, as well as lipsticks, manicure, pedicure and the like can be explained in terms of sexual swellings.
As sexual swellings were replaced by flowers and later by ochre, the attention of males turned from female genitals to their faces. In the past, male hominids were obsessed with the sexual swellings that protruded backwards between the two buttocks of estrous females. With their degeneration and subsequent replacement by flowers and ochre, they came to be obsessed with female faces.
Our male ancestors used to inspect female genitalia because extended sexual swellings concealed ovulation. It was perplexing to find out by the odor and/or taste of the vaginal secretion whether a female was ovulating or not. It was like a puzzle for males to solve. For this reason, the concept of secret is suspected to have sprung directly from that of secretion. In addition, a secretary is reasoned to have been a person who dealt with such secrets. In this sense, what a modern-day secretary deals with routinely are changed forms of the odor and taste of the vaginal secretion of an ovulating female.
The odor of an ovulating female was something like an order to follow. Males had to accept it without reserve. If they refused it, they could not father children. They had no choice but to follow the odor for the preservation of their own species. In this sense, an ovulating female had an odor which was powerful enough to have a large following.
By analogy, a modern-day secretary is an ovulating female. She has secrets in her hands. She is in control of important information. Thus, she is powerful enough to issue a command, as in the case of a Secretary of State. For this reason, the concept of order (a command) has derived directly from that of odor. (more)
Copyright © 2000 Yup Lee. All rights reserved.