Four million years ago, a group of chimp-like creatures sat on their hind legs, grew large breasts and buttocks and longer penises, and lost a considerable amount of body hair. There is no reason why these changes should have occurred given the way in which natural selection operates. Darwin himself recognised that nudity makes little sense in terms of survival. He argued that sexual selection was responsible for altering our physique - females chose to mate with males on the basis of what they considered attractive rather than functional.
A bird of paradise, for instance, is hampered by its long tail and will find it hard to flee from predators, but because females find the tail attractive, they will always pick a partner with the biggest, brightest tail. As a result, their descendants have longer tails, and over time male the birds will evolve larger and larger tails. In humans, an upright posture and the fact that we are not covered with fur draws attention to men's sexual characteristics which, again, may have been selected through female choice.
Dr Timothy Taylor, an archaeologist from Bradford University, says, "in a nutshell, humans have managed to pull ahead of the rest of the animal world by effectively opting out of Darwinian evolution, and I would argue that for the past four million years the human line has been able to consciously separate sex from reproduction." Taylor, who only recently completed his PhD, has already won a British Archaeological Award for an episode of the television series Down to Earth. His new book, The Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture, is likely to be equally popular. In it he argues that much of the evidence of our ancestrors' sexual past has been misinterpreted or simply secreted away in museums and research centres because of the prudishness of historians and archaeologists. Even today many relics are out of bounds to the general public. The Venus figurines from Willendorf, in southern Austria, are a case in point. The earliest surviving sculptures, they are only a few inches tall, and were carved from stone 30,000 years ago during the Ice Age. Naked, large breasted, fat and faceless, the Venuses have puzzled archaeologists for years but prudishness has disguised their true function, says Taylor. One hypothesis is that they are images of a great goddess relating to a period of matriarchy, a theory that has been popularised by novelist Jean Auel in her best sellers The Clan of the Cave Bear and The Mammoth Hunters. However "the widespread imagery of the Virgin Mary today does not demonstrate that the Pope is a woman," says Taylor - "the statuettes could be telling us something quite different". His suggestion is that they were carved by men, for men. "The essential feature of the Venus figurines is that they are dur-able. The smooth-worn surfaces of many of them suggest that they were handled often and were passed around." In short, they were the equivalent of Ice Age pornography. They reflect women as a commodity, to be given to other men. If the figures were sculpted by women, and were expressing their own sexuality, Taylor feels sure they would have had faces and clitorises. But would they? One of the major sexual differences between us and other primates is the hidden nature of female genitalia. To depict the clitoris without making a woman look as if she were preparing for a gynaecological examination would be hard for a sculptor today, never mind the first sculptors in history. There are other similarly shaped figures from Kostienki in Russia which show women with their hands tied or with straps round their breasts but no other clothes. These fur straps do not represent warm clothing. "My necessarily subjective interpretation of these sculptures is that they are explicitly sexual, sharing themes of objectification and possession," says Taylor, "A sculptor who can depict hands tied together has a pretty good notion of how hands actually are tied together. …