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The Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture Paperback – July 1, 1997

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; Reprint edition (July 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 055337527X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553375275
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #830,424 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Taylor, a British archeologist, taps archeological evidence (reproduced in some 50 photographs) that is virtually unknown outside specialist circles?graphic depictions of sex in prehistoric cultures: mammoth ivory phalluses, sculptures of women in childbirth, syphilitic skeletons, charred remains of aphrodisiac herbs. The result is a groundbreaking, riveting survey that strongly suggests that sex and love among prehistoric peoples was less bestial than is commonly assumed. He traces sexual inequality to the invention of farming in the Near East 10,000 years ago, where the availability of animal milk allowed women to raise many children, tying themselves to hearth and home. Disputing feminist claims that Neolithic figurines of the "Great Earth Mother" emerged from a prehistoric matriarchy, he argues that the clay figurines do not symbolize motherhood, but rather suggest that dominant males practiced polygyny. Surveying Eurasian erotic practice in areas ranging from the great city of Mohenjo-Daro in India circa 2000 B.C. to Iron Age Denmark, he documents tremendous variation in human sexuality?homosexuality, prostitution, male and female transvestitism, transsexuality, vigorous interest in contraception, sex as both acrobatic pastime and spiritual discipline?a diversity that went underground with the advent of Christian sexual attitudes.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Matters of sexual conduct are usually glossed over in popular accounts of archaeological discovery, but it is impossible to gain any deep understanding of a culture, no matter how ancient it is, without some grasp of its sexual practices and attitudes, a fact British archaeologist Taylor tackles head on. Young, hip, energetically articulate, and extremely knowledgeable, Taylor brings prehistoric society to life in his detailed and revelatory discussion of Stone Age sex. He quickly dispenses with old theories about our ancestors' ignorance of the connection between intercourse and pregnancy, presenting artifacts that support his claims that "most prehistoric communities were in control of their fertility and fully able to separate sex from reproduction." Taylor goes on to portray prehistoric family configurations, propose the origins for sexual inequality and prostitution, and discuss Stone Age taboos, sexual rituals, eroticism, and the long history of homosexuality, sadomasochism, and transsexuality. Simultaneously, Taylor's history shows us how similar we are to our ancestors and how different. Donna Seaman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

The author's style made it very easy and enjoyable to read.
M. Aaron
Not being an archeologist, but an interested general reader, I enjoyed these glimpses of art and science.
S in NY
Even if his assertions are correct (which I doubt), his evidence simply doesn't support his assertions.
Michael Booker

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Dr. James A. Glazier on December 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Archaeology is ultimately an act of the imagination and Prof. Taylor does a brave job in trying to reconstruct sexual behaviors that have had only the most indirect effects on the archaeological record. Many of his hypotheses are stimulating; a few may even be correct. He is adept at pointing out prejudices and assumptions that are so ingrained that we do not even realize we are making them. He certainly changed my opinion on a number of issues. His reinterpretation of passages in classical history is also most helpful. The topic is extremely exciting and underresearched in an accessible form. However, perhaps because he didn't really identify his intended audience or because of the limited amount of material strictly relevant to his subject, he has padded the book with a rather routine run through human palaeontology and spends a lot of time demolishing straw men in the field like the acquatic ape hypothesis. I often wished he had spent more time dealing (even speculatively) with sex. In several places I was surprised that he avoided or abbreviated discussions when I knew there was more material to present. The result is scattershot and repetitious and the narrative structure falls apart at the end just when the amount of source material increases. I felt genuinely disappointed that he wouldn't follow his speculations through. More a draft or outline for a book than a finished work.
Prof. Taylor's nonjudgemental pleas for a tolerant approach to sexual behavior both in practice and in academic study and his mapping of the broad range of sexual behavior in primates are admirable. In this context the book should be required reading for all psychologists and psychiatrists (I ordered quite a few copies this year for all the therapists I know).
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By S in NY on December 23, 1999
Format: Paperback
It takes a while before you realize that the focus of this book is spreading out like a vast delta at the mouth of a Mississippi or Nile river.
It also takes a while before the author, tentatively at first, drops the G-string of serious scholarship and begins to reveal a very edgy political correctness. Kind of like when you realize, just after having started to play for money, that the guy with the other cue has just hustled you.
I got the message clearly at the beginning of Chapter 6, when the following sentence appeared:
"I argue that while hunter-gatherer sex had been modeled on an idea of sharing and complementarity, early agriculturalist sex was voyeuristic, repressive, homophobic, and focused on reproduction. Afraid of the wild, farmers set out to destroy it." That's a pretty challenging thesis that would take some strong argumentation to substantiate. I didn't find it.
On the contrary, by the time I had finished the book I was unable to clearly answer the question: What hypotheses have been put forward and to what extent have they been proven...or not?
On the positive side, however, the book is engagingly written and does string together many exceedingly interesting facts and theories from archeological scholarship. Not being an archeologist, but an interested general reader, I enjoyed these glimpses of art and science. (These are the "bright stars" mentioned in the title of this review.)
For me the book was worth reading because of the interesting nuggets of information and ideas, despite the overall "weave" of them being rather superficial and, ultimately, confused. The subject matter saves the day.
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41 of 54 people found the following review helpful By G. B. Talovich on April 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a book with many interesting ideas that do not stand up to scrutiny.
Let us begin with the claim that early human beings had thick body hair, and that clothing was "probably" invented very early, even before the use of fire. In The Wisdom of the Bones, Walker and Shipman say that at 1.6 million years, the homo erectus was probably active at mid-day, and had no thick body hair.
Page 34 says, "humans could never have been simply naked." Tell this to Australian aborigines, Amazonian Indians, Irian Dani, Orchid Island Yami, or any of the other people who remain in tropical environments (such as our species originated in) without a stitch of clothing.
Concerning hides that might have been used for clothing, in Making Silent Stones Speak, Schick and Toth say (p161), "in the very remote Stone Age past, our primary evidence for hide working comes from Lower Paleolithic sites in Europe, the earliest about 300,000 years ago."
As to language, The Wisdom of the Bones says "A series of careful analyses convinced Laitman that the earliest hominids, like the australopithecines and habilines, were anatomically unable to talk" (page 281). "True language seems to me to have been a very recent acquisition" (page 292).
A very nice point appears (p49) about the development of language and song. Robin Dunbar discusses this in Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language (p140): "the fact that music is located in the right hemisphere is one good reason why the alternative suggestion that language evolved from song cannot be wholly right. It's hard to see how something localized in the right hemisphere can produce something localized in the left hemisphere.
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