Cavemen not only had gay sex but openly celebrated it in cave paintings and carved rock art – their earliest form of artistic expression.
A series of sites around the world provide evidence primitive people likely enjoyed gay and group sex. They may even have used that kind of sex in rituals.
Men in bird masks with erect penises
Around 12,000 years ago, our early ancestors scratched a group of naked dancing men into the wall of a cave at Addaura, near Palermo, Sicily.
They showed men, dressed only in bird masks, dancing in a circle. In the center of the circle, two other men, also wearing bird masks, are positioned one over the other. Both have erect penises. And the penis of the man above is connected by parallel lines with the buttocks of the one below.
Jole Bovio Marconi, the woman who discovered the cave in 1952, said this was a homoerotic image. If it is, it’s the earliest recorded proof of gay lives.
Men in bird masks from Addaura.
One is guiding a huge erect penis towards his behind
The San were ‘bushmen’ or hunter gatherers spread across southern Africa.
They left huge amounts of cave art. But one in particular, dated to as early as 8000 BCE, appears to depict gay sex.
Found in Zimbabwe, it shows three males having anal sex. There are also two male couples. One couple is embracing face-to-face. Meanwhile, in the other, one partner is guiding his lover’s huge erect penis towards his behind.
It’s not surprising that out of all the San cave art, examples of homosexuality are rare. San artists didn’t depict heterosexual sex often either. They tended to show hunting or religious rituals, rather than mundane daily life.
They were likely relaxed about gay sex. Anthropologists say the bushmen probably had homosexual sex regularly enough for it to be socially acceptable.
Some experts have even suggested it may have been a positive for society. The Zimbabwean bushmen lived in a place with good but limited food supply. In that context, homosexuality could have been a way to be intimate without big population growth.
This particular piece of cave art has turned out to be highly political now though. It’s been seized on as proof homosexuality has always existed in Africa. It proves homophobes who claim being gay is a western import and ‘un-African’ are wrong.
It is also a contender as the earliest proof of homosexuality, as the age of rock art is impossible to pinpoint accurately.
San rock art, showing an animal.
The skeleton in Prague who broke the gender rules
A skeleton buried in a Prague suburb in the Czech Republic may be the oldest body of a gay man or trans woman ever discovered.
The skeleton is anatomically male. But when the Corded Ware people buried it around 5,000 years ago, they treated it as female.
The Corded Ware culture had strict rules about burials and took them seriously. So they are unlikely to have made a mistake with this burial, dated to 2900 to 2500 BCE.
Male bodies usually lie on their right side, with their heads pointing west. They are surrounded with weapons, hammers, flint knives and portions of food and drink.
Women lie on their left sides with their heads facing east. They have necklaces made from teeth, pets, and copper earrings, as well as jugs and an egg-shaped pot placed near the feet.
And this body failed to fit those patterns.
It was lying on its left – or female – side but with the head pointing west, like a man.
It had an oval, egg shaped container at its feet, normally associated with women. And the people burying the skeleton hadn’t included any typical male objects.
The archaeologists who found the body made worldwide headlines when they announced their discovery in April 2011.
They believed it was an early example of a trans person, a homosexual man or someone ‘third gender’. And they revealed they had uncovered an earlier case dating from the Mesolithic period – up to 3000 BCE – where a female warrior was buried as a man.
Male oral sex in Spain
Spain is rich in cave paintings. There are 700 Levantine art sites, with their images created over thousands of years. The oldest are thought to be from 10,000 years ago, the newest may be a mere 5,500 years old.
Some of the images show show male anal sex, masturbation, oral sex and even self-sucking.
Perhaps the most striking is in the Cuevas de la Vieja (Vieja Caves) in the province of Albacete. It shows an oversized man with his legs spread, standing on two deer. His large penis dangles down. And underneath him a smaller figure has his head turned to the penis, waiting to suck it.
‘He has an outline of his penis carved inside the smaller figure’
The rock carvings and paintings in Bardal, central Norway, date anywhere from 6000 BCE to 200 BCE.
One expert, George Nash, vividly described some of the rock art he said was homosexual:
‘The large, headless figure penetrating the smaller one has an outline of [his] penis carved inside the smaller figure. The position of the penis suggests that penetration is via the the anus.
‘Although the larger figure appears the more dominant, both figures are locked in a harmonious rhythm. There appears to be no sign of any violent sexual penetration. These figures, therefore, could well be deemed as consenting adults.’
One part of the art which is hard to make out may depict another human figure. It could be the image shows group sex, with the man in the center not only having both anal and oral sex.
To the left stands yet another man, without a head but with an erect penis. A line may indicate his arm reaching down to masturbate as he watches the group.
Another cave painting in Norway.
The straight weddings that may really be gay initiation rights
The rock art in Sweden from around 1000 BCE contains rare but very famous ‘wedding scenes’.
But one expert, Timothy Yates, argued in the early 1990s that the images had been misinterpreted. He pointed out that some of the ‘women’ in the wedding couples had penises.
Instead he suggested that Bronze Age Scandinavians were really depicting homosexual initiation rights, where boys become men.
Rock art evidence and women
Even experts find rock art hard to interpret and disagree with each other on what it’s telling them. Several of these sites have previously been interpreted as something else.
Historically, experts may have been biased. They have found what they expected in the often abstract images, rather than looked through a queer lens.
Lesbian sex also appears to be less obvious in rock art. But scholars incorrectly assumed the early artists were mostly men for years and may have misinterpreted female figures or what they’re doing. A less-biased eye may well discover plenty of female-to-female action in the future.