When did humanity first discover the connection between sex and childbirth?

This is a myth. People have always known the link between sex and children.

The myth came about because the first explorers and anthropologists generally men. They spoke with other men. When a 35 year old man asks where do babies come from the informant doesn’t talk about sex, he assumes the anthropologist knows about sex, he tells them the stork stories.

Women might not talk to a man about sex at all.

The earliest women anthropologists also talked to men. It would be improper for a male informant to talk about sex to a foreign woman.

When women began to become anthropologists and talked to women that it was discovered that indigenous women know about sex and childbirth just as they know that the cessation of their periods signaled pregnancy.

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Is there a connection between childbirth mortality and the relatively lower status of women?

High infant mortality certainly wasn’t a new phenomenon in the Renaissance. However, as historian Elise Boulding writes, “women have yet to recover their status lost in the Renaissance” It might be argued that they are gaining on it.

During the Middle Ages women of all classes were more equal to their men than they were during and after the Renaissance.

Women of the crafts-producing class managed the shop while their husbands made product. Women participated in every craft from barrel making, thatching, weaving to brewing beer. For a man to become a master in his craft he had to marry. (A trace of this remains in that the first professional degree is called a bachelor’s – the university being a medieval institution)

A craftsman often married a woman who was a daughter of a member of his guild. Until he married he couldn’t set up his own shop because he wasn’t trained in purchasing, marketing, keeping track of product and cash flow, or supervising production, training and supervising apprentices, serving girls and journeymen. (things we now associate with management)

We know that marriage was important because if a craftsman died his widow could vote in the guild, and run the shop by hiring journeymen and apprentices. But if the craftsman’s wife died and and he didn’t have a daughter, aunt, mother or other female ready to take over her duties he reverted to journeyman status.

Upper class women ran the manors and estates when their husbands were off fighting for the king or on a crusade. Women supervised every aspect of the manor economy, waged war, and defended the estate.

Before the invention of the printing press, literacy was largely a matter of class. Upper class women and the daughters of scholars, doctors, lawyers and other educated professionals were taught to read. There were women professors in the University of Milan. There was a medical school ran by and for Jewish women doctors.

After the invention of the printing press, education was more a matter of gender. Craftspeople who could only afford to educate one child would preferentially educate their son(s) since the shop descended through the male line. Women were expected to ‘marry out’ so it was too expensive to educate them.

In addition, once sons learned to read, and more importantly, do arithmetic, it was easier for them to take over the management of a shop.  They could give a person a certain amount of raw material and see that they got the proper amount of finished product – the putting out system – harbinger of capitalism.

Manufacturing and business moved out of the common room, to a room of its own, to a floor of its own, to a building of its own. It was the beginning of capitalism.

This left women identified with the home, the interior, the family. They were no longer seen as equal partners. They were illiterate as were children and spent their time with children and so were seen as childlike. From this came the worship of women as mothers and virgins – they were isolated in their homes and on their pedestals.

So, women’s low status is from an interesting blend of primogeniture (eldest son inheriting) and literacy for common folk. Now, the question is – is it better to be the equal partner of a craftsman in a small craft shop or be unequal, married to a man who is in the process of inventing capitalism, and have money to spend and children to spoil? (Of course this doesn’t take into account all the folk that became permanently poor)

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When were the ‘good old days’?

These are the good old days. It is less likely that you will die of violence; it is more likely that you will die in bed; it is more likely that you will live to be old; you have a better chance of raising your children to adulthood than ever before in history.
On the other hand you are working longer hours, are more anxious about the future, and have a less varied diet, and are more alienated from others and from your god,  than a hunter/gatherer of 11K years ago.

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How does the Göbekli Tepe find change our view of human history?

This maybe doesn’t exactly answer the question, but here’s for the people who don’t know what Göbekli Tepe is. There’s an introductory essay, some supplementary fact-lets, and then sources with fun quotes.


Göbekli Tepe is an archaeological site in southeastern Turkey. It’s around 13,000 years old, which means that it existed right around the time of the Neolithic Revolution—the time period in which people went from living in small tribes of hunter-gatherers to (comparatively) large agricultural villages. It is helping to make people reconsider exactly how that revolution occurred.

The site is located on a tall, round hill surrounded by a bunch of plateaus. At the time that the site was in operation, 13,000 years ago, the land would’ve been forested over and laced with rivers; nowadays, it’s a desert. Right nearby the pre-Neolithic ruins are the remains of a Byzantine military outpost, which originally caused the site to be dismissed as a Byzantine graveyard. An archaeologist named Klaus Schmidt, however, disagreed, so he convinced some people to pay him and a few other people to dig there. They quickly uncovered a whole bunch of circles of these standing pillar things, much like Stonehenge (but way older). The pillars were rather thin and T-shaped, and various ferocious animals were often carved into them, such as lions and scorpions—food animals, such as gazelle or ducks, were never depicted. Occasionally, a pillar would possess humanoid characteristics, such as arms or a loincloth. As of yet, no residential buildings have been found, which has led many to believe that the site was mainly used for religious worship and festivals. It’s still only about 15% unearthed, however, so surprises may lie in store.

This doesn’t sound too exciting—until you realize that people supposedly built all this before agriculture was invented! Indeed, the lack of houses around the site supports the idea that people were still living in a nomadic hunter-gatherer society. Now, in general, it is thought that culture and civilization were allowed to develop because people settled together into villages made possible by the spontaneous invention of agriculture[1]; thus, agriculture was the cause of complex societies. Structures like those at Göbekli Tepe, however, which would’ve taken several hundred people to construct, suggest that complex cultures and perhaps large, loosely-bound societies existed before the advent of agriculture; indeed, certain people have proposed that the effort required to build these monuments spurred the intense cultivation[2] of wild grains[3]. Thus, a complex culture would cause agriculture.

The disinterment of Göbekli Tepe is still an ongoing process, putting it at the cutting edge of modern archaeology. It’s forcing people to reconsider the causes of the Neolithic Revolution, shifting the focus from agriculture to social culture. Many now take the stance that the Neolithic Revolution may have differed from place to place—there was no single cause. Even if new evidence does not support this culture-before-agriculture hypothesis, however, Göbekli Tepe will remain an exciting find—it will be the oldest discovered agricultural village ever!

[1] “spontaneous” isn’t quite right; the development is thought to have been semi-accidental and driven by climate change.
[2] “cultivation” means caring for and re-planting wild plants, whereas “agriculture” implies domestication of the plants—selectively re-planting them enough times that they undergo genetic alteration.
[3] They proposed things like this even before Göbekli Tepe, but now they’re gaining a lot more credibility.

– “Göbekli Tepe” means “Potbelly Hill”.

– The standing stone circles seem to have been occasionally knocked down and buried, with new, smaller stones erected in their place.

– The entire site was carefully buried after it fell out of use (around 10,000 years ago, I think).

– There’s evidence to suggest that the people who built the thing may have used wheeled carts; if not that, then probably sleds.

– Similarly engraved T-stones have been found at nearby sites, suggesting a wide-spread religion.

– People have found stone basins that may possibly have been used to hold beer, supporting the hypothesis that festivals may have taken place there.

– Aside from T-stone circles, people have also found hardened limestone floors and small, rectangular rooms (not residential, though).

National Geographic (Pictures, More From National Geographic Magazine)

“Bewilderingly, the people at Göbekli Tepe got steadily worse at temple building. . . . the effort seems to have petered out all together by 8200 b.c. Göbekli Tepe was all fall and no rise.”

“Discovering that hunter-gatherers had constructed Göbekli Tepe was like finding that someone had built a 747 in a basement with an X-Acto knife.”

Smithsonian (History, Travel, Arts, Science, People, Places)

“On the day I visit, a bespectacled Belgian man sits at one end of a long table in front of a pile of bones.”

“There’s more time between Gobekli Tepe and the Sumerian clay tablets than from Sumer to today.”

Wikipedia (Göbekli Tepe)

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Is it true that in pre-historic hunter-gatherer tribes, men went hunting while women stayed at home?

It’s more anthropological than archeological.  In the existing hunter-gatherer societies men generally do the large animal hunting and woman generally do most of the gathering (which provides most of the food).  It’s more of a general tendency than a strict rule. As your research on chimpanzees demonstrated females only take part in 10% of the kills. That might be because of testosterone. Testosterone really does make humans more aggressive and violent, and men just have more of it.

But hunter-gatherers are also more egalitarian, meaning that a woman who hunts is not stigmatized. Men also do some gathering and child care.

I find the idea of “stay at home” interesting when talking about hunter-gatherers.  Hunter-gatherers frequently don’t have “homes” the way we think of them. They have shelters to get out of the sun or keep off the rain (usually built by the women). They have camps, but “home” is pretty much their entire migratory territory. The women don’t “stay home” as much as they go out foraging, usually with their children along “helping” as children do.

When hunter-gatherers get up in the morning they wander about looking for fruits, nuts, seeds, any edible plants, eggs, or tasty bugs that they can eat. If anyone finds a good patch they let everyone know so they can all share.

If it has been a while since they had meat, or if they find an animal that looks tasty, a bunch of men (and maybe a girl or woman who is feeling in the mood to kill something) will get together and try to kill it.  If they succeed everyone will have a party and cook it and eat it. In some cases the hunting party might have to travel great distances, in that case the hunters will have to forage (gather) their own food along the way.

The example of two-spirits and transgender individuals are a case of the exception proving the rule. They wouldn’t notice people behaving oddly if they didn’t have a usual way to behave. The fact that they accepted deviance instead of punishing still proves that they do have a norm to deviate from.

Also men still do the hunting in matriarchal groups. Just because someone is hunter doesn’t put them in charge. Matriarchy doesn’t mean men and women switch all jobs it just means women get to make decisions for the group.

“Women have children” is a fact that is not affected by culture. Even in cultures where men take care of the children women are still pregnant for around 9 months. And that makes hunting difficult for them.  It doesn’t stop them from making decisions though, or telling other people what to do. In fact telling other people what to do is what motherhood is all about.

Bushmen @ nationalgeographic.com

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What are gender relations like in the remaining hunter-gatherer tribes?

There are many kinds of hunter/gatherers. Woodburn in “Egalitarian Societies” (in Limited Wants, Unlimited Means: A Reader On Hunter-Gatherer Economics And The Environment)  divides them into immediate return and delayed return hunter/gatherers.  In immediate return H/G societies gender relations are egalitarian.

Now  that doesn’t mean that all people do the same things. But women do  hunt, men to take care of babies and most importantly all people have  autonomy.

Leacock in “Women’s Status in Egalitarian Society: Implications for Social Evolution” (also in Limited Wants, Unlimited Means: A Reader On Hunter-Gatherer Economics And The Environment)  has pointed out that the measure of egalitarianism is actually  autonomy, not similarity. Even in our culture, we don’t want to be the  same as our neighbor; we want to have the same opportunity to make our  own decisions for our own lives – we want autonomy. She writes:

“Hunter/gatherer  women and men make their decisions about their lives with great  autonomy and even children have far more autonomy than we would think is  proper.”

This is illustrated by Nissa, a !Kung women who went to  live with her grandmother when she was about 5 years old. This is far  more autonomy that we would allow.

For more please see:  Chapter I – The Original Information Culture – Hunter/Gatherers (full text) from my upcoming book, “Hunter/Gatherers to Digital Natives: Six Information Revolutions.

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Could someone simplify local administration in the middle ages for me?

As Stephen Tempest says, "The Catholic Church was the only institution with a relatively stable and rational system of administration at all levels."

This is a major factor explaining the amazing wealth of the West. The other is that the Roman Catholic Church had the right of direct taxation – the tithe – which made them independent of any secular power.

This was a novelty. Since the first kingships, people had been governed by a tri-part elite consisting of the priesthood, the king, and the military. Sometimes one was more dominant and at other times another but they worked together to collect taxes, wage war (internal or external), and mediate with the god(s). The priesthood was usually the controller of education and information, and the recorder of history.

The fall of Rome broke the tripartite elite in the West. The Church was still the controller of information and education. But for the first time in history, the information controller was economically free of the other two elites. As we see in Stephen Tempest’s post, the secular and military were small, disorganized, varied, and local.

The Church, therefore, had a vested interest in the wealth of the commons. It was to the Church’s advantage for farmers to adopt new technologies that would increase their yield per acre, because the church was entitled to 10% of that yield.

The Church actively fostered technology. We see that in the pictures of God and Saints with technology.

We know that many things were invented in the East before they were either invented or discovered by the West. But, in traditionally organized cultures – those ruled by the tri-part elites – inventions were given to the state, or the church, or the military – in short, to the elite. The elite could use them in a way that did not threaten the power of the elite.

In the West, because of the Church’s teaching, individuals used inventions to produce, and sell more, thereby enriching the Church. This all fostered a spirit of individualism that in turn, fostered the scientific and economic growth of the West.

When Gutenberg introduced the press with movable type it didn’t occur to him to give it to the secular ruler. To him it seemed natural to print Bibles and sell them and since there was no such thing as patent law, others soon followed suit paving the way for secular education. Which eventually led to the invention of capitalism, The reformation, the enlightenment, modern science and the world we know today.

But it all started with the Church in the Middle Ages.

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Are there cultures where the concept of paternity has not been discovered?

Hung Lee quotes Malinowski.
Lee says:

Bronislaw Malinowski’s 1922 study of the Trobriand Islands, Argonauts of the Western Pacific, described a culture that seemed to be ignorant of physiological paternity. His earlier research amongst certain Australian Aboriginal tribes described similar beliefs in the disconnect between sexual intercourse and procreation.

However:

When I was an undergrad in Anthro. it was pointed out that:

1) Malinowski, though a pioneer in participant observation, actually spent most of his time in his tent and asked the headman his questions, so his participation was actually minimal by today’s standards, and it was biased.

2) If  you are a 50 year old headman and a 30 year old man, from a different culture, asks a lot of questions about what things are and what they mean and how one does things here, you don’t assume that he means you to tell him about sex. You assume that he wants the stork story, or the cabbage patch story, in short, you want the folk tale. The headman assumes that the anthropologist knows about sex.

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