|Herm with erect phallus. Marble, ca. 520 BC. From Siphnos. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Prudes shouldn't go into archeology. The patina of antiquity may make a carved ivory phallus, Venus figurine, or vulva painting on a cave wall priceless, communicating to us from a mute, distant past. But transplant those images to the modern world and you get dildos, Playboy, and Georgia O'Keefe. Still, most prehistoric erotic art is abstract, disembodied. It doesn't explicitly depict sex-crazed ancients screwing their brains out for fun and fertility.
But one little-known, mysterious archaeological site does. The Kangjiashimenji Petroglyphs are bas-relief carvings in a massive red-basalt outcropping in the remote Xinjiang region of northwest China. The artwork includes the earliest - and some of the most graphic - depictions of copulation in the world.
Chinese archeologist Wang Binghua discovered the petroglyphs in the late 1980s, and Jeannine Davis-Kimball, an expert on Eurasian nomads, was the first Westerner to see them. Though she wrote about the carvings in scholarly journals, they remain obscure. Google retrieves only a few results, depending on the spelling. The petroglyphs deserve more attention.
The cast of 100 figures presents what is obviously a fertility ritual (or several). They range in size from more than nine feet tall to just a few inches. All perform the same ceremonial pose, holding their arms out and bent at the elbows. The right hand points up and the left hand points down, possibly to indicate earth and sky.
The few scholars who have studied the petroglyphs think that the larger-than-life hourglass figures that begin the tableau symbolize females. They have stylized triangular torsos, shapely hips and legs, and they wear conical headdresses with wispy decorations. Male images are smaller triangles with stick legs and bare heads. Ithyphallic is archeology-talk for "erect penis," and nearly all of the males have one. A third set of figures appear to be bisexual. Combining elements of males and females, they are ithyphallic but wear female headwear, a decoration on the chest, and sometimes a mask. They might be shamans.
The tableau is divided into four fully-developed scenes beginning at a height of 30 feet and progressing downward. In the first scene, nine huge women and two much smaller men dance in a circle, seemingly admonishing their viewers. This is the only scene without ithyphallic men - though to the side, a prone bisexual has an obvious erection. Two symbols near the center look like stallions fighting head to head.