Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Bisexuality in the Bronze Age?

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 has written about the carvings in scholarly journals, they remain obscure.

The group of 100 figures seems to be involved in a fertility ritual (or several). They vary in size from over 9 feet tall to a few inches and are all 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 symbolise females. They have stylised 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. Nearly all of the males are ithyphallic (archeology-speak for “having an erect penis”). 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.

Reading through the descriptions of the scenes depicted by the pertroglyphs, there appear to be scenes of both female/male sex and male/male sex.

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