This essay will help to redefine human nature by answering these four questions.
1. Why are the human menstrual cycle and the lunar cycle the same length?
2. Why do women who cohabitate tend to have synchronized menstrual cycles?
3. Why is human sperm so intensely competitive?
4. How did human culture and genetics manage to spread so uniformly all over the earth?
Throughout the Paleolithic Age, hominids lived in nomadic, egalitarian clans that congregated monthly at known sites to exchange culture, knowledge, and genetic material.
The menstrual cycle, which is limited to primates, is a two-stage process that, in humans, is completed in approximately 29.5 days. The uterus builds a nutritious home for a fertilized ovum. If fertilization fails to take place, the old nutrition is sloughed off, in preparation for a fresh rebuilding. The average length of the menstrual cycle length in orangutans is the closest to that of humans, 28 days, while the cycle for chimpanzees is 35 days.
The moon makes a complete orbit of the earth in 29.53 days.
This coincidence has been known for thousands of years. Even the words “menses” and “moon” are etymologically related.
All ovulating females in the paleolithic world would do so at the time of the full moon. The bright light of the full moon helped paleolithic clans travel to and from pre-arranged meeting sites, and made it easier to mingle, feast, and copulate with non-relatives for three days and nights. Anyone who has ever done any camping can imagine how difficult everything would be if one had to carry around a flaming torch everywhere at night.
The moon even took on a mystical significance, connected as it was with the miracle of life itself.
Many women who have lived in close proximity with other women report that gradually, menstrual cycles coincide and even regularize. Modern science took notice when, in 1971, Martha McClintock, a young graduate student, published an article called “Menstrual Synchrony and Suppression” in the science journal Nature. Her study population was the women in her dormitory. Her findings stated that over time, women who lived together tended to cycle together. One might conclude from this, that women living together is a requirement for healthy menstruation.
Obviously, to make monthly fertility festivals a success, all ovulating females in the world needed to be fertile at the same time of the month. This was accomplished by the mechanism of pheromones given off by the dominant, most heat-producing female in each clan.
The book Sperm Wars by evolutionary biologist Robin Baker was originally published in English in 1996, and has since become a classic. In it, the author describes how human sperm is highly competitive, and states that less than 1% of human sperm is even motile enough of reaching and impregnating the ovum. The remainder function as blocking agents—soldiers— against other men’s sperm.
Competitive sperm is very common among species notorious for their promiscuity like our closest relatives—regular chimpanzees and the amazingly sexy bonobo chimps—but unnecessary and missing among strictly polygamous species that breed infrequently like gorillas and orangutans. It has a lot to do with testicle size and the number of sperm— soldiers per ejaculate.
The ejaculate of large-testicular chimps contains billions of spermatozoa; the smaller testicles of gorillas produce only 65 million sperm, most of which are non-combatants; the human ejaculate from our mid-sized testicles falls somewhere in the middle, between 200 million and 500 million. That quite sizable army did the fighting for our paleolithic ancestors and their genome. Serious competition for mates or anything else was unnecessary and even disadvantageous, given the monthly fertility smorgasbord and the egalitarian clan behavior required for survival. Perhaps this explains why losing a tennis match or participating in the ultimate human competition—war—is so painful and destructive for our minds and bodies. When a male gorilla fails to steal a harem, he licks his wounds and comes back with renewed determination. No PTSD for him.
Hominids were and are sexually polyamorous in anatomy, thought, and deed. The human penis is shaped like a plunger, in the body’s attempt to remove as much “enemy” ejaculate as possible. Many studies have demonstrated that modern women who are in the process of ovulating make themselves more attractive, wear less clothing, are more available for sexual encounters, and have more sexual fantasies. Masters and Johnson were the first in 1957 to show that human females are capable of multiple orgasms, equipped to accommodate several mates in quick succession, in order to discover the strongest candidate for insemination.
Today, two humans on the average differ in 1/2000 (0.05%) of their DNA, while by comparison, two bacteria of the same species differ by 5 percent. See The Uniformity Problem. Normally, a species with as little variation as ours would be very young, much younger than the 300,000 years of anatomically modern homo sapiens existence.
The theory of the full moon fertility festival solves this problem. For two million years or more, nomadic hominid clans all over the world met and mingled at monthly gatherings, to exchange culture, knowledge, and DNA.
Apparently, they also exchanged items of beauty and symbolic significance. A good example is the intricately carved stone hand axes found from various periods and in diverse locations that seem to have served no purpose but as gifts to friends or mates.
In one word—seeds. Grass seeds, so many of them, in fact, that they were no longer portable. Ten thousand years ago, give or take a millennium or two, nomadic forager-hunters who practiced rudimentary slash-and-burn agriculture became so adept at growing cereals and legumes that they chose to become sedentary farmers rather than leave so much food behind for the birds and rodents. Cereals and legumes, unlike most other food items, are encased in hard shells. They can be stored in abundance for long periods of time, like money in a bank. And like a savings account, they served as insurance against famines caused by droughts and other natural disasters.
Several clans came together to form the first farming villages, and probably continued for a while with their full moon festivals. Gradually, the clans most successful at cereal farming stopped sharing their wealth and became the dominant groups. They could pay others with bread and beer to do their bidding, and thus was born hierarchical class society.
Worship of the moon gave way to worship of the sun, the farmers’ friend. Infected with greed, the big chiefs demanded more and more wealth from a grumbling workforce. As explained in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State by Frederick Engels, the toiling masses had to be divided and turned against themselves, a common feature of all class societies. The first and easiest division was right down the middle—men versus women. The bigger and more potentially dangerous men were bought off, that is to say, received more privileges than the women.
The accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few men led to the invention of “fatherhood,” and a movement away from the more traditional leadership role of the mothers and brothers as outlined in Women’s Evolution, by Evelyn Reed and The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler. The chiefs needed biological sons to pass on their wealth, and so they claimed exclusive sexual access to specific women who could serve as baby incubators and nursemaids. The rest of society followed suit.
Finally, the patriarchal ownership of women and children meant certain death for our matrilineal, matrilocal clans and their monthly fertility festivals, and the beginning of polygamy, pair bonding, greed, war, jealousy, rape, incest, and every other calamity that modern, conventional society labels as “human nature.”