What the three.2 million yr old Lucy fossil reveals about nudity and shame

Fifty years ago, scientists discovered an almost complete fossilized skull and a whole bunch of bone fragments from a 3.2 million yr old female specimen of the genus Australopithecus afarensisoften described as “the mother of us all.” At a celebration following her discovery, she was named “Lucy,” after the Beatles song “Lucy within the Sky with Diamonds.”

Although Lucy has solved a number of the mysteries of evolution, her appearance stays a secret of her ancestors.

Popular renderings clothe her in a thick, reddish-brown fur, together with her face, hands, feet, and breasts peeking out from a denser thicket.

As it seems, this hairy picture of Lucy is likely to be fallacious.

Technical advances in genetic evaluation suggest that Lucy could have been naked or no less than significantly more thinly veiled.

According to the coevolutionary history of People and their liceour immediate ancestors lost most of their body fur 3 to 4 million years ago and didn’t dress until 83,000 to 170,000 years ago.

This implies that early humans and their ancestors were simply naked for over 2.5 million years.

As a philosopherI'm keen on how modern culture influences representations of the past, and the best way Lucy is portrayed in newspapers, school textbooks and museums may say more about us than about her.

From nakedness to shame

The Loss of body hair in early humans was probably influenced by a mix of things, including thermoregulation, delayed physiological development, attraction of sexual partners and defence against parasites. Environmental, social and cultural aspects could influence the possible adoption of clothing.

Both areas of research – when and why hominins lost their body hair and when and why they finally wore clothes – emphasize the big size of the brain, which takes years to develop and a disproportionate amount of energy to take care of in relation to other parts of the body.

Because human babies require long periods of care before they’ll survive on their very own, interdisciplinary evolutionary biology researchers have theorized that early humans the strategy of pair bonding – a person and a lady enter right into a partnership after developing a powerful affection for one another. By working together, the 2 can more easily deal with years of parental care.

However, pair bonding also involves risks.

Since humans are social beings and live in large groups, they’re inevitably tempted to interrupt the pact of monogamy, which might make raising children harder.

To secure the social-sexual pact, a mechanism was needed. This mechanism was probably shame.

In the documentation “What's the issue with nudity?“Evolutionary Anthropologist Daniel MT Fessler explains the event of shame: “The human body is a supreme sexual advertisement… Nudity is a threat to the basic social contract because it is an invitation to apostasy… Shame encourages us to remain faithful to our partners and to share the responsibility for raising our children.”

Boundaries between body and world

Man is aptly described as “naked monkeys”, are characterised by their lack of fur and the systematic use of clothing. It was only with the ban on nudity that “nudity” became a reality.

In the course of the event of human civilization, measures should have been taken to implement the social contract – punishments, laws, social regulations – especially with regard to women.

This is how the connection between shame and human nakedness was born. Being naked means breaking social norms and rules, and subsequently one tends to feel ashamed.

What is taken into account naked in a single context might not be considered naked in one other.

Bare ankles in Victorian England, for instance excited scandal. Today, naked tops on a French Mediterranean beach are frequently.

When it involves nudity, art doesn't necessarily imitate life.

In his criticism of the European oil painting tradition John Berger distinguishes between nudity – “being oneself” without clothes – and “the nude”, an art form that transforms a lady’s naked body right into a lustful spectacle for men.

A colorful painting of a group of students sitting in a semicircle drawing a nude model to pose for them on a stage.
“The Art School” by the British painter John Percival Gulich, ca. 1884–1898.
The Print Collector/Getty Images

Feminist critics like Ruth Barcan complicated Berger's distinction between nudity and nudes by insisting that nudity was already characterised by idealized representations.

In “Nudity: A Cultural Anatomy“, Barcan shows that nudity just isn’t a neutral state, but is loaded with meaning and expectations. She describes “feeling naked” as “the heightened awareness of temperature and air movement, the loss of the familiar boundary between body and world, and the effects of the actual gaze of others” or “the internalized gaze of an imagined other.”

Nudity can evoke a big selection of emotions, from eroticism and intimacy to vulnerability, fear and shame. But there isn’t a nudity outside of social norms and cultural practices.

Lucy's Veil

So, despite the density of her fur, Lucy was not naked.

But just because the nude is a form of dress, Lucy has been depicted since her discovery in ways in which reflect historical assumptions about motherhood and the family unit. For example, Lucy is depicted as alone with male companion or with a male companion and kids. Her facial expressions are warm and content or Protectionwhich reflect idealized images of motherhood.

The modern quest to visualise our distant ancestors has been criticized as a form of “erotic fantasy science”, wherein scientists attempt to fill within the gaps of the past based on their very own assumptions about women, men and their relationships with one another.

In her 2021 article In Visual Depictions of Our Evolutionary Past, an interdisciplinary team of researchers takes a distinct approach. They detail their very own reconstruction of the Lucy fossil, explaining their methods, the connection between art and science, and the alternatives made to fill gaps in scientific knowledge.

Their approach is in contrast to other hominin reconstructions, which regularly lack strong empirical evidence and perpetuate misogynistic and racist misconceptions about human evolution. Historically, depictions of the Stages of human evolution tended to culminate in a white European man. And many Reconstructions of female hominins exaggerate facial expression which are offensively related to black women.

One of the co-authors of “Visual Depictions”, sculptor Gabriel Vinasoffers a visible explanation of Lucy's reconstruction in “Saint Lucia“” – a marble sculpture of Lucy as a nude figure wrapped in translucent cloth, representing the artist’s insecurities and Lucy’s mysterious appearance.

The Veiled Lucy addresses the complex relationships between nudity, covering, sex and shame. But Lucy can be portrayed as a veiled virgin, a figure revered for her sexual “purity.”

And yet I cannot help but imagine Lucy beyond the material, a Lucy neither floating within the sky with diamonds nor frozen in maternal idealization – a Lucy who “Monkey shit“ in regards to the veil that has been thrown over her, a Lucy who is likely to be forced to Guerrilla Girls Maskif anything in any respect.

image credit : theconversation.com