The Naked Truth

As reported in the January issue of the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, scientists have determined that human beings first began wearing clothes sometime between 83,000 and 170,000 years ago. Prior to that, our human ancestors walked around completely naked.

Evolutionary anthropologists speculate that clothes (i.e., the furs of animals) were first worn during early man’s northward migration from the plains of what is present-day Libya, to the colder climates of present-day Europe. While clothing was originally adopted as protection—to provide warmth—the notion of garments providing “modesty” soon followed.

And unlike the evolution of, say, horticulture or weaponry (where clubs evolved into spears, and spears evolved into bows and arrows, etc.), the concept of modesty didn’t evolve. It arrived abruptly and fully developed. Either you believed your genitals needed to be covered or you didn’t.

Also, it did not begin en masse. Arguably, the concept of modesty was introduced by the actions of one person, in one specific place, at one point in time.

The following is a dramatization of that event.

TIME: Summer, 110,000 years ago. Midday.
PLACE: The plains of present-day Libya.
CAST: Gort, Urk and Kril, three Neolithic men, cave dwellers.
SCENE: Urk and Kril are waiting outside Gort’s cave, casually talking. Both men are naked.

URK: I heard you captured a jybiao yesterday.

KRIL: Yes.

URK: Did you eat it?

KRIL: Yes.

URK: I would like to capture a jybiao today. (intently) Because I would like to eat it.

KRIL: Yes.

(GORT emerges from his cave, wearing a crude form of underwear. URK and KRIL stare at the garment in amazement.)

URK: (pointing) Gort….what is that?

GORT: Something I made.

(long pause)

URK: (curious) What purpose does it serve? (gestures toward the sky) Is it not a hot day?

GORT: (acknowledging) Yes, it’s hot.

KRIL: Yes.

URK: (pressing him) Then why do you wear it?

GORT: (carefully) I wear it because…. (self-consciously) ….I don’t want anyone to see my hrindal.

(another long pause)

URK: (confused) But why don’t you want anyone to see your hrindal?

GORT: I can’t explain why. It just seems wrong.

URK: (smiles) We all have hrindals, Gort. We know what a hrindal looks like and what it is used for.

KRIL: (examines his own hrindal) Yes.

GORT: This isn’t about what it looks like or what it is used for. It’s about….not wanting people to see it. (uncomfortable) I must leave now. (walks away)

URK: (after thinking about it) Maybe Gort is right….maybe we shouldn’t be showing our hrindals. Maybe it’s best to keep some parts of our bodies covered. Maybe only our wives should see our hrindals. And maybe only we should see their yonis.

KRIL: Yes.


Beginning in prehistoric times the pursuit of modesty followed a fairly straight trajectory. It did so all the way until the middle of the 19th century, when photography was introduced in Europe. This new technology ushered in an era of so-called “reverse-modesty,” as the human body (particularly the female body) now began to be photographed wearing no clothes.

Moreover, as photography continued to improve and proliferate, nude pictures and depictions of explicit sexual acts became more and more available, culminating in the explosion of Internet pornography that we see today. Indeed, hardcore pornography is now ubiquitous. It’s found everywhere in the world. Except Libya.

David Macaray is a playwright and author, whose latest book is How to Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows: Weird Adventures in India: Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims When the Peace Corps was New. Everything you ever wanted to know about India but were afraid to ask. He can be reached at: Read other articles by David.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. catguy00 said on January 11th, 2011 at 1:10pm #

    Pornography between consenting adults is largely harmless.

  2. hayate said on January 11th, 2011 at 8:13pm #

    Apparently Gort wasn’t very well endowed.


    Anyway, the fear of naughty bits wasn’t something cooked up by some neolithic microwillie. It arrived with the knowledge that if you can control people’s sexual behaviour, you can control a whole lot more. The rise of “modesty” coincided with the rise of the few, dominating the many.

    Now it could be those few were also embarrassed about their microwillies….

  3. bluesapphire48 said on January 13th, 2011 at 9:16am #

    Since men clearly suffer when their privates are hurt, perhaps part of the reason for covering them up was to protect them from injury. Just a thought…

  4. jayn0t said on January 14th, 2011 at 12:46pm #

    Entertaining article.

    ‘The rise of “modesty” coincided with the rise of the few, dominating the many’ says ‘hayate’ above. Not necessarily. How did ‘playing hard to get’ evolve? Is it caused by the oppression of women, or is it a strategy stumbled on by some of our female ancestors as a way of raising their value? Chimpanzees and gorillas etc. don’t play hard to get, the females advertise when they are fertile. Obviously, natural selection explains that. How does it explain playing hard to get among the females of our species? The Radical Anthropology Group in London have an explanation, involving a lot of cultural anthropology and structuralism. It’s too clever for me. I prefer my Darwinism straight.

    Hence modesty in women. As for blokes, well, maybe it was a size thing…

  5. hayate said on January 14th, 2011 at 12:53pm #


    Do all women play hard to get?

    Or just the ones you choose to chase?


    (IE: playing hard to get is not ubiquitous to all cultures)

  6. jayn0t said on January 15th, 2011 at 8:53am #

    ‘hayate’ – you don’t ‘choose’ whom you ‘chase’ – your genes to it for you. And those whom you chase do play hard to get – they can afford to. Playing hard to get IS pretty close to ubiquitous. Turns out the cultural relativists (Mead, Sahlins…) were lying – that’s not too strong a word. The evolutionary approach, slandered and assaulted by the red guards of academic political correctness, will have its day.

  7. hayate said on January 15th, 2011 at 12:42pm #


    You need to get out of the usa. Hmmmm….on second thought, with your attitude, that wouldn’t be fair to those outside the usa. So never mind.

    BTW, the so-called anthro who “proved” Mead “wrong” was a neo-con type who did neo-con style “research”.