In 1992 I wrote that the National Geographic needs a nude attitude adjustment. I referred to their reluctance to portray white European and American nudists as candidly as they do other
nude cultures. I've been a long time member of the National Geographic Society,
and really enjoy its exploration of our world and universe, but in areas of body acceptance they still exhibit a prudishness
that hasn't quite left the 19th century.
The January issue is an example of this. Its feature article is about Neandertals (new spelling), and included the latest information on this mysterious
relative of ours. There are many new insights with the large finds of fossils
Anatomically, Neandertal was capable of speech, so we can
assume a language. They inhabited Europe for abut 200,000 years, and coexisted
with modern humans for about 10,000 years (between 40 and 30 millennia ago). Then
they disappeared, and no one knows exactly why.
There are several theories for the mysterious disappearance,
from overt annihilation by modern humans, displacement by modern humans, or interbreeding with modern humans. Some scientists argue that they were a different species, others say they were compatible with humans for
interbreeding. One possibility is that they lacked a conceptual way of human
thinking that thrust us modern humans into the exhilarating mess that we find ourselves in.
Perhaps they lacked the driving curiosity of our species, or couldn't conceive of past and future, and existed until
their present ran out.
fascinating findings that Neandertal probably had a developed culture, and were not just brute animals as had long
been supposed. They not only made functional tools, but also wore ornamentation. They may have ritualistically disposed of their dead, and there is evidence of injured
members who must have been cared for and supported by others. And, surviving
a couple of ice ages, they had to wear clothes.
Which brings me to the complaint of prudery. There
are several illustrations painted by Richard Schlecht that have our poor shivering Neandertal dressed like "Alley Oop!" Yes, carrying a club and wearing an animal skin around his loins.
As a modern human who wears as few clothes as possible, I live most of the year in cut-off shorts,
even when the temperature gets into the forties. This year Florida has had in
one month the equivalent of the Neandertals 200,000 year existence, alternating between tropical and frigid. So, I start out nearly naked and end up in cut-offs with a shirt and jacket. In other words, as it gets colder, my first impulse is to cover my shoulders, arms and chest, not the hairy
bottom part of my body. Even more basic, check out the nude beach when the temp
drops suddenly. You'll see towels draped on shoulders, not around the waist. So, are these illustrations suggesting another theory for Neandertals disappearance
during the great Ice Age - that they were too stupid to cover their shoulders?
If we're assuming, by the paintings, that it was not cold enough to cover their shoulders,
then why the loin cover? Of course we know the reason for the "Alley Oop"
wardrobe. We can't show a naked cave man due to modern modesty.
That's why the very first reconstruction of Neandertal, an
illustration in Harper's Weekly in 1873, was wearing fur around his middle. A
more accurately nude (side view) reconstruction appeared in L'Illustration in 1909, although it was inaccurately bestial. A rather low-browed, brutish looking Neandertal reconstruction appeared in The Illustrated
London News in 1929 wearing just a fur around his loins. This was the contemporary
image of Neandertal when V.T. Hamlin created "Alley Oop" in 1933. It appears
that Victorian era prudery overrode scientific logic in the 19th century and reconstructions of Neandertals modestly hid their
unmentionables. This has become a tradition, copied by subsequent artists.
Using my opposable thumb, I flipped through all the anthropology
books at hand with illustrations of primitive humans, and found that Australopithecines are always allowed to be nude. Many of the primitive human reconstructions
even venture to show front views of men and women with discernible genitals. These
were done in the more naturally comfortable 1970s. By contrast a very accurately
reconstructed statue of a Neandertal man made in 1990 for exhibit at the Maxwell
Museum of the University of New Mexico was "altered" for public propriety and has no genitals.
How easily the school kids will now be able to solve the mystery of Neandertals extinction.
Homo erectus is usually portrayed nude, except in the World
Book Encyclopedia 1996 edition, that says they were the first to use fire and may have been the first to wear clothing, which
helped them move into cold climates. Shown, is a very nice illustration of a
group of Homo erectus people in an obviously warm climate wearing skins on their
A lot of this has to do with artistic license, and illustrations
have been used that scientists know are inaccurate. The 1873 reconstruction of
Neandertal had domesticated dogs sharing his cave, and a beautifully done 1952 painting by Z. Burian, of a Cro-Magnon man
has him prematurely holding a bow and arrows. It appears that the artist
for National Geographic has merely subscribed to our cultural mythos of how primitive
people dressed, and in so doing will now perpetuate that myth further.
We've barely discerned that Neandertals had language, much
less philosophy, so why would we assume that they had modesty? In defending
its policy of photographing naked natives, the Geographic says they photograph them "in their natural settings, providing
honesty and credibility to the respective photo essay." Photos being out of the
question, the artist should have imagined how Neandertal would not have dressed during those tropical times between the ice
ages. There are anthropological photos that show us unselfconsciously naked cultures
that live in the tropics today. There's no reason to think that ancient
primitive humans in tropical conditions would have worn unnecessary clothing. For
the artist to show us "Alley Oop" is neither honest nor credible.
The History of Clothing - Volume One
Rob BoyteSeptember 1997
Remember the thong bathing suit, or T-back? They
were the semi-nude craze just a decade ago. Now and then you still see
them, either as a fashion statement or in places where some rudimentary clothing is required.
I never owned one, having tried one on and found that a 3/4
inch strap up my natal cleft (butt crack) was quite irritating. I went with the
traditional G-string (anal floss) when required. Butt, you ask, what brought
on this nostalgia for retro swimwear? It was the discovery of the thong's long
I thought it had originated in Asia, where Sumo wrestlers
seem to be wearing a larger, less attractive variation of it, but the September 1997 issue of National Geographic Magazine
has placed this uncomfortable and unnecessary article of clothing at a much earlier age than Japan itself.
The thong it seems, was worn by the earliest Homo
sapiens about 117,000 years ago. In an article about
the discovery of an ancient woman's footprint by the sea in South Africa, there is a painting by Richard Schlecht. This is the artist who dressed Neanderthals in "Ally Oop" fashion in the January 1996 issue of National
Geographic. Apparently he has knowledge of archaic fashion that is never mentioned
in the articles but appear in his paintings.
earliest ancestor, perhaps knowing that she was going to leave a footprint in the sand that would solidify and be seen 117,000
years later in more modest times, put on her favorite animal skin T-back for a walk to the beach. It gives me such a feeling of connectedness to realize that this ancient ancestor of mine and all humanity
also chafed at a strap up her butt. Although I sometimes wonder why.