Female Cosmetic Coalition Model

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Camilla Power:

"For an alpha male, a menstruating female is the obvious target. Guard her and have sex with her until she is pregnant. Then, look for the next one. In nomadic hunter-gatherer camps, women of reproductive age are pregnant or nursing much of the time, making menstruation a relatively rare event. Undermining cooperative childcare, menstruation threatens to trigger male competition for access to an imminently fertile female, and also competition among females, because a pregnant or nursing mother risks losing male support to a cycling female.

Mothers have two possible responses to this problem. Following the logic of concealed ovulation, they might try to hide the menstruant’s condition so that males would not know. But because the signal has potential economic value by attracting male attention, females should do the opposite: make a big display advertising imminent fertility. Whenever a coalition member menstruated, the whole coalition joined that female in amplifying her signal to attract males. Females within coalitions would begin to use blood-coloured substances as cosmetics to augment their signals. This has become known as the Female Cosmetic Coalitions model of the origins of art and symbolic culture.

In creating a cosmetic coalition in resistance, females deter alpha males by surrounding a menstrual female and refusing to let anyone near. They are creating the world’s first taboo, on menstrual blood or collectively imagined blood, speaking the world’s first word: NO!

But even as a negative, this cosmetic display is encouraging to investor males who are willing to go hunting and bring back supplies to the whole female coalition. Those cosmetically decorated females who create a big show of unity and solidarity against alpha males ensure that investor males will get the fitness rewards. It is fully in the interests of investor males to sexually select females belonging to ritual cosmetic coalitions, because they then eliminate competition from the would-be alphas.

The Female Cosmetic Coalition (FCC) model shows us the prototype of a moral order, upheld through those puberty rituals, taboos, and prohibitions that surround menstruation in so many ethnographic accounts. Ekila, discussed above, is a classic example.

The FCC strategy is also the prototype symbolic action, with collective agreement that fake or imaginary ‘blood’ stands for real blood. While it is revolutionary at the level of morality, symbolism and economics, the strategy emerges as an evolutionary adaptation, driven by male sexual selection of female ritual participants. On this basis, through reverse gender dominance, the hunter-gatherer institution of bride-service emerges, with roughly equal chances of reproductive success for all hunters.

Finally, the FCC model is the only evolutionary hypothesis that explains what we find as the earliest symbolic material in the archaeological record. When the theory was first put forward in the mid-1990s, it predicted that the world’s first symbolic media would consist of blood-red cosmetics. It predicted where and when we should find them: in Africa, preceding and during our speciation, in relation to the increases of brain size. This points to a pigment record from 6-700,000 years ago and especially with the rapid growth of brains in the last 300,000 years.

These theoretical predictions have been strikingly confirmed. The evidence which Graeber and Wengrow neglect to mention, coming long before the European Upper Palaeolithic, and pervading the record of the African Middle Stone Age is of blood-red iron oxides, red ochres. These pigments are the first durable materials to be mined, processed, curated and used in design. They date back at least 300,000 years in the East and southern African record, possibly as old as half a million years. From the time of modern humans they are found in every southern African site and rock shelter. They become the hallmark of modern humans as they move out of Africa around the world, found in copious quantities in both the Upper Palaeolithic of Europe, and in Australia from the first entrance of modern humans to those continents."