These days we congratulate ourselves on having traveled a long road from living in caves to climate-controlled living, powered automobiles whisking us from place to place faster than Cinderella's carriage, world-wide air travel and even space travel. Such a view is reinforced by Arthur C. Clark's stirring beginning in his film '2001'. But even Clark's conception of a primordial obelisk amongst the evolving apes seems to hint at some sort of an advanced ancient culture.
The Miracles of Modern Technology - Mike Adams

Mike Adams and
Dan Berger
conceptualize the
impact of modern
technologies with

As children we saw pictures of primitive societies, scantily clad [at best] natives, various forms of body-enhancement evident on them as they danced and chanted to rhythmic drums. We somewhat came to think of 'primitivism' as nudity, body painting, body piercing, tattoos, wild hair styles, simplistic chants accompanied by repeating drum beats... tribal unity. These things represent the glorifying of the flesh, something that we fancy that we have evolved beyond.

Yet since World War II we have seen an acceleration to embrace all of these same 'primitive' characteristics. Before WWII women's bathing suits had short legs and sometimes short sleeves and covered everything from the neck to about the knees. After the War era women's bathing suits were reduced to just covering the torso; then they were reduced to the 'bikini'. Recently nude bathing is becoming the norm in various places.

Male hair styles evolved from 'military style' to 'DA-s' to page-boy to below shoulder length and more recently 'punk' styles with vertical spikes and wild coloring. Conversely, women have been cutting their hair shorter and shorter until some women recently have little to no head hair at all.
William Wallace and woad

Mel Gibson in the film Braveheart
depicting the Scot wearing woad;
image taken from Wikipedia.

In Mel Gibson's 1995 film, 'Braveheart', portraying the 13th century Scottish patriot Sir William Wallace, the Scot is portrayed with body paint [woad] on the face. This presumably depicted an older Celtic cultural practice. In earlier times when Rome battled the Celts they noted body tattoos and body painting1|. Julius Caesar describes tattooing among the Picts of northern Scotland in Book V of his Gallic Wars2| (54 BCE). Certainly we know that the American Indians were greeted wearing 'war paint' in Colonial times and following.

Such body enhancements were not limited to the males. PBS portrays Boudica, the first century British rebellious warrior-princess of the Celtic Iceni Tribe, with face paint3|. Her victory over the Roman legions was described as 'barbarian cruelty'. The 2003 film titled with her name also depicts the 'Warrior Queen' with face and arms painted.

Tattooing has been practiced at least since Neolithic times. This is evidenced by the finding of the 'Ötzi Iceman' [see below] found in a glacier in the Ötzal Alps on the borders of Austria and Italy. The mummy is believed to be dated to about 3,300 BCE4|. His ice-preserved flesh shows about 57 tattoos, some on his spine, some behind the left knee and some on his right ankle.

It is believed that tattooing was popularized in Western culture through circumnavigation to Polynesia in the Age of Exploration; European sailors picked up the practice and transported it back home5|. In fact the Oxford English Dictionary attributes the etymology to deriving from Polynesian tatau6|.

While historical documentation is sparse concerning body piercing, it is almost certain that the practice has existed with both sexes since pre-historic times. The 5,300 year-old Ötzi the Iceman mentioned above had his ears pierced. Earrings from about 2,500 BCE have been found in graves from Sumerian Ur. In the Bible, Genesis 35:4 mentions Jacob burying 'earrings' [Hebrew nezem, which also denotes nose rings] under the Oak of Shechem [about 1,700 BCE]. There are reports that earrings were common in the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt, from 1550–1292 BCE7|.

The Indian Vedas refer to nose piercings about 1,500 BCE8|. The Aztec and Maya of Mesoamerica pierced their noses in order to wear bones as well as gold rings indicating status and virility9|.

Lip and tongue piercing is harder to document since historical human remains usually do not include these parts of the body. In more modern times the practice is observed among the peoples of Papua New Guinea and Amazonia. In Ethiopia women of the Mursi wear lip rings on occasion that enlarge the lower lip to a disk nearly 6 inches in diameter. The Easter Island Moai statues have elongated ear lobes, presumably from weighty ornaments attached thereon. The ancient Mexican indians, the Olmec [1500 to about 400 BCE] are said to have pierced the tongue for ritual purposes10|. The Olmec and Maya are said to have pierced the tongue and penis to obtain blood for ritual purpose11|.
Moai with elongated ears

Easter Island
Moai statue
with elongated
ears visible.

Navel, nipple and genital piercing is also difficult to document in ancient times. The Indian Hindu text, Kama Sutra, dated approximately 2,000 years ago, mentions piercing the foreskin of the penis for pins in order to enhance sexual performance12|. Roman soldiers reportedly pierced their nipples in order to hang certain garments13|, although there is cause to doubt this.

The Celts were also noted to be huge lovers of wine. Diodorus Siculus, Greek historian of the first century BCE, writes that they were extremely addicted to wine and that one could purchase a slave for a mere jar of wine. He writes, '[they] fill themselves with the wine which is brought into their country by merchants, drinking it unmixed, and since they partake of this drink without moderation by reason of their craving for it, when they are drunken they fall into a stupor or a state of madness14|.'

Cuthbert, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was addressed in  the eighth century by Saint Boniface who pointed out, 'In your diocese, the vice of drunkenness is too frequent. This is an evil peculiar to pagans and to our race. Neither the Franks nor the Gauls nor the Lombards nor the Romans nor the Greeks commit it [sic]15|.'

Joseph Jordania, styled as an Australian-Georgian ethnomusicologist and evolutionary musicologist, has gone as far as to state that natural selection favored body painting, dancing, loud group singing, rhythmic stomping and drumming on external objects; he identifies these activities as the means to reach the specific altered state of consciousness - battle trance - through the ritualized activities. Jordania believes that group members of these activities lose their individuality and assume a shared collective identity; they lose the feel of fear and pain and become fully dedicated to the group interests.

Body Painting

Today body painting, or 'body art', has come back into vogue. Fans at NFL football games as well as other popular sports paint themselves in the team colors, often baring their chests as well as their faces. Some lament that modern body painting 'includes many sensationalist and exhibitionist forms16|.' The practice is reputed to have been established in modern popular culture by a Vanity Fair Magazine cover featuring actress Demi Moore on its cover in August of 199217|. However, French artist Yves Klein initiated an alternative art movement in the 1950s and 1960s involving covering a model in paint and then having the model roll on a canvas to transfer the paint, creating interesting effects.
World Body Painting Festival

World Bodypainting Festival;
Artist: J. Fusilier & L. Hammel;
Photo: Michael Genswaider.
Picture taken from Wikipedia.

The practice is raised to an art form by such international festivals as the World Bodypainting Festival in Pörtschach in Austria. There are similar events in America at Nanaimo, British Columbia, Orlando, Florida and Las Vegas, Nevada. The Painted Alive Gallery on Royal Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans features many artistic examples of body painting18|.

Wrestling on televison has helped to spread body painting as an accepted form of expression. Of course face and body painting by the military as 'camoflage' has become well known since WW II as troops are trained to fight in remote areas of the world.

Face painting has become a popular form of expression, extending even to early youths; most juvenile expressions are done in temporary water-soluble paints. Entrepreneurs offer their talents at fairs and theme parks in Western cultures.

Apparently the myth propagated in the James Bond film Goldfinger, that covering the whole body with paint results in asphyxiation, has been disproven19|.


Similar to body painting but more permanent is the ancient practice of tattooing. The term 'tattoo' is believed to have been brought into Western culture by the naturalist, Joseph Banks, a naturalist aboard Captain Cook's ship the HMS Endeavour. He remarked that the natives of the Pacific South Sea Islands mark themselves indelibly 'in different parts of his body according may be to his humour or different circumstances of his life20|.'
Jesus is So Cool - matching
'Jesus is So Cool' matching Christian tattoos
kris krüg from Vancouver, Canada
[taken from above link]
Tattooing has broadly invaded Western culture and fashion among both sexes since the 1990's. In Australia it is said that in 2010 at least 25% of young people under 30 years of age bear tattoos21|. Author Nick Groom states that the British people are the most tattooed in western Europe22|.

Television has played a part in America poularizing tattos with such shows as A&E's Inked and TLC's Miami Ink and LA Ink. Singer Janis Joplin was an early tatto exhibitionist with two tattoos, a wristlet and a heart.

Tragically, tattooing has been used for identification in the past century, especially by the Nazis in Germany for concentration camp resettlements. In 787 CE the Second Council of Nicaea banned all body markings as a pagan practice; this probably set a tone of resistance to such practices that has survived unto today.

Body Piercing

Similar to other body-enhancements, body piercing has been in a resurgence since WWII, discounting the popularity of ear piercing by women. Whether such a choice represents an individual's desire to confirm or rebel seems to depend on the specific situation or individual. Resistance has been raised by schools, religious groups and some employers.

One three volume study states that the rise of body piercing following WWII was due to the 'gay' male subculture23|. Fakir Musafar (born Roland Loomis) initiated a 'Modern Primitivism' movement that promoted piercings24|. His unconventional views concerning a return to primitive behaviors have been widely promoted in popular media for over a decade.

Some current body piercing groups, as well as 'primitive' and other body enhancements, have been confronted by the law for sadomasochistic 'crimes'. Despite mounting an unsuccessful defense, the court cases have drawn much popular attention.

In the United States piercing has grown and includes piercings of the navel, nose, eyebrows, lips, tongue, nipples and genitals25|. In England over 46% of women youth between 16 and 24 years of age have piercings other than ear lobes26|. A recent cultural study shows that individuals with body piercings are more likely to be involved in other counter-culture expressions27|.

Many employers, such as Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, prohibit any display of piercings.

Primitive? Hairstyles

It is rather subjective to identify hair styles that are primitive because showy styling has been a phenomenon over many cultures and many ages. Still, there are certain 'post-modern' hair styles that would immediately spring to the average mind today.

A somewhat recent style is known as 'spikes' or 'Liberty Spikes'. It may have no primitive precursor but it certainly draws attention as 'reactionary'.

Another is called the 'Mohawk' and certainly is reminiscent of Colonial American Indian styling.

Psychobilly Wedge hairstyleThe Psychobilly Wedge is said to resemble the Mohawk but is also related to the older Elvis Presley pompadour.

The rattail, somewhat like the ponytail, is a long thin braid or curl starting at the top of the neck; the rest of the head is trimmed very short. It vaguely reminds this author of some European sailors of about the eighteenth century.

Cornrows, which are braids that can run horizontally or vertically or in intricate patterns, said to have originated in Africa and become popular among African Americans; however, the style has also taken root in a wider population. Waves is somewhat similar but without the braided dreadlocks hanging down.

As stated, hairstyles have perennially been both cultural and counter-cultural expressions. The examples above are really a short sampling of 'post-modern' styles.

Dance as Culture

Dance can be characterized generally as moving the body to a rhythmic cadence or music. In 1926 a stunningly beautiful bronze statuette just a little over 4 inches high named 'The Dancing Girl' was discovered in the ancient Indus Valley civilization city of Mohenjo-daro. It is dated to be about 4,500 years old.
Dancing gitl, pouting

Replica of 'Dancing Girl'
of Mohenjo-daro at
Chhatrapati Shivaji
Maharaj Vastu
Sangrahalaya in
Mumbai, India.
Joe Ravi

Ancient cave paintings show humans leaping over and around probably somewhat tamed animals. Some cave paintings display hunting and even warfare, all with very active body movements indicated. One example is found at Toca da Entrada do Pajaú [Serra da Capivara], Brazil, a site with the highest number of rock paintings in the world28|. One of the 9,000 - 30,000 year-old rock paintings of Bhimbetaka, India, pictures group dancing29|.

Obviously the need of humans to express themselves in dance form predates recorded history - as well as using the display arts to remind people of those activities. Most likely dance was created from earliest times around fairly normal activities such as hunting and other demands for prowess - that is 'interpretive'. As such, dance could be described as 'communication', and that from the time of primitive humans.

Primitives in Brazil's rainforest and Africa's Kalihari Desert use dance to create ecstatic states for the purpose of healing30|.

One list of the names of dances from all of history all over the world contians well over 600 entries. These generally fall into three categories: solo dance, partner dance and group dance. Such a list makes it somewhat difficult to differentiate between 'classical' [or 'performance'] [ballet, ballroom, etc.] and 'popular' dancing [hip hop, twist, etc.]

Still, some dances harken back to earlier times. There were stories around the turn of the 21st century of dancers attaching razor blades to their clothing and dancing free-style, cutting each other with the sharp razor edges. This author has not found any of these news stories, but there appears to be some sort of 'cultish' attraction to blood and dancing in evidence on the internet31|. I Kings 18:26 et fol. states:
And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. 27 And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. 28 And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.

Breakdancing, or 'breaking', is said to derive from a popular slang term meaning 'getting excited', 'acting energetically' or 'causing a disturbance'. Some have likened 'b-boying' as related to the martial arts, referring back to the movement found in the Brazilian martial art capoeira which came about in the 1500's. Others reject that comparison and liken the movements to James Brown and Kung-Fu films as influences instead32|.

Perhaps it is unfair to draw the comparison, but this author, when he sees 'breakdancing' is reminded of Mark 9:19 and 20:
19 He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me. 20 And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. . . . 26 And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him ...
Also Mark 5:1 et fol.:
. . . into the country of the Gadarenes. 2 And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, 3 Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: 4 Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces . . .
Which is not to suggest that these performers are 'possessed', but only that their performance may remind one of such Biblical passages. Breakdancing, or breaking, may also harken back to those types of dancing which engendered ecstatic states of mind.

Naturism or Nudism

It would seem almost obvious to rank nudism as primitive behavior; but is it, really? From a Darwinian point of view we would ascribe lack of covering to apes. However, it seems likely that primitive man was more likely to cover their skin, both for protection from the elements and also as protection from injury, especially from predators.
Ötzi the Iceman and his clothing

In 1991 the mummy of 'Ötzi
the Iceman' was found in the Ötztal Alps [in the state of Tyrol, Austria / Italy], dating
to perhaps 3300 BCE. Some
of his clothing and other artifacts were discovered
with the mummified body.

Nudity as a recorded public practice can be traced back at least to the Classical Greek games or sports. Nudity among men in public displays and art was more common than nudity with women. Frescoes of Minoan youth show them in sports wearing only a bikini-type girdle below their waist. The word 'gymnasium' comes from the Greek and means 'a place to train naked' from the Greek gymnos 'naked'.

Apparently homosexuality was not uncommon in ancient Greece. Alexander the Great was reputed to have taken male lovers, especially his cavalry commander, Hephaestion, although the evidence is not clear. He did reject offers of male boys with indignation. Alexander married three times and had children.

The Seleucid Emperors of Palestine two centuries before Christ instituted nude sporting contests, much to the chagrin of many Jews. Later Rome followed Greece's practice sparingly in sports and public bathing.

Drawings in ancient Egyptian tombs show nude dancers; supposedly Egyptian children went naked until puberty33|. Isaiah 20:4 states: So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.

During the Industrial Revolution the attitude in Europe and America seemed best characterized by the term 'Victorian'. In 1924 a group known as 'Down with Shame' in the new Soviet Union conducted nude marches in an effort to overcome 'bourgeois' morality. However, for the 1912 Stockholm Olympics a poster showing nude male athletes, in the ancient Greek tradition, was censored in some countries.

One current manifestation of public nudity is the practice of 'streaking' nude at large stadia sports events.

Surveys conducted in the United States indicate that between 72-80% of those surveyed believed that nude bathing and nude congregation should be unrestricted by government as long as it is done in accepted areas34|. Similar surveys in Great Britain show that over 55% of the populace has had some experience with a naturist club35|.

The establishment of 'naturist camps' and communal nudist activities has given rise to a tourist industry widespread around the world, from Croatia and Slovenia to Nambassa, New Zealand. A 'World Day of Naturism' has been established by the International Naturist Federation as the first Sunday of June.

Naturism - communal nudity - has found critics both in the law and in religion. One great complaint is that such communal exposure leads to eroticism and promiscuity.

The need to protect themselves from intrusion or undue public exposure has led many naturist groups to assume an identity of 'family'.
- - - - - - - - - -
It would obviously be a point of contention whether these above expressions link back in history to more primitive types of behavior. At the beginning of this scission we mentioned the opening of Arthur C. Clark's film where a stone monolith amongst a group of apes suggested that perhaps there were prehistoric civilizations. It is telling that at the end of Clark's film we see the return of the primordial obelisk, perhaps to remind us that we are still 'primitives'.

        [All web links acquired in Summer of 2014]
2| Julius Caesar, The Gallic Wars, Book 5, Chapter 14; Translated by W. A. McDevitte and W. S. Bohn;
     read at:
4| Richard Owen, Mummified soldier found in Italian Alps, The [London] Times, 26 August, 2010.
5| ( tattoo )
6| Origin: mid 18th century: from Tahitian, Tongan, and Samoan ta-tau or Marquesan ta-tu
7| Jon Manchip White, Ancient Egypt; Its Culture and History; Courier Dover Publications; (1970)
8| Elayne Angel, The Piercing Bible: The Definitive Guide to Safe Body Piercing; The Crossing
     Press; (2009).
9| Rayner W. Hesse, Jewelry making through History: an Encyclopedia; Handicrafts Through World
     History; Greenwood Publishing Group; p. 26; (2007).
10| Ibid.
11| Rosemary Joyce, et al, 'Olmec Bloodletting: An Iconographic Study', in Sixth Palenque Roundtable,
     ed. V. Fields, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma; (1991).
12| Elayne Angel
13| Bonnie B. Graves, Tattooing and Body Piercing: Perspectives on Physical Health; Capstone
     Press; (2000).
14| The Library of History of Diodorus Siculus, published in Vol. III of the Loeb Classical Library
     edition, 1939,  Book 5, Chapter 26. Also see:*.html
15| Tristram Hunt, We're still failing history; The Guardian, The Observer, Saturday 27 August, 2005.
     also see at:
17| Shawn Sell, Demi Moore, painted lady, USA TODAY; Monday, July 6, 1992; see Vanity Fair cover
19| Prof. Metin Tolan, James Bond im Visier der Physik.m4v -- see at: [German]
20| The Endeavour Journal of Sir Joseph Banks, [entry] after 14 August 1769; read at:
21| Brittany Stack, 'I'm inked therefore I am: Why tatts have left a mark on Gen Y'; The Sunday Telegraph,
     October 31, 2010
22| Nick Groom, 'The Union Jack: The Story Of The British Flag'; Atlantic Books, London; (2006)
23| Amanda Porterfield [Foreward], 'Religion and American cultures: an encyclopedia of traditions,
     diversity, and popular expressions'; ABC-CLIO, p. 356; (2003).
24| Fakir Musafar, 'Spirit + Flesh'; Arena Editions; (2004)
     [if you have the stomach]
25| Op cit.
26| Bone, Angie, et al, "Body Piercing in England: a Survey of Piercing at Sites Other than Earlobe";
     BMJ Publishing Group Ltd 336 (336): 1426–1428; (21 June 2008).
27| Lisiunia Romanienko, 'Body Piercing and Identity Construction', pp. 33–50, 131–139; Palgrave
     Macmillan; (2011).
28| Stone Wall Paintings of Prehistoric Brazil; see at:
29| Dr. K. L. Kamat, 'Prehistoric Rock Paintings of Bhimbetaka'; see at:
30| Mathias Georg Guenther, 'The San Trance Dance: Ritual and Revitalization Among the Farm
     Bushmen of the Ghanzi District, Republic of Botswana.' Journal, South West Africa Scientific
     Society, v30, 1975–76.
31| A search on the web for 'dancing with razor blades' will bring up many returns for those with the
     stomach for it; there is also a product, a pendant necklace with a razor blade, that reads 'blood on the
     dance floor.'
32| Cook, Dave, 'Crazy Legs Speaks'; (2001); see at:
     also see: Julie Delgado, 'Capoeira and Break-Dancing: At the Roots of Resistance'; from WireTap
     Magazine, (26 September 2007); see at:
33| Dr. Peter Der Manuelian, 'Egypt: The World of the Pharaohs'; Könemann Verlagsgesellschaft mbH,
     Cologne Germany; (1998).
34| Howard Anderson, 'Why be a naturist: Statistics, archived from the original on 19 December 2008' (2000).
     see full survey
35| Ibid.

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