Re: Shelter and Menstruation

J E Hawcroft (
Thu, 02 Jan 1997 13:39:55 +0000

B. Moosang wrote:
> 1 - Roughly when did people start live in, well, places like (at the risk
> of sounding like a Flintstone, caves and other primative shetlers? Also
> roughly when were shelters first constructed rather than found?

Firstly, we'll never know what type of non-permanent shelters were
constructed by our ancestors (if any). If they were anything like the
leafy nests that chimps build we've no chance of finding them, but this
doesn't alter the fact that shelter-building is a very important factor
of behaviour even when it isn't permanent.
As far as I know the first human fossils that are definitely found "in"
places are neanderthals, all the sites for neanderthals are cave sites.
Whether they lived in these caves or simply buried their dead in them is
still a matter of (a little) debate.
Anatomically modern humans in Europe built shelters on open sites, such
as the mammoth-bone huts in the Ukraine excavated by Olga Soffer
(probably because the neanderthals were hogging all the decent caves!).
It has been suggested that the flexibility in dwelling location gave the
anat mods an advantage over the neanderthals. As far as I know this is
the first house-building evidence, but others more familiar with Africa
might know better.

> 2 - Does anybody know when women began to menstruate as opposed to (I
> forget the scienctific term) going into heat?

I very much doubt if anyone will know based on skeletal remains or
anything else apart from social structure. Many academics consider that
the social scheme of a group reflects their sexual biology (for example,
the idea that sexual dimorphism exists in harem systems). But I don't
know how menstruation would be represented in social terms. Somebody out
there might.

> 3 - Assuming women did not menstruate before the advent of (semi)
> permanent shelters would it be possible (given the time frame suggested
> by the answer to question one) for such biological changes to occur
> (evolve)?
> The arguement (discussion) that I have been having is that menstruation
> evolved as an adaptive result of shelter and food becoming more readily
> availble and thus (though litters are usually one only) human woman
> evoloved so that they were fertile more often.
> The counter argument that has been bouncing around is that (even if such
> could evolve in such a short time period) since human babies need far
> more car and attention than do other critters babies in fact it would
> make more sense for human reproduction to happen even less often than it
> already does.

I would have thought that permanent structures (or, more to the point,
permanent settlements) would have come after females evolved concealed
ovulation and constant sexual accessibility (ie menstruation). The
received wisdom is that females evolved this in order to keep their males
around and keep them providing for them and their young, getting constant
sex in return (I have some feminist problems with this model but it is
fairly widely accepted at the moment). This is seen as the reason for the
evolution of the family unit and it seems reasonable to suggest permanent
dwelling places would develop as a result of having family units,
especially family units including children.

> Finally, does anybody kow if other creatures (I guess the best bet would
> be gorillas, menstrate?

As far as I know, most female mammals bleed following ovulation if they
are not fertilised, ie after their period of heat is over. But I think
humans are the only mammal with concealed ovulation and year-round sexual
availability. But I expect some zoologists can correct me on this.