Our modern relationships have a lot in common with our ancient ancestors

  • February 10, 2014

According to spokeshominid Harry, 'Modern love is not that modern.' Photo courtesy of Jane

Did you know that the oldest love poem dates back 4 000 years?

Falling in love remains one of the most exciting and fascinating of the human experiences, yet it does seem odd that falling in love seems so specific to humans.

Why do humans fall in love and form partnerships when monogamy is so uncommon in the rest of the animal kingdom – only 3% of other mammal species do this!

And, considering how complicated love and love stories usually are, we have to wonder if it was always this way? How much has the act of falling in love changed over the centuries?

"Modern love is not really that modern," says Harry the Hominid, Maropeng's spokeshominid. He smiles secretly when asked to elaborate, and refers us instead to biological anthropologist Dr Helen Fisher to answer our ancient-love questions.

Dr Fisher has written a number of books on the evolution of love, and in one of these – Anatomy of Love: The Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray – she makes the surprising argument that we are in fact heading back in time with our "new" relationship patterns.

According to Dr Fisher, the double-income family was the rule in ancient times and women had, in essence, commuted to work and were the social, sexual and economic equal of men.

"It was only when humans settled down to farm that things changed and our modern misunderstanding about the sexes emerged. Today we are shedding many of these beliefs and are returning to patterns of business, sex, love and marriage that are compatible with our ancient human spirit," says Dr Fisher.

A recent study in the International Journal of Primatology suggests that male-female bonds may have been strengthened in Plio-Pleistocene hominin social groups because of the energy demands placed on females' bodies when giving birth.

"This meant that they needed more nutrient-dense foods, which were difficult for them to acquire, and this possibly led to a reliance on males to source it for them, leading in turn to a strengthening of male-female bonds," says Brendon Billings, Maropeng's Bone Detective and curator of all collections housed within the School of Anatomical Sciences, at Wits Medical School.

Dr Fisher agrees. "Romantic love is a powerful and primordial mating drive that evolved to find and keep life's most precious gift – an appropriate mating partner."

Finding this ideal partner remains one of life's greatest quests.

Harry just blushed when we asked him about his love life; however, the sparkle in his eye makes it easy to believe that he has many love secrets to tell.

Create your own love memories this Valentine's Day at Maropeng. Visit the Maropeng shop for more information or to make a booking.

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