Taylor, Timothy (F.) 1960–
TAYLOR, Timothy (F.) 1960–
PERSONAL: Born July 10, 1960.
CAREER: University of Bradford, Bradford, England, reader in archaeology. Guest on television programs, including Sex BC, 2002, and National Geographic.
The Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1996.
The Buried Soul: How Humans Invented Death, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2004.
Contributor to Encyclopedia of Prehistory 4: Europe, edited by Peter N. Peregrine and Melvin Ember, Kluwer Academic (New York, NY), 2001. Contributor to periodicals, including Nature, British Archaeology, and Scientific American.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Research on the later prehistoric societies of southeastern Europe; conducting the excavation of a Bronze Age burial site in Yorkshire, England.
SIDELIGHTS: Timothy Taylor has explored ancient cultural practices related to sex and death in his books The Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture and The Buried Soul: How Humans Invented Death. In the former, Taylor attempts to survey changing sexual attitudes and customs beginning in the australopithecine period and continuing into the European Middle Ages, and beyond. Such breadth takes in a tremendous amount of subject matter, and as Antiquity reviewer Marcia-Anne Dobres pointed out, the author risks giving a superficial account because of the scope of his book. Dobres found, however, that Taylor's "attempt is valiant and for the most part successful," and commented that the author "is to be commended for keeping his vision focused far out on the horizon and never losing sight of his main point: that from its very origins, human sexual culture has never been focused simplistically on procreation and (genetic) reproductive success. Rather, it has everywhere and always involved pleasure, pain, preference, prejudice and politics." Dobres did not agree with all of Taylor's conclusions but nevertheless rated The Prehistory of Sex as a valuable resource.
In his book Taylor suggests that even ancient cultures may have known enough about medicinal plants to use them as aphrodisiacs or contraceptives. Drawing on evidence from burial sites and other archeological digs, he states that ancient cultures may have practiced cross-dressing and other practices that certainly have no link to reproduction. Ancient statues, long thought to be representations of Earth Mother goddesses, may have simply been the prehistoric equivalent of modern pornography. The Prehistory of Sex does contain much speculation, but as Laurence A. Marschall pointed out in Sciences, "The hard evidence may support a wide range of wild and entertaining ideas, but one thing is clear: the tapestry of human sexual culture has always been a rich and varied one. The images that we see on these pages … indicate that, whatever your predilection, someone in the past had it too." Megan Harlan, reviewing the book in Entertainment Weekly, commented that while the author's "energetic arguments don't always coalesce, they do breathe imaginative sensual life into long-discarded shards and bones."
In The Buried Soul Taylor looks at ancient practices and superstitions surrounding death. He covers nearly two million years of history in a survey that is "vast, ambitious, and contentious," according to Katherine Ashenburg in American Scholar. The author believes that cannibalism was one of the earliest ways of disposing of the dead: it served a spiritual need to keep the dead among the living, and also fulfilled the practical function of removing the body. The earliest burials took place some 120,000 years ago, marking a shift in human understanding of mortality and morality that made cannibalism taboo. The Buried Soul is a frequently "grisly" book, according to American Scholar reviewer Ashenburg, and the author "boldly" incorporates his own experiences and perceptions of death into his analysis. Ashenburg concluded, "Taylor's childhood and his professional research forged a deep conviction that modern people still scapegoat the vulnerable, torture the innocent, and live harnessed to profound superstitions." Bob Chapman, writing in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, also noted the unique perspective offered by Taylor in The Buried Soul, stating: "The choice of examples and themes makes this an eclectic and individual book."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Scholar, autumn, 2004, Katherine Ashenburg, review of The Buried Soul: How Humans Invented Death, p. 165.
Antiquity, December, 1997, Marcia-Anne Dobres, review of The Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture, p. 1095; March, 2003, Philip Rahtz, review of The Buried Soul, p. 202.
Booklist, September 1, 1996, Donna Seaman, review of The Prehistory of Sex, p. 43; June 1, 2004, Donna Chavez, review of The Buried Soul, p. 1680.
Entertainment Weekly, October 4, 1996, Megan Harlan, review of The Prehistory of Sex, p. 56.
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, September, 2004, Bob Chapman, review of The Buried Soul, p. 737.
Maclean's, September 6, 2004, review of The Buried Soul, p. 95.
New Scientist, September 28, 2002, Kate Douglas, interview with Taylor, p. 46.
New Statesman, October 18, 1996, Christopher Badcock, review of The Prehistory of Sex, p. 42.
Publishers Weekly, June 24, 1996, review of The Prehistory of Sex, p. 40.
Sciences, November-December, 1996, Laurence A. Marschall, review of The Prehistory of Sex, p. 40.
University of Bradford Web site, http://www.brad.ac.uk/ (March 2, 2005), "Tim Taylor."