Saturday, July 22, 2017

EARLY VISITORS TO CAVE ART SITES - ROUFFIGNAC:


Bust of Francois de Belleforest,
Wikipedia. Public domain.

On July 1, 2017, I published an article that I called NIAUX CAVERN - AN EARLY VISITOR'S GRAFFITI, in which I wrote about Ruben de la Vialle who visited Niaux and left his name and the year 1660 on the wall.

Another early visitor to a painted cave in France was the French writer Francois de Belleforest who wrote about Rouffignac and mentioned the "paintings" he found within, in 1575.


Map of Rouffignac cave,
entrance at lower right.

"The original entrance is still wide open today. It was a popular place to explore, particularly in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, as we can see from the numerous inscriptions on the walls. There are names and dates that cover four centuries. No one in those days knew about the existence of Paleolithic culture, so it is understandable that the art was ignored, even though some drawings were quite visible. In fact, as early as 1575, Francois de Belle-Forest wrote about the wonders of this cave and mentioned the 'paintings,' adding that he thought the place to be one of idolatry, possibly with sacrificial rituals dedicated to Venus or some other 'infernal' pagan deity. His interesting manuscript provides supplementary evidence for authentication of the art. Indeed, as prehistoric art was unheard of until the mid-1800s at the very earliest, no fake 'prehistoric' depictions could have been done before then, certainly not in 1575." (Rothenberg 2011:98-9)


Mammoth and ibexes, Rouffignac.
Public Domain.


Close-up of mammoth and ibexes, 
Rouffignac. Public Domain.

I am unable, obviously, to determine exactly which paintings Belleforest might have seen (although I assume they were the ones nearest the entrance). Rouffignac is, however, called the "Cave of 100 Mammoths" for its large number of portrayals of that creature, so perhaps he saw mammoths.



Mammoth frieze, Rouffignac.
Public Domain.

Rouffignac is decorated with 158 mammoths, 28 bisons, 15 horses, 12 capricorns (ibexes), and 10 wooly rhinoceros. Seventy-eight percent of all the animals depicted are mammoths. (Wikipedia) We must regret that Belleforest did not delineate further what he saw, to allow us to identify the specific images, but we should certainly celebrate him as an early visitor to a cave art site.


NOTE: The images in this posting were retrieved from the Internet with a search for Public Domain images. If they were used inappropriately and are not intended to be Public Domain I apologize to the owner of the picture's rights. If this is the case please inform me.


REFERENCES:

Rothenberg, David,
2011 Survival of the Beautiful, Art, Science, and Evolution, Bloomsbury Press, New York.

Wikipedia.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

NEW DISCOVERIES IN AZILIAN CULTURE ROCK ART:




Azilian painted pebble,
Wikipedia. Public Domain.

It has long been believed that the great Ice Age art of Europe disappeared with the decline of the Magdalenian culture about 12,000 BCE. The following culture in that area has been named the Azilian culture, and the main art practice associated with Azilian has been decorated pebbles.


"The Azilian is a name given by archaeologists to an industry of the Epipaleolithic in northern Spain and southern France.
It probably dates to the period of - around 12,000 years ago - and followed the Magdalenian culture. Archaeologists think the Azilian represents the tail end of the Magdalenian as the warming climate brought about changes in human behaviour in the area. The effects of melting ice sheets would have diminished the food supply and probably impoverished the previously well-fed Magdalenian manufacturers. As a result, Azilian tools and art were cruder and less expansive than their Ice Age predecessors - or simply different.
Diagnostic artifacts from the culture include Azilian points (microliths with rounded retouched backs), crude flat bone harpoons and pebbles with abstract decoration. The latter were first found in the River Arize at the type-site for the culture, Le Mas-d'Azil in the French Pyrenees." (Wikipedia)

Large numbers of the painted pebbles mentioned above have been recovered from Azilian sites, and this has long been assumed to represent their total artistic output.

"Azilian pebbles carry simple designs coloured and/or decorated with paint made from red ochre (iron peroxide), applied from the creator's fingers. Dots, borders and bands of colour, zig-zags, ovals and dashes are featured. About 1400 pebbles like these were found at Le Mas-d'Azil, southwestern France." (Wikipedia)


Engraved aurochs on schist plaque.
Azilian, Le Rocher del'Imperatrice,
France. Plos.org, Public Domain.


Drawing of aurochs on schist plaque.
Azilian, Le Rocher del'Imperatrice,
France. Plos.org, Public Domain.

A recent publication online on Plosone (Plos.org, March 3, 2017) by a team of French researchers led by Nicolas Naudinot described a group of 45 schist placques recovered at Le Rocher del'Imperatrice described sophisticated realistic engravings that open up a whole new area of understanding of the art of this important period of history.

"The development of the Azilian in Western Europe 14,000 years ago is considered a 'revolution' in Upper Paleolithic Archaeology. One of the main elements of this rapid social restructuring is the abandonment of naturalistic figurative art on portable pieces or on cave walls in the Magdalenian in favor of abstract expression on small pebbles.
Recent work shows that the transformation of human societies between the Magdalenian and the Azilian was more gradual. The discovery of a new Early Azilian site with decorated stones in France supports this hypothesis. While major changes in stone tool technology between the Magdalenian and Azilian clearly mark important adaptive changes, the discovery of 45 engraved schist tablets from archaeological layers at Le Rocher de l'Iperatrice attests to iconogaphic continuity together with special valorization of aurochs as shown by a 'shining' bull depiction." (Naudinot 2017)

Realistic, larger-scale depictions of aurochs and horses provide evidence that cultural and religious beliefs had not totally abandoned the fascination in large animals found in previous cultures, and suggest that the evolution of these beliefs and mythology moved more slowly, lagging behind the evolution of tools to fit the new conditions the people lived in.


Engraved aurochs on schist plaque.
Azilian, Le Rocher del'Imperatrice,
France. Plos.org, Public Domain.


Drawing of aurochs on schist plaque.
Azilian, Le Rocher del'Imperatrice,
France. Plos.org, Public Domain.

A depiction on one schist plaque of an aurochs seems to be accentuated by an aura or rays around its head. "One side bears a special composition of a bull's head in left profile surrounded by deep rays that create a highlighting visual effect. No equivalent 'shining animal' could be found in the European Paleolithic iconography. The technological study of this piece shows an intentional organization of gestures in order to point up the central place of the aurochs. The rays were engraved after the animal. But to place the aurochs at the forefront, the horns have been accentuated by a new series of engraving in the same grooves, occurring in the areas where the rays and the horns intersect." (Naudinot 2017)

This type of symbolic representation may be later traced to the portrayal of halos on holy images in medieval and renaissance art and may point to the origin of a symbol utilized and understood down to the present. In other words, it is possible that this represents the earliest known example of a symbol that has lasted for ca. 14,000 years, an important discovery to be sure.

NOTE: The images in this posting were retrieved from the Internet with a search for Public Domain images. If they were used inappropriately and are not intended to be Public Domain I apologize to the owner of the picture's rights. If this is the case please inform me.

REFERENCES:                                                          
Naudinot, et al,
2017 Divergence in the Evolution of Paleolithic Symbolic and Technological Systems: the Shining Bull and Engraved tablets of Rocher de L'Imperatrice,
http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pome.0173037


Wikipedia

Saturday, July 8, 2017

PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES - A BOOK REVIEW:



Pushing The Boundaries,
Front Cover

This volume is another rock art publication of the Oregon Archaeological Society (OAS), their 24th book, a remarkable contribution for such a group. This particular book covers a region in southeastern Oregon known as the Harney Basin, centered a couple of hundred miles south of Pendleton, and a transitional area between the Columbia Plateau and the Great Basin. Pushing the Boundaries: The Pictographs Petroglyphs of Oregon's Harney Basin, written by Don Hann and Daniel Leen adds a little-known area to the record, and covers this important region in great detail.



Harney Basin, Oregon. Photo:
used with permission of OAS.


Map of Harney Basin, Oregon.
Wikipedia.

As with other volumes published by the Oregon Archaeological Society this book is seriously scholarly, boasting 14 pages of references out of a 107 page total.


Harney Basin pictograph sites.
Photo: used with permission
of OAS.

The website of the OAS describes the volume with this statement:
"Archaeologists Daniel Leen and Don Hann have joined forces to create this interesting and scientifically important volume on the rock art of the Harney Basin in southeastern Oregon. Sitting at the cultural boundary between the Columbia Plateau and the Great Basin, the pictographs and petroglyphs of the Harney Basin have long captured the interests of both professional and avocational archaeologists. Hann, a U.S. Forest service Archaeologist and Leen, a well known archaeologist and artist, describe the major sites in detail, interpret the imagery, and explain that the ancient drawings and carvings are likely the work of groups from both the Columbia Plateau and the Great Basin who used the Harney Basin throughout at least the last 5,000 years.
Fortunately, Leen, one of the premier rock art recorders in the Pacific Northwest, spent two summers in the early 1980s carefully recording more than 40 Harney Basin sites. Hann's knowledge of Blue Mountains/Harney Basin prehistory, coupled with Leen's excellent tracings have produced a volume that will quickly become a classic for any student of western North American rock art." (http://www.oregonarchaeological.org/publications)



Figure 6, 35HA1372, panel4, p. 22.
Photo: used with permission of OAS.

The finely detailed black and white drawings by  that illustrate this volume are gems in their own right, although they are generally reproduced in small scale. Their detail and clarity make me hungry to see the full-scale originals. A considerable amount of information about the people who created the rock art is provided as well.



Plate 1, Harney Basin, Site 24,
Rattlesnake Rim. Photo: used
with permission of OAS.

"The people living in Harney Basin bay have included members of both Columbia Plateau and Great Basin ethnic groups tied together through bonds of marriage and trade. (Rhode 2012:4-10)" (p.81)
"The Great Basin group which inhabited Harney Basin in the early historic period was the Northern Paiute - Several distinct bands of the Northern Paiute lived here including the Wadatika, Hunipuitoka (Walpapi), and Koa'aga'itoka." (p.6)
"Plateau tribes that lived adjacent to Harney Basin in the southern Blue Mountains include the Western Columbia River Sahaptins (also known as the John Day Band, the Dock-Spus or erroneously the Tenino), Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla and Nez Perce Indians." (p. 7) 



Plate 2, Harney Basin, Site 24,
Rattlesnake Rim. Photo: used
with permission of OAS.

The authors found a cultural association with these groups and the style of the rock art as well as the media it was produced in.
"Harney Basin petroglyphs show clear affiliation with the Great Basin but local variation in design elements demonstrates influence from the Columbia Plateau." (p. 79)
"Harney Basin pictographs are associated with the Columbia Plateau. They fit clearly into Keyser's (1992:83) North Oregon Rectilinear Style." (p. 79)

To me, the striking quality of this book is that the authors present a detailed, scientific record and analysis of the rock art of the region without falling into the trap of trying to fit the material into any current fad espoused by pop rock art analysts. I think I only counted the "s-word" (shaman) once in the whole volume, and did not notice the word "neuropsychological" at all. This book definitely belongs in the library of any serious student of North American rock art.
Five star approval rating.

To purchase a copy of this, or any other of their excellent books, simply visit  http://www.oregonarchaeological.org/publications/.

8.5” x 11” 107 pages, 100 illustrations, two pages of color plates
ISBN #: 978-0-9915200-2-2 OAS Publication: #24. Price $15.00 plus $4.00 Shipping and Handling.

REFERENCE:

Hann, Don, & Daniel Leen
2017 Pushing the Boundaries: The Pictographs Petroglyphs of Oregon's Harney Basin, Oregon Archaeological Society Publication #24 , www.oregonarchaeological.org

Saturday, July 1, 2017

NIAUX CAVERN - AN EARLY VISITOR'S GRAFFITI:


Bison, Niaux, Black Salon,
Wikipedia. Public domain.

The urge to leave graffiti on a rock art site is not just a modern phenomenon. According to the book The Cave and the Cathedral by Amir Aczel, a visitor to Niaux cavern in 1660 left his name on the wall in the Black Salon where he saw the rock art left by Paleolithic artists. I found the account really provoked my imagination as I pictured this gentleman making his way through the cave in the 1600s. Ruben de la Vialle had to have used a flame to light his way, much like the original creators of the art, not the electric lamps used by modern visitors. Aczel described it in his book The Cave and the Cathedral (see below).



Ruben de la Vialle,1660 signature, leavesandleaf.blogspot.com.
Public domain.

"In 1660, a visitor named Ruben de la Vialle carved his name and the date all the way inside the Black Salon, half a mile deep inside this cavern (Niaux), right next to the drawings of the animals. Did de la Vialle realize how ancient the drawings were? We do not know, and there is no evidence that anyone else had penetrated the cave to this depth. De la Vialle must have lighted his way in with fire, using a candle or a torch not much different from the kind Paleolithic artists who decorated this cave had used.
Navigating this complicated underground network of cavities - which continues for six more miles underground in a part of the cave very rarely visited today, called the Castres Network - must have been a daunting task. And it was dangerous. We know that people have died when they got lost inside some of these deep caverns.
But somehow, Ruben de la Vialle made it alone all the way in. He saw this great art, and he made it back out of the cave. His footsteps have been found in the cave, showing his way in and out. There are also footsteps of the Paleolithic people who made the art and those of ancient visitors who entered the cave still in the Ice Age, a couple of thousand years after the artists had left. These Ice Age visitors were two women and two young children, as revealed by an analysis of their footsteps. They, too, made it all the way to the Black Salon. We know this because the cave environment was undisturbed by wind or fire or much geological erosion, and therefore ancient footsteps inside remained intact for millennia.
Once de la Vialle had left the cave of Niaux in 1660, the beautiful drawings of the Black Salon were not to be seen again for almost 250 years. The artists clearly aimed - and succeeded - at hiding their drawings well.
On September 21, 1906, the Paleolithic treasure hidden in the depth of Niaux was rediscovered. That day, two young brothers, Paul and Jules Molard, were hiking in the woods with their father, known only as Captain Molard, in the rural region of the lower central Pyrenees." (Aczel 2009:10-11)


Ibex, Niaux cave, Black Salon, Public
domain, www.visual-arts-cork.com.



Niaux, Black Salon,
donsmaps.com, 
Public domain.

Unfortunately, we have no record of what de la Vialle thought of the masterpieces of Paleolithic art that he found there. One can only imagine his thoughts on the subject, but it is something to contemplate.

Note: Images in this posting were retrieved from the Internet by a search that included the phrase "Public domain." If any of these images were located mistakenly please accept my apology, and inform me so I can give proper credit.


REFERENCE:

Aczel, Amir D.
2009 The Cave and the Cathedral: How a Real-Life Indiana Jones and a Renegade Scholar Decoded the Ancient Art of Man, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ.


http://donsmaps.com/niauxart.html

http://leavesandleaf.blogspot.com

Wikipedia.

www.visual-arts-cork.com.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

ANIMALS IN ROCK ART - A PAINTED MONGOOSE IN AN EGYPTIAN TOMB:


Beni Hassan, Egypt.
Public domain.

 I have, on occasion, presented material in RockArtBlog that came from Egyptian tombs and other sources not generally considered as rock art. My reason for this is that I see a pretty direct relationship between something painted on a cliff or boulder, and something painted on the rock wall of a tomb. (Besides, some of these subjects are just too fascinating to pass up.)

A recent column by Owen Jarus on Live Science presents paintings from a tomb at Beni Hassan, Egypt. Dated May 9, 2017, Jarus' column shows paintings from the tomb of Baqet I, "a nomarch or provincial governor, who ruled during the 11th dynasty." (Jarus 2017)


Mongoose panel, Tomb
of Baquet I. Beni Hassan,
Egypt. Public domain.

Among these tomb paintings is one that shows a number of animals and birds in a scene illustrating a group of hunters. One of the hunters holds a pair of leashes leading a dog (apparently a Pharoah hound) and an Egyptian mongoose. The Beni Hassan tombs were excavated more than a century ago by Percy Newbarry, but are now being re-surveyed by Linda Evans and a team from Macquarie University's Australian Centre for Egyptology. Newberry had tentatively identified the animal as a possible mongoose, but this has been disputed by other Egyptologists. Recently an Egyptian antiquities team conserved and cleaned these tombs and paintings, allowing the definite identification of the animals as indeed being an Egyptian mongoose. (Jarus 2017)


Egyptian mongoose,
public domain.

Egyptologists and art historians familiar with Egyptian tomb painting are quite accustomed to seeing pictures of Egyptians with animals in surprising situations. A well known example would be paintings of Egyptians hunting with cats.


"'While mongooses have never been fully domesticated - that is, subjected to controlled breeding - some cultures have chosen to keep the animals as pets in order to control unwanted pests, such as snakes, rats, and mice."  (Jarus 2017)" This writer can attest to that, having seen numerous examples of mongooses on leashes with snake charmers in the early 1960s in Karachi, Lahore, and Hyderabad, Pakistan. 


Line-drawing of Mongoose panel,
Tomb of Baquet I. Beni Hassan,
Egypt. Public domain.

No other images of leashed mongooses are known in Egyptian art,' Evans wrote." (Jarus 2017) So, while uncommon, this subject is certainly not that unlikely. All in all, however, it makes for an interesting subject and is yet another fascinating example of ancient art for us to study and appreciate.

NOTE: Images in this column were retrieved from the internet with a search that included the term public domain. If any of these images were not intended as public domain, please inform me and I will be happy to give credit, or delete those images.

REFERENCES:

Jarus, Owen,
2017 Tomb Drawing Shows Mongoose on a Leash, Puzzling Archaeologists, May 9, 2017, Live Science, https://www.livescience.com/59022-egypt-tomb-with-leashed-mongoose-drawing.html

Saturday, June 17, 2017

MORE ON BUFFALO/LION WOMAN:




Chauvet Buffalo Woman,
pinterest.com,
public domain.

Last week I wrote about the question of the time depth of the Pied Piper myth, the Paleolithic origins of the Polyphemus myth according to Julien d'Huy, and whether a woman/buffalo transformation figure in Chauvet Cave in France could illustrate a Paleolithic version of Buffalo Woman of Native American mythology.


D'Huy's analysis traced the Polyphemus myth through space as well as time, indicating that it had reached North America in the Paleolithic period and had evolved into an explanation of the coming of the buffalo. He even related a Blackfoot version that involved Trickster Crow hiding a herd of buffalo in a cave, but two hunters outwitted him and freed the buffalo. (d'Huy 2016) For other peoples of North America the trickster who hid the buffalo was Coyote. For the Lakota people, however, the buffalo were brought to the people by Buffalo Woman, or White Buffalo Maiden.

Deep inside Chauvet Cave there is a painting that seems to illustrate the transformation of a buffalo into a woman and vice versa. It could be possible that this illustrates some variant of the Buffalo Woman myth. Drawn on a downward projecting stalactite is a frontal view of the lower half of a nude woman's figure from the pubic triangle on down. "There are also a couple of good examples of the hybrid figure of a bison-woman, such as the famous image from Chauvet, in France. This black painting features the detailed head of a bison on top of the lower half of a female body (she is nude and her pubic triangle has been emphasized by the artist)." (Von Pezinger 2016:91)

Whether or not this composition was meant to actually illustrate some Paleolithic version of the Buffalo Woman myth, it certainly does a great job of conveying the idea of animal to human transformation.

Chauvet bison woman,
redrawn from Clotte.

There is another aspect of this figure that fascinates me and I have been unable to find any information on from other sources so I will have to tackle this one on my own. It involves the woman's other leg (her right leg). A careful examination of the composite figure shows that the woman's right leg originates as the front leg of a lion drawn facing away from her torso. When I first noticed it I immediately felt a flicker of recognition. The lion's head and left front leg (the woman's right leg) reminded me of the of the head and left arm of the Lion-man of Hohlenstein-Stadel.



Lion Man  of Hohlenstein-Stadel,
Public domain.

The Lion-man of Hohlenstein-Stadel "is a prehistoric ivory sculpture that was discovered in the Hohlenstein-Stadel, a German cave in 1939. - The lion-headed figurine is the oldest-known zoomorphic (animal-shaped) sculpture in the world, and the oldest known uncontested example of figurative art. It has been determined to be between 35,000 and 40,000 years old by carbon dating of material from the layer in which it was found, and is thus associated with the archaeological Aurignacian culture. It was carved out of wooly mammoth ivory." (Wikipedia) 


To my eye the similarity of the head and bent arm of the carved ivory figure and the head and bent front leg of the lion figure on the left in the group in Chauvet Cave is so remarkable as to be  highly evocative. Now I will be the first to admit that I am not at all sure what this similarity evokes; some Paleolithic myth cycle, a religious belief, or something I cannot imagine? Can there be any connection? Probably not based upon ages, the Chauvet Cave art is dated to 30,000 - 32,000 BCE by radiocarbon, and the Lion-man is 35,000 - 40,000 BCE, quite a discrepancy. However, they are both considered to be Aurignacian in origin, and similar beliefs and myth cycles are a possibility.

There are many instances of beliefs that have lasted essentially unchanged for thousands of years. Indeed, if I change the term from myth to religious belief we can point to Christianity and its basic tenets, or Judaism for a longer time frame. In his book The Cave and the Cathedral, Amir D. Aczel traces the cult of the bull from the aurochs painted in the Paleolithic cave art of Europe, through the bull horns and heads so prevalent in neolithic Catalhoyuk on the Anatolian plain, to the bulls and acrobats in the Minoan murals of the Palace of Knossos, on Crete. This, if true, would give that theme a time-depth of perhaps 10,000+ years. So perhaps it is not completely outlandish to suggest a possible mythological connection between the "sorcerer" painted in Chauvet, and the Lion-man of Hohlenstein-Stadel.

There is one other possibility that should be pointed out, it could be an example of a visual pun, or a puzzle picture, like the duck's head/rabbit optical illusion. Perhaps the artist was just having fun? In any case the form of the woman's figure morphing into a bison and a lion in Chauvet cave is a remarkably sophisticated piece of work, both in concept, and in design and rendering. Not only are the painted caves of Europe a testament to the artistic abilities of our Paleolithic ancestors, they are evidence of their sophisticated thought processes and beliefs, and, as such, are real treasures of human heritage.


NOTE: Images used in this column were retrieved from the Internet with a search that included the phrase Public Domain. If any of these images were not intended to be public domain I apologize for their use, and will be happy to correct my error if so informed.

REFERENCES:

Aczel, Amir D.
2009 The Cave and the Cathedral: How a Real-Life Indiana Jones and a Renegade Scholar Decoded the Ancient Art of Man, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, New Jersey.

Clottes, Jean
2001 Chauvet Cave: The Discovery of the Worlds Oldest Paintings, University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

d'Huy, Julien
2016 The Evolution of Myths, pages 62-69, Scientific American, vol. 315, No. 6, Dec. 2016.

Von Petzinger, Genevieve,
2016 The First Signs, Unlocking the Mysteries of the World's Oldest Symbols, Atria Books, New York, London.


Wikipedia

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A PALEOLITHIC BUFFALO WOMAN?



Chauvet cave,
www.pinterest.com,
public domain.

On December 3, 2016, I posted a column about an article in the December 2016 issue of Scientific American magazine. Written by Julien d'Huy, and titled The Evolution of Myths, this article traced back the origins of the Greek Polyphemus myth to the Paleolithic of 30,000 to 15,000 years ago. D'Huy illustrated this with the figure from the cave of Les Trois Freres of the "shaman" or buffalo dancer figure surrounded by bison. Intrigued, I wrote the author and asked about the concept of the Pied Piper in mythology, and whether that would fall in the same myth family? I published his answer in my column on April 29, 2017 - he was uncertain but did not believe that the Pied Piper myth had anything close to the necessary depth in time to be pertinent to this cave painting.


Vertical bison,
Chauvet cave,
www.pinterest.com,
public domain.

D'Huy's analysis traced the Polyphemus myth through space as well as time, indicating that it had reached North America in the Paleolithic period and had evolved into an explanation of the coming of the buffalo. He even related a Blackfoot version that involved Trickster Crow hiding a herd of buffalo in a cave, but two hunters outwitted him and freed the buffalo. (d'Huy 2016) For other peoples of North America the trickster who hid the buffalo was Coyote. For the Lakota people, however, the buffalo were brought to the people by Buffalo Woman, or White Buffalo Maiden.


White-Buffalo Woman,
www.ancientorigins.net,
public domain.

"Centuries ago, the Sioux roamed the Paha Sapa or Black Hills. Legends have grown around the now famous vacation land of America in the State of South Dakota, and to this day the legends are still told.
The wind cave, where Wind Cave National Park is located, was a sacred cave where the buffalo lady dwelt. At first the Sioux feared the cave because they thought a giant lived in it. They thought that the wind which blew in and out of the mouth of the cave was caused by a giant breathing. This giant invoked the providence of the Great Spirit to give him knowledge of the mysterious hidden powers of Mother Nature that lurked in the cave the Indians feared.
One day, a medicine man stood at the mouth of the cave pondering, and suddenly, a vision appeared to him. A young Indian maiden told him she was the immortal buffalo lady from below the earth.
The buffalo lady told the medicine man to tell his people that the cave was one of the sacred places of the Paha Sapa. She said, 'Tell your people to come to this cave and offer gifts and tokens by dropping them into the sacred cave. By your offerings the Great Spirit will provide your temporal wants by providing great herds of buffalo for your livelihood.'" (Wikipedia)


Close-up,
White-Buffalo Woman,
www.ancientorigins.net,
public domain.

Another version of the story can be found on the website of the American Indian College Fund. It relates that many years ago "the seven sacred council fires of the Lakota Sioux came together and camped during the summer. The people were starving because there was no game. Two young men went out to look for food for their people in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Along the way, a beautiful young woman dressed in white appeared to them, saying, 'Return to your people and tell them I am coming.'  When she presented herself to the Lakota people with the sacred pipe which showed how all things were connected, she taught them the mysteries of the earth. She taught them to pray and follow the proper path while on earth.
Then, before leaving, she rolled upon the earth four times, changing color each time, turning into a white buffalo calf before she disappeared. As she left, great herds of buffalo surrounded the camps. After that day the Lakota honored their pipe and the buffalo were plentiful." (collegefund.org)

Deep inside Chauvet Cave there is a painting that seems to illustrate the transformation of a buffalo into a woman and vice versa. It could be possible that this illustrates some variant of the Buffalo Woman myth. Drawn on a downward projecting stalactite is a frontal view of the lower half of a nude woman's figure from the pubic triangle on down. "There are also a couple of good examples of the hybrid figure of a bison-woman, such as the famous image from Chauvet, in France. This black painting features the detailed head of a bison on top of the lower half of a female body (she is nude and her pubic triangle has been emphasized by the artist)." (Von Pezinger 2016:91)


Chauvet Buffalo Woman,
pinterest.com,
public domain.

However a closer look reveals that her left leg is the front leg of a buffalo (whose head is right above the woman's pubic triangle). Even more interestingly, the woman's right leg appears to also be the leg of a lion drawn on the stalactite. Whether or not this composition was meant to actually illustrate some Paleolithic version of the Buffalo Woman myth, it certainly does a great job of conveying the idea of animal to human transformation.

NOTE: Images used in this column were retrieved from the Internet with a search that included the phrase Public Domain. If any of these images were not intended to be public domain I apologize for their use, and will be happy to correct my error if so informed.

REFERENCES:

d'Huy, Julien
2016 The Evolution of Myths, pages 62-69, Scientific American, vol. 315, No. 6, Dec. 2016.

Von Petzinger, Genevieve,
2016 The First Signs, Unlocking the Mysteries of the World's Oldest Symbols, Atria Books, New York, London

http://collegefund.org/blog/the-meaning-of-the-sacred-white-buffalo/

http://wiki.olc.edu/index.php/Lakota_Stories 

www.ancientorigins.net

Saturday, June 3, 2017

PALEOLITHIC CAVE PAINTING - A PRECURSOR TO WRITING?

La Pasiega inscription, Spain.
http://channel.national
geographic.com/origins


The perennial question of the origin(s) of writing has been long debated and argued over. Perhaps the earliest nominee for the title of earliest writing is a row of symbols found in La Pasiega Cave, in Spain.  This was discussed by Genevieve von Petzinger in her 2016 book The First Signs, Unlocking the Mysteries of the World's Oldest Symbols, from Atria Books, New York.

 Close-up, La Pasiega inscription, Spain.
http://channel.national
geographic.com/origins

"The 'La Pasiega inscription' is probably the most unusual sequence of signs found anywhere in Palaeolithic art. La Pasiega is part of the same mountain complex where we find El Castillo and several other important Ice Age sites, but even in this company, features like its grinding stone and purple bison make it unusual. And these pale in comparison to the strange row of signs situated high on a wall of their own, deep inside the complex, multileveled warren of passageways that make up La Pasiega. With the dark-red paint of the characters still standing out starkly from the pale, sloping wall, these abstract images are over twelve feet above floor level - the artist would have had to scramble up a steep, slippery incline to even create this series of signs.

What first struck me when I saw these images was how organized and purposeful they looked: they seem to be organized into three closely spaced units. The most complex is on the left and consists of a pair of horizontal lines with other markings extending upward vertically from this base. There is a symmetry to the arrangement: in the center is a single line, flanked on either side by two stacked circles, with a pair of lines on each end. The center unit consists of two images that have been described as 'stylized feet' and are made up of oval shapes each topped with five short lines extending upward (kind of like the toes on a foot). And, finally, on the right is a single sign most easily described as a reversed capital E, but with two lines in the center instead of one. Henri Breuil described these markings as 'cabalistic figures' after visiting La Pasiega in 1913, and was one of the first pre-historians to refer to it as an inscription. Whether these signs should be considered as part of a writing system is something that continues to generate discussion and is really part of the larger question that I'm about to try to answer for you, namely: "Is it writing?" (Von Petzinger 2016: 182-3)  


La Pasiega inscription, Spain.
Wikipedia.

" So in answer to the question 'Is it writing?' I'm afraid the answer is no. However, I do feel confident that Ice Age rock art was meaningful to those who created it and did have communicative properties; it's just that no clear recording of language is evident yet. Does this make the sequence of signs at La Pasiega an accidental occurrence? I certainly don't think so. In fact, I lean in the opposite direction. My guess is that those particular abstract markings represent an early attempt to string multiple signs together in order to create a more complex message. And while it does show that at least some Paleolithic people already understood the potential of combining signs, when it comes to the 'writing question,' the problem is that this row of geometric images was a highly unusual occurrence, not part of a flourishing system.
The question now, of course, is: If the signs were meaningful and meant to transmit information, then exactly what were they trying to say?" (Von Petzinger 2016: 189-90)

For me, the most significant part of Von Petzinger's analysis is her phrase "those particular abstract markings represent an early attempt to string multiple signs together in order to create a more complex message." (p. 189-90). It seems to me that any serious observer would have to conclude that this string of signs were purposely carefully planned and executed for exactly that purpose, to create a more complex message. I do not know if the two foot/paw prints(?) and the backward-E shape are intended to be included with the grouping on the left. Von Petzinger apparently does lump them all together based upon their proximity and identical pigment shade and color. Here, in North America, the two footprints would probably be considered to be bear paw prints, the symbol on the right I wouldn't know about. What really interests me is the grouping on the left.

First, notice that the symbols in that group on the left are lined up on top of a large rectangle as if on a stage or pedestal for a special presentation, but better than that, if they were a word precursor (that is, a group of symbols that represent an object, idea, or concept) they would be a palindrome - the same when read from either side (such as madam, or race car) - and that, I am quite sure, is no accident. From which ever side you start you have a double vertical line, truncated figure 8, a single vertical line in the middle, another truncated figure 8, and another double vertical line. Whatever these symbols represent, it is certain that their creation was the result of a deliberate and complicated cognitive process. They represent something, I just do not know what it is.

Genevieve Von Petzinger has presented her ideas in a Ted Talk, available through the following link (copy the following address and paste it into your browser):
https://www.ted.com/talks/genevieve_von_petzinger_why_are_these_32_symbols_found_in_ancient_caves_all_over_europe

I do recommend the Von Petzinger book, The First Signs, Unlocking the Mysteries of the World's Oldest Symbols, it is an interesting and fun read.

NOTE: Illustrations in this column were retrieved by a Google 10 search of the Internet for La Pasiega Inscription Public Domain. If any results were used that are not meant to be public domain I apologize and will be happy to give credit if you let me know.



REFERENCES:

http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/origins-the-journey-of-humankind/videos/inventing-graphics-on-cave-walls/

Von Petzinger, Genevieve,
2016    The First Signs, Unlocking the Mysteries of the World's Oldest Symbols, Atria Books, New York, London


Wikipedia