Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Stone Age Women

The most famous early image of a human, a woman, is the so-called "Venus" of Willendorf. Diffusion is a word used to describe the borrowing of cultural elements from one people to another, or the giving of cultural elements from one culture to another. The borrowing of elements can be found in many different places in many different ways. For example, the introduction of wine to Greece, from Crete in trade, eventually led to a wine trade in Greece, and a ritualistic use of the wine (as the originators of Crete had also used it in many rituals). The Venus of Willendorf is at best a sketchy example of diffusion, but serves a definite purpose in the scheme of human history. With the Willendorf figurines, are seen the first images of a Paleolithic female, or goddess figure, and with them the ability of humans to take from their own minds and create an image in the form of art. The Willendorf figurines also and most importantly represent fertility in some form, and can easily be translated to the later fertility goddesses of older civilizations. This on it's own is an example of the diffusion of the Willendorf figurines, however there is a more finite form of diffusion with them. For the figurines to have traveled to such vast territories between Western France and Western Russia, one hunter gatherer tribe could not have necessarily made the journey. There had to be other hunter gatherer groups through out the area. Perhaps it was a systematic trading of the figurines to other cultures which occurred, where specific groups took the icons and crafted them to represent fertility figurines of their own group, or perhaps it was a universal image which only with the advent of sculpture was incorporated into the lives of the Paleolithic peoples. All of the above mentioned are examples of possible diffusion of the Venus figurines, which have played an important role in Paleolithic culture.
Venus of Willendorf, found in 1908 by the archaeologist Josef Szombathy in an Aurignacian loess deposit near the town of Willendorf in Austria. The earliest notice of its discovery appeared in a report by the Yale anthropologist George Grant MacCurdy (1863-1947) who happened to be in Vienna in the summer of 1908. Although the greater part of the collection of finds from the site had not yet been unpacked, MacCurdy reported excitedly that before he left Vienna Szombathy had very kindly shown him a single remarkable specimen - a human figurine, full length, carved out of stone and now in the Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna.
The statuette was carved from a particular type of oolitic limestone not found in the region and so must have been brought to the area from another location. It may well be the case that the carving, which was presumably done with flint tools, was not done locally.
When first discovered the "Venus" of Willendorf was thought to date to approximately 15,000 to 10,000 BCE, or more or less to the same period as the cave paintings at Lascaux in France.
In the 1970s the date was revised back to 25,000-20,000 BCE, and then in the 1980s it was revised again to c. 30,000-25,000 BCE A study of the stratigraphic sequence of the nine superimposed archaeological layers comprising the Willendorf deposit published in 1990, which offers a key for the relative and absolute Carbon 14 chronology of the Central European Upper Palaeolithic, however, now indicates a date for the "Venus" of Willendorf of around 24,000-22,000 BCE (26-24,000 B.P.).
Her great age and exaggerated female forms have established the "Venus" of Willendorf as an icon of prehistoric art. As the discipline of art history underwent a paradigm shift during the 1960s away from discussing art objects that were characteristic of an age to selecting art objects that represented the highest artistic accomplishments of the age, no matter how unique and extraordinary, the "Venus" of Willendorf quickly achieved a singular status.
Although she was already being included in books devoted to Stone Age art published in the 1920s, it is not until the 1960s that the statuette begins to appear in the introductory art history books where she quickly displaced other previously used examples of Palaeolithic art. Being both female and nude, she fitted perfectly into the patriarchal construction of the history of art that has tended to emphasize the more derogatory depictions of women in art through the ages.
As the earliest known representation, she became the "first" woman, acquiring an Ur-Eve identity that focused suitably, from a patriarchal point of view, on the fascinating yet grotesque reality of the female body and its bulging vegetable nature; an impersonal composition of sexually-charged swollen shapes; an embodiment of overflowing fertility, of mindless fecundity, of eternal sex, the woman from which all women descend. To date, hundreds of similar carved ritual figures have been discovered all over the world- their exact purpose can only be speculated about.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


Archeologists cannot precisely date all of the stones, ditches, holes, and other features of Stonehenge, but the monument was recently the subject of a large radiocarbon dating program which has led to a new chronology of its construction. The development of the monument is broken into three phases:

Phase 1 (4950 to 4900 years ago)
Animation of Stonehenge then and nowThe best dated phase. No stone structures were actually assembled at the site at this time, but a roughly circular ditch about 320 feet in diameter, 20 feet wide, and 4.5 to 7 feet deep was dug. Animal bones, chiefly of cattle, were placed at the bottom of the ditch; dating of the bones indicates that they are 200 years older than the ditch itself, which suggests that they may have been removed from an older ritual location and brought to Stonehenge. Ringing the inside of the ditch was a high bank, built up out of the chalky soil and rubble that had been removed in the excavation of the ditch. Probably also during phase 1, a circle of 56 holes -- named the Aubrey Holes after their discoverer, 17th-century British antiquarian John Aubrey -- were dug inside the inner bank. The holes probably held timber posts.

Phase 2 (beginning approximately 4900 years ago)
The earthwork monument is remodeled, and a timber structure built. Holes indicate that timber posts were erected at the southern entrance and at the northeast entrance, where they might have formed a corridor through which the rising sun would shine at mid-summer. By this time the timber posts that the Aubrey Holes once held had rotted away, and the Holes were used as a cremation cemetery; the cremated bones from at least 200 bodies, perhaps many more, were in the top of the holes.

Phase 3 (4550 to 3600 years ago)
Animation of Stonehenge Development This last phase of construction is divided into at least three sub-phases. First, two concentric circles of about 80 bluestone pillars, carved and transported from the Preseli Mountains in southwestern Wales (how they were moved is still a mystery) were erected at the center of the monument. Archeologists believe that the entranceway of the bluestones was aligned with sunrise at the summer solstice.

Next, the bluestone structures were dismantled, and a stone circle of standing sarsens -- enormous sandstone blocks, the tallest over 22 feet tall and weighing 45 tons -- was erected, and capped with horizontal sarsens. A horseshoe-shaped arrangement of five pairs of standing stones with horizontal caps (the trilithons) was placed inside the circle.

Teachers Toolbox
Later, the previously removed bluestones were placed first into an oval pattern within the sarsen horseshoe and then later rearranged into a horseshoe, and a circle of bluestones was fixed outside the sarsen horseshoe, but within the outer sarsen circle.

Download Wallpaper Also during phase 3, the station stones and the large heel stone near where the midsummer sun rises, were probably added to the monument. The avenue, the ancient formal approach to Stonehenge, was constructed at the northeastern entranceway.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Maya Prehistoric culpture

Based on an inherited tradition for interaction between royalty and supernatural powers, Maya kings of the early centuries of the Common Era portrayed themselves in the roles and costumes of deities and elaborated sacred imagery on all manner of works of art. The recent increase in the scholarship on the ancient Maya allows for a much more detailed examination of this important period in their history. At a time when the hereditary rulers of city-states were sustained by the prosperity gained by maize agriculture, they surrounded themselves with a cultivated nobility. They held forth in courts that included artists, architects, scribes, astronomers, diviners, courtiers, and servants of all sorts. The titles of many a Maya king, or lord (ajaw), his wife, his subordinates, and his enemies are known today, as are details of his life, his times, and his treasures.

The exhibition in Metropolitan Museum features stone sculpture in a number of forms, from large commemorative monuments, or stelas, to small, precious works of jade, a material of infinite value to all ancient Mesoamerican peoples, and one principally used for the fabrication of personal ornaments. Ceramic sculpture has a solid presence in the exhibition, appearing in a variety of shapes and encompassing numerous lidded vessels of diverse sorts—large cache vessels often embellished with complex iconographic schemes and/or further covered with stuccoed surfaces, and smaller, more intimately scaled examples reproducing natural forms. Ceramic censers in human form, bowls with complex relief images, and vessels in the shapes of deities are included. Bone and shell were used widely in ancient times for everything from object handles to personal ornaments, examples of which are on view. Works in jade are also well represented. Invariably green in color, Maya jade objects take the form of celts, beads, plaques, pendants, and three-dimensional sculpture, their hard and polishable surfaces decorated with delicate incised patterns, low-relief images, hieroglyphic inscriptions, and even narrative scenes.

Maya lords themselves are represented in the exhibition. They appear on stone sculpture as standing profile figures, elegantly arrayed as deities. The 76-inch-tall granite relief, a commemorative monument known as Stela 11 (Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología, Guatemala City), from the highland site of Kaminaljuyu (Guatemala) is one of the earliest such Maya images, dating to the last centuries of the first millennium B.C. This well-preserved sculpture illustrates the necessary elaborateness of costume and accoutrements required for the kingly role in ritual performance. Wearing a wide belt with a great, down-curving beaked profile at the center, the figure supports a stacked helmet mask with the same profiles. The great beak is associated with a divinity known rather prosaically to modern scholars as the Principal Bird Deity. He is presented in Maya myth as a brilliant emanation of early light, or sun. The transformed king in his deity regalia is placed between the earth symbol below his feet and the bird of the heavens at the top of the stela. The Kaminaljuyu lord is portrayed as the universal bridge between the heavens and the earth.

Kingly images in other materials are also included, such as the Censer with Seated King (The Metropolitan Museum of Art), the fourth–fifth-century ceramic sculpture in the shape of a cross-legged lord holding a small tray of offerings out in front of him. The rising of smoke from such censers honored deified ancestors in rituals. Funerary masks encrusted with jade are considered the last "portraits." A Funerary Mask (Museo Histórico Fuerte de San Miguel, Campeche) from Calakmul displays the type. Calakmul, in the interior lowlands of the Mexican state of Campeche, was a powerful Maya city from the first to the ninth century.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Indian Prehistoric Sculpture

Indian sculpture developed with time to show more realistic picture & depict the picture of contemporary social life. As the life of people in India during ancient time was influenced by foreign themes, its traces can be found in Indian sculpture. As civilization progressed various impacts of it were left on the development of sculpture. So, the developmental stages in the history of Indian sculpture are a summarized impact of the passing time.

Religious linkage of art
Basically, in terms of themes and developments Indian art is considered as religious. To appreciate the sculptural art of India some background knowledge about the country`s faiths is required.kali Through the sculptures, the Hindu & Jain religions found their depiction at maximum level. In fact, the Jain and Hindu styles overlapped with each other to achieve greater extent in expression. Both of these styles overlapped to produce the elaborate all-over patterns carved in the forms of bands that became the feature of Indian architecture in later period. The sculptures of Jains are often found carved on a gigantic scale. For example: The marked feature of the art of them can be said as the domes that were constructed on the level of corbel stones. The earliest prehistoric sculpture in India was produced in stone, clay, ivory, copper, and gold.

Linkage with Social Context
The comprehensive analysis and chronology of the earliest known stone sculptures of India illustrates the deep rooting of its theme in the social context.vaman The north Indian City of Mathura is famous for sculpture dating prior to the Kushan period. It also includes numerous new attributions of objects that were based primarily on epigraphic and visual analysis. The sculptures attributable to these pre-Kushan periods reveal new evidence for the reasons behind the emergence of the anthropomorphic image of the Buddha at Mathura, the predominance of a heterodox sect of Jainism, and the proliferation of cults of nature divinities. All the information throws light on progresing civilization process that took place in India.

Today, most of the Indian sculpture is stored in a museum, is inevitably isolated from its original context.To understand and interprete the sculpture, it requires more research. To visualize the architectural setting, religious motivation & inspiration and to draw out its philosophical meaning becomes difficult when the sculpture is removed from its original placement. For understanding of the profound meaning and purpose behind producing art pieces, one has to revert back to sculpture of the prehistoric period (c. 3000-1500 BC) and the beginning of the historic era (4th century B.C.). Indian sculpture had started developing from the Indus Valley civilization during the 2nd and 3rd millenium BC. Some of the evidences of sculpture that remained today reveal the carvings of nature`s objects, deities, and animals.

-bronze-dancing Giving specific examples of this artwork found among the ruins of the Valley include the bust of a priest in limestone and a bronze-dancing girl. At the beginning of the 4th century BC, there was a spread of the Buddhism and its teachings. During this period, about 85,000 monuments were constructed with the image of Buddha and the central themes and teachings of Buddhism were engraved on many rocks and pillars.

God :Logical formation of concept
The study regarding the development of image worshiping in India using various media like terracotta, stone and bronze, some idea of the diverse forces that were acting on Indian thought, religion and iconography can be drown. A notable feature of Indian sculpture is that various aspects of Indian culture, folk and classical thoughts are reflected through the sculptures, which includes themes dealing with love of nature, sensuality, fertility, eternity and divine omniscience etc.

It is said that in the early phase, the concept of an "image" first developed in literary Shivasense and then the word gained a sculpted physical shape. Therefore, most of the times, it is based on an idealized human form. Natural forces were personified for the purpose of identifying them and then deified. Most early deities were therefore abstractions of natural phenomena like rain, water, earth and wind. These deities are in human form with additional attributes like multiple heads or hands with a belief that the deity will endow them with supernatural power. Even the concerned feelings with sensuality and fertility can be understood in the context of procreation and fecundity, which are fundamentally natural phenomenon. This symbiotic relationship can be understood from the manifestation in the imagery of yaksha-yakshi, the vanadevata concept of nature spirits and the mother goddess whose human imagery forms the major part of early Indian sculpture. Natural spirits were represented in sculpture by voluptuous female forms.

The most remarkable development in the history of Indian sculpture was use of colours in the sculptures. Indian art of sculpturing mixed with the painting to give more visual impact .In the production of the Ajanta caves and Buddhist monasteries and prayer halls the technique was used. The most important aspects of Indian sculpture is the images produced during the Buddhist and Hindu periods are on the wide range of existence. Some of the details about these images are known but it shows the relationship of its creation with the dominant religious ideas of that time.

As the ichnographically developed imagery of Hindu deities like Shiva, Vishnu and Durga developed mainly based on mythology of sect and beliefs that rooted into minds of people. Therefore, Indian sculpture can be considered as the vehicle or channel that strongly conveys these forces to the devote visiting to the temple. But the point that captures the sensibility is the eternal presence of the image and the awesomeness of the genius power enshrined in the image of the deity.

godThe real skills of the Indian sculptor can be found in his imagination & visualization of the deities` ideal proportions, youthful bodies and expressions. The extent of proportion that is fixed in the Shilpa texts i.e. manuals prescribing about proportions and iconography were strictly followed without much alteration in it. Generally, the deities were endowed with attributes and most iconographical details were already decided for the sculptors & he was bound to follow it. However, the expressions of various emotions, body flexions, yogic concentration and narrative compositions remained influenced by individualistic skills that allows the sculptors to experiment with the forms of sculptures. Sculptors tried at every age for infusing the deity with the breath of life or prana. Sculptures of deities with their consorts, celestial beings, couples directional deities, composite animals and decorative central ideas resulted in forming the mass of images that adorned the walls of the temples and their interiors. The deities were carved strictly as per the religious cannons and installed in sacred places by performing a special consecration ceremony.

NarshimaIn the 1st century AD, the theme behind the art has changed drastically where the human figure replaced the images of Buddha and his teachings. These images treating Buddha, as a human figure became important in all acts related with worshiping. To emphasize immortality of Buddha, images were created showing halos and engravings on his palms and feet. The Buddha statues that were created in the 5th century focus more on the details of facial expression & feelings rather than the body. As from the 4th to the 6th centuries, Hinduism was established as the India`s official religion, resulting in the production of numerous images of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Most of the images from this period are found today in temples and museums throughout various parts of India.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The blog of African, Oceanic, and Native American Art is dedicated to the immense creativity of Native peoples across four continents, from prehistory to the present. The collection has grown significantly since the department was founded over thirty years ago and now numbers more than 3,000 objects, including masterworks of sculpture, ceramics, metalsmithing, painting, basketry, and bead-, shell-, and quillwork, reflecting the diversity of these regions and cultures.

Highlights of African art at the museum include a ceramic portrait head from the ancient civilization of Ife, a thousand-year-old wooden horse-and-rider from Djenne, and a cast bronze leopard and a carved ivory tusk, both from the eighteenth-century Kingdom of Benin. Other important pieces are a rare Luba mask, one of only two known in the world, a dramatic dance mask often known as a “firespitter” from Cote d’Ivoire, and a palace door created by the famed Yoruba artist Areogun of Osi.

The Native American galleries are equally rich in examples of the highest quality art, such as our unparalleled three-thousand-year-old Olmec jade mask, an exceptional nineteenth-century Sun Mask from the Northwest Coast, and a monumental pipe in the form of a bound prisoner, made in southeastern United States around 1200. Additional masterworks include the finely worked gold earspools from the ancient Andes, and a beaded man’s shoulder pouch made in Minnesota in the early 1800s.

Our Oceanic collection contains world-class pieces, such as the Maori Poutokomanawa (Post Figure) created in the 1840s, the three fabulous Malagan figures, an early Papuan Gope Board, and the Bis Pole, a centerpiece of the gallery.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Secret ruins unveiled in Utah canyon

Range Creek area southeast of East Carbon City, Utah Archaeologists led reporters into a remote canyon to reveal an almost perfectly preserved picture of ancient life: stone pit houses, granaries and a bounty of artifacts kept secret for more than a half-century. Hundreds of sites on a private ranch turned over to the state offer some of the best evidence of the little-understood Fremont culture, hunter-gatherers and farmers who lived mostly within the present-day borders of Utah. The sites at Range Creek may be up to 4,500 years old.
A caravan of news organizations traveled for two hours from the mining town of East Carbon City, over a serpentine thriller of a dirt road that topped an 8,200-foot mountain before dropping into the narrow canyon in Utah's Book Cliffs region. Officials kept known burial sites and human remains out of view of reporters and cameras, but within a single square mile of verdant meadows, archaeologists showed off one village site and said there were five more, where arrowheads, pottery shards and other artifacts can still be found lying on the ground. Archaeologists said the occupation sites, which include granaries full of grass seed and corn, offer an unspoiled slice of life of the ancestors of modern American Indian tribes. The settlements are scattered along 12 miles of Range Creek and up side canyons.
The collapsing half-buried houses don't have the grandeur of New Mexico's Chaco Canyon or Colorado's Mesa Verde, where overhanging cliffs shelter stacked stone houses. But they are remarkable in that they hold a treasure of information about the Fremont culture that has been untouched by looters. The Fremont people were efficient hunters, taking down deer, elk, bison and small game and leaving behind piles of animal bone waste, Jones said. They fished for trout in Range Creek, using a hook and line or weirs. In their more advanced stage they grew corn.
Waldo Wilcox, the rancher who sold the land and returned Wednesday, kept the archaeological sites a closely guarded secret for more than 50 years. The San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land bought Wilcox's 4,200-acre ranch for $2.5 million. The conservation group transferred the ranch to the Bureau of Land Management, which turned it over to Utah. The deal calls for the ranch to be opened for public access, a subject certain to raise debate over the proper stewardship of a significant archaeological find.
Artifacts found in the Wilcox collection include a wide array of bone needles, stone awls, bone and shell beads, projectile points, knives, scrapers and other stone tools from an interesting variety of cherts,-- obsidian, pink agate and what resembled Llano Estacado alibate.
Fremont People
Reconstructed Pithouse - State Park, Boulder, Utah
The Fremont culture or Fremont people, named by Noel Morss of Harvard's Peabody Museum after the Fremont River in Utah, is an archaeological culture that inhabited what is now Utah and parts of eastern Nevada, southern Idaho, southern Wyoming, and eastern Colorado between about 400 and 1300 AD.
The Fremont culture unit was characterised by small, scattered communities that subsisted primarily through maize cultivation. Archaeologists have long debated whether the Fremont were a local Archaic population that adopted village-dwelling life from the neighboring Anasazi culture to the south, or whether they represent an actual migration of Basketmakers (the earliest culture stage in the Anasazi Culture) into the northern American Southwest or the area that Julian Steward once called the "Northern Periphery".
The Fremont have some unique material culture traits that mark them as a distinct and identifiable archaeological culture unit, and recent mtDNA data indicate they are a biologically distinct population, separate from the Basketmaker. What early archaeologists such as Morss or Marie Wormington used to define the Fremont was their distinctive pottery, particularly vessel forms, incised and applique decorations, and unique leather moccasins. However, their house forms and overall technology are virtually indistinguishable from the Anasazi. Their habitations were initially circular pit-houses but they began to adopt rectangular stone-built pueblo homes above ground.
Marwitt (1970) defined local or geographic variations within the Fremont culture area based largely on differences in ceramic production and geography. Marwitt's subdivisions are the Parowan Fremont in southwestern Utah, the Sevier Fremont in west central Utah and eastern Nevada, the Great Salt Lake Fremont stretching between the Great Salt Lake and the Snake River in southern Idaho, Uinta Fremont in northeastern Utah, and arguably the San Rafael Fremont in eastern Utah and western Colorado. (The latter geographic variant may well be indivisible from the San Juan Anasazi.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Cave Painting used in Modernism

On first seeing the paintings of some artist of modernism, several commentators have been spontaneously struck by its resemblance to the wall-painting of the Upper Paleolithic era, that is to say, to those wonderful frescoes which, in the course of the last century, were revealed to modern man at Fontsites with names like Font-de-Gaume, Altamira, Niaux, Marsoulas, Trois-Fre`res, Pech-Merle, Lascaux, Cougnac, Rouffignac and Chauvet. What is astonishing is that it was essentially a twentieth-century audience which first enjoyed these discoveries (which are often 're-discoveries' of neglected sites, for we know that it took several decades for archaeologists to recognize Altamira as authentic); furthermore, I would venture to say that Paleolithic art, having been utterly forgotten for thousands of years and then suddenly brought before our gaze, definitely forms part of the history of modern art. Indeed, certain well attested affinities allow us to state that the expressions of human beings from the most remote times have had a considerable impact upon a good many artists of Modernism, including Brancusi, Hans Arp, Klee, Miró and Tal Coat.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Paleolithic handprints

Paleolithic handprints

In The Nature of Paleolithic Art, Dale Guthrie overturns many of the standard interpretations of the ancient cave paintings of the Paleolithic era. Among other things, Guthrie argues that many of the cave paintings were done by children and have similarities with present-day graffiti. Here is an illustration and short excerpt from the book:
Guthrie fig pg 131

Missing Fingers in Art: Ritual, Disease, Frostbite, or Kids Playing?

"Many hand images in the French Gargas-Tibran cave complex and Cosquer and in Maltravieso Cave in Spain appear to have missing fingers or other malformations. These "disfigured" hands have fueled discussions for the last 100 years. Groenen (1987) has provided a review of this debate. The central issue, of course, is that virtually all apparent mutilations are also replicable by simply contorting fingers in the stenciled hand (as one does in shadow art). But many people still insist that these represent real ritual amputations.

"More recent speculation on possible causes of these disfigured hands has focused on Raynaud's disease, in which capillaries fail to respond normally by flushing with warm blood when hands or feet get cold. I find this explanation unconvincing, because Raynaud's disease is seldom expressed in young men (Larson 1996), and the hands with the "missing fingers" are mainly those of young males. Individuals who experience extreme winter temperatures, like cross-country dog-mushers, winter mountain climbers, and so on, do sometimes suffer frozen tissue. Yet, in Alaska, certainly among the coldest well-populated places on earth, complete loss of individual fingers due to freezing is rare. I have never seen one case. Nor have I seen any in my travels in northern Siberia. This is despite the fact that many residents in both places have had multiple experiences of frostbite.

"These Paleolithic images will, no doubt, continue to puzzle and prompt speculation. Having played with making spatter stencils of my own hands, I find the ease with which one can replicate the "maimed-hand look" has left me very convinced that all, or virtually all, were done in fun, especially when we recall that these are largely young people's hands and appreciate the quick, almost careless, casualness with which they were made. This phenomenon of altering the hand stencil patterns by finger contortion is also well documented from a number of other cultures."

Friday, April 6, 2007

Anasazi Indians

This is so neat.. hundreds and hundreds of years ago this was made.. and still untouched. We are told there are others very close by.. I think that is our quest for this weekend. Ancient Pueblo People, or Ancestral Puebloans is a preferred term for the cultural group of people often known as Anasazi who are the ancestors of the modern Pueblo peoples. The ancestral Puebloans were a prehistoric Native American civilization centered around the present-day Four Corners area of the Southwest United States.

Archaeologists still debate when a distinct culture emerged, but the current consensus, based on terminology defined by the Pecos Classification, suggests their emergence around 1200 B.C., the Basketmaker II Era.

The civilization is perhaps best-known for the jacal, adobe and sandstone dwellings that they built along cliff walls, particularly during the Pueblo II and Pueblo III eras.

The best-preserved examples of those dwellings are in parks such as Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Hovenweep National Monument, Bandelier National Monument, and Canyon de Chelly National Monument. These villages, called pueblos by Mexican settlers, were often only accessible by rope or through rock climbing.

The Ancestral Puebloans are also known for their unique style of pottery, today considered valuable for their rarity. They also created many petroglyphs and pictographs.

The Ancestral Puebloans migrated from their ancient homeland for several complex reasons. These may include pressure from Numic-speaking peoples moving onto the Colorado Plateau as well as climate change which resulted in agricultural failures.

Confirming evidence for climatic change in North America is found in excavations of western regions in the Mississippi Valley between A.D. 1150 and 1350 which show long lasting patterns of warmer, wetter winters and cooler, dryer summers.

Most modern Pueblo peoples (whether Keresans, Hopi, or Tanoans) and historians like James W. Loewen, in his book Lies Across America, assert these people did not "vanish," as is commonly portrayed, but merged into the various pueblo peoples whose descendants still live in Arizona and New Mexico.

This perspective is not new and was also presented in reports from early 20th century anthropologists, including Frank Hamilton Cushing, J. Walter Fewkes and Alfred V. Kidder.

Many modern Pueblo tribes trace their lineage from settlements in the Anasazi area and areas inhabited by their cultural neighbors, the Mogollon. For example, the San Ildefonso Pueblo people believe that their ancestors lived in both the Mesa Verde area and the current Bandelier.

The term "Anasazi" was established in archaeological terminology through the Pecos Classification system in 1927. Archaeologist Linda Cordell discussed the word's etymology and use:

    "The name "Anasazi" has come to mean "ancient people," "ancient ones", although the word itself is Navajo, meaning "enemy ancestors." It is unfortunate that a non-Pueblo word has come to stand for a tradition that is certainly ancestral Pueblo.

    The term was first applied to ruins of the Mesa Verde by Richard Wetherill, a rancher and trader who, in 1888-1889, was the first Anglo-American to explore the sites in that area. Wetherill knew and worked with Navajos and understood what the word meant.

    The name was further sanctioned in archaeology when it was adopted by Alfred V. Kidder, the acknowledged dean of Southwestern Archaeology. Kidder felt that is was less cumbersome than a more technical term he might have used. Subsequently some archaeologists who would try to change the term have worried that because the Pueblos speak different languages, there are different words for "ancestor," and using one might be offensive to people speaking other languages.

Some modern Pueblo peoples object to the use of the term Anasazi, although there is still controversy among them on a native alternative. The modern Hopi use the word "Hisatsinom" in preference to Anasazi. However, Navajo Nation Historic Preservation Department (NNHPD) spokeman Ronald Maldonado has indicated the Navajo do not favor use of the term "Ancestral Puebloan." In fact, reports submitted for review by NNHPD are rejected if they include use of the term.

Cultural Divisions

Archaeological cultural units such as "Anasazi", Hohokam, Patayan or Mogollon are used by archaeologists to define material culture similarities and differences that may identify prehistoric socio-cultural units which may be understood as equivalent to modern tribes, societies or peoples. The names and divisions are classificatory devices based on theoretical perspectives, analytical methods and data available at the time of analysis and publication. They are subject to change, not only on the basis of new information and discoveries, but also as attitudes and perspectives change within the scientific community. It should not be assumed that an archaeological division or culture unit corresponds to a particular language group or to a socio-political entity such as a tribe.

When making use of modern cultural divisions in the American Southwest, it is important to understand three limitations in the current conventions:

  • Archaeological research focuses on items left behind during people's activities; fragments of pottery vessels, human remains, stone tools or evidence left from the construction of dwellings. However, many other aspects of the culture of prehistoric peoples are not tangible. Languages spoken by these people and their beliefs and behavior are difficult to decipher from physical materials. Cultural divisions are tools of the modern scientist, and so should not be considered similar to divisions or relationships the ancient residents may have recognized. Modern cultures in this region, many of whom claim some of these ancient people as ancestors, contain a striking range of diversity in lifestyles, social organization, language and religious beliefs. This suggests the ancient people were also more diverse than their material remains may suggest.

  • The modern term 'style' has a bearing on how material items such as pottery or architecture can be interpreted. Within a people, different means to accomplish the same goal can be adopted by subsets of the larger group. For example, in modern Western cultures, there are alternative styles of clothing that characterized older and younger generations. Some cultural differences may be based on linear traditions, on teaching from one generation or 'school' to another. Other varieties in style may have distinguished between arbitrary groups within a culture, perhaps defining status, gender, clan or guild affiliation, religious belief or cultural alliances. Variations may also simply reflect the different resources available in a given time or area.

  • Defining cultural groups, such as the Ancient Pueblo peoples, tends to create an image of territories separated by clear-cut boundaries, like modern state lines. These simply did not exist. Prehistoric people traded, worshipped and collaborated most often with other nearby groups. Cultural differences should therefore be understood as 'clinal', "increasing gradually as the distance separating groups also increases." (Plog, p. 72.) Departures from the expected pattern may occur because of unidentified social or political situations or because of geographic barriers. In the Southwest, mountain ranges, rivers and, most obviously, the Grand Canyon can be significant barriers for human communities, likely reducing the frequency of contact with other groups. Current opinion holds that the closer cultural similarity between the Mogollon and Ancient Pueblos and their greater differences from the Hohokam and Patayan is due to both the geography and the variety of climate zones in the Southwest.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Who made this handprint on the cave wall?

1.The handprint to the right is a cave painting drawn 32,000 years ago and is the oldest portrait of man. On the walls of Chauvet Cave in southern France, the artist used the technology of his day, tinted charcoal dust blown through a straw, to create a simple, yet powerful icon of human-ness. This image captures the essence of human-centered computing. Much like the Paleolithic beings, we still use technology to relate to, understand and depict the world around us, still trying to say "I am here. I am human."

2. Negative Handprint Adorns the Wall of a Maya Cave in Belize

In The Nature of Paleolithic Art, Dale Guthrie overturns many of the standard interpretations of the ancient cave paintings of the Paleolithic era. Among other things, Guthrie argues that many of the cave paintings were done by children and have similarities with present-day graffiti. Here is a short excerpt from the book:

The Identity of the People Who Made the Handprints: Statistical Results

Guthrie fig pg 121"First, the statistical analyses tell us that the majority of the Paleolithic artists who left these handprint stencils in caves were young people. But they also show a great diversity of ages. As noted by other researchers, some prints were made by very young children (younger even than those in my baseline sample). Two hand images are so small that the toddler/baby had to have been carried back into the cave. These occur in Gargas Cave in southern France, which is unusual in having passageways that are easy to traverse and an easy entrance which remained open during much of the past. That is shown by the protohistoric, Gallo-Roman, and medieval graffiti carved in the cave wall. But this is not typical for Paleolithic caves; there are few deep caves one would try to visit with a babe-in-arms.

"Handprints of adolescents are the most numerous among the Paleolithic sample. An additional 20% of the hands are within the preadolescent size and shape ranges. From various statistical tests we can conclude that, while most ages seem to be represented in the sample, it was mainly adolescents who were involved. On numerous plots, the number of prints rises with age, peaking in adolescence, then decreases toward adult sizes. From a modern perspective, one might say that a Paleolithic police officer in charge of cave vandalism could predict that the individuals frequenting caves were mostly adolescents.

"The second important observation is that the vast majority of these individuals were males. From the total sample of 201 Paleolithic hands, discriminate analysis classified 162 as male and the other 39 as either female or young male. That analysis used the measurements of thumb width, index-finger width, and index-finger length for the program."

creation of the cave art of the paleolitic era

In some academic quarters, those questions are regarded as more or less settled, and so R. Dale Guthrie's book, The Nature of Paleolithic Art has been received about as warmly as the Ice Age. However, in her review of the book in the August 18 issue of the Times Higher Education Supplement, Nadia Durrani recognizes that the answers to those basic questions "remain unclear."

Durrani found Guthrie's book a "fascinating and compulsive read" even as she acknowledges that it is "a controversial book."

What is Guthrie's thesis? The hot button that has drawn attention—and fire— is that much of the surviving Paleolithic art was not created by shamans for religious purposes or done purely for art's sake, but was done by "testosterone-laden" young boys. Guthrie's evidence for so radical a theory? Durrani explains:

Guthrie's thesis draws its main impetus … from the surprisingly limited themes dealt with by the art. Although Palaeolithic art is a readily recognisable style, unified in its elasticity and freedom, it concerns a few subject matters only. It is dominated by large mammals, many bleeding and wounded, and complemented by images of voluptuous women, isolated vulva triangles and ochre hand prints. To Guthrie, the art smacks of themes of power relevant to a specific age and sex distortion, namely, adolescent boys akin to modern graffiti artists.

Guthrie's study of Paleolithic rock art, illustrated with more than 3,000 images, is controversial, to be sure. It brings a huge array of frequently novel evidence to bear on the fundamental questions of Paleolithic art. Here at the Press we believe that it is a landmark study that will change the shape of our understanding of these images.

Guthrie's techniques for understanding the many painted handprints among the examples of cave art are appreciated by Durrani in her review:

The "negative hand print" is [a] recurring image in the rock art. These prints were seemingly made by holding the hand on to the cave wall and spraying liquified pigment from a blow-pipe onto the hand. Many prints have missing fingers. They were left by poor folk who lost fingers in the bitter cold of the Ice Age and who, by leaving their tragic hand print on the wall, were asking for magical help or healing. Or so scholars have always tended to claim.

But in a stroke of pure genius Guthrie suggests that these ghoulish missing-finger prints were childish pranks. Or rather boys' pranks: Guthrie comissioned an analysis of 201 Palaeolithic hand prints, which concluded that 162 are male and only 39 are female or young male prints. Guthrie thus attempts to get at the essence of the artists and puts a human slant on the art, which draws us close to our forebears and "the possibility that adolescent giggles and snickers may have echoed in dark cave passages.…"

Sunday, April 1, 2007

cave art

i learned from artblog [Cave or rock art] consists of engraved or painted works on open air rocks or on the floors, walls and ceilings of caves, some of them in deep and almost inaccessible crannies. They were created during the Upper Palaeolithic period (40,000 to 10,000 BC), and the best were done by what we call the Magdalenians (from the name of a site), peoples who flourished in Europe from 18,000 to 10,000 BC. Such works have a unity, and can be described as the Magdalenian art system, the first in human history. it was also the longest, lasting for more than two thirds of the total time when humans have produced art.

In any history of art, then, the Magdalenian system must occupy a place of importance. Alas, of all the forms of art practised on the planet, it is the one about which we know the least. But our knowledge is by no means derisory, bearing in mind that the first cave art was only discovered in the 186os, and it was not until 1902 that it was accepted as a fact by anthropologists and art historians. By the end of the twentieth century, there were 277 agreed examples in Europe, 142 in France, 108 in Spain, 21 in Italy, 2 in Portugal, 2 in Germany and 2 in the Balkans. Unfortunately, most of these works of art are extremely fragile. When a cave is 'opened', and the conditions which enabled paintings to survive are altered, deterioration can be rapid. The superb paintings found at Bédeilhac in the Pyrenees during the First World War disappeared completely within six months of the cave's discovery. Thus except in places where expensive air conditioning has been installed, caves are no longer open to the public. Even the Altamira Cave in Spain, finest of them all, is now open only to small parties for brief periods. Scholars themselves find it difficult to gain admission. Some of these works are photographed but the camera gives a poor idea of their nature and quality. Some are difficult to see anyway: the best part of Altamira has to be studied lying down. Hence inaccessibility is a real and growing obstacle to unlocking the secrets of the Magdalenian art system.