Further investigations in Stone Age Art

Posted: January 8, 2021 in Chat
Tags: , , , , ,

There is a very interesting article on the New Scientist site, written by Alison George:
https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23230990-700-in-search-of-the-very-first-coded-symbols/

Entitled Code hidden in Stone Age art may be the root of human writing, it investigates the work of Canadian paleoanthropologist, Professor Genevieve von Petzinger.
Professor von Petzinger has been noting, dating and mapping cave art. OK, this has been done for decades, and more. What Professor Petzinger is investigating are the bits left out of the main investigations. Most work to date has been involved with the ‘big’ images, the animals. people even. But not the ‘decorative’ bits.

She has travelled and personally mapped, photographed/drawn, and dated, the examples still accessible. Then she went on to analyse the results. She came up with 32 basic types, she calls “consistent doodles” – and that is world wide.
The article, above, gives the full story, photos, maps, and conclusions – and it is truly fascinating.

Why are prehistoric cave paintings of such consistently ...

Her work takes us back as far as 100,000BCE.
Another important point that is made in the article is that the images and ‘doodles’ used were fully developed before being deployed on the walls. There are ‘grids’ of hatching, for example, that probably developed in complexity before being used in the wall art.
Where were the try-out’s? Also, on that point, where were the main-image art skills developed and practiced?

The well-known hand stencil images, she says, were an early type of image; they become used in combination with other symbols in time, but then faded from use. The time- dimension is clearly of importance.

It has been suggested they could be early approaches to what was to be conceived as communicative signs, i.e. ‘writing’. There was a long time to before early identifiable script was developed, though: the earliest cuneiform is estimated to be from 5000BCE.

And what of the inconsistent doodles? Are there any one-off ones that only occur in certain places, at certain times? Is there a local signature? The suggestion from the article is that there was long-term and consistent travel and communication between sites – trading maybe. Historian V Gordon Childe in his book What Happened in History (first published 1942) argued that stone axe ‘factories’ existed, where they were made in bulk and traded, as an example.

A further article I have read recently may have bearing on all this. The ‘Central Australian Visual Language’ chapter in Nik Cohn’s book, The Visual Language of Comics (Bloomsbury, 2013) collects together a lot of observations on visual language among native Australians of the Alice Springs region.
The chapter explores how native central Australians use and view images. The most striking example given is that of showing a drawing of a horse. We see a horse, standing, running etc. For the native central Australian this is interpreted as a horse lying, or dead. Their viewpoint is always from above, looking down. A seated person is represented as a bow shape, which is the cross-legged shape of someone seated. Their bottom is at the centre of the bow, and the legs to knees spreading from that. This is a big departure from our current predominant view points.
How predominant was this viewing point in that long period of cave art? Is there a way in here for interpreting the images?
It could be this is an anomaly. There are many more Australian paintings that do depict animals from the side, as we do. And from before our contact period.
The shift in perception may yet be of great significance, however.

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