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