Wednesday, May 22, 2019

WORLD CLASS ROCK ART IN KONKAN, INDIA:


Cow, Garge, Kulkarni, Apte, and Risbud,
2018, Photo used by permission.

On 4 May, 2019, in a posting titled "ANCIENT ROCK ART OF INDIA - THE WORLD'S EARLIEST?" I wrote "very early human occupation of the Indian sub-continent has been known for some time, and the Harappan civilization of the Indus River drainage was one of the earliest centers of city life in the world, almost rivaling the early civilizations of the Fertile Crescent. While we should have known to expect India to have a large amount of rock art they have sort of been off the rock art radar for quite some time. This is now being made up for with extensive scholarly studies of rock art on the sub-continent." (Faris 2019) And now, as if in response to this, we have this recent report on world class rock art from the southwest coast region of India known as Konkan.



Rhinoceros, Garge, Kulkarni, Apte,
and Risbud, figure 3, 2018. 
Photo used by permission.

"The western coastline of India encompassing coastal districts of Maharashtra, Goa, and Kamataka collectively known as Konkan, extends 720 kilometres north-south. Lying between the Arabian Sea to the west and the mountain ranges of Western Ghats to the east in the state of Maharashtra, Konkan includes the regions of Thane, Greater Mumbai, Raigarh, and Ratnagiri. Geographically this region is traversed by seasonal rivers that drain the heavy monsoonal rainfall from the crest of the Sahyadri Hills." (Garge et al. 2018:39)




Deer, Garge, Kulkarni, Apte,
and Risbud,  figure 4, 2018. 
Photo used by permission.

"Evidence of human existence during the prehistoric period is very limited in this region; however, there is continuous evidence of human settlement(s) throughout the historical, medieval and modern period." (Garge et al. 2018:40)



Elephant and many other animals,
Garge, Kulkarni, Apte, and Risbud, 
figure 4, 2018. 
Photo used by permission.

Rock art in this region had been intermittently reported from about 1990, but the first large scale systematic surveys were conducted by hobbyists (locals) from 1980 onward. Sudhir Risbud, later joined by Dhananjay Marathe and Surendra Thakudesai, explored the region and in 2010 formed a group called Unexplored Konkan to discover and record this rock art. Efforts snowballed as other locals became interested, and in 2018 the State Archaeology Department got involved and set up a fund for the study. "As of January 2019 there have been 52 confirmed and explored sites, and over 1,000 petroglyphs discovered. A further 16 sites have been confirmed but (have) yet to be fully explored and recorded." (Standage 2019) 




Elephant, Garge, Kulkarni, Apte,
and Risbud,  figure 4, 2018. 
Photo used by permission.

"They are spread almost over 170 km in length and 25 km in width in a straight line along the coast. After documenting these, they are classified into six categories as under:
Animal figures - Herbivores such as elephants, rhinos, deer family animals, pig, rabbit, buffalo, wild boar, monkey, etc. and carnivores like tiger, etc.
Birds - Peacock and large unidentified bird species.
Aquatic animals - Shark, stingray, and many more unidentified species of fish.
Amphibious animals - such as tortoise, alligators, etc.
Anthropomorphs - Human figures including mother goddess like figures.
Abstract - Various geometrical patterns." (Garge et al. 2018:42)

You will notice that the larger than life elephant in the fourth illustration, as well as the smaller one by the end of his trunk, appear to have their ears raised above their heads. Raised, flapping ears in an elephant is supposedly a sign of anger and I wonder if this is an attempt to portray the emotion of the subject of the petroglyph, the elephant.



Garge, Kulkarni, Apte, and Risbud,
 figure 10, 2018. 
Photo used by permission.



Garge, Kulkarni, Apte, and Risbud,
 figure 11, 2018. 
Photo used by permission.

There are also complicated geometric patterns that reminded me immediately of Rangoli designs like those created for Diwali and other Hindu festivals.



Rangoli design, Wikipedia,
Public Domain.

"Rangoli is an art form, originating in the Indian subcontinent, in which patterns are created on the floor or the ground using materials such as colored rice, dry flour, colored sand or flower petals. Designs are passed from one generation to the next, keeping both the art form and the tradition alive." (Wikipedia) While the main purpose of Rangoli designs is decoration, they are also thought to bring good luck, and they are traditionally done by the women of the family. (Wikipedia)

It would appear that the petroglyphs reported so far are only the beginning, and that we can hope to see considerably more wonderful rock art from India in the future.


NOTE: I want to thank Rhutvij R. Apte and his co-authors for their work, and for providing their paper and photos, and cooperating with RockArtBlog on this report. Check it out at the address below. Also, the reference above to Rangoli designs is wholly mine, this is not from their report.

REFERENCE:

Faris, Peter
2019 Ancient Rock Art of India - The World's Earliest?, https://rockartblog.blogspot.com

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rangoli

Standage, Kevin
2019 The Konkan Petroglyphs - Introduction, March 14, 2019, https://kevinstandagephotography.wordpress.com

Tejas M. Garge, B.V.Kulkarni, Rhutvij R. Apte, and Sudhir Risbud
2018 Petroglyphs in Konkan: Historiography, Recent Discoveries, and Future Endeavours, Purakala 2018, Volume 27-28, pages 39-47.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

ORIGINS OF THE OUTLINED CROSS VENUS SYMBOL:



Four-armed outlined cross Venus
symbol. Redrocks, AZ.
Photo Paul and Joy Foster.

The 4-armed symbol representing the planet Venus seems to have been ubiquitous prehistorically among cultures in Mexico and much of Central America. This, to such an extent that when we find it in contiguous areas like the American Southwest we also tend to apply that meaning to it. But how did that symbol, the outlined 4-armed cross or star, get to be associated with the planet Venus. In order to approach that question I had to look into the background of the subject.

In 1996, John B. Carlson wrote a paper titled "Transformations of the Mesoamerican Turtle Carapace War Shield, A Study in Ethnoastronomy", that looked at war shields from Mesoamerica and the American Southwest. He found that a common subject for the decoration of these symbols of conflict was the crucifix representing the planet Venus.

"It is now well understood that, at least from Late Formative times in Mesoamerica (around the beginning of the Common Era and probably much earlier), the planet Venus was viewed as a powerful male god of warfare and sacrifice. The evidence for this cult of Venus-regulated warfare and sacrifice comes from various archaeological sources, including inscriptions and iconography, from Spanish chronicles and ethnohistorical sources, and from Pre-Columbian codices." (Carlson 1996:100) Additionally, Carlson noted a frequent portrayal among Mayan (and Aztec) stela and other carvings, of a turtle carapace used by a god or important person as a shield (below).

One of the attributes of the turtle in Native American belief, and I assume Mesoamerican as well, is protection, because the turtle is protected by his shell. The step from that observation to the use of a large tortoise carapace as a shield is an obvious one. And, if Carlson, and others, are right about the connection between Venus and warfare, then the connection of the turtle to Venus is implied as well. But where did that symbol of the outlined 4-armed cross come from?


Carved shell turtle pendant,
Mayan, Tikal, 700-900 C.E.
John B. Carlson.

Carlson opened his paper with an illustration of a "Late Classic Maya carved shell pendant with the image of the eighth Maya day-sign Lamat, the symbol for the Great Star or Venus, represented on the carapace of a turtle. It was excavated in a Late Classic Period (ca. 700-900 C.E.; Imix ceramic phase) burial PNT-009 in structure 5C-49 in the Mundo Perdido group of Tikal by Juan Pedro Laporte." (Carlson 1996:1) This sign generally consists of an outlined cross with a circle in each quadrant.

Mayan glyph of the day sign
for Lamat, the eighth day.
The symbol for Venus.

This certainly establishes that there is a relationship, but not why a turtle is associated with Venus and warfare. He does go on "In Mesoamerican (and most Native American) iconography, turtles appear in a diversity of ritual and ceremonial contexts." (Carlson 1996: 106)


Mayan merchant warrior "Four Dog",
from Templo Rojo, Cacaxtla.
Turtle shell shield in lower right of picture.

Carlson lists a number of these, among the the following statement: "Turtle shells, usually from large marine turtles but also from those of smaller freshwater species, were used as shields in Mesoamerica, as demonstrated in iconographic and archaeological record and in the codices. . . . A beautiful example of such a sea turtle carapace war shield is the one carried by a historical character, the armed merchant warrior named "Four Dog," shown in a portrait as an impersonator of the Maya Merchant God L in the Templo Rojo of Cacaxtla. It is stowed on the lower back of the "cacaxtli" merchant's packframe which, in turn, is propped up by his lance. This Epiclassic mural likely dates from the 8th or perhaps 9th century C.E., placing it in the same general period as the Tikal shell." (Carlson 1996:107) He goes on to give many more examples of turtle/Venus/shield combinations but I think that this is satisfactory for our purposes.



Ecuadorian snapping turtle plastron.
Internet - Public Domain.

At this point I asked myself which turtle has such a symbol naturally on its upper shell (carapace), in other words what turtle is the actual model for the Venus symbol. That proved a little more difficult and a few hours of searching the internet failed to provide me with an actual model. At this point I realized that there are, in effect, two portions to a turtle's shell, the upper part known as the carapace, and the lower or under part, the plastron. Searching images of turtle plastrons fairly quickly provided the image I was looking for. The plastron of the snapping turtle has the basic shape of the Venus symbol with the four legs representing the circles in the four quadrants. Matching species of snapping turtles to the territory of the Maya the two likely candidates are the Common Snapping Turtle and the Ecuadorian Snapping Turtle, both of which have ranges that include some or all of the Mayan territory. And, it strikes me, if you want to use a turtle as a symbol of war, the turtle who can take off your finger or toe is certainly a good model to go by.


Personified star with eagle attributes,
Petroglyph Park, Albuquerque, NM.
Photo Peter Faris, 1988.

Carlson continues in his paper showing examples of the outlined cross, with or without the dots or circles in the four quadrants, as examples of Mesoamerican cultural influence on the Native peoples of North America. Some of that might indeed be true although I may not take it quite as far as he has. Where I part company with him, however, is his attribution of this Venus image to the personified star image of the Northern Rio Grande pueblo peoples. On August 11, 2012, I posted a column titled HALLEY'S COMET AND THE ORIGIN OF THE STAR KACHINA in which I suggested the possibility of Halley's Comet as the inspiration for that personified star symbol. I see the star with a tail as more probably a comet (a planet with a tail) than as the planet Venus. Ancillary subjects would also include turtle images in rock art. But,all in all the paper by John B. Carlson is an enjoyably impressive piece of scholarship, and I highly recommend it.

NOTE: Some images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on this report you should read the original report at the site listed below.

REFERENCE:

Carlson, John B.
1996 Transformations of the Mesoamerican Turtle Carapace War Shield, A Study in Ethnoastronomy, p. 99-122, Archaeoastronomy, Volumes XII-XIII, Songs From the Sky: Indigenous Astronomical and Cosmological Traditions of the World, Von Del Chamberlain, John B. Carlson, M. Jane Young, editors, Center for Archaeoastronomy, College Park, MD, USA.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

ANCIENT ROCK ART OF INDIA - THE WORLD'S EARLIEST?



Cupule and groove, Bhimbetka, India.
Internet, Public Domain.

Very early human occupation of the Indian sub-continent has been known for some time, and the Harappan civilization of the Indus River drainage was one of the earliest centers of city life in the world, almost rivaling the civilizations of the Fertile Crescent. While we should have known to expect India to have a large amount of rock art they have sort of been off the rock art radar for quite some time. This is now being made up for with extensive scholarly studies of rock art on the sub-continent.

And these studies are proving fruitful indeed. Excavations in the Auditorium cave at Bhimbetka were conducted by V. S. Wakankar and others in the 1970s. They went down to Acheulian strata confirmed by quartzite hand axes as well as geomorphology. One of Wakankar's trenches also uncovered some petroglyphs.
"The Acheulian age of the two petroglyphs in Wakankar's trench II, six meters to the south, can be demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt. They were certainly completely covered by sediment at the end of the Acheulian deposition phase, so they could not have been visible since then." (Bednarik 1996:70)
In other words, these markings in the bedrock of Auditorium Cave were covered by deposits laid down during the Acheulian age so they certainly have to be at least that old.

What is being claimed as "the oldest known prehistoric art is the series of petrolglyphs discovered during the 1990s in two ancient quartzite caves in India; the Auditorium Cave at Bhimbetka and a rock shelter at Daraki-Chattan. This cave art consists of numerous cupules - non-utilitaria hemispherical cup-shaped depressions - hammered out of the rock surface. Geological investigations of the prehistoric sites by renowned archeologists Bednarik, Kumar and others, have established that this rock art pre-dates the Acheulean culture of the Lower Paleolithic era, and must therefore date from at least 290,000 BCE.
However, once more advanced dating methods become available, it is conceivable that these petroglyphs will turn out to be much older - perhaps originating as early as 700,000 BCE - although at present time this is mere speculation. Even so, the Bhimbetka cupules are four times older than the Blombos Cave art, which is the next oldest Stone Age Art." (anonymous, www.visual-arts-cork.com)

There is a tendency currently to consider cupules to be among the earliest form of rock art, perhaps because of a cupule's simplicity. I am not fully convinced of the arguments, but in this instance the dating evidence seems solid, and, if the date estimates on these cupules are correct they are certainly candidates for the world's oldest rock art.


NOTE: The image in this posting was retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If this image was not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the original reports at the sites listed below.

REFERENCES:

Bednarik, Robert G.
1996    The Cupules on Chief's Rock, Auditorium Cave, Bhimbetka, The Artefact, Volume 19, pages 63-72.

Anonymous,
Bhimbetka Petroglyphs (290,000-700,000 BCE), Cupules at Auditorium Cave & Daraki-Chattan Rock Shelter, http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/prehistoric, bhimbetka-petroglyphs.htm

Saturday, April 27, 2019

FERTILITY, WEALTH, OR ANIMAL TRACKS?



Vulvar representation, La Ferrasie,
France. Photo: Public Domain.

On October 14, 2017, I posted a column titled Fertility or Wealth? in which I pointed out that some variations of the symbols traditionally interpreted as vulvas and used worldwide, might also be portrayals of shells, also used worldwide by cultures as symbols of wealth or adornment.

Abri Blanchard, Tracing Upper Paleolithic Iconography, Derek Hodgson, fig. 1B.


Laussel, France,
Tracing Upper Paleolithic Iconography,
Derek Hodgson, fig. 3B.


Abri Castanet, France, 
Tracing Upper Paleolithic Iconography,
Derek Hodgson, fig. 4A.

There is also another possibility, that some of these images might have been intended to represent animal tracks. While many of these images seem to be obvious vulvar representations, there are also many that actually look more like the tracks of large game animals than symbols of fertility.



Bison tracks,
www.naturetraking.com,
Photo: Johah Evans.


Track of bison in snow,
Tracing Upper Paleolithic Iconography,
Derek Hodgson, fig. 1A.

New discoveries on carved blocks of stone from Abri Cellier in France have led to the identification of a number of symbols as vulvas (White 2017:8-14). Also Abri Blanchard, Laussel, and Abri Castanet have these images (Hodgson 2018). Hodgson pointed out that "the notion that the "Q" shaped motifs in Upper Palaeolithic art represent vulvas has become accepted dogma. This assumption is critically examined by showing that such motifs more closely resemble hoof prints. A number of hoof prints made by large herbivores are illustrated highlighting this correspondence, which suggests that such motifs should be reclassified as representing tracks made by certain animals. The idea that such motifs represent vulvas is deemed to result from prior assumptions regarding the pre-eminence of the male gaze." (Hodgson 2018:1)

                  

Wild horse tracks,
animalia-life.club, Internet,
Photo: J. Paul Mashburn,
2010.

Unshod horse in snow,
Tracing Upper Paleolithic Iconography,
Derek Hodgson, fig. 1D, 2018.

These ancient cultures hunted Paleolithic megafauna: horses, aurochs, bison, and cervids (deer, reindeer, elk) and images of the tracks of these animals would make considerable sense in the repertoire of rock art themes. Whether these images would be pertinent to rites of increase for the game animals, or function as flash cards in the education of hunters, or have another purpose altogether, we might not be able to know, but we should acknowledge the possibility. Hodgson pointed out this possibility in connection with his ""Q" shaped motifs" (2018:1) but there are, in fact, a number of related shapes that also might represent animal tracks instead of vulvas.

Just imagine, if the pictures on the cave walls had been originally discovered by American buffalo hunters some of these images might have been designated animal tracks all along.

NOTE: Some images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the original reports at the sites listed below.

REFERENCES:

Hodgson, Derek,
2018 Tracing Upper Palaeolithic Iconography: The Strange Case of Animal Tracks, University of York, UK, Global Journal of Archaeology and Anthropology, Vol. 3, Issue 4, April 2018.


Saturday, April 20, 2019

PREHISTORIC ANIMATION - PALEOLITHIC THAUMATROPES?



Illustration of bird and cage
thaumatrope. Public Domain.

Even if we do not remember, or ever knew, what they are called, we all remember thaumatropes from our childhood as the classic illustration of the bird in a cage thaumatrope will remind us. Another popular one from history is made with a vase on one side and a bunch of flowers on the other. As you spin it the flowers appear to be in the vase, and the bird in the cage. Now it seems possible that the thaumatrope was invented a very long time ago.


Bone disc from Mas d'Azil, France.
Photo paleomanias.co, Public Domain.

In their 2012 paper from Antiquity, Azema and Rivere propose that engraved bone discs found in Paleolithic excavations might function as thaumatropes. In 2997 Florent Rivere was studying paleolithic bone discs cut from the shoulder blades of large animals (bison or deer). These had almost universally been classified as buttons or pendants by their discoverers. (Another suggestion was spindle whorls, but small size suggests that they would be ineffective in that role). Noting that some were decorated on both sides with animals shown in different positions he and Azema hypothesized that they could be strung on a cord of sinew or plant fiber and rotated as a thaumatrope.


Bone disc from Mas d'Azil, France.
Photo paleomanias.co, Public Domain.

"One of the most convincing cases is that of a bone disc some 3.1cm in diameter found in 1868 by M. Hardy in the Laugerie-Basse rockshelter in the Dordogne and published in 1872. One can see a herbivore, a doe or more likely a chamois from the shape of the ear and horn, the shape of the tail and small lines along the head. The animal is shown in two different positions, standing on one side of the disc and lying on the other.  .  .  .  . We then had the idea that rapidly pivoting the object at 180 degrees (back and forth) would induce an optical effect in terms of retinal persistence, the capacity of the eye to retain an image already seen superimposed on the images being seen." (p. 321) In other words, by rapidly rotating the object about a horizontal pivot both sides would be seen in rapid succession, and the images would fuse because of retinal persistence.


Bone disc from Laugerie-Bas,
France. Public Domain.

"Other Magdalenian bone discs, whole or fragmented, seem to offer similar examples of animation. A mammoth from Raymonden (Dordogne) has an eye that opens (circular profile) and closes (almond shaped profile) while the mouth half opens. - A disc found at the site of La Tuiliere at Saint-Leon-sur-Vezere (Dordogne) shows the movement of an equid, from right to left, in three successive images. At Mas d'Azil (Ariege), a bone disc shows a sort of 'morphone', recording the passage of a young calf to adulthood." (p. 323)

Does any of this prove anything, well no, in fact I find myself a little skeptical of most of these conclusions. Based upon the listed subject matter I am not convinced that most of these would be effective illusions (on the order of the bird in the cage or the flowers in the vase). The mammoth winking it's eye does sound like an effective illusion however. But, if true, all this suggests a wonderful insight, that our Paleolithic forebears had invented this 19th century toy many, tens of thousands of years ago. An exciting possibility indeed. We know they were smart enough.

NOTE: Images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on this you should read the original report listed below.

REFERENCES:

Azema, Marc, and Florent Rivere,
2012 Animation in Palaeolithic Art: A Pre-Echo of Cinema, Antiquity Publications Ltd., Antiquity 86 (2012):316-324, http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/086/ant0860316.htm

Saturday, April 13, 2019

ANIMATION IN PALEOLITHIC CAVE PAINTING - THE FLICKER EFFECT:



8-legged bison, (see the black
and white diagram below),
Chauvet cave, France.
Photo electrummagazine.com,
Public Domain.

One aspect of cave art that has garnered considerable speculation is the existence of animal portrayals that are repeated, or that have elements that are repeated many times. Some researchers classify these as corrections, or purposeful changes to the animal image, others have speculated that these represent a number of other animals, behind and partially (or mostly) obscured by the animal in front. A proposition that is heard less often, but seems to be gaining more traction, is that they represent a form of animation, implying motion of the animal (or actually imparting the appearance of motion under the right lighting conditions).


Rhinoceros,
Chauvet cave, France.
Photo ctvnews.ca,
Public Domain.

Azema and Rivere (2012) addressed the question of imparting the illusion of motion. "In France, 53 figures in 12 caves represent movement using superimposition, shown by multiple images in the same place of the legs (31 cases), thus depicting rapid paces (trot or gallop), less often the tossing of the head (22 cases) and more rarely that of the tail (8 cases). Representation takes two forms: either by the addition of a second version, more or less complete, of the part of the body concerned, or by the multiplication of barely sketched contours (lines) around the head or legs, which generates a sort of dynamic flux. Lascaux is the cave with the greatest number of cases of split-action movement by superimposition of successive images. Some 20 animals, principally horses, have the head, legs or tail multiplied." (p. 318)


The lion panel.
Chauvet cave, France.
Photo cdn.history,
Public Domain.

This is an excellent description of the assumed intention of the Paleolithic artists, but I do not think that it goes nearly far enough. Picture, if you will, the animal images painted on the uneven surface of the cave wall, illuminated by the flickering light of a flame. Especially if the flame was moved side to side the different elements of the multiple view would be selectively illuminated (depending upon the position of the light and the angle of the portion of the wall), imparting the illusion of motion to the animal's image.

Horses, Chauvet cave, France.
Photo cdn.history,
Public Domain.

Examples from Chauvet Cave include the bison with multiple legs, the rhinoceros with multiple horns, the lion panel, and the multiple horse heads. The bison example and the rhinoceros example are pretty much self explanatory. With the lion panel you would have to see each of the lions across the lower part of the grouping in successive positions so the lion would appear to be lunging forward in four stages. Under the right lighting conditions the lion might open and close his mouth as well. The bison image's legs would be moving imparting the appearance of running, the rhinoceros moving his head, and lunging forward, and the horse raising his head, in other words - animation.

                    

The 8-legged bison in black and
white, Chauvet cave, France.
Photo wonderessive.com,
Public Domain

Azema and Rivere approach this proposition with the following statement: "An eight-legged bison drawn in the Alcove des Lions in Chauvet Cave proves that split action movement by superimposition was already used from the Aurignacian. This graphic illusion achieves its full impact when the light from a grease lamp or torch is moved along the length of the rock wall." (p. 319)
Now, I doubt that they were allowed to test this proposition with a grease lamp or torch in Chauvet Cave, so their statement, like mine, is only conjecture. But, at least, they did imagine some of the same effect I am describing.

If the motion of the light source were smooth, and the flickering of the torch at the right frequency, the effect could take advantage of the same neurological illusion that makes our motion pictures so effective - flicker fusion, sometimes called persistence of vision (Wikimedia). .

Of course, I cannot state with certainty that this happens, I do not have measurements of the various angles of the differing sections of wall that the multiple images are painted on (or even if there is more than one angle) so my conjecture above is just that - conjecture. It would be interesting to see this tested with some sort of strobe light under controlled conditions. Just imagine if . . . . . .

NOTE: Images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on this you should read the original report listed below.


REFERENCES:

Azema, Marc, and Florent Rivere,
2012 Animation in Palaeolithic Art: A Pre-Echo of Cinema, Antiquity Publications Ltd., Antiquity 86 (2012):316-324, http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/086/ant0860316.htm

Saturday, April 6, 2019

UKRAINIAN CARVED STONE EFFIGY HEADS:




Kamyana Mohyla site,
excavation at arrow center
left, mound on right.

Excavations at an open-air site in Ukraine called Kamyana Mohyla have revealed a sequence 4.2m deep dating from the European Mesolithic to recent. The site, by a sandstone mound (Kamyana Mohyla), has been studied since 2011 by  a joint Swiss-Ukranian team who found several Mesolithic habitations at the lower level. The two zoomorphic sandstone objects come from that level, both intentionally shaped to resemble snake heads. (Kostova et al., 2018)


Older stone snake head,
8300 B.C. to 7500 B.C.
Public Domain.

The two stones are considerably weathered and eroded, however, careful microscopic study of tool marks on them led to the identification and reconstruction of their original appearance. Because of the erosion, the snakeheads can be seen much more clearly in the drawings than in the actual photos. Assuming that the Mesolithic artist would have been recreating a more impressive species than the common grass or garter snakes, the heads must be meant to portray either the Common European Viper or the Steppe Viper, both of which would have been found in that area.


"The open-air stratified site of Kamyana Mohyla I was discovered by V. M. Danilenko in the 1930s. It is situated in front of a natural sandstone mound (Kamyana Mohyla) where numerous engravings and figurines have been recovered, mostly dating to the Metal Ages." (Kostova 2018)

"The "older" figurine was found near an open fireplace, near piles of shells and flint tools. Using organic matter from the fireplace, the researchers were able to radiocarbon date the yellow sandstone snakehead to between 8300 B.C. and 7500 B.C." (Geggel 2018)




Younger stone snake head,
7424 ± 46 cal. B.C.,
Public Domain.

"The "younger" figurine came from another Mesolithic stratigraphic unit that contained a firplace, which was radiocarbon-dated to 7424 ± 46 cal. B.C." (Kostova 2018)


European common viper,
Public Domain.

"The two findings represent the only snakehead stones known at Kamyana Mohyla I, however, scientists did discover a fish-like stone sculpture at the nearby Kamyana Mohyla, a giant stone pile just a stone's throw from the snakeheads spot." (Geggel 2018) Although the author's have called the third carved head fish-like, I find it convincingly snake-like, as much or more so than the first two images. It has a zig-zag scale pattern along the upper lip and the foot shape outlined right above would represent the eye and the pit behind the eye where the poison gland is located.


"Fish-like stone, Kamyana
Mohyla. Public Domain.

But, two snakeheads or three, why would Ukrainians of 8,300 years ago be carving snakeheads at all? "Archaeologists don't know much about the people who made these sculptures, except that these prehistoric inhabitants lived on the steppe of the northwestern region of the Sea of Azov. "They made tools from stones, flints, and bones and hunted with bows and flint arrows" - "It was a society of hunters and gatherers. Unfortunately, we don't know much about their cultural traditions yet." (Geggel 2018)

The particular culture they are attributed to, the Kukrek (Kotova 2018), is relatively unknown so the archaeologists are falling back on the usual practice of describing the objects with the term "ritual objects." (But since I cannot give a more accurate explanation I will have to let it stand.)

NOTE: Images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these objects you should read the original reports at the sites listed below.

REFERENCES:

Geggel, Laura
2018   8,300-Year-Old Stone Snake Heads Revial Stone Age Ritual Ceremonies, LiveScience, December 12, 2018, https://www.livescience.com/64284-stone-age-snake-sculptures.html

Kotova, Nadia, Dmytro Kiosak, Simon Radchenko, Larisa Spitsyna,
2018   Microscopic Examination of Mesolithic Serpent-Like Sculptured Stones from Southern Ukraine, Antiquity, December 2018, Vol. 92, No. 366