Saturday, April 17, 2021

POLYDACTYLISM IN ROCK ART - BEAR PAW PRINTS, PART 2:


8-toed bear paw print, probable Fremont petroglyph, Nine-Mile Canyon, UT. Photograph Paul and Joy Foster.

Back to the subject of polydactyly in bears and bear paw prints; I have written previously about Marie Wormington's comments to me about a Fremont burial of a man with six toes that she had excavated. She related him to Native American beliefs that personal differences, mental or physical, can point to spiritual significance. That a person with six digits might have been thought special, and so, celebrated in rock art. I have long assumed the same thing for bears. Since one of the most significant things about a bear are his claws, the way to portray a significant bear, a legendary, mythical, or spiritual bear, might be to enhance the claws.


6-toed bear paw print, probable Fremont petroglyph, Nine-Mile Canyon, UT. Photograph Paul and Joy Foster.


7-toed bear paw print (top), probable Fremont petroglyph, along Green River, UT. Photograph Paul and Joy Foster.

There are many Fremont representations of polydactyl bear tracks. The Fremont culture is defined by an interesting group of traits found throughout northwestern and western central Colorado and much of Utah. “Think about a people who made clay figurines with shuttered eyes, staring at us from a distant past and then think about the Fremont. They inhabited the eastern Great Basin and western Colorado Plateau from approximately 650 to 1250 A.D., roughly a thousand years ago. They planted corn, irrigated their fields, and utilized wild foods with ingenuity. In many way, the Fremont correspond with the Anasazi. But in many ways they do not.” (Madsen 1998:IX)


Polydactyl Ute bear tracks representations may be found in western Colorado and eastern Utah in the area dominated by the historic Ute people. The bear is of great significance to Ute peoples. The Bear Dance is the preeminent Spring social event for the various bands of the Ute. Given that significance, the bear track would be expected to be a common component of their rock art.


7-toed bear paw print, Ancestral Puebloan, El Morro National Monument, New Mexico. Internet photo, Public Domain.

For the Ancestral Pueblo people the bear is the animal deity of the West. “From the Pueblo standpoint there is a polarity in the nature of Bear that accounts for much of his role. Physically he is much like a man, but symbolically he relates to the supernatural and is often a god.” (Tyler 1975:184)

To these physical resemblances are added similarities of disposition, in that the bear is subject to sudden moods, to joyousness and clowning, or to melancholy and surliness. While a lion always behaves like a lion, a bear is entirely unpredictable. In food habits a black bear would prefer to be a man if he were given a choice. He will strip corn from a field, or eat cooked foods with relish, or he will gather roots and berries and vary these with all variety of game. - - - Probably no other animal is attended by such widespread ritual attention; bear ceremonialism accompanies the animal wherever he is found.” (Tyler 1978:184-5)


6-toed bear paw print, Ancestral Puebloan, Upper Sand Island, Bear's Ears National Monument, UT. Internet photo, Public Domain.

Bear is also given considerable significance as an animal that can bestow knowledge on healing. The bear’s feeding on plants and digging up roots reminded observers of gathering “medicine” plants.


6-toed bear paw print, Ancestral Puebloan, Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photograph Paul and Joy Foster.

“For many North American tribes, bears were also important as shamans’ spirit helpers. As part of the circumpolar emphasis on bear ceremonialism (cf. Hallowell 1926), bears were accorded significant shamanic power becaust they are the most ‘human of known animals’. They often stand and walk upright - especially when surveying an unknown situation and beginning an offensive charge - and they use their paws like human hands to manipulate objects. Their tracks look much like human hand and foot prints, and their skeletons are remarkably human like.” (Keyser and Poetschat 2015:156-7)

So yes, bear polydactylism is very much a theme in rock art from all over the American west. The bear as an animal was of tremendous import to the indigenous peoples of these areas, both practically and spiritually, throughout prehistory and down to the present. I see  a number of motives in this for the portrayal of extra claws on bears. Remember that in the tribes of North American First Peoples physical and mental differences were not usually seen as making the possessor less, but often more in the case of spiritual significance. In the spiritual world the bear with extra claws would be a bear of greater spiritual power. If my spirit animal were a bear I would want to picture him as important and dominant as possible, thus the extra claws. In the practical world a bear hunter who survived conquered a polydactyl bear could feel he had mastered something more important than a normal five-toed bear. That enhanced his reputation. Of bear as a healer, a polydactyl bear would be a greater healer, etc.

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:

Cole, Sally J.1987, An Analysis of the Prehistoric and Historic Rock Art of West-Central Colorado, Cultural Resources Series Number 21,  Bureau of Land Management, Colorado.

Keyser, James D, and George Poetschat2015, Seeking Bear, The Petroglyphs of Lucerne Valley, Wyoming, Oregon Archaeological Society Press, Portland

Madsen, David B.1989, Exploring the Fremont, Utah Museum of Natural History, University of Utah Occasional Publication No. 8

Tyler, Hamilton A.1975, Pueblo Animals and Myths, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

SECONDARY REFERENCES:

Hallowell, Irving A.1926, Bear Ceremonialism in the Northern Hemisphere, American Anthropologist, 28:1-175

Saturday, April 10, 2021

POLYDACTYLISM IN ROCK ART - BEAR PAW PRINTS, PART 1:


12-toed bear paw prints, Sieber Canyon, Mesa County, Colorado. Photograph Peter Faris, 23 August 1981.

As I have written elsewhere on the question of polydactyly (polydactylism) in human hand and foot prints in rock art, we also find instances of polydactylism in bear paw prints. Polydactyly is “the condition of having more than the normal number of fingers or toes.” (Webster) Early on in my studies of rock art I noticed that many bear paw prints showed extra toes and claws. I wondered why this might be and have now pondered it for over four decades.

In approaching this question the first thing I want to know is the possibility of an actual bear showing polydactyly. The answer to this is a definite yes. A simple online search for animal polydactyly found hundreds of references to this; mostly among cats (the so-called Hemingway cat), but also for dogs, bovines, camelids, reptiles, and even a kangaroo. So the question of possible polydactyly for a bear had to be answered yes. 


Six-toed bear foot, Facebook photograph, Wade Lemon Hunting.


Six-toed bear track in snow, in Yosemite, California. Internet photograph, Seth Horstmeyer. (it is just possible that this one is a double print made by a normal five-toed bear stepping in the same spot twice).


Six-toed bear paw print, Okanagan, British Columbia, Photograph, 2012, Adam Konanz, provided by Sean Coogan, University of Alberta.

Then I ran across a photograph online of a bear’s hind foot with six toes on a Facebook page for “Wade Lemon - Hunting Guide”. Additionally, photos of bear tracks showing six toes provide extra proof of the existence of polydactyly among bears. Other proof was found online with pictures of bear paw prints in snow showing six toes. So now we have proof that bears too can be subject to polydactyly.


12-toed bear paw prints, Sieber Canyon, Mesa County, Colorado. Photograph Peter Faris, 23 August 1981.

I have written before about Marie Wormington’s comments to me about a Fremont burial of a man with six toes that she excavated. She related him to Native American beliefs that personal differences can point to spiritual significance. That a person with six digits might have been thought special and so celebrated in rock art. I have long since assumed the same thing for bears. Since one of the most significant things about a bear might be considered to be his claws, the way to portray a significant bear, a legendary or mythological bear, would be to enhance the claws. Thus we find a pair of bear paw petroglyphs in Sieber Canyon, Mesa County, Colorado, by a Fremont artist with twelve claws on each paw. That is a very significant bear. There are many Fremont representations of polydactyl bear tracks.


DeBeque Canyon, Mesa County, Colorado. Uncompaghre style.
Photograph by Paul and Joy Foster.

“The bear possesses a number of qualities that have led most Native Americans to regard it with great reverence. Although recognized as an animal and a supernatural being, it also shares many traits with humans. Perhaps most important is that it sometimes walks upright and flat-footed. Its front paws are much like human hands in the way they rotate and grasp things. The bear is omnivorous, consuming roots, berries, corn, and also many kinds of animal prey; it is thus both a hunter and a gatherer. While many animals are predictable in their behavior patterns, bears seem to have a repertoire of moods similar to people ranging from playful to violent.” (Olsen 1998:111)

“The powerful bear paw, with its formidable claws, serves as a clan or ceremonial symbol for many tribes, and is also used in medical treatments and for magic. In prehistoric times, the strong canine teeth and the claws of bears were worn as amulets and ornaments and bear cubs were sometimes given ceremonial burials.” (Olsen 1998:112)


Six-toed bear paw print, Rock Creek Pictograph Site, Montana. Used with permission of Mavis Greer.

Seven-toed bear paw print, Indian Cave Site, Montana. Used with permission of Mavis Greer.

Mavis Greer (1997) illustrated bear paw prints showing polydactyly, from two different sites in Central Montana. One painted at site 24LC33 (Rock Creek pictograph site) has a pad 42 cm. long and six claws 10 -20 cm. long. The other is at 24CA347 (Indian Cave) is a red forefoot paw print with seven toes. (Greer 1997:91) These are located in the region historically associated with the Blackfeet and Gros Ventre peoples.




Polydactyl bear paw print, Pictograph Cave, Billings, Montana. Photograph Peter Faris

Another polydactyl bear paw print can be found at Pictograph Cave, Billings, Montana.


Keyser and Poetschat, 2015, Seeking Bear, fig.33, p.44.


Uncompaghre style, Keyser and Poetschat, 2015, Seeking Bear, fig.30f, g & h, p.42.

In southwestern Wyoming, Keyser and Poetschat show a bear with very detailed toes and claws and a three-track trackway behind him with the same detailing of toes and claws. "The three-track sequence leading to the largest bear shows tracks exactly like those of the bear's own paws and has a right-left-right sequence." (Keyser and Poetschat 2015:45). One of the right paw prints, however, is given six toes and claws while the others, like the bear's paws, only show five. They assign these images to the Uncompaghre complex (probably the farthest north this style has penetrated). Uncompaghre complex rock art had previously been assumed to be pretty much confined to west-central Colorado and a small portion of adjacent Utah, a region dominated by the Uncompaghre Mesa. Given the great care and detail that went into the creation of these bear tracks I have to assume that the one track shown with six toes is done purposefully, although I do not presume to know what that purpose is.


Uncompaghre style bear petroglyph, Keyser and Fossatti, Fig. 4, p. 17.

An additional six-clawed bear from southwestern Wyoming is pictured in Keyser and Fossati’s 2014 study of the Gateway Site in the Green River Basin. This bear has three normal five-toed paws depicted and with its right front paw bearing six claws.


Uncompahgre style bears, Grand Mesa, Colorado. From Sally Cole, 1987, Fig. 33, p. 109.

An interesting example from the Grand Mesa, Mesa County, Colorado, of a polydactyl bear was shownby Sally Cole (1987). Two headless bears are seen with a single six-toed rear paw print between them. The bears have pecked pits where their claws would be indicated and the lower bear has six small pits on the edge of its left hind foot.

This column will resume next week with a continued look at polydactyl bears and bearpaw prints in part two.

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:

Cole, Sally J.1987, An Analysis of the Prehistoric and Historic Rock Art of West-Central Colorado, Bureau of Land Management Cultural Resource Series, number 21, Denver.

Coogan, Sean2013,  A Six-Toed Paw Print, International Bear News, Summer 2013, Vol. 22, No. 2.

Greer, Mavis1997, Bear Imagery in Central Montana Rock Art, in American Indian Rock Art, Volume 23, Steven M. Freers, Editor, American Rock Art Research Association, pp. 85-94.

Keyser, James D., and George Poetschat2014, Seeking Bear: The Petroglyphs of Lucerne Valley, Wyoming, Oregon Archaeological Society Press Publication #23, Portland.

Keyser, James D., and Angelo Eugenio Fossati2014, Pecked Petroglyphs at the Gateway Site: The Uncompahgre Style in the Green River Basin, The Wyoming Archaeologist, Vol. 58(2), Fall 2014

Lemon, Wade2018, Crazy 6-Toed Bear! What’s Your Thoughts?, 7 June 2018, Facebook.com

Olsen, Sandra L.1998, Animals in American Indian Life: An Overview, pp. 95 - 118, in  Stars Above, Earth Below: American Indians and Nature, Marsha C. Bol, editor, Robert Reinhart Publishers, Niwot, CO.

Websterhttps://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/polydactyly

Thursday, April 1, 2021

EXTINCT ANIMALS IN ROCK ART - THE NAUGA:

A group of naugas. Dinwoody style petroglyphs, Fremont County, Wyoming. Photograph Peter Faris, September 1992.

Rock Art researchers have long referred to images of animals in rock art to try to picture what extinct animals might have looked like. Perhaps the best known examples of this are the aurochs and paleolithic horses of Europe so beautifully illustrated in the European painted caves.

Nauga. Internet photograph, Public Domain.

One extinct animal that is frequently found pictured in the Dinwoody style rock art of northwestern Wyoming is the nauga. The facts of the extinction of the nauga are quite mysterious and hard to discern. Based upon their large mouth full of sharp teeth I assume that they were carnivorous and may have almost extinct with the demise of the megafauna at the end of the Pleistocene that they depended on for food. It would appear, however, that a relic population must have survived in northwestern Wyoming because of their appearance in the Dinwoody Style rock art of that region. These must have survived on the bison that were so numerous. This rock art was produced by the Shoshonean residents of that area.


Nauga petroglyphs, Dinwoody style, Legend Rock, Hot Springs County, Wyoming. Photographs Peter Faris, September 1992.

It is well known that the US Government attempted to reduce the free Native American population on the Great plains by encouraging the over-hunting of the bison that they depended on to force them onto designated reservations. The over-hunting of the bison also led to the extinction of the naugas who depended upon them for food, as well as forcing the Native Americans onto reservations.


      Nauga petroglyphs, Dinwoody style,    Torrey Lake Canyon, Fremont County,         Wyoming. Photograph Peter Faris,                           September 1998.

The US Government has tried to cover up this shocking genocide by promulgating this phony cover story. “Naugahyde is an American brand of artificial leather. Naugahyde is a composite knit fabric backing and expanded polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic coating. It was developed by Byron A. Hunter, senior chemist at the United States Rubber Company, and is now manufactured and sold by the corporate spin-off Uniroyal Engineered Products, LLC. Its name, first used as a trademark in 1936, comes from the name of Naugatuck, Connecticut, where it was first produced. It is now manufactured in Stoughton, Wisconsin.” (Wikipedia)

But who knows what might still be found in the backcountry of Yellowstone. I urge cryptozoologists and other interested parties to conduct a detailed survey of the remaining wildlife in Yellowstone National Park. The much mistreated nauga might just be still there, holding on to life - I would suggest starting as soon after April 1 as possible.

NOTE: An image in this posting was retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of this image is 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 reports you should read the original report at the site listed below.

REFERENCE:

Wikipedia, Naugahyde, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naugahyde

Saturday, March 27, 2021

POLYDACTYLY REVISITED - PART 2:

I now pick up my examination of polydactyly in rock art in Chaco Canyon. Chaco canyon is a center or cluster site for six-toed footprints, leading some researchers to speculate that if the Chaco Canyon elites had polydactyly it would come to be seen as special and something to be reproduced.


6-toed footprint trackway, behind Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, San Juan county, New Mexico, Photograph Peter Faris, August 2004.


6-toed footprint in mud plaster and plaster cast of same. Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Crown et al., Footnotes, 2016, p. 434, Fig. 5.

A number of examples portraying foot polydactyly are located in Chaco Canyon, NM. Behind Pueblo Bonito the remains of a small room built against the cliff shows a series of six-toed tracks pecked into the back wall cliff face. In Pueblo Bonito itself three buried individuals were recovered displaying polydactyly of a foot (Crown et al. 2016:431) and foot impressions in the mud wall plaster show at least one six-toed impression (Crown 2016: 432). “Careful morphological examination of reassociated foot bones, as well as of individual elements from Pueblo Bonito, has identified three separate cases of polydactyly, two of which were not previously recognized. Thus, instead of the single previously reported case of polydactyly, it appears that the trait occurred with some frequency within this population.” (Crown et al. 2016:429) These figures were apparently also interred with grave goods and/or in locations that suggested they were elite members of the community, reinforcing Wormington’s suggestion that Native Americans considered the physical differences as a mark of being somehow special.



Jog-toed sandal prints, Glenn Canyon, below Smith's Fork, San Juan County, Utah. Online photograph, Public Domain.


Jog-toed sandal prints, Oljeto Wash. Utah. Photograph Chuck LaRue. 

Since more examples of polydactyly are found that involve the foot than he hand it may have been natural for attention to have been paid to sandals that indicate that they were woven to accommodate the extra toe on the foot. These are referred to as jog-toe sandals. “Recently Crown et al. (p.445) assert that the jog-toed sandal itself evolved as an accommodation to polydactyly in the form of six toes, a trait characteristic of an early elite burial, although no sandal was found in association. The burial in question (Burial 13 in Room 33 in Pueblo Bonito) was recently radio-carbon dated between A.D. 690-887, with a median date of A.D. 741 (p.19623), dates that precede in time the iconography under discussion. Nevertheless, a synthesis of foot imagery at Chaco emphasizes the symbolic role of the foot in Ancestral Pueblo ideology during these years, accounting for its presence in the rock art.” (Schaafsma 2016: 17)



Twined jog-toed sandals, Pueblo Bonito, room 24, Schaafsma, 2016, fig. 34.

It certainly seems reasonable to make these inferences, because not only were portrayals of six-toed footprints produced, but portrayals of the jog-toed sandals to accommodate the sixth toe became common as well.

“The symbolic importance of the sandal as a graphic image is also underscored by its replication in other media found within archaeological contexts that indicate it had a ceremonial role. Thus, its representations in rock art can be viewed as part of the symbolic and ritual repertoire or ‘vocabulary’ that prevailed among the Plateau Pueblo peoples throughout the San Juan and neighboring regions during Pueblo II - III times.” (Schaafsma 2016: 17)

There are also instances that record polydactylism that are not necessarily rock art, not painted or engraved on rock. Special sandals called jog-toed sandals are thought to represent sandals made to accommodate a sixth toe. These are occasionally found illustrated in rock art, but they also are known through discoveries of actual examples of the sandals.

This has been seen as a Pueblo-wide phenomenon. “For example, many twined sandals from the Pueblo II and III periods have what appears to be a stylized sixth toe on the outside of the foot. Sandal-makers might have added these toe-jogs to commemorate real or fictive associations with important leaders at Chaco Canyon, at least of few of whom actually had a sixth toe. Because of that feature, and because these sandals required such intense effort to make, their wearers might have been high-ranking individuals who associated themselves with religious and political movements in the larger Chaco world.” (Bellorado 2018:40)



Sandal stones, larger than life-size, Long House, Mesa Verde, Colorado. Figure 3, p. 2, Schaafsma, 2016.


Knobby Knee Stockade, Site 5MT2525, US Bureau of Reclamation Hovenweep Laterals, photograph from Scott Schumaker.

And not only images and sandals have been recovered. Sandal effigy tablets in both wood and stone have been found, both jog-toed and non jog-toed. “Commonly larger than live-sized, finely worked, ground stone or wooden sandal effigy tablets in plain or jog-toed shape are characteristic. Although the ‘sandal stones’ were once erroneously tagged as utilitarian ‘sandal lasts’, this idea has been not only questioned, but vigorously challenged and dismissed. Further, their associations with caches of ritual paraphernalia or kivas are documented from Mesa Verde, Chaco, and Aztec sites. Wooden forms often bore painted decoration comparable to those seen on sandals in rock art. From Aztec two painted wooden sandal forms (at least one of which is jog-toed and with rounded heel) are painted on both sides with geometric designs. Their archaeological contexts in ritual caches and the investment in time represented in their manufacture are testimony to their iconic status and symbolic significance that can be extended to the graphic examples, and their use as altar furnishings is likely.” (Schaasma 2016)


Miniature jog-toed stone sandal effigy, Little Colorado River drainage. (1963 photograph by Myrtle Perce Vivian; courtesy of R. Gwinn Vivian). P. 15, fig. 17, Schaafsma, 2016.

Aside from their suggested use for “ritual” purposes, the only real suggestion of a possible significance for the jog-toed images and artifacts are as references to the presumed hereditary polydactylism of persons at Chaco Canyon who seem to have been important people in the community. This is suggested as a “me too” second-hand sort of significance by association. I honestly do not know if this is a real answer to the question of the significance of polydactyly in rock art, but it seems to be the best answer we have currently, and it will have to stand until a better answer comes 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:


Bellorado, Benjamin A.2018 Sandals and Sandal Symbolism in Greater Bears Ears and Beyond, Archaeology Southwest Magazine 32 (1)Tucson, AZ, 39-41.

Crown, Patricia L., Kerriann M. Hedman, and Hannah V. Mattson, 2016 Foot Notes: The Social Implications of Polydactyly and Foot-Related Images at Chaco Canyon, American Antiquity 81, 426-48

Hirthler, Maureen A., and Richard L. Hutchison2012 Polydactyly in the Southwest: Art or Anatomy - a Photo Essay, October 16, Hand (Journal), NY.

Shaafsma, Polly2016 Sandals as Icons: Representations in Ancestral Pueblo Rock Art and Effigies in Stone and Wood, 7 October 2016, published in Arts, 5, 7, academic editor Robert Bednarik.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

POLYDACTYLY REVISITED - PART 1:


Six-toed footprint, Newspaper Rock, Utah. Photograph Richard Coleman.

A fascinating feature of rock art is the occasional occurrence of polydactylism (polydactyly) in hand or foot prints. I have written on this subject a number of times before (see polydactylism in the cloud index at the bottom of this blog). The archaeologist H. Marie Wormington explained her theory of polydactyly in Fremont rock art to me back in the 1980s (a personal conversation). She had found a Fremont Culture burial of a six-fingered man who had deluxe grave goods interred with him and, from that, she inferred that the polydactyly made one special in that society, and hence more likely to be considered important, important enough to bury with special deluxe grave goods, and important enough to be pictured on the rocks.

Polydactyly of the hand. Online photograph, Public Domain.


"Bigfoot Man" with six fingers, McConkey Ranch, outside of Vernal, Utah. Photograph 10 September 1994, Peter Faris.

This may have been the case with the so-called “Bigfoot Man” at McConkie Ranch, outside of Vernal, Utah. This Fremont painting of a warrior shows him with six fingers on each hand.

Three Rivers, New Mexico. Online photograph, Public Domain.


Polydactyl Mayan hand print, Temple of the Frescoes, Tulum, Mexico. Online photograph, Public Domain.

In Crown, et al. (2016) polydactyly is classified as Type A (the extra digit may be well-developed and functional, or Type B. With Type B polydactyly the extraneous protrusion is without bones, comprised only of soft tissue. Type A postaxial polydactyly occurs in modern Native American populations in .11/1000 births, and in a ratio of males to females of 1.6. The figure for Type B is .73/1000 live births. The feet are affected more often than the hands and the left side more often than the right. (Crown et al. 2016:427)


Nine-Mile Canyon, Utah, Photograph Peter Faris, August 1993.


Nine-Mile Canyon, Utah, Internet photograph, Public Domain.

Hirthler and Hutchison have a higher figure citing “a relatively high incidence of polydactyly in contemporary Native American populations. The modern incidence of finger and toe duplication is approximately 2.4 in 1,000, with hands preferentially effected. Thumb duplication is more common in Native American populations (0.25/1,000) than it is in Afro-Americans (0.08/1.000) or caucasians (0.08/1.000).” (Hirthler and Hutchison 2012) Whichever set of figures is accurate, this condition, while relatively rare, is still known among First American descendants.

Then we come to six-toed footprints. For some reason (unknown to me at least) there are a large number of six-toed footprints at the Newspaper Rock site in Utah. 


6-toed trackway, Newspaper Rock, Indian Creek, San Juan County, Utah. Photograph Peter Faris.


Newspaper Rock, San Juan County, UT. Photograph Sherman Spear, October 1967.


Newspaper Rock, San Juan County, UT. Photograph Richard Coleman, October 2011.

This is part one of my revisit to the theme of polydactyly (polydactylism) in rock art. In part two I will continue with polydactyly at Chaco Canyon and then expand it into sandals and sandal prints that exhibit signs of polydactyly as well.

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:

Crown, Patricia L., Kerriann M. Hedman, and Hannah V. Mattson, 2016, Foot Notes: The Social Implications of Polydactyly and Foot-Related Images at Chaco Canyon, American Antiquity 81, 426-48

Hirthler, Maureen A., and Richard L. Hutchison2012, Polydactyly in the Southwest: Art or Anatomy - a Photo Essay, October 16, Hand (Journal), NY.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

OBESE FIGURES IN PALEOLITHIC ART:


 "Venus" of Willendorf, 4.4", carved limestone, covered with ochre, ca. 25,000 BCE, Austria. Internet photo, Wikipedia, Public Domain.

Among the many mysteries in Paleolithic art are the chubby little femalefigures first named by French researchers as “Venus” figures. Their purpose/uses are unknown but among the questions is the obesity or chubbiness displayed by so many of them. These figures, primarily figurines although they include a painted figure and a bas-relief, have been found from Italy through France and Germany to Russia. So why are the figures predominately portly with a few shown as extremely obese?


Lespugue "Venus", ca. 25,000 year old, Photo Musee de l'Homme, Paris.

Now a new study has tackled that question with a clever approach. They measured figurines and cave art and calculated in the distance from the glacial front at the time of their creation.  “Figurines of woman with obesity or who are pregnant (“Venus figurines”) from Upper Paleolithic Europe rank among the earliest art and endured from 38,000 to 14,000 BP (before present), one of the most arduous climatic periods in human history. We propose that the Venus representation relates to human adaptation to climate change. During this period, humans faced advancing glaciers and falling temperatures that led to nutritional stress, regional extinctions, and a reduction in the population. We analyzed Paleolithic figurines of women with obesity to test whether the more obese figurines are from sites during the height of the glacial advance and closer to the glacial fronts. Figurines are less obese as distance from the glaciers increases. Because survival required sufficient nutrition for child-bearing women, we hypothesize that the overnourished woman became an ideal symbol of survival and beauty during episodes of starvation and climate change in Paleolithic Europe.” (Johnson et al. 2020)


"Venus" of Hohle Fels, mammoth ivory, ca. 40,000 - 35,000 BCE, Schelklingen, Germany. Internet photo, Wikipedia, Public Domain.

The results of this analysis seem to confirm a theory published in 2014 in the journal Endocrinology. “We propose here that the ability to thermoregulate in extreme heat or cold afforded powerful survival advantages and therefore commanded much higher selection coefficients than those for thrifty genes, which purportedly provided merely a slight fecundity advantage. Moreover, to reproduce you must survive. Survival advantages must therefore supersede fertility advantages. Genes that were essential to survival, particularly in newborn or young children, such as those that control thermoregulation would be of greater importance than thrifty genes because they would allow an individual to survive to reach reproductive age.” (Sellayah et al. 2014)

"Venus" of Laussel, France. carved limestone, painted with ochre, 18.11" high, ca. 25,000 BCE. Internet photo, Wikipedia, Public Domain.


Chauvet "Buffalo Woman", France. Photo pinterest.com, Public Domain. A woman's obese lower torso formed from the front legs of a buffalo and a lion with the addition of the vulva.

In other words, the closer to the glacier front the more obese the female portrayals in cave art and figurines. This would seem to provide a survival advantage in two ways. One, the extra adipose tissue could be drawn on for nutrition at times of nutritional stress, and two, extra body fat provides extra insulation against the cold. Additionally, with these reserves a woman would be more reliably fertile and so would insure a next generation for the clan, and just might pass this trait to obesity on genetically to her offspring. This suggests that such a woman would be highly regarded within the group and looked up to by others.




"Venus" of Gagarino, carved ivory, ca. 21,000 - 25.000 BCE, Russia. Internet photo, Wikipedia, Public Domain.

The attitude of a group toward the “ideal” figure is heavily influenced by the examples of persons in the upper echelons of society.

“An important cultural question is, ‘what is a ‘good’ - desirable, beautiful, impressive - body?’ The answers are legion; here I examine why bigger bodies represent survival skill, and how this power symbolism is embodied by behaviors that guide larger persons toward the top of the social hierarchy. Bigness is a complex concept comprising tallness, boniness, muscularity and fattiness. Data show that most people worldwide want to be big - both tall and fat. Those who achieve the ideal are disproportionately among the society’s most socially powerful.” (Cassidy 1991)


"Venus" of Dolni Vestonice, Czech Republic. Ceramic, ca. 29,000 - 25,000 BCE, one of the oldest known ceramic articles. Internet photo, Wikipedia, Public Domain.

The concept of large bodoy mass being considered desirable is not foreign to history. In the reports of western explorers of the 17 and 18th centuries we read of the Polynesian ideal of beauty involving considerable body mass and gives us a tangible example of the concept in action.  Writing about the native Hawaiian race in 1917 MacCaughey stated: “Many of the chiefs and women of their families have been remarkable, not only for their height, but also for their weight. Four hundred pounds was formerly not unusual for one of this favored class, and three hundred pounds was the prevalent weight among the nobility. This corpulence was much more common among the women than the men.” (MacCaughey 1917:169)


Figure from Brassempouy, mammoth ivory, 3.65 cm. high, ca. 26,000 - 24,000 BP. Internet photo, Wikipedia, Public Domain.

As far as the question of the likelihood of reproduction, it is well known that being underweight for a woman severely effects her fertility. “If you’re underweight and have too little body fat, you may have too little progesterone and higher than normal levels of the stress hormone cortisol, either of which could impair ovulation and implantation. ‘If you underweight, your body sensed this as stress and shuts off the reproductive system to focus on things that are essential to survival.’” (Colin 2020)


"Venus of Polichenelle", carved green steatite, 61mm high, ca. 27,000 BP, Grimaldi, Italy. Internet photo, Wikipedia, Public Domain.

While it is true that being obese can also affect a woman’s hormones and interfere with reproduction, all in all it seems that being somewhat overweight must have been seen in the Paleolithic society as more attractive, and more likely to bear children. While this new study (Johnson et al. 2020) can not help settle whether these “Venus” figurines are objects of devotion or pornography, it does help us understand the social background that led to their creation.

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:

Cassidy, C. M.1991, The Good Body: When Big is Better, Medical Anthropology 13(3),Sept. 1991, pp.181-213

Colin, Stacey2020 How Body Weight and Body Mass Index (BMI) Affect A Woman’s Fertility and Ability to Conceive, February 24, 2020, https://www.everdayhealth.com/fertility/body-weight-bmi/

Johnson, Richard J., Miguel A. Lanaspa, John W. Fox, 2020, Upper Paleolithic Figurines Showing Women with Obesity May Represent Survival Symbols of Climatic Change, December 1, 2020, Obesity, Journal of the Obesity Society, https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.23028

MacCaughey, Vaughan1917 The Physique of the Ancient Hawaiians, Scientific Monthly, August 1917, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 166-174, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/22645

Sellayah, Dyan, Felino R Cagampang, Roger D. Cox2014, On the Evolutionary Origins of Obesity: A New Hypothesis, May 1, 2014, Endocrinology, Vol. 155, Issue 5, p. 1573-1588

Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venue_figurine