14 June 2014

A few quotations from a book about prehistoric art

 Prehistoric Art[All of the following excerpts are from The Cambridge Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art by Paul G. Bahn]

“The central bug-eyed humanoid has a tapering body, short limbs and long fingers, as well as vertical stripes.”

“The human figures were left unsexed, except for the largest which, astonishingly, he drew as a woman, omitting its prominent penis.”

“I was certainly rather surprised at the moment that I first saw this gigantic head and upper part of a body bending over and grimly staring at me … It would be impossible to convey in words an adequate idea of this uncouth and savage figure … Its head was encircled by bright red rays.”

“The giant human is thought by some to represent evil. The circular patterns around it were caused by off-road vehicles.”

“Note the baby under its tail.”

“The ancestral heroes are said to have travelled here during the Dreamtime.”

“Interhuman violence is surprisingly rare in prehistoric art as a whole.”

“The ‘demon’ on the eastern shore of Lake Onega had a Russian Orthodox cross superimposed on it about 500 years ago.”

“It is usually interpreted as a pregnant woman about to give birth… however, it has recently been claimed to be a masturbation scene.”

“A recent study of the subject estimated that 50 percent of men in rural areas will have had at least one sexual experience with an animal.”

“Pictures showing the more bizarre copulations in North Africa may be intended to depict mythical beings, especially as the perpetrators often appear to have non-human heads; alternatively they may simply be showing the appropriation of these mighty beasts by a symbolic act which was physically impossible or at least highly implausible.”

“There are many examples of this theme from the pottery of ancient Peru, including one man with his nose and lips transformed into genitals, and another cheerful figure on a vessel from the Moche culture designed so that the only way to drink from it is to use the penis.”

“Here is an antler spearthrower showing a young ibex with emerging turd on which two birds are perched.”

“Note the heroic size, the total absence of extremities, the bug eyes, and the mummy-like appearance. They are assumed to represent some kind of supernatural being.”

“The famous ‘White Lady’ is protected by an iron grid, but visitors have thrown beer and cola onto the painting to try and enhance it.”

“The local people not only throw chewed coca leaves at zoomorphic figures, but, at one site, villagers have burnt straw in front of the decorated panel and thrown blood over a condor figure. Buried beneath stones at the site is a wooden box filled with bottles of alcohol, as well as woolen tassels and paper strips and flags.”

“The fundamental problem, of course, is that just because a marking happens to resemble some real object (at least in our eyes), there is no guarantee that it was meant to depict that object. …Among the Walbiri people, for example, a circle can denote a hill, tree, campsite, circular path, egg, breast, nipple, entrance into or exit from the ground, or a host of other things.”


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