The Foundation-Stones

By Sylvia Simpson,2014-04-05 11:44
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39 T T h h e e F F o o u u n n d d a a t t i i o o n n - - S S t t o o n n e e s s o o f f C C u u l l t t u u r r e e This text will pursue the question, what initially lead humankind to decorate walls of rock with scratched symbols. 1 At the beginning of the twentieth c..

    The Foundation-Stones of The Foundation-Stones of

    Culture Culture

    This text will pursue the question, what initially lead humankind to decorate

    1walls of rock with scratched symbols.

    At the beginning of the twentieth century extensive and coloured paintings, which had been placed there thousands of years ago, were re-discovered in the caves of Altamira, Lascaux and other European sites. Long before these meanwhile famous and frequently cited murals were created, early cultures had cultivated the knowledge and talent of decorating bones and stone with scratched symbols. Even palaeolithic men are supposed to have used an

    engraved stone slab not primarily as a tool but as a cult-object in ceremonial burials. Prehistorics also link the oldest reliable evidence of the artistic

    2treatment of objects to the ritual attitudes of humanity towards death.

    Psychohistorics on the other hand, as the science of patterns in historical motives, emphasises mainly prenatal and birth-related experiences, as Lloyd

    3deMause specifies in his Grundlagen der Psychohistorie, when e.g. he explains

    that bones from prehistoric sites, furnished with notches and female symbols served as calendars. In his opinion these counting-out helps did not serve as a lunar calendar, like some scientists assume, but have been a help for the calculation of the menstruation.


Stylistics of early rock-scratchings Stylistics of early rock-scratchings

    Some of the first distinct elements found in rock scratchings are small cavities, the so-called cups, or grooves. They are circular polished cavities with a depth

    of usually 23 cm and a diameter of 46 cm. They are arranged in rows, parallel

    columns, circles or randomly spread over the rock surface. These cups are often interpreted as sacrificial bowls. Some of these cavities however, are to be found in such slanted walls, that they could not have served as a receptacle. Further elementary symbol are grooves, long straight lines that do not appear just

    4sporadically but also as seemingly arbitrarily overlapping grid patterns. These

    structures are not always looked at as an expression of conscious design, they

    56are sometimes dismissed as „playful scribblings“. Moreover vulva-symbols

    can be found, consisting of purposely constructed lines or geometric symbols containing dots, circles, squares, waved or zigzag lines.

    These geometric symbols are a leit-motif throughout the art of rock-drawing.

    7They can be found at the oldest dated sites as well as in all later eras. From

    these symbols I would like to show to what extent a universal motif can be found in the history of humanity, a motif that reflects the “necessity”, that firstly

    initiated the storage of information via rock-scratchings, i.e. in a manner relatively independent from speech or gestures. In my opinion the circle-, maze-, spiral- and ray-designs here, that can be found world-wide on boulders, do not generally symbolise the celestial orbit of the sun or other physical phenomena. Equally the interpretation of many elementary symbols (wave, circle, zigzag lines) as decorative frills to early cult-expressions needs to be examined, as the following will show. Whereas we have to keep in mind, that neither archaeology, 40

    nor any other scientific department can make exact statements towards the age of the development of rock scratchings. The dates appearing in literature are very rarely specified by a method of analysis beyond all doubt. They are often just assumptions by the authors, differing strongly from one another. But from overlie and weathering we can draw a comparatively safe conclusion towards

    8the relative age. Proceeding from these assumptions we can conclude, that in the beginning a similar graphic development in all the different cultural groups

    9of the world was made, concerning the creation of dot- and dash-symbols as

    well as the composition of complex pictures.

The small mammoth-ivory The small mammoth-ivory

    During an excavation in Siberia near Malta at Lake Baikal a small (13,5 by 8 cm) plate of mammoth-ivory was found. Both sides are decorated with indentures, the centre has got a hole which was probably used for a string, so that the plate

    10could be worn as an amulet.

    The different authors reporting on the object were not of the same opinion concerning the age, but shared the interpretation that the symbols on one side

    11showed three (cobra-) snakes. The snake symbol is often linked with death or

    the passage to the realms of the dead. This interpretion of the snake may be convincing on first sight, but for the time being I would like to disagree on the grounds of two relatively formal arguments.

    1) Although snakes are able to roll their bodies very tightly, they are not able to achieve a sharp angle of more than 90? like the objects on the amulet. 2) The snake’s tail-end is not open.

    12In his essay Die fötalen Ursprünge der Geschichte deMause clearly explains

    what lead him to the opinion, that the prenatal and birth-related experiences


    usually have a deep traumatic effect on every human being. In this context he gives an impressive description of an object, which has a stronger connection to human life than snakes: the afterbirth, consisting of placenta and umbilical cord. This object can also be represented as a disc-shaped form with a hose-shaped extension with sharp bends and turns leading into an open end. Following deMause’ approach, the objects on the ivory-plate have to be

    interpreted as placenta and umbilical cord. Similar pictures of the afterbirth can be found in many places and various designs, but they are rarely recognised as such.

    It is probably a problem of an affective defence in our culture towards the afterbirth. Because if the interpretation of such symbols as serpents is no longer tenable, one frequently falls back upon other naturalistic explanations (fish, tails, entrails) or abstract systems of representation (maps, trigonometrics, astronomical orbits), but rarely upon placenta and umbilical cord. Although the afterbirth is a vital organ, like e.g. the heart or liver, not much

    13attention is paid to it, it will rather be disposed of in a distressed manner. But

    when in the European societies of the twentieth century a continual perception of this organ is hindered by births behind closed hospital doors and fathers-to-be rather enter a pub than spend comfort during the labour-pains, it is not surprising that some researchers lost this object out of sight. A close look at the afterbirth is not a neglected sideline of obstetrics, but imperative regarding the mother’s health. An essential part of the midwifes work is the inspection, whether chorion and placenta have left the uterus completely. Because within a few days, undiscovered parts clinging to the uterus would lead to a blood-poisoning resulting in death. The knowledge about the importance of the complete excretion of the afterbirth is of existential importance to humans of all cultures and I regard the already mentioned circular designs as an advice and 42

    demand to control its completeness. Considering this objective, there is not necessarily a need for exact naturalistic descriptions of the afterbirth, which also would be quite difficult to execute with the comparatively simple methods of petroglyphs, but rather for simplifying symbols. A formal resemblance with the portrayed object would be a help towards understanding, but what basically matters here is a fundamental reference towards the abstract concept of “completeness”. Circles, spirals and mazes would be suitable according to formal as well as abstract aspects. But however, some historical reflections and a single amulet can not cancel out the persistent and regular

    misinterpretations, especially since psycho-historics can also offer only theories towards the context its origin.

    In contrast to this unique amulet a lot of rock scratchings can be found, where nearly identical serpents appear among other symbols. Groups of pictures with

    different kind of symbols can be found in the whole world on cave-walls, precipices and boulders. In these surroundings the interpretation I offer for the so-called snakes is substantiated many times: that in the prehistoric art zigzag- or waved lines connected to a circle symbolise umbilical cord and placenta. For these symbols of the afterbirth can often be found in a simply drawn scenic context showing birth. With this interpretation I am in opposition to the valid scientific opinion till now. But I maintain that these designs speak a clear language. Next to many geometric symbols a woman giving birth or bleeding from the abdomen can be identified as the central figure. Presently there is always the emphasises on the spread out legs and between them a line which shows the umbilical cord, leaking amniotic fluids or blood. Here and there a small figure can be seen between or next to the legs, symbolising the new-born. This kind of compositions are no regional exception, but can be found on all continents. I would like to describe three examples in more detail.


Nevada Nevada

    In the deserts of Nevada great boulders can be seen with geometric symbols

    14and figures. Sometimes it is just a single marking on the stone, sometimes the whole block is covered with pictures. The rocks are found outside settlements in not easily accessible ground like mountain sides or dried up river beds. The

    15geometric symbols are very often circles and waved lines. Next to them simple

    strokes represent humans. These figures are nearly all shown in the same position (legs apart, arms spread out), but the execution, size or the details are very different. As if not a single person created many pictures but many persons put the same single subject into scene.

    The ethnological literature tells of many tribal cultures where women give birth

    16outside the village in secluded places. I interpret these figures and symbols as

    a reproduction of scenes of birth and I can well imagine that the rock scratchings are supposed to mark e.g. special places for birth. Places which have a reputation for a „helpful magical surrounding“ might have been visited more often and thus received more decoration. The scratchings could have the purpose to either document experiences and medical knowledge concerning birth as well as the aim of creating or thanking for a good omen. I don’t think they

    are the markings of hunters concerning game trails as some researchers



Peru Peru

    In a river valley in Peru there are also some places with petroglyphs. Here too geometric circle/ wave symbols and figures with spread out legs can be found on boulders outside of the villages in this area. The same choice of place and subject as in Nevada leads to the assumption that similar, if not identical contents are to be conveyed. These individually designed figures with astraddled legs reflect the different possible stages and events during birth. So

    18these figures would be delivering women and their new-born.

    In Peru there are also symbols in existence, in which the afterbirth is turned into independent beings. The umbilical cord/ placenta forms don’t appear just as

    abstract geometric symbols but are sometimes shown with eyes and mouth. What is represented in Siberia and Nevada as an impersonal object can appear here in the „disguise of a snake“ i.e. as a demonic being.

    Clearly the mythological snake still refers to the umbilical cord and placenta, as these designs show, like the amulet in Siberia, characteristics untypical of snakes, such as right angles and open body endings. In connection with prenatal sensory perception, especially the tactile experiences of the skin, which will be treated later, the radiant new interpretion of the umbilical cord as a snake might have stood not only in South America at the beginning of a

    religious doctrine which developed in later periods into snake-gods or

    serpentine elements in cults of fertility.

    In Meso-America this could have led to the god-king Quetzalcoatl („feathered

    snake“), who is shown as a young man looking out of the jaws of a feathered

    19snake and of that we hear that human life sprang from its blood. India has

    20stone slabs with snake symbols where childless women pray for an offspring.


Hawaii Hawaii

    In the middle of the Pacific lies the group of islands called Hawaii with great fields of rock from cooled-off streams of lava into which about 140,000 symbols

    21have been scratched. Lava suffers substantially from weathering compared

    with granite or other kinds of rock. Since the rock surfaces in Hawaii are under the open sky and exposed unprotected to wind, sun and sea, the oldest symbols are easily distinguished in accordance to their state. The islands have been inhabited for 1,200 years and the most ancient scratch-pictures have not been

    22estimated any older. But the same geometric symbols („cups“, lines or circles)

    can be found as in European rock-scratchings, which have an estimated age of about 30,000 years.

    The Hawaiian scratchings can be regarded as complete microcosm of graphic design. The hill called „Puuloa“ offers a good insight into the development of these symbols. The top of the hill shows nearly exclusively geometric symbols in a very weathered state. The nearer we get to the edge of the rock-formation, the more diverse and detailed the symbols get. Here we find accurately worked figures or whole groups of figures. Most of the figures are shown frontally with their legs spread apart. Over all there is no systematic overlapping of older symbols. The work obviously just continued at the edges of the decorated hill. (It is no surprise to me, that later pictures contain sailing-ships, horses, churches and Latin characters. These pictures derived from the contacts with

    thEuropean seafarers and missionaries, which have visited Hawaii since the 18

    century. The inhabitants might have thought them very „alien“, but unlike some

    esoterically inspired people I don’t believe these aliens to have come from outer


    The „Puuloa“ hill is very interesting, because an oral explanation has been

    23recorded for the „cup“-motif. 1914 an original inhabitant told, that these


    „cups“ were used as a receptacle for a piece of the umbilical cord of the new-born child. Right after birth a „Piku“-hole, as the „cups“ are called here, is

    chiselled out of the lava-ground and a piece of umbilical cord is inserted. This is supposed to be a good omen for the child. The name of the hill „Puuloa“ can be translated as „hill of long life“. So it is not a classic burial-ground, where

    homage is paid to the dead ancestors, but a “birth-ground”. Scientists of the

    Bishop-Museum have interpreted some of the figural designs in Hawaii as scenes from the parturition and the geometric symbols, like the circle/ wave-

    24motif not as a snake, but as the placenta.

Venus-phenomena vs. match-stick man Venus-phenomena vs. match-stick man

    Plastic portrayals of humans, with an estimated age of approx. 23,000 to 25,000

    25years, are without doubt a reproduction of women. Breasts, pelvis, belly and

    privy parts are accentuated, whereas the head and the lower extremities are partially just suggested. This famous prehistoric venus-reproduction is not a unique phenomena, but exists in great numbers and constitutes the greater part

    26of stone-age sculptures. This makes it even more astonishing, that the rock-

    scratchings figures are nearly exclusively interpreted as males: they are supposed to have been made by men and show these men. In my opinion this seems to be a penis-orientated point of view, a point of view quiet predominant in literature on prehistorics, even in cases where the shape as well as size make

    27such a conclusion quite ridiculous. The third leg, that seems to be growing out

    of the abdomen in some early rock-drawings, does not need to have any connection with the penis. There has probably never been and is no yard-long penis. The long, often wavy or bent lines are better interpreted as a symbol for


    the umbilical cord and the circle/ wave motif better as a reproduction of the afterbirth.

    On the other hand, there are of course stone-age pictures which show

    28unquestionably men. These show the primary sexual organs, if shown at all, in quite realistic proportions. In contrast to the already described figures in Nevada, Peru and Hawaii, the stylistic elements of such scenes are often of a more mature kind, as if these pictures were built upon an earlier painting tradition. The figures are usually of nearly equal size and arranged in groups, which enables the description of group-experiences rather than mainly individual experiences. The design of places, where the initiation-rites for young boys are held and where the circumcision takes place, show too rock-

    29drawings nearly identical to the reproductions of birth-scenes. In my opinion

    the long groove between the legs also represents blood and does not primarily refer to the penis. Some male-groups of Australian hunting-tribes claim the exclusive right to the setting of these symbols. Under the penalty of death, it is forbidden for women of the tribes to enter such places or make these designs themselves. These male-dominated pictures are a matter of a later historic (or psycho-historic) development, where men imitate female patterns and try to superimpose it with a claim of omnipotence. The first rock-drawings, as foundation-stones of culture, surely don’t show “match-stick men”, no dancing

    men with dangling penises, but belong to the context women and the problems

     We have to go back into the times before the “penis-envy” and of birth.

    “castration-complex” regime, i.e. to pass through the prehistoric pilfering and its Freudian Reflection (to execute the inversion of a twofold inversion) in order to return the robbed meaning to the sacred objects of birth.

    The choice of perspective is noteworthy in which humans are shown on the rock-surface. In contrast to the representation of animals, who are shown nearly 48

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