From -100 000 to -30 000 years BP: the Homo neanderthalensis MOUSTERIAN & CHATELPERRONIAN


From -35 000 to -27 000 years BP: the Homo sapiens AURIGNACIAN

THE AURIGNACIAN : THE BEGINNINGS OF WRITING

 

 

The first representations of Paleolithic art were discovered in western Europe and correspond to Homo sapiens arrival under these latitudes about -35000 years BP ; their lithic industry was described and called Aurignacian (from Aurignac in the South-West of France).The oldest animal representations in oriental and southern Africa ( Tanzania and Namibia ) are dated back to 31000 years BP.In Asia , tablets with engraved animals dated back to 34000 years BP have been found near the lake Baïkal (Siberia) ; in Patne (India), fragments of ostrich eggs were decorated 25000 years ago. Abstract signs from Australia have been painted 22000 years ago. In Brazil, state of Piaui, painting remains would date the apparition of prehistoric art in America about 17000 years ago.These archaeological finds are considered as milestones of the conquest of the world by Homo sapiens from Africa.

ph. d.parron

Vulva engraved on a block in the Abri Blanchard (Musée des Antiquités Nationales, St Germain en Laye, F)


According to Brigitte and Gilles Delluc the oldest known human drawings have been discovered in the rock shelters of Castel-Merle in Dordogne (SW of France). They mainly represent vulvas and phalluses but some animals representations may occur like a horse in the Abri Blanchard. These engravings are very difficult to date but experts think they have been done at the very beginning of this aurignacian period about -35000 years BP. On the contrary , paintings found in the
chauvet cave, also dated of -31000 to -32000 years BP according to experts in C14, represent a various bestiary: bears, rhinoceros, mammoths, horses, bison, reindeers, cave lions , etc... . No sexual symbols are represented, but Aurignacians left handprints and punctuations in red ocher on the cave walls. Some animal figurines have also been found in aurignacian sites in Germany: at Vogelherd , small ivory figurines representing horses, bison, cave lions, etc ... and at Hohlenstein Stadel an ivory statuette representing a man with a leonine head and dated back to -32000 years BP.

What is therefore the sense of these parietal and portable Art representations? as said previously, Homo sapiens would have been well adapted to an open environment such as the savanna. But when he arrived in Europe and Western Asia he has to compete with Homo neanderthalensis who is also hunter-gatherer; the economic exploitation of territories became then much difficult and tribes have to invent a means to mark their territories . These representations are this means which will become Writing. It really appeared in Mesopotamia about -5 000 years BP with pictograms which represent stylised objects or personages. The most beautiful example is the woman represented by a reversed triangle with a line which is indeed very suggestive ... and very similar to our Aurignacian engravings. By combination these pictograms give an ideogram : this pubic triangle associated to the pictogram Mountain means in Sumerian :"the women beyond the Mountains ", in fact the female slaves .

"The women beyond the Mountains": Sumerian ideogram


In both cases of decorated cave and engraved tablets , it is striking to note that there is no realistic human representation, at least during the Aurignacian period. Homo sapiens seems to represent himself in a symbolic way while drawing an animal; in other words that means he wanted to write the name of his clan :clan of the bison, of the mammoth etc... In the same way , the small statuette found at Hohlenstein Stadel ( Bade-Würtemberg) could be interpreted as the beginning of this symbolism: the head would indicate the name of the tribe and its meaning would be then " the men of the cave lion tribe"! Along with these animal representations, various signs such as handprints , vulvas and phalluses could also be interpreted like individual symbols within the clan. In Abri Blanchard vulvas and phalluses were found with an engraved horse and , therefore , would describe the women and men of the clan of the Horse. In the same way , handprints and punctuations of the Chauvet cave could be some " individual signatures " in relation with the " totem " of the clan. It is , therefore , very likely to be early ideograms whose main pictogram is the animal symbolizing the tribe associated with punctuations and handprints representing the tribe members.