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Musings on Art and Archaeology

15 December, 2008

At the beginning of December this year I found an article on the BBC about a dig in Russia, south-east of Moscow, that had some unique “finds” from the Upper-Paleolithic Period when humankind had just begun to develop modern tools and art.  One of the pieces is a mammoth tusk with a strange design on it (seen below)

Dig unearths Stone Age sculptures here

Inscribed bone (Antiquity)

Today I found a story on the BBC dated January 2002; it is about a dig in South Africa, on the southern Cape shore of the Indian Ocean.  The artefact dates to about 70,000 years ago – long before the Upper Paleolithic Period was thought to have begun.  The object is called the oldest piece of abstract art ever found.  It is a piece of ochre with a strange design on it (seen below )

Oldest” prehistoric art unearthed here


The newest article said nothing about the first, but it struck me as oddly familiar.  Luckily I had saved the first article and pictures in my Google Notebook and when I looked again,  it was as though I’d made my own archaeological discovery  (highly unlikely, but I had made a connection all the same).  The carving in the mammoth tusk in similar to the one in ochre, although it is less evenly and regularly carved. Undoubtedly, carving into a mammoth tusk is a lot harder than carving into a piece of ochre, but I know nothing about the peoples who carved either piece of  “abstract” art.

The first article gave no exact date (there were other items which I will discuss in a different entry).  The second article, as I mentioned above, did. What astounds me is that early modern man on two separate continents drew similar designs on two totally different surfaces.  The “artists” used whatever :canvas: they had to hand to “communicate” something to others.  No one knows what the “message” is.  One of the archaelogists, however, seems fairly certain that other members of the group would have understood.

For some reason, that totally appeals to me.  Human, art, and communication 70,000 years ago.   Wow!

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