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History & Preservation

Small Artworks from Ice Age Indonesia Show Ancient Drive to Decorate

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Photo: Rainer Zenz, CC BY-SA

by for The Conversation

Archaeologists have unearthed two miniature stone engravings in Indonesia. These depict an anoa (dwarf buffalo) and a sun, star or eye dating back some 26,000 years – the first of their kind in our region.

While such tiny engravings have been known from similar periods (around 20,000 years ago) in Europe and Western Asia, never before have clearly identifiable art pieces – small enough to be carried from place to place – been found in the most ancient contexts of Southeast Asia or Australasia.

Our Australian-Indonesian team found these decorated artefacts in 2018 during excavations at the Sulawesi cave site of Leang Bulu Bettue. Later analysis in Brisbane revealed the artistic complexity of these miniature engravings.

Leang Bulu Bettue is located in the southwest corner of Sulawesi. Here, archaeologists continue to excavate and recover new evidence for ancient art. Adam Brumm

A tiny anoa

At first, the anoa is hard to make out.

Sometime between 26,000 and 14,000 years ago, someone engraved the outline of an anoa on this palm-sized fragment of flowstone. M.C. Langley
Only the head and front part of the body of the anoa were depicted. The animal is shown with its head turned to the side, as in the photographed anoa shown here (Photo: Leipzig Zoo). M.C. Langley

What appeared to be simple geometric design in the field came to life with directed lighting in the lab. Using a small torch to produce shadows and make the cuts jump out, a muzzle, nostril, eye, cheek and two straight horns appeared. The front part of the back and abdomen are shown using simple and deeply etched lines.

Dated between 26,000 and 14,000 years ago, this engraving is comparable to the majority of similarly aged stone engravings found in Eurasia. Indeed, the pose the anoa has been depicted in, with head turned back towards its rump, is a common artistic choice. The most famous example is the “licking bison” of La Madeleine in France: a carving in reindeer antler from between 21,000 and 14,000 years ago.

The anoa is endemic to Sulawesi and likely provided a source of meat, leather, horn and bone to its first peoples. It is prominent in the painted cave art of Sulawesi, appearing in images dated back over 44,000 years, so it isn’t surprising the anoa is the first engraved animal depiction found in this area.

Is it a sun?

Also discovered was a carving of a sun-burst.

We do not know when people first started depicting the sun itself. The oldest image that almost certainly portrays the sun is the Nebra sky disk found in Germany and dated to 1600 BCE.

The Nebra sky disk is thought to be the oldest depiction of the cosmos in the world. Rainer Zenz, CC BY-SA

Other examples include engraved stele found in what was the ancient Egyptian city of Amarna. Here, the Pharaoh Akenaten (who ruled from 1353-1336 BCE) built a whole city for the glory of Aten (sun).

Limestone stele depicting Pharaoh Akenaten with his wife, Nefertiti, and their three daughters. The rays of the sun are giving life to the royal family. Egyptian Museum

However, these examples are unlikely to be the first time people started illustrating the sun. We expect sun-burst images seen in ancient rock art to be older, though the difficulties of dating rock art prevent us from knowing for sure.

Rayed-motifs as found in Indonesia are widespread around the globe and can represent numerous objects including the sun, stars, flowers, starfish and eyes. Because the sun-burst from Leang Bulu Bettue is so far unique to its context and nothing else was included in this particular picture, we cannot be sure it is the sun.

However, the lines of the engraving are strong and clear, and such patterns found elsewhere represent something real, so we believe the artist has created an image of something from the natural world.

Most interestingly, the sun-burst was painted over with red pigment similar to that used to paint the walls of Leang Bulu Bettue. Only traces of this paint remain on the sun-burst, but it is enough to tell us it was applied to the lines only and not anywhere else on the carved stone. The contrast of a bright red sun-burst against the light grey of the stone must have made a striking visual impact.

Future finds may shed more light on this object and its importance and meanings within the Ice Age culture that created it.

Art makes us human

The ability to create recognisable depictions of objects from the natural world, known as figurative art, is unique to our species.

Sulawesi already claims the oldest figurative rock art in the world, with a minimum age of 44,000 years. But examples of portable images of life have been lacking not only from the deep archaeological record of Indonesia but the whole of Southeast Asia and Australasia. While these two examples are not the most ancient art found in the area, they fill a gap researchers have wondered about.

Archaeologists Adam Brumm, Adhi Agus Oktaviana and Michelle C. Langley with the sun-like engraving. Andrew Thomson

Mobile artworks are an effective way to emotionally connect people with their everyday tools, as well as people with people. This behaviour is thought to have allowed Homo sapiens to outperform or outlast archaic hominin populations (such as Neanderthals) and colonize the entire planet.

These two small stone finds are the first pocket-sized art to be discovered in our backyard, but unlikely to be the last.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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Books

From Homer to Stephen King: Pandemics in Literature

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Pandemics from Homer to Stephen King: What we Can Learn
Western literature begins with a plague: the Iliad.

by Chelsea Haith for The Conversation

From Homer’s Iliad and Boccaccio’s Decameron to Stephen King’s The Stand and Ling Ma’s Severance, stories about pandemics have – over the history of Western literature such as it is – offered much in the way of catharsis, ways of processing strong emotion, and political commentary on how human beings respond to public health crises.

Literature has a vital role to play in framing our responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is worth turning to some of these texts to better understand our reactions and how we might mitigate racism , xenophobia and ableism (discrimination against anyone with disabilities) in the narratives that surround the spread of this coronavirus.

Ranging from the classics to contemporary novels, this reading list of pandemic literature offers something in the way of an uncertain comfort, and a guide for what happens next.

Homer’s Iliad, as the Cambridge classicist Mary Beard has reminded us, opens with a plague visited upon the Greek camp at Troy to punish the Greeks for Agamemnon’s enslavement of Chryseis. US academic Daniel R Blickman has argued that the drama of Agamemnon and Achilles’ quarrel “should not blind us to the role of the plague in setting the tone for what follows, nor, more importantly, in providing an ethical pattern which lies near the heart of the story”. In other words, The Iliad presents a narrative framing device of disaster that results from ill-judged behaviour on the part of all of the characters involved.

COVID-19 is certain to shake up economic systems and entrenched institutional processes, as we’re seeing with the shift towards remote learning in universities around the world, to give just one example. These texts give us an opportunity to think through how similar crises have been managed previously, as well as ideas about how we might structure our societies more equitably in their aftermath.

The Decameron (1353) by Giovanni Boccaccio, set during the Black Death, reveals the vital role of storytelling in a time of disaster. Ten people self-isolate in a villa outside Florence for two weeks during the Black Death. In the course of their isolation, the characters take turns to tell stories of morality, love, sexual politics, trade and power.

In this collection of novellas, storytelling functions as a method of discussing social structures and interaction during the earliest days of the Renaissance. The stories offer the listeners (and Boccaccio’s readers) ways through which to restructure their “normal” everyday lives, which have been suspended due to the epidemic.

Authority’s failure to respond

The normality of everyday life is also the focus of Mary Shelley’s apocalypse novel The Last Man (1826). Set in a futuristic Britain between the years 2070 and 2100, the novel – which was made into a movie in 2008 – details the life of Lionel Verney, who becomes the “last man” following a devastating global plague.

Shelley’s novel dwells on the value of friendship, and concludes with Verney accompanied on his wanderings by a sheep dog (a reminder that pets may be a source of comfort and stability in times of crisis). The novel is particularly scathing on the topic of institutional responses to the plague. It satirises revolutionary utopianism and the in-fighting that breaks out among surviving groups, before these also succumb.

Edgar Allen Poe’s short story The Masque of the Red Death (1842) also depicts the failures of authority figures to adequately and humanely respond to such a disaster. The Red Death causes fatal bleeding from the pores. In response, Prince Prospero gathers a thousand courtiers into a secluded but luxurious abbey, welds the gates closed and hosts a masked ball:

The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure.

Poe details the sumptuous festivities, concluding with the incorporeal arrival of the Red Death as a human-like guest at the ball. The plague personified takes the prince’s life and then those of his courtiers:

And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall.

Modern and contemporary literature

In the 20th century, Albert Camus’ The Plague (1942) and Stephen King’s The Stand (1978) brought readers’ attentions to the social implications of plague-like pandemics – particularly isolation and failures of the state to either contain the disease or moderate the ensuing panic. The self-isolation in Camus’ novel creates an anxious awareness of the value of human contact and relationships in the citizens of the plague-stricken Algerian city of Oran:

This drastic, clean-cut deprivation and our complete ignorance of what the future held in store had taken us unawares; we were unable to react against the mute appeal of presences, still so near and already so far, which haunted us daylong.

In King’s The Stand, a bioengineered superflu named “Project Blue” leaks out of an American military base. Pandemonium ensues. King recently stated on Twitter that COVID-19 is certainly not as serious as his fictional pandemic, urging the public to take reasonable precautions.

https://twitter.com/StephenKing/status/1236782826911150080?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Ftheconversation.com%2Fpandemics-from-homer-to-stephen-king-what-we-can-learn-from-literary-history-133572

Similarly, in his 2016 novel Fever, South African author Deon Meyer details the apocalyptic fallout of a weaponised, bioengineered virus that results in enclaves of survivors besieging one another for resources.

In Severance (2018), Ling Ma provides a contemporary take on the zombie novel as the fictional “Shen Fever” renders people repetitive automatons until their deaths.

In a thinly veiled metaphor for the capitalist cog-in-the-machine, the protagonist Candace drifts daily in to her place of work in a future New York that is slowly falling apart. She eventually joins a survival group, assimilating culturally and morally to their violent attitudes towards the zombies, “embodying the atomization of late-capitalist humans in a society stripped to its bones”, as reviewer Jiayang Fang suggests.

For some the end has already come

Consider also that “indigenous futurisms” – a term coined by First Nations cultural and race studies theorist Grace L Dillon to refer to speculative fictions by indigenous peoples and writers of colour such as NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth seriesClaire G. Coleman’s Terra Nullius, and Carmen Maria Machado’s short story Inventory – have long since treated colonialism and the diseases spread by the colonisers as the source of what is currently experienced as an ongoing apocalypse. For many people in formerly colonised places, the apocalypse has already come – pandemics (both literal and metaphorical) have already obliterated their populations.

The catharsis that some of the above-mentioned texts may offer is troubled by the realities of pandemic and apocalypse conditions depicted in much fiction by indigenous peoples. If we used our own likely forthcoming periods of self-isolation to theorize alternative social structures, to tell one another stories about how we live, what stories might we tell?


Chelsea Haith is a DPhil Candidate in Contemporary English Literature at the University of Oxford.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.


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History & Preservation

Beloved Rocky and Bullwinkle Statue Returns to the Sunset Strip

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Rocky and Bullwinkle Statue Returns Home to the Sunset Strip
Photo by Dan Mryglot for WEHO TIMES

WEST HOLLYWOOD (WeHo Times) — Moose and Squirrel, Rocky and Bullwinkle, has come back home to the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, after being away for about 7 years.

The spinning statue of Bullwinkle holding his friend Rocky, once again stands prominently on the corner where Sunset Boulevard splits into Holloway Drive. The intrepid duo were last seen on the Strip in 2013.

A giant crane lifted and placed the 14-foot, 700-pound likeness of Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose on its pedestal this afternoon.

Those lucky enough to be passing by were able to get a glimpse of the restored art installation before it was covered from public view. The statue is slated to have a […]

Continue reading at wehotimes.com

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Community

Public Invited to Rocky & Bullwinkle Statue Unveiling – March 28

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Rocky and Bullwinkle Statue being installed on the Sunset Strip

WEST HOLLYWOOD — Join the City of West Hollywood to celebrate the permanent installation of the Rocky & Bullwinkle statue on the Sunset Strip.

On September 24, 1961, a crowd of 5,000 people gathered outside Jay Ward Productions’ animation studio on the Sunset Strip across from the Chateau Marmont.

All but one lane of traffic was cordoned off that day as Hollywood bombshell Jayne Mansfield unveiled what would become a long-lasting and beloved Sunset Strip icon: a 14-foot-tall, 1,200-pound statue of Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose, the ubiquitous stars of The Bullwinkle Show, posed spinning atop a tall rotating base.

The statue, initially conceived as a publicity tactic to coincide with Rocky and Bullwinkle’s NBC television premiere that week, parodied a commercial advertisement sited directly across the street from Jay Ward Productions.

The statue managed to remain in place at 8218 Sunset Boulevard for 52 years before it was removed in July 2013, causing consternation among its countless fans who worried the statue was likely lost forever. Rocky and Bullwinkle are slated to make their permanent new home at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Holloway Drive, several blocks west of the artwork’s original location.

The sculpture will join more than 70 other sculptures belonging to the City of West Hollywood’s impressive and growing Urban Art Collection. Given the artwork’s long and fascinating history on the Sunset Strip, its reappearance at Sunset and Holloway is certain to cement its legacy status within the city.

For more information, please contact Rebecca Ehemann at (323) 848-6846 or rehemann@weho.org.

Saturday, March 28, 2020 at 10 a.m. at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Holloway Drive.

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