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WiseGuy: The Author's Blog

The Painted Caves of Southern France, Part XIV: The Calendar of Creation Part 2

Female lower extremities, including the vulva. One of the more provocative of the cave images. Note how this Mesolithic artist used just a few lines together with the rock's natural contours to complete the image. (Segognole 3, Fontainebleau Massif)

by Richard W. Wise

Author: The Dawning: 31,000 BC

Copyright: 2023
 
According to the latest theory, the <Y>, a symbol found on the walls of caves, is associated with sex, specifically birth. Dots correlate with mating. The <Y> was, thus, a verb. Nouns appear to be lacking. The animal image could be described as a pictographic noun with the symbol as a caption. The authors of the study do not go so far as to call this writing; they prefer the term proto-writing.
 
 The Cambridge study does show a remarkable correlation between the symbols, mating and birth. I found it interesting that the study included fish. In my novel, The Dawning, the Homo Sapien tribe lives in a permanent village. Its location along a river makes this possible. They are able to catch, smoke, and in late Fall, freeze and store fish to supply them through the long winter months.

 

The <Y> symbol is ubiquitous, with a long and distinguished history. Some scholars interpret it as symbolizing the vulva. (Bahn, 1999). It appears in a number of early writing systems, including Sumerian, Indus Valley, both Linear A and B, right up through the Greek, Roman and English alphabets (Rudgley, 2019).
 
The ability to understand and project abstract ideas, the cyclical nature of life, for example, does suggest that early Homo Sapiens—by the time they reached Europe—had developed mental facilities and the ability to communicate in a fully syntactical language.   
 
The Cambridge Study also threatens to throw cold water on the current archeological flavor of the decade. The neurological explanation for the cave paintings—that they are the result of the structure of the human brain. According to this theory, there are three stages of altered consciousness and the cave paintings depict hallucinations resulting from these altered states (Lewis-Williams, 2002).
 
Altered states are associated with early shamanic religions, which most experts view as the earliest attempts by humans to make sense of their world, they could be induced in a number of ways: ritual dancing, drumming, vision quests, and the ingestion of psychotropic plants such as magic mushrooms, yage, peyote, and other hallucinogenic substances.
 
The first stage may be experienced by simply pressing the closed eyes and focusing on the abstract shapes generated behind the eyes. Stage one explains the abstract symbols far outnumber the paintings on the walls of Paleolithic caves. In the second stage, the seeker begins to hallucinate. In the third, the acolyte loses their grip on reality, and the visions become a new reality and the non-rational basis for the paintings.

 

Mr. Bacon's explanation is, however, entirely rational. Stay Tuned.

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The Painted Caves of Southern France, Part XIII: The Calendar of Creation

Images from Lascaux Cave showing dot-like markings said to indicate the gestation calendar of the animal depicted..


 
By Richard W. Wise
Author: The Dawning: 31,000 BC
 
Current headlines are screaming: The discovery of protowriting in European Paleolithic caves by a London-based furniture conservator, Ben Bacon, is the hottest thing in archeology.
 
Bacon, a long-term amateur archeologist working with three professionals, two from Durham University and one from University College, London, claims to have cracked the code around two specific sets of cave signs. The markings, found in caves throughout Europe, are a lunar calendar that likely tracked the reproduction cycles of the prey animals depicted in Ice Age cave paintings.
 
The system of dots together with the <Y> sign are among those earlier identified by Genevieve Von Petzinger as one of thirty-two ubiquitous signs found while crawling—along with her husband--through painted caves spread all over the European continent. My wife and I saw several of these signs at Font de Gaum, Lascaux and Chauvet during our June tour. Geometric symbols are associated with the phenomenal animal images at many others, including Lascaux, El Castillo, Niaux, Tito Bustillo, and Pech Merle.
 
That a system of dots can be deduced as calendar markings is not altogether revelatory. In his 1991 book, Archeologist Alexander Marchack made a case for markings of portable art—markings on bones—can be traced as far back as the Aurignacian Period (40-35,000 BP). This latest study acknowledges that such things are parts of Artificial or External Memory Systems (EMS) used by early Homo Sapiens.
 
To suggest that these dot sequences represented a numerical system and were meant to convey information about prey animals, such as mating, birthing, rutting and migration seasons, is something new.
 
The Calendar of Creation:
 
The authors of this latest study agree with Marchack that each dot represents not a single number but a single unit of calendrical time. But where should they begin? The authors suggest a meteorological calendar which begins with Late Spring, the beginning of the Season of Life when the ice on the rivers melts and the herd animals begin migrating to their breeding grounds. This information would be of great importance to the hunter/gatherers of the late Paleolithic, who depended on these animals for most of their diet.

 

Stay tuned!

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The Painted Caves of Southern France, XII: Neanderthal Art, Part 3

The current record holder, a carved nodule of red ochre, found at Blombos Cave in South Africa and dated to 73,000 BP. The pattern is eerily similar to a Neanderthal bone carving from the Chatelperonian Period. (see posted Facebook images)  

 

by Richard W. Wise

Author: The Dawning: 31,000 BC

 

Recently, a carved deer bone (phalanx) of the giant species Megaloceros has been found at a Neanderthal excavation at Einhornhohle in the Harz Mountains. Dated stratigraphically and by Carbon 14 to 51,000 BP, the bone exhibits a cross-hatched slicing pattern or offset chevrons, a pattern roughly similar to the oldest "art" yet found, the celebrated engraved red ochre nodule unearthed at Blombos Cave, South Africa, and dated to 73,000 BP.
 
The deer bone appears to have no practical use. That, coupled with the rarity of this species, has led archeologists to conclude that it must have some symbolic meaning. Was this the result of a Neanderthal checking the edge of his newly knapped flint handaxe? Archeologists have the unsettling habit of labeling anything for which they can determine no use as a symbolic or votive object.
 
Whatever the cause, note that the archeological community has embraced the ochre nodule found at Blombos but not the Einhornhohle deer bone. John Shea, an archeologist from Stony Brook University, suggests the bone could have b as a sinker on a fishing line or a spool for thread, humm!

 

Heard the latest? Tiny daubs next to paintings of prey animals at Chauvet, Lascaux and elsewhere are identified as seasonal calendars. StayTuned!

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The Painted Caves of Southern France, Part XI: Neanderthals:Part 2

The well-fed foodie. Studies suggest that Neanderthals were quite sophisticated gourmands. The mixed wild peas, lentils and other v and flavored their stews with wild mustard.

Shanidar Cave, Iraqi, Kurdistan. Four levels of excavation. During the first excavation, Dr. Ralph Solecki discovered ten Neanderthal skeletons. One was of a mature male with a withered arm and other serious injuries. This skeleton inspired Jean Auel's character, The Mog-ur (Creb the shaman) in her 1980 novel, Clan of the Cave Bear.
 
Despite his injuries, the man survived well into his maturity A demonstration of Neanderthal empathy? Many think so. Another skeleton showed evidence of a projectile wound, providing the first documented evidence of conflict in prehistoric times.
 
The grave of one of the Shanidar skeletons, a 35-40-year-old male (Shanidar IV), was associated with pollen from six different flower species. Initial claims that this was evidence of a symbolic burial by the first flower children were extremely controversial. Additional remains (Shanidar 6 & 8) found at this dig were also associated with plant material but provided nothing definitive. Did Neanderthals decorate their graves? Was this an ancient cemetery? Neanderthals returned to this cave time after time. Precise dating has proved elusive. The remains appear to be at the outer limits of Radio Carbon dating. Leading to a stated range of 35,000-60,000 BP.
 
Another interesting find at this site. Upon examination, Shanidar 3, a middle-aged male, showed a deep scratch on his ninth rib, indicating a projectile wound. Was this a hunting accident or the result of a duel with another Neanderthal or perhaps a modern human? According to experimental archeologist Steven Churchill, the wound is most consistent with a lightweight, l, spear such as those used by our direct ancestors.  Is it the first evidence of conflict in the Upper Paleolithic? 

 

The Neanderthal residents were sophisticated foodies. Analysis of charred food remains indicates that they mixed wild peas, vetch, nuts and edible seed pods along with lentils. Wild mustard was used as a flavoring—the true Paleolithic diet.

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Taking On The Slumlord--Organizing 101: A Short Story by Richard W. Wise

Moesha's apartment building was located on Boston's Boylston Street, just on the fringe of Jamaica Plain but still within the borders of Flynt's Project.  It was large, a nineteenth-century brick townhouse that had been broken up into rental units.  The outside looked ok, but the inside was another story.  The door lock was broken and the big entrance door yawned open into a dark hallway—unlit and dank, reeking with the sharp odor of urine. 

 

The entrance hall had been wallpapered, but whole strips had sloughed off the walls—like a snake shedding its skin—leaving exposed plaster and visible lath. Slum housing was nothing new to Flynt. He had grown up in the projects and as the sole black man training as a block organizer in South Providence in the early seventies, he had seen a whole lot worse. Read On

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The Painted Caves of Southern France, Part XI: Neanderthals: The Charmed Circle

Ancient Neanderthal ceremonial circle at Bruniquel Cave in Southern France


 

by Richard W. Wise

Author: The Dawning: 31,000 BC

Copyright 2022 Read More 

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Fabulous Five Star Review of The Dawning: 31,000 BC, from Literary Titan.


The Dawning: 31,000 BC by Richard W. Wise is set in prehistoric times, going back 33,000 years. The story is inspired by the age when the Neanderthals clashed with Homo Sapiens on earth in a battle for domination. The battle for supremacy however, in this fiction is between members of the Cro-Magnon tribe and a clan of pale-skinned Neanderthals. When Lada and Tule are unexpectedly kidnapped by unknown tribesmen and the Cro-Magnon tribe is ransacked, Ejil,  the son of the Cro-Magnon tribe must, together with unlikely allies, save his people. Different kinships and families are broken and forged amid the war. The story also features a tale of young-love blooming in a bloody conflict.

 

Author Richard Wise provides readers with a fascinating take on the past in this prehistoric historical romance novel. He draws inspiration from tales of ancestral people who once roamed the earth and whose extinction is still a subject of different academic debate. The author displays an obvious flair for history gathered through research. His knowledge about the concept can be gleaned from his insight and vivid descriptions of the habits, mannerisms and techniques of ancestral people before the development of the world.

 

The barbarism of cavemen in premodern times is evident...The Dawning: 31,000 BC was engaging and I reveled in the author's descriptions of the settings. The emphasis on character development certainly makes the story quite fun and immersive to read. Although, a different era, the experience and customs of these ancestral people are not unfamiliar.

 

I've read many historical romance novels, but none that go this far back in time. This is a fantastic story that will appeal to fans looking for an accurate depiction of prehistoric times and the strife those people faced, or for any reader looking for a thoughtful love story in the midst of it all.

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The Painted Caves of Southern France, Part IX: Neanderthal Art

Artistic rendering of red ochre scalariform d.rawing on the walls of Cueva de Los Aviones in southeastern Spain. Scientists found this ladder shape made of red horizontal and vertical lines. The artwork dates to more than 64,000 years ago

by Richard W. Wise

Author: The Dawning: 31,000 BC

Copyright 2022

 

What of the Neanderthals? As part of the research for my novel, The Dawning: 31,000 BC, I have been seriously studying Paleolithic art for about four years. Even in that short time, previously held misconceptions about the brutish nature of Neanderthals—their life and culture—have been crumbling all about me. First, there was the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome and the discovery that--way back in Africa--Homo Neanderthalis and Homo Sapiens Sapiens interbred, making them part of the same species.
 
The first shock of the trip to Southern France came at the Museum of Prehistory in Les Eyzes de Tayak. The museum is located about five hundred feet from our hotel. My wife has a sore ankle, so our guide, Christine Desdemaines-Hugon, author of Stepping Stones and world-renowned expert on Paleolithic art
conducts me on a solo museum tour.
 
Set in a glass case on the second floor at about eye level, she points out three "crayons," each about the size and shape of my thumb. One is made of charcoal, one of red ochre, and the third is Manganese dioxide. "These," she announces, "were made and used by Neanderthals."
 
Red ochre and charcoal have many uses, but "Manganese dioxide—she points out—is toxic." Large amounts of this mineral have been found at Neanderthal diggings, and experiments by archeologists have proved that it is useful as a fire accelerant, particularly when powdered.  However, the morphology here suggests a crayon.
 

According to a 2018 article in National Geographic:
 
 "In three caves scattered across Spain, researchers found more than a dozen examples of wall paintings over 65,000 years old. At Cueva de Los Aviones, a cave in southeastern Spain, researchers also found perforated seashell beads and pigments that are at least 115,000 years old." 

 
 A new technique, uranium-thorium dating, used to redate these drawings, analyzes small rounded deposits formed by the evaporation of percolating water in limestone. These deposits are known as cave popcorn. Radioactive uranium decays slowly into thorium at a measurable rate, thus measuring the age of the deposit.
 
Even with this new technique, the dating of the drawing at Los Aviones has stimulated some controversy. A group of forty-four researchers wrote a critique of the dating method, suggesting that the Uranium-thorium method should be checked using other dating techniques. Archeologist Randall White has written that scrapings of the carbonite crust from one side of this same red ochre drawing have given a date of just 3,100 years ago. As of this writing, the controversy rages on.

 

Neanderthals and symbolism. Stay tuned for Part X.

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The Painted Caves of Southern France, Part VIII: The Venus figures

Three Venuses: From left to right: Dolni Vestonice (29-25,000 BP. Venus of Willendorf (40-30,000 BP). Venus from Lespuge (26-24,000 BP).

by Richard W. Wise

copyright: 2022

 

Paleo artists did not limit themselves to drawing, painting and bas-relief; also produced three-dimensional sculpture. These include the famous "Venus" or Dolni figures. The oldest thus far, the Venus of Hohle Fels, dated to the Aurignacian Period (30-40,000 BP), was found in Germany.

 

These are sculptures of women. Many, though not all, are headless and naked with wide hips, bulging stomachs, legs and distinctly defined vulvas. This has led many experts to view them as votive or fertility objects or perhaps goddesses.

 

There are stylistic similarities, but they are not all the same. There are fat ones and skinny ones, compact and attenuated Venuses. Some are more, some less abstract. Some, particularly the French examples, are naked (naturally), but some, most notably those found in what is now Russia, are fully clothed. These Russian examples have been tagged: "Venuses in furs." The small statues range from Siberia to Northern Italy and are between 40,000-10,000 years old, attesting to an astonishing artistic continuity.
 
Like the work of Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore, and Louise Bourgeois---artists strongly influenced by cave art---they demonstrate a very sophisticated ability to reduce form from complex to simple while retaining the essential and evocative. 

 
This artistic sensibility was not limited to Western Europe or to the female figure. A recent discovery of a 13,500-year-old bird figurine at Linjin in Henan Province demonstrates a similar ability to capture the essential. Though not a representation of the human form, the artist who created this Paleolithic bird reduced and captured what Constantin Brâncuși called: "not the outer form but the idea, the essence of things." For Brâncuși, the abstract is the more real because it captures that essence.

The female form is a recurring figure in Western art. The Venus figures represent a high-water mark in Prehistoric art.
 
Next: The Art of the Neanderthals
 

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The Painted Caves of Southern France, Part VII. The Beauties of Le Grotte de Cougnac

by Richard W. Wise

Author: The Dawning: 31,000 BC

copyright 2022

 

Of all the caves we visited, Grotte Cougnac won first prize for its natural beauty. In its broad chambers, slender stalactites drip from the high ceilings and translucent tubes cluster in masses like soda straws. Thin stalagmites rise from the floor—some stubby and phallic. Others have mated with stalactites to form elegantly shaped columns that remind us of a cathedral nave by Antoni Gaudi.
 
Dating back to the early Gravettian Period (33,000, some say 28,000-21,000 BP), its art contains the oldest art of the painted caves clustered around Les Eyzes de Tayak. Some may even be contemporary with the latest art created at Chauvet (31,000 BP). It should be noted that the periods discussed are specific to Central and Western Europe and are based on the evolution not of art but of tool-making technologies. 
 
The art throughout the caves is highly stylized, meaning that the style of the art in one cave adheres to conventions similar to those of other caves with renderings of the same period.
 
Each figure seems to begin with a gracefully drawn backline that defines the subject's ultimate shape. The outlines are often a single uninterrupted line. The elegance of line indicates a well-trained eye and hand. Drawing on cave walls, there was no way to erase or start over. The animals drawn are realistic, but these are icons. This is not true of Chauvet. The 35,000-year-old art is naturalistic; animals possess a singular individuality not present in the later art. Perhaps, it is the original which provided the basis for the stylization and uniformity which came later.  
 
The images, drawn in wood and bone charcoal and red ochre, include ibex, horses, and a beautifully rendered frieze of megaloceros—an ancient species of giant elk crowned with magnificent racks of antlers (see above). This image is among the oldest, with a Carbon 14 date between 30-24,000 BP. Showing a herd in motion, the frieze is reminiscent of some of the art at Chauvet, though not nearly so well executed. This period corresponded to the last glacial maximum when winter temperatures were at their lowest.
 
As early as 50,000 years ago, the cave was visited by Neanderthals, who sheltered in the entrance but probably did not explore the cave in depth. The caves were in use by Homo Sapiens for over 10,000 years.
 
The cave also boasts two rare anthropomorphic figures. One, drawn in charcoal, is of a crudely drawn man-like figure bent forward and pierced by what appears to be seven spears. The other, probably drawn by the same hand, is incomplete, beginning just below the shoulders with three spears, one rather uncomfortably piercing the figure between the buttocks. Dated to 25,000 years BP, these drawings are virtually identical to figures found at Pech-Merle and Lascaux.
 
 
Next: The Venus Figures, Part I. Stay tuned.

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