An irreverent T-eDGE talk, a talk with edge.
The Siberian Paleo Asian are the predominantly dominant descendants of North and South America and represents the vast majority of the indigenous people of both continents. The peopling of the Americas and the new, plus re-examined old discoveries are a hot topic in archaeological and anthropological circles today. The new evidence that has come to light in the past two decades as to when the peopling of the Americas began is pushing the entry date of Homo sapiens into the new world much further back to the start of the Upper Paleolithic, some 50,000 years ago. Singling out the Canadian designation of “First Nations”, if history is ready to accept a re-write, then the new designation should be, “3rd or possibly even 4th Nations”.
The above title question defines the four distinct and discernible craniofacial differences of the Homo sapien species/races, which are further broken down into three sub-races of Caucasoid’s, seven sub-races of Mongoloid’s, and eight sub-races of Negroid’s, of which Australoid’s is one of the sub-races. Although the terms are deemed offensive in some social and scientific circles, for discussions about the peopling of the Americas, I will need to use them ounce, as they are the only way to make clear distinctions. And for future use, a new cranial terminology, as an example; Paleo/Holo Asian (Paleo or Holocene / shortened to Holo – continent designation).
Pre-Columbian America has a new and completely different story to tell versus the orthodox textbook renditions still being taught in high school and post secondary classrooms. The DNA evidence and a cornucopia of new archaeological discoveries are generating a need for a revision of the Siberian Paleo Asian peopling of the Americas. My own personal historical inculcation taught to me in elementary school back in the sixties was Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, and the Paleo-Indians were the indigenous cultures of both North and South America. The Siberian Mongoloid migration across Beringia was, and has been for quite some time, the accepted theory for the peopling of the Americas. The indigenous aboriginals were first and Columbus second. Today, Columbus falls further down the list to a double digit figure positioning for his place on the discovery timeline for reaching the New World. So who did come first and when? What new evidence is there to alter the orthodox explanation? How many migrations took place over the past 50,000 years? I will start with the earliest discoveries that point to Brazil and Topper site in South Carolina, USA as being the Eden of the Americas.
Pedra Furada Brazil: An area in northeastern Brazil that embodies a collection of over 800 archaeological sites. The controversial challenges from these sites have mostly come from American archaeologists who have never been to the sites, but carbon dating of charcoal found with fragmented animal bones from around 46,000 B.C.E. has been validated repeatedly, with calibrated dates in the ranges up to 58,000 B.C.E and earlier dates of 30,000 B.C.E. The date ranges are all well before the accepted orthodox of Clovis First entry into the Americas from 9500 B.C.E. to 9000 B.C.E. The argument that the artifacts are geofacts of falling rock flakes from the rock shelters walls above and the charcoal is from a bush fire have merely been proposed without onsite investigations by the critics. The fragmented animal bones are a common distinct find in the refuge of all hominid species hearths. Fragmenting animal bones to get to the bone marrow is a distinctly hominid trait. The bones and the charcoal were found in the same strata layer. The quartzite artifacts excavated at the 38,000 B.C.E. level show tool purpose and human hand manipulation. There are around 15,000 images and more painted on rock walls encompassing several of the 800 sites. The date ranges are from 33,000 B.C.E. to 7000 B.C.E. and earlier. Images of the very large glyptodants and pampatheres, extinct relatives of armadillos that cease to exist beyond the end of the last Ice Age, could not have been conjured up by post Clovis artists with scenes of people riding on the backs of the big creature and holding their tails. Two dozen skulls from various locations in Brazil display distinctly Negroid features and date ranges from 10,000 B.C.E. to 7000 B.C.E. The skull of a woman dubbed “Luzia” that has been marvelously reconstructed shows distinctly Negroid features. One needs only to Google, “images of Luzia” to confirm her African heritage. Walter Neves of the University of Sao Paulo has stated that the skulls found prior to 7000 B.C.E. are all Paleo/Holo African, and all skulls found after 5000 B.C.E. are predominantly Holo American. The evidence suggests that South America was populated first by Africans who were then supplanted by Paleo/Holo Asians/Americans descendants through violence and assimilation. An overall controversial theory indeed, but one that has very plausible theoretic and substantiated facts to validate a peopling of the Americas from the African continent.
Northern Australia: Discovered by archeologist Grahame Walsh painted on a rock shelter is an image of a boat, the oldest painting of a boat in the world. It has four occupants depicted and a high bow at the front. It is not a calm water craft, but an ocean designed boat. Although the date ranges for this rock art start at 15,000 B.C.E. and Mr Walsh suggests that they could date as far back as 50,000 B.C.E., they need better dating tests. Australian Aborigines are of African descent and would definitely needed water crafts to people the Australian continent which they did around 60,000 B.C.E. +/- 4000 years. The east coast Upper Paleolithic Africans would definitely have the resources to create ocean going water craft. Accidental crossings of the Atlantic could have happened numerous times from 50,000 B.C.E. to the end of the last Ice Age. A journey from Africa to the South American continent could be done in three weeks with ocean current drift and paddle power. This is a plausible explanation that lends credence to all the Brazilian discoveries. The Brazilian discoveries should be seen as evidence for ocean water craft building abilities of African cultures before Clovis First timelines. Accidental colonization of South America from Africa or Southern Europe could have taken place numerous times from 50,000 B.C.E. to 1500 C.E. and it most likely did happen.
Cristina and Ursula Calderon: Are sisters from an aboriginal tribe (Yaghan a.k.a. Fuegians) that remained relatively isolated and lived a very Neolithic life style as late as the 1930’s in the archipelago of Terra del Fuego, Chile. Christina is now the last living full blooded Yaghan person left alive today. DNA test of the sisters revealed Australoid markers. So how did these two indigenous sisters of isolated South America who had no gene pool contact with modern Australian aborigines come to have ancient Australian markers? They both do have Pale/Holo American DNA markers as well and appear to be distinctly from that lineage. Assimilation into the conquering Paleo/Holo American culture that most likely took place 7000 to 9000 years ago was a way for Cristina and Ursula’s ancestors to survive. What now seems to be the strongest conjecture is when the Siberian Paleo Indians entered South America, and when they encountered the indigenous Paleo African population they either killed, enslaved or assimilated whoever they encountered. The transformation from Eden-like scenes on the rock shelter walls that were drawn before the Paleo Indian incursion, to scenes of violence and execution is most likely the story/fate of the Calderon sister’s ancestors. Why is there virtually no evidence of Negroid existence in South America after 5000 B.C.E.? The first new world holocaust is the most plausible explanation.
The Hookworm parasite: Trichuris trichiura or hookworm is a parasite that requires a human or animal host for part of its life cycle. Hookworm is a tropical parasite whose origins can be traced to continental Europe and Africa. The larvae requires also as part of its life cycle to incubate in soil from temperature ranges of 17C⁰ to 30C⁰ with a sweet spot egg incubation temperature of 22C⁰. No evidence of hookworm from a modern or ancient host can be found in Siberia, The Aleutians, Alaska or Canada. Luiz Ferreira and Adauto Araujo, paleoparasitologists from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil have documented four finds from three different sites. They found in the coprolites and mummies evidence of this tropical parasite. The earliest example comes from a 900 B.C.E Peruvian mummy. From Minas Gerais they found hookworm eggs in a 1500 B.C.E. coprolite and a 2000 B.C.E. mummy. And the oldest discovery from Boqueirao do Sitco, a coprolite sample that dates to around 5300 B.C.E. This parasite could not have been brought to tropical America via Beringia. It had to migrate quickly by some conduit while maintaining tropical latitude. Pinworm has very traceable Mongoloid host transference via Siberia into the Americas, but it cannot be used in the counter argument camp as the successful example of how hookworm could have gotten to tropical America via a northern host. And animals could not have migrated fast enough from tropical Asia, through Siberia to America to achieve the task either. Without a doubt, the only plausible way for this parasite to exist in human coprolite examples that date back over 7000 years, is ocean migration. A hookworm egg or larvae surviving and ocean debris voyage is a weak counter argument, or an intercontinental avian depositor. The hookworm had a Homo sapien host and this evidence from Brazil should on its own be the upside down slam dunk definitive documented and peer reviewed piece of evidence to change the orthodox paradigm on the peopling of the Americas topic. But it sadly has gone totally under the radar. Why?
The Topper Site: There has never been much reason to dig in North America below strata layers of 14,000 B.C.E. at archaeological sites. Once you get past 11,000 B.C.E. you should not find any evidence of human occupation because the accepted occupation theories via the northern route only allowed entry of the Paleo Indian hunter gathers through the ice free corridor. The ice free corridor has not yielded any significant early entry archaeological finds. The evidence from Bluefish Caves Yukon (Canada) has yielded a mammoth bone with possible human spear point markings and a date of 26,000 B.C.E., but it could be evidence only of an occupation in this northern region that was still blocked by the ice wall. The corridor sites of Charlie Lake Caves, Vermillion Lake and Wally’s Beach site are all dated around 9000 B.C.E. to 8500 B.C.E., much earlier dates than that of the later Clovis sites that dominate the southern USA. A south to north migration theory is the more accepted possibility based on DNA evidence from bison remains that they came from southern herds.
The Topper site was a well used chert quarry occupied by Clovis culture tool makers that has revealed lithic artifacts from pristine strata layers. Al Goodyear, professor at the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, has gone much deeper with the excavation at the Topper site, down to a 50,000 B.C.E. layer. On the way down he discovered artifacts in the 14,000 B.C.E. layers and at the 50,000 B.C.E. layers, he found charcoal and date-able organic materials that he claims are from a hearth. This has been known now for over a decade and the Pre-Clovis search and evidence to support an earlier occupation of North America is gaining a wider acceptance, but there is still lots more digging to do. The map link* included below shows that the collection of Clovis and Pre-Clovis artifacts are concentrated in the south and eastern parts of the continent, and not so much in the west and ice free corridor. If there is more evidence to be found in the ice free corridor, then more work in this area is required to support the migration hypothesis. As there are now revised geological questions as to when the corridor did become ice free. New evidence suggests that it did not open up till after 9000 B.C.E..
What have and should be changing the paradigms are the new discoveries, mostly in the last two decades that date further back than the accepted Clovis First timeline. Here is a quick selection list of North and South American Pre-Clovis sites from http://www.timelineforhomosapiens.com;
53,000 B.C.E. – 51,000 B.C.E. Pedra Furada (Brazil) Site BPF 1 Radiocarbon dates on charcoal (ABOX-SC test Canberra).
46,000 B.C.E. – 30,000 B.C.E. Pedra Furada (Brazil) Contested site. C-14 dating of charcoal in shelters (N. Guidon).
48,000 B.C.E. Topper Site (USA) Al Goodyear’s South Carolina site that has peer reviewed Carbon dating.
40,000 B.C.E. – 25,000 B.C.E. Beringia (Siberia & Alaska) Over 15,000 years, 100 to 1000 mile wide land bridge.
38,000 B.C.E. 325 Footprints in Ash (Mexico) Layer below 100,000/70,000BP – layer above 40,000/9000BP.
34,000 B.C.E. Pendejo Cave (USA) Human modified horse bone. A fingerprint in a clay hearth. 5 other artifacts.
33,000 B.C.E. Circle Ranch Cave (USA) Two layers of Carbon dated charcoal. Created by humans or nature?
33,000 – 28,000 – 21,000 – 15,000 – 11,000 B.C.E. Pedra Furada Cave Paintings (Brazil) various dates.
31,000 B.C.E. Monte Verde (Chile) Tom Dillehay’s controversial dating of charcoal from a lower level hearth.
30,000 B.C.E. -23,000 B.C.E. Pedra Furada (Brazil) 4 of 560 artifacts display human techniques to create.
27,900 B.C.E. +/- 650 years. Toca do Boqueirao (Brazil) Charcoal and prepared orcher pigment.
22,000 B.C.E. Tlapacoya Site (Mexico) Pre-Clovis site with dating potentially affected by volcano tepra.
18,000 B.C.E. – 16,000 B.C.E. Cactus Hill (USA) Pre-Clovis artifacts. Site is a redeposit site (controversial).
17,000 B.C.E. & 10,000 B.C.E. Pendejo Cave (USA) Carbon dated human hair. No DNA link to the 4 N.A. lineages.
17,000 B.C.E. – 14,000 B.C.E. Meadowcroft Rockshelter (USA) 2000 lithic artifacts, 150 fire pits, 3000 yrs of occupation.
16,000 B.C.E. Solutrean Spear Point found in a Mastodon Skull (USA) Fisherman recovered edge of continental shelf.
14,220 B.C.E. – 12,400 B.C.E. Debra L. Friedkin (USA) 15,000 lithic artifacts including 56 distinct tools.
14,000 B.C.E. – 13,000 B.C.E. Topper Site (USA) Pre-Clovis site. Bifacial flaking on points.
14,000 B.C.E. – 12,000 B.C.E. Gault Site (USA) Pre-Clovis & Clovis occupations through to 5600 B.C.E.
13,500 B.C.E. Buttermilk Creek (Texas USA) Pre-Clovis occupation. 15,528 stone artifacts.
12,500 B.C.E. – 12,000 B.C.E. Paisley Caves (USA) 14 coprolites that date to this time range. Baskets and cordage.
12,500 B.C.E. Meadowcroft Rockshelter (USA) Pre-Clovis site in Pennsylvania. Unfluted bifacial points.
12,000 B.C.E. Pikimachay Cave (Peru) Oldest plant remains of a bottle gourd. Stone points & choppers.
12,000 B.C.E. Monte Verde (Chile) Small band of people inhabited the area.
11,850 B.C.E. Manis Mastodon (USA) Mastodon skeleton with a mastodon bone point embedded in a rib.
11,000 B.C.E. Comet over Canada-Boom N.A. wide fire storm. Wipes out megafauna. Instant Glacial conditions.
11,000 B.C.E. – 9500 B.C.E. Younger Dryas (Northern Hemisphere) Abrupt climate change. Ice core evidence.
10,500 B.C.E. Ramah Bay Labrador Spear Point found in Vermont (USA-Canada) Watercraft is the only explanation.
10,260 B.C.E. +/- 40 years. Pedra Furada (Brazil) Three teeth dated (1987 find – Garrincho).
There are, without a doubt, more sites and artifacts not included in this brief timeline, and I have included both continents to help explain my revised theory as to when this continent was initially accessed by our Homo Sapien ancestors.
Access to the Americas via Beringia was possible from 40,000 to 25,000 years ago, with the opening and closing of the MacKenzie corridor and coastal routes (now submerged and hiding significant occupation evidence) before the encroachment of the great Ice Sheet that reached its maximum after 23,000 B.C.E. to 20,000 B.C.E. and the evidence for similar animal species in both Siberia and America bares evidence for this assumption. The Tongass Cave Project in Alaska has revealed a multitude of animal bones from current and extinct animal species. Bear bones that date to 40,000 B.C.E. and seal bones that date to 15,560 B.C.E. and a 7780 B.C.E. human jaw bone. If bears and seals and a variety of other animals could have existed here over this epoch it is quite conceivable that humans could have as well. Conditions to enter North America were available to 40,000 year old Paleolithic hunter gathers well before the ice free corridor timeline. The now submerged coastline from Alaska to California could well have supported early explorers and their occupation evidence is long gone. The animals arrived here when the corridor and coastal shore routes were open and it is very plausible that earlier hunter gathers followed them over here during this epoch. Paleo Asian DNA is representative of the vast majority of the indigenous people of both Americas. This is yet another challenge to the Clovis first migration theory, but one that cannot be ruled out entirely. More on the DNA evidence next.
Haplogroups A, B, C, D & X: Haplogroup is DNA speak that pertains to everyone’s grouping type with regards to ancestral origins. Letters are assigned to specific haplotypes with additional letters and numbers to differentiate subgroups or subclades. A, B, C, D, have direct Asian origins where as X is nowhere to be found in western Siberia. The X markers can be found in Eastern and Mediterranean Europeans, the Druze in the Near East, the Caucasus and the Atlay people of southwestern Siberia. The Atlay region is 5600 kilometers or 3500 miles from the Bering Strait. The X marker can be found in 25% of the Algonquian people, 15 % of the Sioux, 11% to 13% of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth, 7% of the Navajo and 5% of the Yakama. All central and eastern native tribes. “X” is definitely a pre-Columbian marker. How did “X” find its way into North America? It is a 30,000 to 20,000 year old genetic mutation with origins in the areas of Europe and Asia as mentioned above. From the Atlay region through Alaska to central North America there is no evidence of Haplogroup “X” amongst any of the indigenous populations.
There was a frozen ice bridge that was 500 to 1000 miles wide and formed every winter in the Atlantic Ocean on the edge of the Glacier face. This ice bridge was a yearly occurrence during the height of the last Glacial Maximum. It is possible that back and forth migrations could have taken place. But let’s examine Dennis Stanford’s Solutrean Hypothesis next. *I’ve included a link to the counter claim proposed by the research article in American Journal of Physical Anthropology to the Solutrean Hypothesis and I cannot find an explanation in this article that dismisses the controversial hypothesis. They argue that the “C4c” (a deeply rooted Asian marker) and “X2a” have direct parallel genetic origins. Where are the “X” markers and all other subclades that should have been deposited on the route through Eastern Siberia to America?
The Solutrean Hypothesis; Let me state first off that I have come to accept this hypothesis as one of the best explainable explanations for a portion of the peopling of North America. Denis Stanford and Bruce Bradley are the main proponents of this European migration theory. Their ice edge corridor theory will never reveal a fossil artifact or watercraft sample, but a comparison of Solutrean and Pre-Clovis/Clovis tool making technologies demonstrates similarities that are not found anywhere else on the planet. To quote from their 2004 “North Atlantic Ice-edge Corridor” article;
If archaeologists continue to insist on direct evidence for the manufacture and use of watercraft from early shoreline sites, most of which are now deeply inundated, we shall continue to be frustrated in our attempts to understand the spread of humans around the world. This myopic landlubber’s view sees water as an impediment to travel, whereas many technologically simple cultures view water as a highway, and the means of relatively simple travel and transport.
Regardless of how issues of the antiquity and use of watercraft are resolved, and even though it is clear that Asian cultures contemporary with Clovis moved into the Americas, technological evidence for a pre-Clovis Asian ancestor is still totally absent. This situation requires us seriously to consider alternative working hypotheses for the origins of Clovis technology. Either our expectations concerning technological requirements are incorrect or eastern Asia is not the source area. As mentioned above, Clovis technologies are complex and sophisticated and were probably developed over a lengthy period of time. Further, Clovis weaponry represents an entirely different mind-set than do the long-lasting nearly pan-Asian inset micro-blade technologies. Hence, we feel that we should not abandon our technological expectations until we examine the possibility of an alternative geographical source area.
I personally do not agree with Stanford and Bradley when they said in 2004 that “evidence for the Asian ancestor is still totally absent”, as there are now several more discoveries today that are pre-Solutrean in the Americas. But I do agree whole heartily with their Solutrean hypothesis. What needs to be reconsidered is when did our ancestors start using ocean worthy watercraft? A 10,500 B.C.E. stone point found in Vermont has been verified to be from rock quarried at Ramah Bay Labrador. It could only have been transported by an ocean worthy watercraft. The Solutreans of Eastern Europe would have been quite capable of exploiting the seal harvest on the edge of the Atlantic glacier. They and their earlier relatives had survived for quite some time on the edge of a glacier with very harsh and cold conditions. If land based resources in winter were scant, then finding food in the ocean would be easier with ice bridges and ice flows for hunting pedestals. There are several cave paintings depicting very alive and frolicking seals, which lends credence to the case that they were modeled in their natural habitat. A bountiful resource of food and fat that was relatively easy to exploit. Follow that resource too far and you just might accidentally end up on, what would be dry land because of lower sea levels, the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. The need to try and return to Europe would be lessened because of the new fauna to exploit. As mentioned earlier, the possibility that return voyages took place is a plausible argument as well. The greatest argument for the theory is the concentration of artifacts that have been found in the eastern USA. The technological similarities between Solutrean, Pre/Clovis and Clovis artifacts cannot be ignored. Migrations in the American archaeological record reveal a more east to west migration versus a north to south route. There are more examples that Stanford and Bradley have uncovered and detailed in their book. “Across Atlantic Ice” and I will end without presenting more examples, but I would argue that it is time to dispel the Clovis First model. This new revisionist information that has been accumulating over the past two decades deserves validation. All academics stuck in the Clovis First trench need to surrender. http://planet.uwc.ac.za/nisl/Conservation%20Biology/Karen%20PDF/Clovis/Bradley%20&%20Stanford%202004.pdf
There are still several other examples to delve into on this topic (to site just one more example, the many B.C.E. pre-Columbian Caucasoid skull discoveries in the USA) and I will endeavor to figure out roughly where Christopher Columbus slots into the timeline of, “Discoverers of the New World” in a future post. Suffice it to say that as more and more evidence of the peopling of the Americas is revealed, a paradigm shift of acceptance must surely follow and a historical rewrite of the text books is required. To put more effort into validating the old, and what now must be regarded as a weak Clovis Fist model, will be a complete and utter waste of time by the staunch archaeological fraternity who are ignoring the new evidence. Archaeological observer…to orthodox proponent…smarten up!! The evidence is potentially suggesting an African, Siberian and European migration to the Americas, if it can be believed, all close to the same time, forty to fifty thousand years ago. The number of migration waves may…pardon me…will unfortunately never be known.
The Venus figurine phenomenon has produced many an interesting and diverse hypotheses from anthropological and archaeological experts. This non-academic observer will expand upon the discourse and questions posed in earlier posts. And how qualified am I to comment? Well, how qualified are all the academics? I have never held a Venus figurine in my hand. I have had to; get my “fix” from books, videos and internet perusals. The majority of the academics have at their disposal the exact same informational resources for forming their opinions and conclusions. Those luckiest enough to have held in their hands better than 10 in total of these artifacts is a rare number of academics. The majority who research these artifacts do so vicariously with the help of all walks of scientists doing research in this field and the dissertations they present. Logistics just do not allow any one individual to have physically examined all the artifacts. I have perused a significant body of the information available and hope to present an interesting and slightly diverse bit of hypotheses after three years of personal investigation.
Was it art? Randall White asks the question, “When does symbolic representation become art and why should we care?”1. The making of bifacial stone tools in the era of Homo erectus demonstrates a cognitive application of symmetry. The genetic hominid pattern as we evolved has demonstrated that through conscious and non-conscious production, first developed in tool fabrication, we eventually developed an art history. Palaeolithic humans had application of thought to create objects of adornment and discern between objects of art and tools for survival. The collection of figurines shows no evidence that they were used as tools. They were prized personal and portable possessions that were of importance to the individual owner or owners. The argument for objects of craft versus art seems implausible as they had no purpose as a tool or fixture. They were objects of art and our ancestors knew they had value because the equity of hours to create them was known, and our cognitive ability to discern intrinsic value is an easy conclusion to state. These were objects that were perceived as “different” versus other items of Palaeolithic creation. The concept of art may not have been part of early Homo sapien consciousness, but some of our ancestors most obviously had reverence for possessing one or several of these artifacts.
To care or not to care is a trite question, Mr White. I am a great admirer of your body of work, but I take umbrage with part two of the question you propose in this lecture. Taking a quote from another of your publications; “While we cannot help but be influenced and informed by ethnographic knowledge of hunter gathers, we must be careful not to impose that knowledge on the distant past. Rather, we must evaluate with great precision the degree to which the archaeological record for the past conforms to our expectations from the ethnographic present”2. The quote above resonates the same message you conveyed in the lecture cited earlier. I do get the message that we must be precise as possible with the ethnography. I was a little shocked that you posed a question about not caring. The Venus figurines are most definitely one of the earliest forms of art. It does demonstrate a threshold meme in our evolution. In my estimation, a darn good reason to care.
When did we make this leap to creating symbolic figurines and images? Blombos Caves in South Africa revealed evidence for paint making. It documents the first known instance for the deliberate planning, production and creation of a pigment compound, and for the use of a container 3. Between 100,000 to 70,000 B.C.E. we were using pigment compounds for a purpose. Personal adornment is plausible and by 40,000 B.C.E. we have our oldest artifact of Homo sapien creation, the Venus of Hohle Fels (Venus of Tan-Tan and Berekhat Ram aside). The Lake Toba super volcano eruption around 70,000 B.C.E. had a significant effect on the global Homo sapien population and the sheer lack of all types of artifacts after the eruption is reflected in the lack of art artisans and tool makers to create them. Over the next 10,000 years the population rebounds and out of Africa we ventured, and by 40,000 B.C.E. our species has had many thousands of years co-existing with the Neanderthals. It is possible that some of our early ancestors could have been influenced by objects created by Neanderthals, but the cache of figurine discoveries lean more to a Homo sapien hand. Adornment most definitely came first and creating objects for sheer visual pleasure came second. Subject to a find that is older than the Venus of Hohle Fels, which was not the first of its kind, we made this leap between 70,000 to 40,000 B.C.E..
What compelled our ancestors to create figurines of predominantly nude females on the edge of a gigantic glacier? Of course there were seasonal conditions that would have allowed for unclothed months of existence. The Mal’ta Buret figurines found in Siberia around Lake Bakal do distinctly show articles of clothing being worn on the carved figures, but the vast majority depict the nude feminine form, as depicted from the artifacts discovered in central and western parts of Europe. The concept of modesty would not have invaded the consciousness of hunter gather societies for thousands of generations. One needs only to examine modern Neolithic people alive today in the equatorial regions to see that modesty is not part of the tribal makeup. The only need to wear clothing would be for cold weather survival. Ceremonial reasons would potentially be another, but did we have ceremonies as part of our culture at that time? O. Soffer, J.M. Adovasio and D.C. Hyland have covered the organic clothing evidence found on Gravettian era figurines in a 2000 publication and outlining the evidence for head coverings, belts and attire made from organic materials 4. This is evidence for weaving skills to have existed in this epoch, but none of the figurines from the Upper Palaeolithic Gravettian examples are clothed appropriately for a northern climate. Sites that have revealed evidence of clothing are rare, but the funerary evidence from the Sungir site in Russia, is evidence for clothing and lavish bead adornment discovered on the adults and children exhumed. We were wearing clothing, but doubtful that we had closets of spring and fall collections. The clothing would be for the practical purpose of staying warm when needed, and stored away when summer days arrived. So males and females most likely wore nothing or scant clothing during the warmer days of summer. The models would have been in view daily for 40% to 50% of the year. The compulsion to recreate our own image is one plausible conclusion and images of others another. Something stronger than the above hypothesis compelled our ancestors to create these figurines. Time for the next question.
Would it have been possible for our ancestors, male and female, to achieve corpulent form based on the diet of this Upper Palaeolithic epoch? A successful hunting tribe that had developed the skills to take down the large megafauna would have been able to provide their collective with a significant quantity of animal protein and fat. Not all tribes would be as successful at large megafauna hunting. The prowess of one tribe over another and a moral code could definitely have played a role. And the morale code may have had an element of early sexism in it. The measure or status of the best hunter would be that if his mate or additional mates were of sturdy size, he would have been held in higher esteem. If his mate or harem does not bare any visual perception of starvation, this could be a status symbol. The corpulent form could possibly have been perceived as being a measure of success when viewed by the more gracile of form, small fauna hunting tribes who were not as successful. My apologies for the stereotypical male perspective construct for the above paragraph.
Carbon Isotope scans of bones has been done on 14 different humans from the Upper Palaeolithic 5. From these scans, expert scientists in this field can make very precise determinations as to the consistent diet of our ancestors. The most recent studies reveal that we also had a high freshwater and ocean marine diet to supplement our large herbivore diet as well. Here are two quotes from the Michael P. Richards and Erik Trinkaus 2009 article:
It is tempting to see the difference as being somehow cognitive, in that Neanderthals were unable to alter their (albeit very successful) subsistence strategies, whereas modern humans were more creative and were able to exploit resources more than the Neanderthals 6.
Moreover, the relatively rapid dispersal of modern humans into most of Europe and the evidence for limited if widespread assimilation of Neanderthals into those populations imply markedly higher effective population sizes of those modern humans. Larger modern human populations may well have promoted the variable exploitation of a broader range of resources, ones requiring greater effort or technological investment for their acquisition 7.
Our sturdy Neanderthal tutors would have been an influencing role model for our invading Homo sapien ancestors. Our ancestors in other parts of the globe did not have Neanderthals around to affect their culture. The perception of bigger is better is a cognitive construct that resonates today within the consciousness of our modern culture. It most definitely would have been perceived as a measure of success by our ancestors. Success would have stimulated population growth. Larger tribes would have created diversity of human form. A moral code for protection and an altered role in the collective, a life avoid of hard tasks, plus a genetic steatopygous condition, are all potential contributors for the Venus models. The daily diet elements were definitely in place for some of our ancestors to achieve an obese form. It is one plausible degree of conjecture I would propose that could at the least answer the question above. Albeit potentially a rare occurrence, corpulent form was revered as a measure of success in the eyes of our Palaeolithic ancestors.
Why do almost all of the figurines have no feet? This is one of the easier traits of the figurines to answer. For the purpose of display the figurines had the legs tapered to a point for insertion into an earthy or muddy pedestal. Although the skill sets of the carvings vary from excellent to crude, there are not many figurines that have feet. The carving of feet would have been relatively easy to do based on the carving skill that the collection displays. Another plausible conjecture is that the owner of the figurine might have carved a simple wooden base to allow the Venus to stand upright. The wooden base would be lost for all time. Where are the bases carved from the same material of the figurines? Maybe they have been found, but not realized as part B of another artifact. The tapered legs are a stylistic similarity that demonstrates an exchange of ideas over generations. This question and the hypothesis that I have just stated can be found in similar text from numerous sources and is a completely plausible explanation for the missing feet question. I cite no sources as there are several similar consensuses to be found in academic articles on the Venus figurines. It lends credence to the fact that were displayed and fairly solid evidence for visual appreciation, at bare minimum.
What are the homogeneous features that define these statuettes with a unique designation of “Venus Figurines”? Non-homogeneous exceptions can be easily cited, but focusing only on the predominantly similar feature is where I will stay in this discourse. Generalizing—exaggerated breasts, abdomen, buttocks, hips, thighs, vulvas, and no facial features, no arms, no hands and the lack of feet as discussed above. There are several academic conclusions that the figurines appear to represent the pregnant female form, but this postulation inerrancy can be easily challenged. The easy counter argument “is she pregnant or she obese” and I will address the pregnancy topic later. Anyone can do the quick video perusal online to view the image collection of these amazing figurines. Sorting out the contemporary Venus images from the Palaeolithic is quite easy and the homogeneous features are easy to discern. Our ancestors had 3000 plus generations to create and share theses cultural icons. A non-academic admirer like yours truly will never have the opportunity for hands-on examination of an authentic figurine, but winnowing out a conclusion from image perusal alone I would conclude that the homogeneity of these statuettes is evidence that they achieved a status of cultural awareness across a vast territory for many, many, thousands of years.
What other interpretive frameworks has the science on the figurines overlooked? As I have mentioned in other posts there are two speculations that have received little or no commentary from the past century of dissertations, articles and books. If we have 200 plus figurine examples made from stone, bone, tusk, antler and clay in the archaeological record, the same skills could have easily been transferred to wood. If there have been discoveries of Palaeolithic figurines (Venus or other) made from wood, then they have eluded anything that I have researched. Perfect preservation conditions for a wooden Palaeolithic figurines that would allow for discovery in this century, are a virtual impossibility. The organic features of wood just do not facilitate the archaeological find. Into the realm of speculation and postulation, it seems an easy conclusion to make that Palaeolithic sculptures created many Venus figurines from wood. It would be just too easy to do! The sheer number of figurines pervading the Upper Palaeolithic territory would be higher, combined with the more current discoveries that the populations were much larger than originally estimated and we have our first, “FAD!” Broker the idea that they were used as currency and we have our first monetary units. I have no academic credentials at risk, thus it is very easy for me to propose an interpretation totally absent of evidence. Adding my two intuitive interpretations to the inventory of interpretations may be perceived as hubris, but they are both plausible speculations.
What is my interpretation of the potential spiritual aspect of the Venus figurines? A century of interpretations precedes me and to comment on all the variant ethnography will just not be possible. I will leave that for a future post. New studies with current technology are doing an excellent job on unlocking new minute details of each figurine and revising the dating of the earlier discoveries. The homogeneous phenomenon has many detractors, but the stylistic similarities cannot be overlooked. To echo words of Randall White cited earlier, we must be more precise when imposing our modern assessment of civilization as we see it today and how sacrosanct it is with our hunter gather past. Unlocking the stylistic similarities is an appropriate tactic to take, to better understand the impetus behind their creation. To the land of the hypothetical I will go 25,000 years from now—what would be written in a futuristic archaeological dissertation about the discovery of several thousands of homogeneous artifacts that depict a man being nailed to a wooden cross? All knowledge of Christianity is lost and much new and different spiritualities have taken over. Suffice to say that the academics of this future era would come to the possible conclusion that our Middle Holocene ancestors had a fascination with this grotesque execution practise. The ethnography would be an interesting read. And any 20th/21st century interpretations of Venus figurines, the figurines “purpose” as the root question, can potentially all be judged as floccinaucinihilipilification 8.
These figurines were a bonding symbol very much like the Christian icon is a bonding symbol. The 2000 year anniversary of the crucifixion will happen sometime between 2028C.E. and 2034C.E.. The Christian symbol has had less than 2000 years of iconicity and the Venus figurines had 20,000± years of symbolic status for our Palaeolithic ancestors. Trading routes, burial rites, innovation albeit shared or plundered were fostering a cultural “big bang” of exchange of ideas. Cooperation was breeding more cohesive communities. Having the symbol could possibly have meant you were part of a shared philosophy. A more peaceful philosophy—maybe—wild conjecture indeed. The corpulent form versus the pregnant female on merit alone will pull any inquiring conjecture to the fertility attestation. Thus as I have attested in a previous post that I would state that one of the two original spiritualities was the pregnant female. I avoid making any comment with any reference to a “Goddess” symbol as I feel that this is a cognitive construct that has more Neolithic foundation versus any Palaeolithic era. A homogeneous goddess concept which translates to a supernatural enthusiasm versus within the atmosphere fertility spirituality—I believe that the latter conjecture is a more plausible construct. Add to this equation the veritable thousands of organic renditions of these figurines that are lost to the ages and we have our first sacred symbol/fad. Many things are developing in tandem that strengthens group solidarity and commonality of purpose. The symbol of the female form is being used to express a commonality of purpose and the best plausible conclusion is that its sector of belief revolved around reproductive enhancements.
Art for art sake—maybe—social status on par with men—plausible—self representation theory—the weakest of all theories from my perspective. An early superstitious shamanistic doll to prevent miscarriages, or a pre-coitus ritual use, and I can keep going with more, but these homogeneous objects we have to examine today tell us that our species maintained a very simple but consistent cultural iconicity with creating Venus figurines for a long, long time. A spiritual significance and bonding icon from our evolutionary past that cannot be ignored.
- www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfVlbla6HJO Randall White lecture on Prehistoric art.
- http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/anthro/programs/csho/Content/Facultycvandinfo/White/RWarticles/RW_2007_Human%20Revolution.pdf Randall White Publication 2007; System of Personal Ornamentation in the Early Upper Palaeolithic.
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blombos_Cave#cite_refHenshilwood_.26_d.E2.80.99Errico_2011_50-0 Wikipedia; Blombos Caves.
- http://www.unl.edu/rhames/courses/current/venus1.pdf The “Venus” Figurines; O. Soffer, J.M. Adovasio, and D.C. Hyland 2000.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2752538/ Michael P. Richards, Erik Trinkaus Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 September 22; 106(38): 16034 16039. Published online 2009 August 11. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0903821106
- Floccinaucinihilipilification; the estimation, action or habit of deeming something as worthless.
Without a carriage vehicle of invention, we travel no faster today than we did in Prehistoric times. The twin turbos that we use for propulsion today are the identical means of locomotion for archaic Homo sapiens and all other pre evolutionary bipedal hominid species. One foot forward and away we go. A healthy human can cover a significant distance daily. An unhealthy, injured or obese human would have been a burden to a nomadic tribe. The harshest of survival conditions was the daily template. But travel we did and with the proliferation of similar types of weapons, tools, objects of art and recurring theme cave art, the artefactual evidence reveals that early technological advancement were shared or plundered. For 25,000 years (35,000 B.C.E. to 10,000 B.C.E.) the Palaeolithic humans of Europe and Asia spread their early culture across the habitable edge of the great northern glacier. No doubt there was plunder of one tribe from another which expanded the change of ideas. The early seeds of conquest grew alongside of the early seeds of trade and commerce. No doubt that each new meeting of clans and what transpired between them, the full or empty stomach was a contributing factor. Slowly I’m getting to the point for sure, but since nomadic travel appears essential to surviving Palaeolithic life, how could creating the image of corpulent, steatopygous or pregnant females (Venus figurines) become part of that culture for millennium after millennium?
The conundrum of speculation is that human interaction, peaceful or of conflict, happened repeatedly over this epoch. There is no other way to explain the distinctly stereotypical features of the current collection of Venus figurines found to date. For this phenomenon to have arisen independently in multiple locations at the same time without interaction is just not plausible.
The first argument to extrapolate is nomadic travel. Our ancestors obviously hunkered down in caves for long periods of time. These caves may have been the first fortresses to defend or base camps for successive raiding parties. The earliest known settlements that exist outside a cave would be the Huts of Mammoth Tusks & Rocks discovered at Dolni Vestonice in the Czech Republic dated at 23,000 B.C.E., and the small scattered settlements of the Kostenki-Borshevo sites in Russia which date in various layers from 36,000 B.C.E. to 22,000 B.C.E.. And discoveries of other settlements do not show up in great numbers for another 10,000 years. Habitable caves would have been the prizes for early bands of our species. Estimates of our population from 40,000 B.C.E to 10,000 B.C.E. are just about impossible to find and any attempt by me or others to come up with a figure will be imprecise. At 10,000 B.C.E. there are many sources that estimate the homo sapien population to be anywhere from 1.3 million to as high as 4 million globally. Africa, the rest of Asia, Australia and the early inhabitants of the Americas would most likely account for as low as 500,000 to as high as 2.5 million ancestors (50% to 60% of global population). It stands to reason that the early populations of Homo sapiens from the Atlantic to central Asia (the other 40% to 50% that lived on the edge of the northern glacier) would have been a significant number. The rate of population would not likely be higher than 1 person per kilometer. Tribe size would most likely comprise cooperatives of 10 to 50 members. And not all could live in caves. Nomadic travel would have been the norm for a better than 50% to 75 %, or more, of the Palaeolithic tribes in this sector of the globe. The bulk of the figurines date between 30,000 B.C.E. to 12,000 B.C.E., thus for 3000 to 3500 generations, a fascination with this style of carving existed. Finds in other parts of the habitable Palaeolithic have uncovered little or no renditions similar to the Venus style of carving. The models for these figurines would not have been prime nomadic candidates. Were the models for these figurines sedentary? If yes, than certain tribes that occupied caves for extended periods of time could have produced the models. A moral code within the culture would have arisen to care and protect women of corpulent size. Extend this argument to the more nomadic bands and it would seem less likely that a slower moving member of this tribe would be part of the collective.
Predominantly nude, and mostly corpulent women, portable figurines are without a doubt one of the most fascinating artifacts our ancestors have created. Why did they do it? In my next post I will pose all the questions, cite sources, and do the best ethnography I can from all the information available on the Venus figurines.
Picasso is quoted as saying, or allegedly quoted as saying;
“We have invented nothing new”, after seeing the cave paintings at Lascaux France.
“After Altamira, all is decadence”, when he exited the infamous caves in his native Spain.
Curiously there are no official cited sources for Picasso to have ever uttered the above two quotes. When you research both quotes, you will find variants and subtle word changes, but essentially you can find numerous sources that redact these quotes. Whether he said something similar (or not) is not the point of my discussion and I am not about to challenge the quotes validity. His body of work in painting and sculpture does mirror the prehistoric cave images in some pieces. He possessed two reproductions of the, “Venus of Lespugue”, and is cited as saying the following:
“In reality, we know very little. What is conserved in the ground? Stone, bronze, ivory, bone, sometimes pottery. Never wood objects, no fabric or skins. That completely skews our notions about primitive man. I don’t think I’m wrong when I say that the most beautiful objects of the “stone age” were made of skin, fabric, and especially wood. The “stone age” ought to be called the “wood age.” How many African statues are made of stone, bone, or ivory? Maybe one in a thousand! And prehistoric man had no more ivory at his disposal than African tribes. Maybe even less. He must have had thousands of wooden fetishes, all gone now”.
Copyright notice: Excerpted from pages 92-102 of Conversations with Picasso by Brassaï, translated by Jane Marie Todd, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©1999 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. Originally published as Conversations avec Picasso text and photographs © Gilberte Brassai and Editions Gallimard, 1964, 1997.
So the argument that Picasso was only minimally influenced by prehistoric art is a realm of discourse that I dare not to tread in. Picasso was influenced by prehistoric art. He was a man of art and knew that prehistoric artisans would have created art from skin, fabric and wood. And these are the organic elements of art that unfortunately cannot be dug up by archeology—they are gone! So the theater of speculation and postulation is the only way to approach the subject. What did the Palaeolithic art, made from skin, fabric and wood resemble?
- By my unofficial count, there are (+/-) 200 distinct Venus figurines made from bone, stone, antler and ivory. If archeology has only discovered 10% to 15% (albeit 10% to 15% may be highly generous) then it should stand to reason that there were a significant number of figurines carved from wood. The Venus figurines could have been easily reproduced in wood and possessed by many. The first knock off industry we created. The bone, stone, antler and ivory pieces would definitely be of more value. Palaeolithic humans would have been able to discern the value between the types. Trading five wooden figurines for one made from mammoth Ivory…easy S&P.
- Rupestrian drawings, (of art, done on rock or cave walls) did they have their first renditions on bark, fabrics and skins? S&P says yes. Practise makes perfect. Do your rough sketch on a hide or fabric before transferring it to the cave walls. Safe once again to speculate that one tribe may have had a campsite adorned in paintings, while another camp did not possess the artisan/shaman individuals to create great images. Trading art for food…another plausible S&P.
- The artist and his or her ability to create good and bad art probably affirmed their status in the tribe. Was the task of hunting and gathering left to others, and the artist allowed to muse and hone their craft with tribal support? The first elite members of early civilization? Did artisan tribes exist that traded with a network of tribes? Food for figurines and wall hangings? There are many examples of adornment items discovered in the tells throughout the habitable Palaeolithic. Countless necklaces have been discovered. Art. Was it the first form of commerce? S&P says yes.
The circumstantial evidence seems clear. Art, similar art (copies), in multiple forms spread across the Palaeolithic for 25,000 years. If not the first, one of the earliest forms of commerce was “Art”. A comment absent of evidence, but a plausible comment none the less.
The “2” Original Spiritualities
Observing a timeline affords some interesting speculations. It is interesting to observe the immense collection of Venus figurines that have been found throughout Europe and Asia. While there are a few examples of Venus figurines that date back more than 200,000 years ago, most of them were made between 40,000 and 12,000 years ago. For the most part, the vast majority depict an exaggerated feminine form. There are figurines of males and some children, but the numbers found to date are predominantly mature female forms. Why carve figurines that collectively portray obesity, pregnancy and steatopygia? In prehistoric times women did not live much past 30, so examples of obesity would have been rare. What does this collection tell us? Is this a clue to the original spirituality? The venerated form of the pregnant female suggests what? Venerated is a fair term to use because these figurines are found over a large portion of the habitable Palaeolithic, but seem to come to an end in the Mesolithic. Why did the practise of carving an exaggerated feminine form come to an end as we developed more permanent settlements and eventually cities? Were they early pornographic art? Not likely, but it cannot be ruled out. The creator of the piece may have carved it for his or her own personal pleasure. Fertility icons are a plausible explanation. Palaeolithic humans would have been marvelled as we can be today with the pregnant female. Additional hands in the tribe would have been a great enhancement to the tribe’s survival. What would be of more importance to tribal survival, another male or a child bearing female? Were they depictions of a Mother Goddess or an early form of currency between nomadic tribes? There is evidence that they were displayed. The majority of the figurines have no feet. A common feature is a tapering of the legs to a point for sticking into an earthy base. Thus to say that they were venerated idols is a plausible explanation and an assessment that must find its way to the top of the explanation chart versus all other claims. After researching all the Venus figurine information available, I have come to the conclusion that this was one of the two original spiritualities.
I personally approve of Edouard Piette’s 1892 adopted term of “Venus Figurines” to denote the distinct stone, bone, ivory and clay artifacts of this 25,000 year Palaeolithic epoch. Call them something else…why? To this person’s mind and eyes they are beautiful, universally very similar and they were not used as tools. They were definitely portable and an obvious prized possession of the owner. Reasons to define them by some other term are just semantics best left un-discussed.
The second spirituality involves food. Also found throughout Europe and Asia over the same epoch (40,000 to 12,000) are cave paintings of the fauna of the day. Mostly the megafauna that is now extinct. Fauna is painted on top of fauna. The artistic quality in a large number of them is stunning. The animal form is portrayed magnificently by the great artisans of that epoch. Beautiful renditions of bison, deer and mammoths adorn walls of caves that would have required amazing artistic skill and technological ability to bring light to the dark depths of these caves. Rarely is the full human form displayed. Many examples of a stencilled hand or a stick form of a human are portrayed. The larger animals were revered. The artistic creator was painting his or her idols. And this makes perfect sense to a Palaeolithic tribe whose survival depends on the ability to provide for the tribe. A counter argument recently put forth by archeologists points to the evidence found in the strata of several of these famous caves that the bones of the animals consumed were small fauna—not the mega fauna displayed on the cave walls. I would argue that the bones of the mega fauna had a greater purpose outside the cave. They were used for creating shelters and a host of other tools. Left to the elements, most of these bones would become decomposed soil. Smaller fauna would have been easier to catch, kill and consume. Take a rabbit snack deep into a cave, versus a leg of auroch, plus painting supplies and lighting. Easy counter argument for the lack of megafauna bones in the cave floor strata.
FOOD! Food and the pregnant female were the original two spiritualities. What supplanted these two spiritualities? I’ll leave that topic open for future discussion.