Monday, August 03, 2015


Since this book the archaeological planet has gone through a triple revolution


For anyone interested in rock paintings or cave paintings in the world this book will be fascinating. The paintings concerned are unique in Northern America, in the Americas and in the world. They are in a rather isolated place in the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico. They were really discovered recently (after some mentions by Jesuits in the 18th centuries that went unnoticed or nearly). The discoverer was Harry B. Crosby, practically by accident and at first without even noticing their originality. But this later book is a long presentation of these paintings and their exploration. Some of the sets of rock paintings can be several hundred feet long and can also reach important heights implying some kind of scaffoldings to paint them.

These murals essentially associate representations of human figures and of various animals. The association is at times intimate revealing some bond between the men or women and animals. As for the animals you can have all animals living in that region: deer, mountain sheep, rabbits, antelopes, but also turtles, fish and what looks like manta rays, and also snakes, one case of a whale or some sea giant animal, and seals. It is easy to simply say it is a representation of the hunter and the hunted. But it is a lot more complex and the author knows it.

He disregards some elements that have become essential in such rock paintings because of recent studies. He gives one picture of hands imprinted on the stone and he should have been a lot more serious about it. The most recent studies on hands in such prehistoric, some very old from before the Ice Age, rock paintings have proved these hands are from very young teenagers and essentially from women. He misses a point here that he just touches once or twice very fast. We are dealing with hunter-gatherers and these are Homo Sapiens of course. That species (with Neanderthals and Denisovans before them but on a smaller scale) negates all rules of natural selection and instead of adjusting the population to the available resources, they enter a systematic increasing of their resources including with complex procedures to exploit some natural vegetal resources and fish by inventing fishing and culinary preparation that made some plants edible that do not look very easy to prepare (like reeds) or that are poisonous to human beings (like manioc). Homo Sapiens also developed rich procedures to prepare some drinks, some drugs even, not to speak of the phenomenal transformation of wild corn into modern cultivated corn that cannot at all replant itself. Agriculture was to come out of all these complex pre-Ice-Age procedures that enabled Homo Sapiens to bring other Hominins to their extinction, Homo Faber from which they emerged and both Neanderthals and Denisovans with whom they cohabited in Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia, without any evidence that there was any violent confrontation between Homo Sapiens and the others species.

In that line for the species to be expanding and to migrate to the whole world it had to constantly invent new ways to increase their resources but also for women who were fertile from 13 to 29 (their life expectancy that some pretend was reduced to 19 when agriculture was invented) to bring at least three if not four children to procreation age and adulthood, they had to have at least eight or ten children, which means from the age of 13 onward women were carrying a child in their womb, another still being breast fed on their hip of back and a third three year old one that needed care walking along. That “natural” division of labor made women a social group that had to stand apart. They had also some time to do some gathering, to do the cooking and to spend time painting the caves, as the hand imprints prove. If they had the responsibility of these paintings, then they also had the responsibility of spiritual rites and rituals. That’s why it could have been interesting to study the hands to see if we are dealing with the same situation.

In the table pages 216-217 the author gives the various human figures in these paintings and he does not notice two facts. All human figures have raised arms not in some “I surrender pose” as the author suggests but in one essential religious pose that all priest in all religion at one time in their rites and rituals take (think of the Eucharist in the  Christian tradition) to call for the elevation of the minds and souls towards god. I am afraid I have often met the fact that western Christians refuse to consider the religious dimension of such prehistoric pre-Ice-Age or post-Ice-Age representations and I attribute this resistance to the fact that western Christians want their religion to be “superior” or “of a higher level of spiritual development” not seeing that such religious development were  needed from the very start to provide Homo Sapiens with the inspiration, motivation and persistence to expand, develop and migrate. My interpretation is thus that these men and women are venerating some supernatural being or even that they are the priests themselves with their congregations with the remark that the higher they are on the mural, the bigger and the lower they are on the mural, the smaller, thus representing the hierarchy from the priest to the congregation, or maybe even the representation of God at the top.

But he missed the interpretation of the human figures from the Sierra de San Borja on one hand (extreme left of his table, and geographically most Northern in the whole set) and from San Borjitas and the Sierra de Guadalupe, La Trinidad, on the right, hence in the south with the most Southern being in his table some semiabstract figures. In Sierra de San Borja men have short arms turned down and the characters are connected together or they have raised arms and are pierced with  numerous arrows. For me it sounds like some ordeal or human sacrifice which the former submit to and the latter go through. But the second figure seems to accept it as a divine gift to the community hence his raised arms. In San Birjitas and the Sierra de Guadalupe the men (sexually explicit) who are pierced with arrows have stretched out arms and legs just as if they were tied up for the sacrifice. When we know there is a tradition about young virgin men (which means 12-13 years old) being sacrificed in Aztek tradition for example by being tied up to some pole, mast or totem and being pierced with arrows that do not kill but only wound and hurt, you are bound to think we are dealing here with human sacrifice. That would mean these particular places who specialize in such representations were sacrificial altars. That’s when you run into a real archaeological problem: no serious digging has been done.

So these paintings, and these places cannot be situated in time. If we follow the tinkering calculations of the author we come to the 900-1400 period AFTER CHRIST MIND YOU. In the afterword he gives two dating done by multinational teams mostly composed of non US research workers and three dates are suggested: 2,800, 5,500 and 1,000 all of them BCE. The author says humbly that it brought up some controversy, especially since that goes against the famous Clovis theory that is today dead and buried (See for example “First Americans Lived on Bering Land Bridge for Thousands of Years” in Scientific American, March 4, 2014. If Native Americans started arriving in 15,000 BCE, we probably have a hypothesis that would explain these painting people in Baja California with the legend among modern times Native Americans living there that these paintings were done by giants coming from the North, as reported by the 18th century Jesuit missionaries.

The bicolor motif used very systematically is another problem that will need a lot of research and imagination to solve. Human beings are very systematically shown (except in the three sites I have quoted as being connected with some sacrificial practices, which is significant) as half red and half black vertically or under and over the waist, with the strange case of checker board motifs and of a black square in the middle of the red face of some men characters. This motif has a meaning that we do not know, though we know some cultures that oppose darkness to light or fire in their religious capture of the world. For example still today in the Hindu tradition expressed by younger poets from Kolkata we find this darkness side of life attached to Ma, Kali Ma, the mother of the universe, versus the light or fire vision attached to the father beyond Heaven, the father sun necessarily beyond heaven. If the father, the sun is seen as fire and light, it is quite natural to see the mother as being the night, darkness etc. Does the red color represent the male in the human being and the black color the female? That’s a rather wide cultural vision in the world and in ancient civilizations. Why should the people the author calls the Painters be different, especially if the Painters are the women of the community thus instating some female principle in the explicitly male characters.

Many questions remain unsolved but this is one more case that shows human civilization has to look for its roots before the Ice Age, even if university dons like Steven Mithen does not like the idea. Homo Sapiens in Europe is – DNA proving – 75% Cromagnon and only 25% Indo-European. 75% before the Ice Age and only 25% after the Ice Age. There is no reason to consider the vast migrations out of Africa that were finished leaving Africa around 55,000 BCE could not have reached America before the Ice Age since they reached Australia at the latest in 45,000 BCE. Which suggest the migration across the Southern Pacific Ocean could have reached Easter Island and Chile around 20,000 BCE. There is a site in Chile in which a deeper layer that has not been excavated properly yet is tentatively dated as being from  16,000 BCE. They hardly could have come from Alaska and Siberia. When are serious excavations going to be done? The Clovis theory of first Homo Sapiens in America around at the most 9,000 BCE and from Siberia and Alaska when the corridor through the ice cap of the Ice Age opened up is dead. So let’s bury it.


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