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Art & Music                   3,000 BC
Africa
Southwest Asia
Egypt
Indus Valley
China
Europe
South America
Mesoamerica
North America
Other

Africa

 

Southwest Asia

 "They also had a tremendous craft technology, if not the best craft technology in the Bronze Age," claims Jim Shaffer, of Case Western Reserve University. "In city after city, the Indus people built deep, brick-lined wells, smelted and cast copper and bronze, and made jewelry. (68)

Even if metallurgy initially began as an accidental discovery, the practical application--making, say, the first cast-metal tool--still would have required a long and rigorous thought process involving a number of conceptual steps and a high level of abstract thinking. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors never exhibited such a level of capability. In fact, up to 6,000 years ago they had only just made the connection to use stone and bone for tools and hides for clothing. Yet suddenly, during the Neolithic period, about 5,000 years ago, those few highly developed civilizations appeared, and they included the technical "miracle" of processing metals among their developments--at the same time when people less than 500 miles away were still living primitively. The sophisticated artifacts found in Sumer and Egypt exhibit extraordinary artistic imagination, technical ability, and conceptual strength. By 3000 BC the arts of jewelry making, painting, and sculpture were already fully developed in Egypt and Mesopotamia. (69)

Hall pictures a little "pyxis" (box) from Ur that dates back to at least 3000 BC as an object that neatly combines both the triangle and spiral motifs (above). (120)

Woolley's conjecture of previous inhabitants suggested that if he dug deep enough beneath Ur, he might encounter the flood deposit, its silt strewn across the land when the deltas of the Tigris and Euphrates were drowned. He hypothesized that this horizon would separate those who came before the flood from those who came after. Five years into his project, and with his crew of local laborers by then well trained in sorting through layers of debris, he sank deep shafts that led him to the royal cemeteries. When opened, the tombs displayed an interment of king and queen accompanied by human sacrifice on an extravagant scale. The entire retinue of the ancient court - its servants, soldiers of the guard, musicians, the ox that pulled the funeral cart, the driver and grooms - had been laid out as if they had fallen asleep under a spell at the foot of the wooden bier upon which the monarch lay, with the queen on her own platform wearing a floral headdress made of paper-thin leaves and flowers of gold, silver, and electrum. Every individual appeared poised to accompany the regent into the afterlife. To Woolley's experienced eye the grave objects expressed an art form and metallurgy so advanced that they could not have been achieved without a long period of gestation. Even the architecture was revolutionary in its use of the arch, vault, and dome - inventions that would not reappear outside of Mesopotamia until the time of the Romans almost forty centuries later. (131)

In the 1930s archaeologists came upon the center and capital city of the Amorites, known as Mari. At a bend of the Euphrates, where the Syrian border now cuts the river, the diggers uncovered a major city whose buildings were erected and continuously re-erected, between 3000 and 2000 BC, on foundations that date to centuries earlier. These earliest remains included a step pyramid and temples to the Sumerian deities Inanna, Ninhursag, and Enlil. The palace of Mari alone occupied some five acres and included a throne room painted with most striking murals, three hundred various rooms, scribal chambers, and (most important to the historian) well over twenty thousand tablets in the cuneiform script, dealing with the economy, trade, politics, and social life of those times, with state and military matters, and, of course, with the religion of the land and its people. One of the wall paintings at the great palace of Mari (above) depicts the investiture of the king Zimri-Lim by the goddess Inanna (whom the Amorites called Ishtar). (146)

Clay figurines found at Sumerian sites and believed to be some 5,500 years old may well be crude representations of such malachim holding wandlike weapons. In one instance the face is seen through a helmet's visor. In the other instance, the "emissary" wears the distinct divine conical headdress and a uniform studded with circular objects of unknown function.

 

 

Egypt

 The pyramid complex at Saqqara was the world's first large-scale stone building and remains, despite much deterioration and looting of its limestone facing, one of the most beautiful. (47)

The Great Pyramid of Giza required the quarrying, transport, preparation, and laying of about 2,300,000 stone blocks, each with an average weight of 2.5 tons, and an estimated labor force equivalent to about 84,000 people employed for eighty days a year for twenty years. With the construction techniques available to Old Kingdom craftsmen, a pyramid is the only architectural form that could support its own weight when built to the scale that the Old kingdom pyramids were.

Mark Lehner has argued that the placement of the various elements of the Giza monuments in relation to the geology of the area indicates that the Sphinx, the three main Giza pyramids and various temples are part of a single unified design in which the different strata of limestone on the Giza Plateau were carefully used to produce this magnificent ceremonial center. (47)

Egyptian art challenges Western notions about aesthetics. For the Egyptians, art was mainly functional and had a purpose--it was done so that people and things could live forever. Wall frescoes, statues, and drawings were all done not just to record an image, but "to create and maintain a perfect world in which the good life ... could continue to flourish without opposition from the bad." Therefore, decay and imperfection are seldom shown in Egyptian art--people and objects are shown in ideal condition, since they are meant to be part of an ideal afterlife. And given this purpose, people and objects, whether loaves of bread, geese, gardens, or boxes, should be depicted in their most recognizable forms and positions, and not necessarily from a single point of view or in perspective. (47)

Even if metallurgy initially began as an accidental discovery, the practical application--making, say, the first cast-metal tool--still would have required a long and rigorous thought process involving a number of conceptual steps and a high level of abstract thinking. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors never exhibited such a level of capability. In fact, up to 6,000 years ago they had only just made the connection to use stone and bone for tools and hides for clothing. Yet suddenly, during the Neolithic period, about 5,000 years ago, those few highly developed civilizations appeared, and they included the technical "miracle" of processing metals among their developments--at the same time when people less than 500 miles away were still living primitively. The sophisticated artifacts found in Sumer and Egypt exhibit extraordinary artistic imagination, technical ability, and conceptual strength. By 3000 BC the arts of jewelry making, painting, and sculpture were already fully developed in Egypt and Mesopotamia. (69)

Tri-lobed schist bowl from the tomb of Sabu

According to the Egyptologist Walter Emery, the stone vessels of Egypt's archaic period (3100-2650 BC) were perhaps the Egyptians' greatest method for artistic expression. No other country, at that time or since, has achieved such precision. While the quality varied, stoneware was manufactured in vast quantities and with astonishing aesthetic design and technique. Every type of available stone was used. Specimens, dated to the first (2920-2770 BC) and second (2770-2650 BC) dynasties, have been found that are made from diorite, schist, alabaster, volcanic rock, serpentine, steatite, breccia, marble, limestone, mottled black-and-white porphyritic rock, purple porphyry, red jasper, obsidian quartz, dolomite, rock crystal, and basalt. Even with our modern industrial knowledge, we have yet to reproduce such items with the techniques or machinery they employed. Furthermore, stoneware such as this has not been found from any later era in Egyptian history. It seems, then, that the skills necessary to produce such meticulously crafted items were somehow lost. (70)

Vase with Rope Decoration . From the underground galleries, Djoser precinct, Saqqara; Third Dynasty (ca. 2649 – 2575 B.C.E.). Egyptian alabaster; H. 25 in. (63.5 cm). Egyptian Museum, Cairo (JE 65423).

During the Archaic Period and the early Old Kingdom, pottery jars of this type were used to store wine and oil. This beautiful stone version of such a jar was deposited with tens of thousands of vessels in the underground chambers of the Djoser pyramid precinct in order to guarantee that the deceased king was provided with food supplies for eternity. The vase is decorated with a rope pattern representing the net in which the pottery jar would have been carried.

 

 


In the center of open bowls and plates, where the angle of the cut changes rapidly, one can see a clean, narrow, and perfectly circular line made by the tip of a cutting tool. Unmistakably, these tool marks were from lathe manufacturing (rotating an item on two spindles so the reduction of material is even on all sides). Delicate vases, made of brittle stone such as schist, were finished, turned, and polished to a flawless, paper-thin edge. One nine-inch bowl, hollowed out with a three-inch opening at its top, was flawlessly turned so that it balances perfectly on a rounded and tipped bottom. This tip is the size of an egg's rounded point, requiring a symmetrical wall thickness without any substantial error. Elegant items made from granite indicate not only an accomplished level of skill, but perhaps an advanced level of technology as well. Pieces made from granite, porphyry, or basalt cores were hollowed out with a narrow and flared opening, some of which have a long neck. (70)

In defense of the dynastic race theory, carvings on an ivory knife handle from the town of Gebel-el-Arak (near Denderah, 250 miles south of Cairo) and paintings on the walls of a late-predynastic tomb dated to 3500 BC at Hierakonopolis suggest invasion of the Nile Valley by a seafaring people. Some believe the style of the ornamentation on the knife handle to be Mesopotamian or possibly Syrian. The scene possibly represents a sea battle against invaders; this is also depicted in the Hierakonopolis tomb. Both of these show Egypt's native ships and strange vessels with a high prow and stem, unmistakably Mesopotamian in origin. There is also the discovery of late-predynastic graves in the northern part of Upper Egypt, where the skulls unearthed were of greater size and the bodies were larger than those of the natives. According to Walter Emery, the difference is so distinct that any suggestion that these people derived from the earlier stock is impossible. (70)

The ivory statues, bas-reliefs and sculptures of the first dynasty were as fine as Egypt ever produced. (135)

In the photo (right) may be seen some of the magnificent rock­crystal eyes for statues produced during the Old Kingdom in Egypt. These eyes were plentiful during the Fourth and Fifth Dynasties, in the middle of the third millennium BC. ...they are perfectly ground and polished convex crystal lenses. As used in the statues, they magnify the painted or inserted pupils behind them and create an impression of life which is unrivalled by any other technique. The existence of many of these crystal eyes, of such perfect workmanship, demonstrates in conclusive fashion that the technology for advanced optics existed at that time - and I do not believe it is possible for us to deny that it was used for other purposes besides eyes of statues.

The Amratian peoples lived c. 4000-3500 BC and are significant in that they were the first people to introduce the use of totemic imagery on pottery. Their graves were also notable in that they lined them with mud walls. The Gerzeans were their successors, and among their achievements were the building of more substantial houses from materials such as reeds, mud and straw, as well as the construction of papyrus rowing-boats, complete with cabins. They also discovered the art of making faience, a form of blue-green glazed earthenware, and of casting copper tools and weapons, such as hand-axes, daggers and knives. In addition to this, the Gerzeans imported lead and silver from south-west Asia and lapis lazuli from as far away as Afghanistan. The Gerzean culture came to an end c. 3100 BC, just as Egypt was making its final transformation into the mainly arid desert we know today. (149)

We now looked more closely at some of the most important hieroglyphs of Ancient Egypt, and we were simply staggered to see how they signified their early priesthood. This pictogram shows a figure kneeling in front of a curved row of four staves in the ground. The left hand is on the hip and the right hand points to a risen, five-pointed star, and just below this star is a rising sun. (160)

 

Indus Valley


Preist King from Mohenjo-Daro

...this is what the discoveries at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro have now placed beyond question. They exhibit the Indus peoples of the fourth and third millennia BC, in possession of a highly developed culture in which no vestige of Indo-Aryan influence is to be found. Like the rest of Western Asia, the Indus country is still in the Chalcolithic Age - that age in which arms and utensils of stone continue to be used side by side with those of copper or bronze. They are skilful metal workers, with a plentiful supply of gold, silver, and copper. Lead, too, and tin are in use, but the latter only as an alloy in the making of bronze. Their domestic vessels are commonly of earthenware turned on the wheel and not infrequently painted with encaustic designs; more rarely they are of copper, bronze, or silver. The ornaments of the rich are made of the precious metals or of copper, sometimes overlaid with gold, of faience, ivory, carnelian, and other stones; for the poor they are usually of shell or terra-cotta. Figurines and toys, for which there is a wide vogue, are of terra-cotta, and shell and faience are freely used, as they are in Sumer and the West generally, not only for personal use of ornaments but for inlay work and other purposes. (135)

China

 

Europe

 Vessels of various forms and types made of stone have also been found. Serpentine was a commonly used stone for such purposes because of its softness. Some vases are decorated with scenes similar to those that appear on ceramic vessels and in frescoes. One features a scene of bull-vaulting and another one of harvesters in their fields. Highly decorated seals in various shapes and styles were also produced by the Minoan stoneworkers. Perhaps the most intriguing of all stone objects is a vase in the shape of a bull’s head found at Kato Zakro. The openings at the back of the neck and at the mouth suggest that this vessel was used in libation offerings to the gods as a part of religious ritual.

The prevalence of votive offerings in the Minoan Religion ensured that hundreds of examples of small votive figurines survived in the archaeological record. Most of those that have been found are made of terracotta. A large proportion of them are of women, with bell-shaped skirts made on a potter’s wheel, with their arms raised in a gesture of epiphany. Small clay models of houses and other buildings have also been found in religious settings. Some of the most famous figurines are those of faience, a glaze primarily consisting of crushed quartz. Two female figurines of faience were found at Knossos, these are the most celebrated icons of Minoan art and culture. These women don the typical flounced skirts and apron of the Minoans along with a bare-breasted bodice. They are also shown prominently with snakes, quite possibly as a part of the household cult of the Snake Goddess.

In Crete the emblem of the double-headed axe was borrowed from Phoenicians and Sumerians. The characteristic Aegean spiral, found on Bronze Age megalithic monuments, proclaims the worship of the earth­mother. (135)

 

Besides the Groove Ware remains, some beautifully crafted stone objects have been found at Skara Brae which have no obvious purpose of any kind. The two most intricate objects are stone balls: one 6.2 cm (2.5 inches) diameter, has been carved all over with that lozenge pattern so common on objects made at Skara Brae; the other, a slightly larger ball of 7.7 cms (3 inches) diameter, has been carved with grooves and knobs. Viewed closely, in their display case at Skara Brae, one can see that they were highly polished as if they had been handled a great deal. Around 400 similar, but less ornate, stone balls have been found in other parts of Scotland between the River Tay and the Moray Firth. Attempts to recreate them using Stone Age tools by engineer James Macauley failed, as it proved impossible to carve the difficult angles without using strong metal tools. (160)

 

 

 

South America

 The domestication of cotton between about 4000 BC and 1200 BC provided a relatively cheap source of textiles, and cotton textiles were complemented by a highly developed weaving craft in which reeds and other grasses were woven into sandals, clothes, and many other products. Using mineral and plant-derived dyes, ancient Andeans decorated many of their textiles with a wide variety of motifs, including geometric figures and stylized people and animals. (52)

I'd like to begin with a stone cat from the oldest American Indian civilization--Chavin. It's a Peruvian coastal culture that dates back to perhaps 3000 BC. (120)

A third area of archaeological research was the coast of Ecuador, where, in December 1960, a piece of Japanese pottery was picked up on a beach. Subsequent excavations yielded many fragments more, all of the early Jomon ("cord­ marked") style of circa 3000 BC - which is the earliest date for pottery yet registered for the New World. A number of ceramic female figurines turned up, also, in these digs, and these are the earliest figurines - indeed the earliest works of art - yet unearthed in the Americas. (128)

The formative period in Ecuador, they say, commenced with the first use of pottery on the coast, carbon dated to 2500 BC. The earliest phase of this culture is associated with the type of pottery called Valdivian, which is so similar to pottery used at the same period in south Japan with the Jomom culture that it is held to be proof of trans-Pacific contact. 'Nevertheless, the similarities between the two pottery complexes are so striking and the datings are so fitly in agreement that a trans-Pacific introduction of pottery at about 2500 BC seems to be the only explanation of the facts. (135)

Mesoamerica

 

North America

 

Other

 Pottery masks have been found that replicate their gargoyle expressions and one particular style of mask, with its nose bent at right angles to the side of its face, seems weirdly futuristic; it could almost be a contemporary work in a gallery of surrealist art; instead, it is 4500 years old, as old as the Great Pyramid, and part of an ancient Jomon tradition of representing the human form. (124)

There are multiple examples of exaggerated female figures, notably the 5000-year-old ‘Venus of the Jomon’ found recently at Tanabatake Iseki in Nagano Prefecture. With her gigantic thighs and hips, this ‘mother goddess’ is similar in proportion and general appearance (and possibly in function as well to stone Venus figures found in the megalithic temples and underground labyrinths of the far-off Mediterranean island of Malta. (124)