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Art & Music                   9,000 BC
Africa
Southwest Asia
Egypt
Indus Valley
China
Europe
South America
Mesoamerica
North America
Other

Africa

A hurly-burly of folk movements, new technologies, mythological orientations, and vivid art forms now breaks upon the scene, and we are at the opening of a new age. The bow and arrow have appeared, the hunting dog, and an art of rock painting alive with vivid little forms: bowmen hunting and fighting, ritual scenes, dancers, sacrificial scenes. Whereas the paintings of the caves specialized in the forms of the animals of the hunt, here we discover a lively dance of human figures in a wonderfully vivid stickman style, developed with a sense for the composition of scenes and the rendition of movement. And whereas the art of the caves gave the magical, timeless atmosphere of the realm of myth, the happy hunting ground of eternity, and the operations therein of the archetypal shamans, here we have an atmosphere of life on earth and the ritual acts of living communities. We note, too, that women are prominent in the scenes, with elegantly rendered ample hips and legs, and willowy bodies, gracefully poised. The scenes are vibrant with the rhythms of the concerted action of groups. Not the shaman now, but the group is the vehicle of the holy power. The heartland of this new style was the grassy hunting ground of North Africa, where today there is only desert, and the type station is Capsa (Gafsa) in Tunisia.(128)

 

 

Their closest counterparts [to Spanish rock art], surprisingly enough, are to be found a continent away in the rock shelters of Kobystan, just off the western shore of the Caspian Sea in the region known today as Transcaucasia. Again without known precedents, the first series Kobystani engravings has been estimated by the excavator to "the early Mesolithic age at the latest," which should mean no later than the ninth millennium BC. The earliest compositions portray groups of male figures up to five feet high, whose trunks and thick legs have been deeply hollowed out of the limestone surface. Some of the men carry curved objects believed to be bows; often one or more lines seem to cross the shoulders at an angle.

 


The following phase in the Sahara, the Round Head paintings, shows little relationship to the animal engravings. In fact, the leader of the Tassili expedition, Henri Lhote, found the Round Head art so different from traditional forms of prehistoric art that "we felt we were moving about in a world that bore no relation to any other, a world apart." Many hundreds of these remarkable compositions have yet to be published, but already famous are the depictions of beings whimsically named "Martians" by Lhote. The painting from Sefar is typical of these portrayals; here several round-headed women seem to be in a sort of procession, hands raised in supplication to a huge central figure over ten feet high. Similar representations of these enormous beings appear at Jabbaren, a name which, as it means "the Giants, apparently was derived from the paintings. (115)

Not all of these works portray monstrous beings. Late in the Round Head period at Aouanrhet an exceptionally beautiful scene includes the silhouette of a woman running or dancing, with fringes falling from her knees, belt, and outstretched arms. Horns extend horizontally from either side of her head: a dotted area above was very tentatively interpreted as a cloud of grain falling from a wheat field. Her discoverers felt that this magnificent figure must have been either a goddess or a priestess, and saw a possible relationship to the Egyptian deity Isis, who, with Osiris, is credited in myth with introducing grain cultivation into the Nile valley. Mori believes that the Round Head series began very early and ended before the seventh millennium BC; others think it may have extended into the sixth millennium; in either case Lhote's estimation that the Round Head period as a whole must have lasted for several thousand years would indicate at least an eighth or ninth millennium beginning for the series. (115)

 

Southwest Asia

 

Egypt

 

Indus Valley

 

China

 

Europe

For six to eight thousand years, from approximately 17/15,000 to 9,000 BC, southwest Europe was dominated by Magdalenian culture and art. (The eponymous site is La Madeleine in the Dordogne valley.) Although Magdalenian influence was to spread across central Europe and into Russia during this period, the decorated caves for which these people are famed apparently were confined to a region bounded on the west by the Atlantic ocean, on the east by the Rhone. The majority of these caves are on or near large rivers, most of which empty into the Atlantic. At the beginning of the Magdalenian era, which approximately coincided with the maximum lowering of sea level, the Medoc littoral through which many of these waters ultimately flow (via the Garonne river) extended more than thirty miles into what is now Atlantic ocean. What part of the Magdalenian culture may since have been lost to the rising seas is incalculable; what remains cannot be described, in any meaningful sense, as primitive. (115)

With the emergence of the Magdalenians, the painting and engraving that had been largely restricted to the daylight zone of cave entrances began spreading deep into the interior chambers. Animals once represented primarily by forepart and dorsal line became superlative creatures of more than lifelike grace and proportion. But with the proliferation of detail, the animals grew more and more realistic until, at the end of the eleventh millennium, they are comparable to photographic images. At around this time the deep interiors of the caves gradually began to be abandoned, with the art shifting to stone plaques. Less than a thousand years later, toward the end of the tenth millennium, a steep decline marked the end of Magdalenian art as a whole. The few remaining examples show a dissolution into "crudity and schematism." (115)

One final contradiction to conventional thought may be found in the remarkable unity of Magdalenian art, which unlike the tools (and the signs), shows virtually no regional differentiation. Sieveking has noted that while primitive peoples in our own and recent times use art forms that are tribally (and thus in most cases territorially) distinct, a similar regional distinction seldom applies in the Paleolithic period--"and most particularly does it not apply in the Magdalenian." Throughout southwest Europe a uniform style is recognizable in the art, and whenever the style changed, it changed everywhere. (115)

Of the unexpected emergence of this new style of painting, one critic remarked: "From the point of view of stylistic evolution, Levante art appears to have had no childhood. All of a sudden it's there. In contrast to Magdalenian art, Levantine painting is dominated by human rather than animal figures, and a narrative quality rarely found in the Magdalenian period. If the archetypal animals at Lascaux may be said to suggest non-historical concepts of time, the new Spanish art is distinctly grounded in the incidental and the transitory. There are women clapping and dancing, men shooting deer and gathering honey, and above all, warriors armed with bows and arrows in every imaginable attitude of the fray. (115)

South America

 

Mesoamerica

 

North America

 

Other