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Africa
Southwest Asia
Egypt
Indus Valley
China
Europe
South America
Mesoamerica
North America
Other

Africa

 

Southwest Asia

 

Egypt

 

Indus Valley

 At Teotihuacan I found the most explicit yantra symbolism I had found anywhere so far. The upward-pointing triangle represents fire; the linga (phallus) is a symbol of Siva the Creator. Again, as in the case of the "creator-dog," the creation element is emphasized. The circle with the "point" in the middle, of course, is a bindu--a point where creation begins. Or it could be a variant sun image, which again reverts to creation, beginnings, the zone between nothingness, chaos, and order. Surya, the sun-god, is portrayed throughout Southeast Asia as carrying two discs (usually lotuses) in his hands. (120)

 

China

 The great richness and opulence of the Qin Dynasty is lavishly displayed in the Museum of Qin Shi Huang, in Shaanxi Province. In a project worthy of Egyptian pharaohs, the emperor Qin Shi Huang drafted 700,000 people to build a huge mausoleum and palace complex. The work lasted for thirty-nine years, and when it was finished it was full of rare and beautiful objects. Historical records of the time say that the complex was lighted with lamps fueled by the fat of giant salamanders. In 206 BC the whole complex was burned in a popular revolt. When archaeologists excavated they found 56.25 square kilometers of buildings and features, including "tombs of immolated slaves, table pits, stone material processing workshops, tombs of criminals, pits for the execution of slaves, pits of life-size terra cotta warriors and horses, and pits of bronze chariots and horses." The site so far has revealed thousands of life-size statues of warriors and horses, all rendered in exquisite detail. (49)

Prehistoric heads from China (above left) and Mexico (right). (120)

Europe

 

South America

 As we saw in the cases of Egypt, Mesoamerica, and elsewhere, "art" was not just a minor peripheral part of the rise of ancient civilizations: art was an integral part of this process. In all early states, the cities, rank-wealth hierarchies, and functionally interdependent economies that arose were presaged by the spread of an art style that was usually expressed mostly directly in pottery. Peru was no exception to this pattern. After about 900 BC, people living at Chavin de Huantar and other sites in the highlands of northern Andean South America began to use the same styles of decoration in their pottery, architecture, and other artifacts.

…the general tenor of Chavin diffusion is reminiscent of the initial spread of Olmec art in Mesoamerica—a realatively simple extension of aesthetic and perhaps religious traditions in the absence of elaborate political hierarchies or economic elites. Chavin de Huantar, the site after which the art style is named, (though it is probably not the earliest or even most important Chavin settlement), was occupied for all or most of the period between about 850 and 200 BC. Gold was the medium of the finest art in the Chavin era, as craftsmen cut, embossed, annealed, cast, and welded it into ear spools, nose ornaments, plaques, crowns, and face coverings for corpses. Copper and silver were also extensively used for making ornaments, and weaving became a fine art as well. (52)

Pottery vessels depict people hunting deer with spears and clubs, fishermen putting to sea in small canoes, blowgun hunters taking aim at birds, weavers working under the direction of a foreman, and many people engaging in war, human sacrifice, and violence. People are also shown being carried on sedan chairs, seated on thrones, receiving tribute, and presiding at executions. (52)

Pots representing sexual themes in the most explicit terms may have been used in ordinary daily life, and to drink from them is to perform, symbolically at least, acts still considered illegal in some states in the USA. If the sexual practices depicted in pottery are in any way a reflection of the proclivities of the people--and reports of the Spanish and the Inka suggest this was the case--then the Moche may have devised a very efficient system of birth control. For although there are few depictions of homosexuality (most involve lesbian relationships), procreative acts of sexual intercourse are much less celebrated than nonprocreative acts in this pottery. (52)

A falling-out among thieves and a trail of looted treasure led in 1987 to one of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries of this century: the glittering royal tombs of the Moche civilization, which dominated northern Peru from AD 100 to 800, centuries before the rise of the Inca Empire. Moche art is invaluable to scholars of the culture because the people had no written language. Their artisans had to speak for the culture, and they left the only stories of daily life, hunting, war and religious ceremony in the scenes on ceramics and textiles. "They almost made up for the lack of a written language with their pottery with its incredible iconography," Dr. Craig Morris, a specialist in pre-Columbian Andean culture at the American Museum of Natural History, said. "What is depicted artistically often has a basis in fact," Dr. Donnan said at the opening of an exhibition at the Fowler Museum of some of the most impressive material from the tombs. "We now realize that the art is in fact showing real people, and what we suspected were supernatural activities were real events that occurred in Moche life." (102)

The Moche were contemporaries of the Nazca in southern Peru, the people associated with the mysterious markings, or lines, in the desert plateau. Anthropomorphized spiders occur frequently in the tombs and are seen as analogs to warriors in Moche culture; spiders capture their prey, tie them with ropes of web and later extract their vital fluids, just as Moche warriors captured the enemy, tied them with ropes and later drank their blood. Among the artifacts found in the Warrior Priest's tomb are curious ornaments known as backflaps, which were apparently worn by warriors. They were made of gold or silver and were suspended from the back of the warrior's belt with a large, flaring edge hanging down. The upper part was decorated with the figure of a deity with a large fanged mouth. (102)

The Mochica were a pre-Inca people living on the coast of what is now Peru. Their capital was Chan Chan, just outside of Trujillo, in northern Peru. They were not megalithic. Chan Chan, unlike Tiahuanaco and Chavin, the Maya and Olmec cities, and Teotihuaacan, is made out of adobe and, mainly because they were not titanic builders in stone, I had never associated them with the other major Pacific coast cultures. Now, among the Mochica, I was to find links between the coast, the Olmecs, Chavin, Tiahuanaco, and Teotihuaacan. (120)

First of all, I found a Mochica pot with a figure on it reminiscent of the figure of Quetzalcoatl bringing the sun across water. The shape of the "boat" on which the sun-bird stands is the same as that of the shape of the raft on which stands a felinoid human with a wave-scroll on his chest. Might there be a link between the Chavin-Tiahuanaco-Olmec cat-god, the Pacific coast, and the raft? On another Mochica pot, I found a black-faced god wearing what looked like glasses, standing on a raft the ends of which were cat (dog?) heads, with bird figures radiating out from the heads in all directions. The raft appeared to have a floor and in the hold was cargo of round, corked bottles. (120)

Quetzalcoatl's image among the Aztecs is black, painted with soot. He has an aquiline nose and black skin--still a very common type in India. He wore an ocelot feather (cat-bird composite), he wore a flame crest made of feathers (bird-fire composite), a necklace of shells (sea association), and below his knees, ocelot bands trimmed with small shells. His sandals are described as made of "foam." As we have seen at Teotihuacan, the Quetzalcoatl world is associated with birds and snakes and wild dogs, and here on the Mochica vase we have Quetzalcoatl on a cat (or dog?)-ended raft surrounded by snake scales or feathers, or both. (120)

On another pot there is a portrayal of two bird-people holding another figure captive, up against a pole. The totem-people are the priests/sacrificers; the nontotem-people are the victims, the sacrificed. The scenario seems to read: The people in charge are Dravidians. This is a Dravidian ship carrying a captive Aryan crew. The Aryans are prisoners of war/slaves. They have been soldiers, perhaps officers in the Aryan army. They submit unwillingly to their captivity, are always on the lookout for a chance to escape. The landing party mixes with the coastal natives which further complicates allegiances. Eventually some Aryans, with Dravidian soldiers, escape from the coast, move north--the thrust toward Teotihuacan has begun. (120)

There are many things in Mochica culture that suggest its "priorness," its germinal, archaic quality. It is a source-culture. We are close to the spirit of the major culture (Chavin, Tiahuanaco, Olmec Maya) beginnings. The sexuality, for example, is close to its East Indian origins. There are figures depicting a woman on her back with her legs open showing her vulva, a motif extremely familiar in Indian art. Mochica vulva pot (above, left). East Indian version of vulva figure (above right). There are phallic figures with hats in the shape of the penis glans. There are numerous erotic figures in all possible forms of sexual embrace. Years ago in Peru, I was taken to a private museum and shown hundreds of these "pornographic" huacos (pots). (120)

The heavy, cumbersome, cylindrical earrings that stuck out of huge holes in the earlobes which were common among the Mochicas are still being worn among the hill tribes [of India]: Mochica pot showing noble with large earrings (left). Similar earrings still in use in northeast India (right). (120)

Phallic statues from Colombia (left) and Polynesia (right).Throughout the Pacific islands there are stone statues and temples very similar to those found in Tiahuanaco and elsewhere on the American Pacific coast. On the Marquesas Islands, there are "phallicoid" human figure almost identical with those found at San Agustin in Colombia: (120)

During this period the coast of Ecuador seems again to have been visited by voyagers from Asia. At about 200 BC a complex of unique and non-American objects appears in the Bahia area and on the Esmeraldas coast farther north (Estrada and Meggers, 1961). The evidence consists of pottery neck-rests; pottery models of houses with columns and deep, saddle roofs; figurines with legs folded one above the other; pottery ear-plugs that resemble golf tees; pottery net weights; and stone and pottery pendants in the form of tusks. This complex, appearing generally to be eastern Asiatic in origin, may also include the coolie yoke, depicted on a spindle whorl from Manabi and, less certainly, symmetrically graduated pan pipes, which were also widely used in Peru at about the same time. ...it is not likely that the arrival of an Asiatic vessel fundamentally changed the culture of the Ecuadorian Indians, already much exposed to foreign influence from Meso-america. (135)

From more than 15 kilometres off-shore we had been able to make out the so- called 'Candelabra of the Andes', first through binoculars and then in direct sight. It lay due south of us, carved into a sloping cliff, looming ever larger in our field of view as we approached. The scholarly consensus is that this huge earth-diagram could easily be 2000 years old and is most likely to have been the work of the same people who created the better-known Nazca lines which are found inland, some 300 kilometres to the south. This 'Nazca culture', about which very little is known, is thought to have flourished from the second century Be until about 600 AD.' (161)

The Candelabra was intended by its designers to be seen from the north. Indeed, there is no other perspective from which it may be satisfactorily viewed; the observer must face south toward the escarpment on which it is carved. Examining the diagram from the base up naturally draws the eyes toward the southern sky above the escarpment, and specifically toward the south meridian. Although it may be entirely coincidental, computer simulations tell us that at around the hour of midnight on the March equinox 2000 years ago - the epoch in which the Candelabra was probably made - the constellation know as Crux (the Southern Cross) would have been seen lying on the southern meridian at an altitude of 52 degrees. At that moment an observer positioned on a boat as we now were, about a kilometer north of the Candelabra, would have seen the Southern Cross suspended in the sky directly above the great cliff diagram. (161)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Mesoamerica

 

The classic period, the high point of Maya civilization, one of the most accomplished in pre-Columbian America, lasted from AD 200 to 900. The Yaxuna tombs have been tentatively dated at between AD 300 and 350. Two of the ceramic pots in the tomb afforded a glimpse of Maya ritual practices. They are vessels decorated with pictures of people giving them selves enemas. From other art elsewhere, archaeologists have known that the Maya elite used enema potions, often fermented honey, to induce trances in order to commune with the gods. In this way, the intoxicants entered the bloodstream almost immediately and in full, unfiltered measure. (100)

 

In Las Mercedes (Costa Rica), there have been uncovered a number of "enigmatic" stone figures of women with birds' heads, a man-bird, and a female-breasted male figure with a ferocious-looking crocodile head. (120)

 

At Teotihuacan I found the most explicit yantra symbolism I had found anywhere so far. The upward-pointing triangle represents fire; the linga (phallus) is a symbol of Siva the Creator. Again, as in the case of the "creator-dog," the creation element is emphasized. The circle with the "point" in the middle, of course, is a bindu--a point where creation begins. Or it could be a variant sun image, which again reverts to creation, beginnings, the zone between nothingness, chaos, and order. Surya, the sun-god, is portrayed throughout Southeast Asia as carrying two discs (usually lotuses) in his hands. (120)

Various "eye-warriors" at Teotihuacan were pictured in an eagle costume, this same "goggle" effect was associated with pictures of butterflies and with Quetza1coatl himself as "Lord of the Dawn." There seemed to be an implied sun-worship throughout all these figures. The sun was the center of the Teotihuacan universe: It was the creator, the source of form, life, and order, and one of the constants of Teotihuacan worship was sacrifice to the sun--just as in ancient Mesopotamia. (120)

 

 

 

 

 

The masks worn by one hill-tribe, the Wanchos (India), were worn during head-hunting raids. Their equivalents, in semiprecious stone, have been dug up at Teotihuacan: Northeast Indian (Wancho) head-hunting mask (left) and equivalent masks from Teotihuacan, Mexico. (120)

 

Analogues of the soaring, feathered headdresses of the Olmecas/Mayas? They are very common among other Indian "aboriginals" exemplified by these specimens from North India, followed by a Maya plumed headdress. (120)

Prehistoric heads from China (above left) and Mexico (right). (120)

Mayan pyramids were surmounted by temples, some of which were as much as 200 feet above ground level, and decorated with the low-relief sculpture that has survived as one the world's great art forms, as has their lapidary work in jade. (150)

North America

 The Hohokam peoples, who flourished in the Salt and Gila River valleys (Arizona) between about AD 500 and AD 1200 (arguments about these dates remain) seem to represent the confluence of Archaic hunting-and-gathering traditions and Mesoamerican cultures. Some archaeologists have concluded that the Hohokam were not just local peoples whose culture was transformed by contacts with the high civilizations of Mexico; on the basis of late Hohokam styles of architecture, construction, ceramics, turquoise ornaments, and other artifacts, they conclude that Hohokam styles are so similar to Mesoamerican examples that they can only be the result of an immigration of Mexican people who transplanted their way of life directly to the Hohokam area, where previously there had been only hunters and gatherers. But the Hohokam probably represent more a fusion of Mexican cultural traditions, via trade routes, and indigenous peoples than a large migration. (53)

The Mogollon built no pyramids, ball courts, or major irrigation systems, but they did produce an extraordinarily beautiful array of ceramics. Their "Mimbres" ceramic forms, decorated with vivid figures of frogs, insects, fish, deer, and other animal life painted against black backgrounds, are particularly notable. Stephen Jett an Peter Moyle have shown that many of the fish species illustrated on Mimbres pottery are marine species that could be found no closer to the Mimbres area than 1,500 kilometers southwest, in the Gulf of California. (53)

Other

 

The huge stone heads of Easter Island with ear-lobes stretched by ear-plugs and heads flattened almost into discs. They represent, Heyerdahl says, a race of very tall, red-haired European-type seamen who had fled South America about 400 AD. He showed that there lived on Easter Island the survivors of two distinct populations; the long-ears, a fair or red-headed European people who used to stretch their ear-lobes with wooden plugs so that they reached down to their shoulders and a Polynesian group of conventional Polynesian type, with natural ears. The first people had been known on the island as 'long-ears', the second people as 'short-ears'. The handful of survivors of the giant long-ears, they stood six feet five inches or six feet six inches tall - the Polynesians had killed or driven out most of them - remembered a tradition of arriving from the east long centuries before in three-masted vessels capable of carrying four hundred people apiece. Carbon 14 dating put the time of their arrival around AD 400. This date, Heyerdahl says, coincides with a Peruvian tradition of chasing out their own ruling class.(135)

These are heirlooms (left) which are reproductions of a man in a bird or composite mask and of a long-eared man from Easter Island, with Semitic not Polynesian features. (135)

...the consistent and carefully thought out artistic canon expressed in these unique works of sculpture appears to have been fully elaborated at the very beginning of Easter Island's remarkable statue-making phase - with the best Moai often being the earliest ones. The earliest accepted evidence of human settlement comes in the form of reeds - carbon-dated to AD 318 - from a grave at the important Moai site of Ahu Tepeu. The next evidence is charcoal, carbon-dated to AD 380, found in a ditch on the Poike peninsula. (161)