Friday, March 30, 2007

past, present, parlant

Fabulous, aren't they?

It was Marje-Leena who first aroused my interest in cave paintings with some stunning pictures in one of her posts (and I can't, for the life of me, find it now)

and then today I sat curled up on the sofa with two snoring puppies to watch a BBC Horizon programme called The Day We Learned To Think in which anthropologists, archaeologists and other 'ologists, attempt to determine the precise date in history when human beings became an intelligent, thinking species.

Of course there are times when I strongly doubt that we HAVE evolved that far or perhaps we reached that point and then, under an overload of consumerist claptrap and fast-food toxins, we slipped back deveral hunderd thousand years down the evolutionary ladder to swim, once more, in a primeval slime.

But, as ever, I digress...

The programme was especially fascinating to someone interested in language and linguistics since the power of thought is a precursor to speech, after all, without a head full of thinking there is nothing to vocalise which led me to sit and gaze at a stone wall and wonder how it would be to lose the ability to think and to exist on animal instincts alone, useful for coping with French bureaucracy, bill paying and shopping at Carrefour but not so interesting after a while...

Our ability to speak is the result of an evolutionary process which involved the larynx moving down into our throats enabling us to use the air that passes down the throat to create sounds.

This happened, apparently 200,000 years ago
So, 200,000 years ago we were physically capable of speaking but did we have any thoughts to communicate vocally?

The first indication of A Human Thought can be identified by the creation of an object, maybe some artwork, a tool, perhaps a nose stud, an e-mail to a friend, and for a while scientists believed that Humans suddenly, one day evolved the Power Of Reasoning, as in someone got up one morning, wandered out of his cave and Had A Thought and the rest was, as they say, history, they called it The Human Revolution. This was presumed to have occured in France, of course, sometime quite recently.

"The earliest evidence of human art was always thought to appear in south western Europe around 40,000 years ago. Spectacular cave paintings, jewellery, carved figurines, ornaments and new styles of stone and bone tools all appear. There is evidence that ceremonial human burials were taking place. It really did seem like a light bulb had been turned on in the human brain; a big bang of thought.

Had something happened in a very small timeframe during the course of human evolution to forever change our future? A theory called 'The Human Revolution' emerged. It suggests there was some sudden, dramatic, genetic change around 50,000 years ago, that meant human beings, became able to think and communicate. For years this was the most plausible theory of why we evolved language and symbolic thinking, whilst our cousins the Neanderthals got wiped out."
BBC Horizon

More recently discoveries in caves in Africa have led them to revise this way of thinking and to conclude that Man slowly evolved the power of logic and reasoning over the course of many years of evolution, in much the same way as we gradually lost our body hair and learnt to walk upright

"Despite the new puzzle, The Human Revolution theory remained a credible explanation. Until 1999 when anthropologist Chris Henshilwood made an intriguing discovery at a dig site in Blombos, on the east coast of South Africa. He had been excavating a prehistoric cave for over a decade. The cave contained beautifully made artefacts, bone points and spear points that dated back 70,000 years, well before the Human Revolution was supposed to have taken place. But there was still no concrete proof that the objects Henshilwood and his team had found were made by a 'thinking people'.

As the dig continued one item kept appearing. Henshilwood and his team noticed lots of pieces of a soft stone called ochre. If scraped it produces a powder that can be mixed with animal fat and used as a paint. Interestingly ochre did not occur naturally in Blombos and could only have come from several miles away. Henshilwood and his colleagues discovered eight thousand pieces of ochre in the cave. They had been deliberately scraped for a purpose, Henshilwood believes, to paint on other surfaces.

Then another, rather different, discovery was made. It was yet another piece of ochre but it had been marked with what looked like a crisscross pattern. Was this the world's oldest piece of art work?
Dr Francesco d'Errico of the University of Bordeaux, a specialist in prehistoric markings was convinced that the markings were deliberate - not the result of accidental knife marks. Early humans had managed for the first time to store something outside their own heads.

They had sent us a message from 70,000 years ago."
BBC Horizon

Anyway I sat and gazed in wonder at the images on the screen

The paintings of horses and bison
men hunting
handprints reaching out to us from the past (see Marje-Leena again for another image of hands

and then I popped over to AllPosters to purchase the above prints, mounted on wood, to hang on the stone wall in the lounge at The FVH

They will provide a rather interesting contrast to the collection of Impressionist prints that are currently decorating a papered and painted wall to one side

Man passing on his thoughts, his hopes and dreams, the things that he finds beautiful

past and present...


Anonymous said...

Amazing how much interest there's been in my post:

Thanks for the linkage, and for sharing your enjoyment and excitement in that program. It sounds similar to one I saw called How Art Made the World, which originally came from the BBC as well:

Mouse said...

Good Morning Cyber-Buddy and Frequent Inspiration! Hope all is well in your world? It's raining here, for a change! Still, with BBC progs like these and a nice log fire in the stove who cares about the weather?

marja-leena said...

Oops, how did I become anonymous?! Sounds like you are cozy even when it rains there, but the sun will return. Our awful rains have taken a break and we've had sunshine for a week, and spring is busting out all over. Lots of camellias in bloom now. (I sent you an email - hope you got it!)