Neanderthal and older art

From: Glenn Morton (
Date: Wed Sep 17 2003 - 22:43:23 EDT

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    There have been several posts lately on when humans became human. One of
    the most characteristically human activities is art. I know of no reports of
    animals making images of their own species save human beings. Two recent
    discoveries shed light on humans making species-self-images. The first is
    the Tan-Tan object.

    The Tan-Tan figurine was found in Morocco and dates to 400,000 years ago.
    Robert Bednarick was asked to study this crude, but human-like pice of
    quartzite. He concluded that it was indeed manufactured. The rock has
    grooves which separate the head from the body, arms from the body and legs
    from each other. Of the 8 groves found on the rock, five appeared to be
    manufactured based upon the fact that individual grains in the grooves have
    been fractured or show fractureing. This is hard to explain in any other
    fashion because a grain in the groove would be naturally protected from all
    but the sharpest instruments (like stone tool cutting edges). natural
    processes would be unlikely to produce that patter. The figurine also shows
    flakes of iron oxide and manganese oxide--two chemicals used extensively by
    ancient man to paint objects. Manganese oxide is black pigment and
    iron-oxide is red. Being a quartzite, the rock has little naturally
    occurring iron oxide which bolsters the argument for it having been painted.
    One report stated:

    "Bednarik also claims to have uncovered an artlike object at least 2.5
    million years old. Many of his colleagues are skeptical, partly because
    these claims contradict the standard Eve hypothesis, which holds that modern
    humans arose in Africa and spread around the world, displacing groups of
    primitive humans. If those groups had art and collaborative skills, they
    weren’t so primitive, Bednarik says: ‘The only way to maintain the Eve
    hypothesis is by drawing a thick line between moderns and totally different
    archaic people. That’s not what we see.’” Kathy Svitil, “Leonardo of the
    Pleistocene,” Discover, October 2003, p. 18

    Another item of interest in this regard occurs long after the Tan-tan
    object. It is a purported mask made by Neanderthals. It was found at La
    roche-Cotard. Information can be found in French at

    an automatic translation puts it like this:
    The site of Rock Cotard was discovered in the beginning of the 20th century
    but the level of the Mousterian (Rock-Cotard II), located in front of the
    opening of the cave, has been known only for 25 years. In this level of
    dwelling a very special object undoubtedly prepared by the Man was
    discovered: it is a flint having a natural hole in which small a esquille of
    bone is placed. This object which makes think of a human or animal face is
    an exceptional witness of the slow advance of humanity towards the advent of
    illustrated art.
    The only dating obtained for this level Mousterian which contained some rare
    tools and from the fragments of bone gives 32000 years "or more".
    The "Mask" consists of a small flat flint which was modified to accentuate
    its resemblance to a face:
    (1) a small glare of bone was inserted in an opening natural of the stone
    and fixed by two small stones;
    (2) the stone was then improved to obtain a symmetry.
    The "Mask" is regarded as a "proto-figurine", one of the first steps towards
    the art of the Paleolithic superior. It is an exceptional object because the
    culture Mousterian is not known to give this type of artistic production. If
    civilization Mousterian is well as one believes it specific of the Man of
    Neandertal in Europe, the "Mask" thus gives to think that Néandertaliens
    were capable of an artistic production more advanced than one suspected
    until now.

    The Rock-cotard
    With LANGEAIS (The Indre-and-Loire)
    Jean-Claude MARQUET
    Conservative of the departmental museum of Prehistory of Large-Pressigny
    (the Indre-and-Loire)

    Director of Research at CNRS.
    Rock of Monges, Saint-Sozy
    Jacques Cinq-Mars, who had a copy of the hard-to-get journal, posted
    some additional information (palanth-l message 10117, May 22, 2001):

    "For those interested, here is some background information lifted
    from the article by Marquet & Lorblanchet....the site is located
    just downstream from a place called CINQ-MARS-LA-PILE (emphasis
    mine) and upstream from the town of Langeais (Indre-et-Loire) on the
    right bank of the Loire and corresponds to a recently
    identified/excavated small "component" (Roche-Cotard II) of a
    (cave/shelter) complex that has been known since the early
    1900's.... the deposit (RC II) consists of a lengthy depositional
    sequence made of both colluvial (local chalk) and alluvial (Loire
    river) sediments; one of the alluvial sub-units (level 7), described
    as some sort of a beach (fluvial sands) that had developed at the
    base of the shelter/cave has yielded a relatively undisturbed
    (albeit truncated) Mousterian occupation layer that was found to
    contain traces of a somewhat well-defined hearth, a few very
    Mousterian tools, a few poorly preserved (?) bone fragments and,
    finally, the "Mask" in question; the only date available for this
    cultural layer (a bone date) says 32,000 bp or older...The "Mask" is
    considered to be part of the assemblage obtained from the Mousterian
    layer; it consists of a small, flattish flint nodule whose
    natural/original face looking shape was, according to the authors,
    enhanced by a series of modificationhs; these include (1) the
    insertion of a small bone splinter into a natural hole (under what
    is considered to be the bridge of the nose; the splinter was
    apparently forced into the hole and further wedged by two small
    stones - left hand side of the photograph) and (2) the
    further "regularization" (?) of the natural symmetry of the stone by
    flaking (shown in the drawing). The authors consider the object to
    be a "proto-figurine", and view it, together with the Berekhat Ram
    (possible) figurine, the bear face from Tolbaga (Siberia), and the
    curious Srbsko/Chlum sculpture as an "important document"
    or "premise" in the slow road to (later) Upper Palaeolithic
    figurative/representational art and symbolism."

    The photograph and drawing that Jacques referred to were from the
    article and were temporarily loaded into the palanth-l files, but
    they remained there only for a few weeks and I was absent in Wyoming
    at the time and never got the chance to look at them. I don't know
    whether your (Thierry's) jpg is the same photo or not.
    That's all I know on this object,

    While neither of these objects is 'technically' skilled by modern standards,
    one must ask if that is a pre-requisite for them being art. After all,
    mankind didn't even understand perspective until the Renaissance only 400
    years ago. Even Hieronymous Boxch's Gardon of Earthly Delight painted in the
    1500's doesn't show much perspective.

    So, what is one to do with primitive pieces of art? Is a stick figure drawn
    by a child not a portrait of humanity? No other species even comes close to
    drawing stick figures of themselves. I would conclude from this that there
    is no reason to deny humanity to the 400,000 year-old artist, even though
    his work was less skilled than we are used to. Skill at art is not a human
    trait. Species self-portrature--both technically good and bad--is.

    The Neanderthal mask is not much different in concept than the masks I
    bought last month in Thailand and Melakka, Malaysia. Primitive peoples use
    masks to act out their religion. The fact that Neanderthals made masks is
    just another sign of their humanity--a humanity almost universally rejected
    by the anti-evolutionary christians--both of the ID variety and the YEC
    variety (not to mention Terry Gray, who seems not to accept the vast amount
    of evidence for the humanity of these predecessors of ours). To me, it is
    mere predjudice to reject the humanity of creatures who are doing the same
    thing we are doing but doing it will a very primitive technology which
    limits their skill. Some day, Christians will be forced to actually face up
    to their humanity and will have to deal with that theologically. But in this
    century, our biases require that they not be included as humans.

    One must not forget the Berekhat Ram figurine from 230,000 years ago, which
    is also a human figurine, carved from scoria. Nor should we forget the 1.6
    million year old phonolite pebble found by Mary Leakey which has a face
    pecked onto it. Nor should we forget the 3.0 million year old Makapansgat
    pebble, a natural pebble which had an australopithecine face when viewed
    from one direction and a human face when it was turned upside down. It at
    least represents the recognition of the face by someone 3 million years ago.


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