May 14th, 2012, 09:55 PM
Earliest vulva art in Europe ~ even earlier than Chauvet
There are loads of vulvas in palaeo rock art, far more than is generally recognised, if you know where to look and all in honour, one assumes, of the primordial mother goddess. But this newly discovered one is older than even the Chauvet paintings, and so that makes it quite special.
The real meaning of the art, as I'm sure Jim Harrod would agree, is obscured by the headline of this artice: "Early Man Drew Female Sex Organs" as if it had to have been carved by the male of the species. In fact, we've found in copious research on here (please ask me where to find it if you're interested) that it is far more likely that the buxom Venuses with the protrubing vulvas and labias were actually aids to ritual childbirth.
early vulva rock art.JPG
Multiple engraved and painted images of female sexual organs, animals and geometric figures discovered in southern France are believed to be the first known wall art. Radiocarbon dating of the engravings, described in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that the art was created 37,000 years ago. This makes them slightly older than the world’s earliest known cave art, found in Chauvet Cave, southeastern France.
Since this site, Abri Castanet in southern France, is very close to Chauvet, it is likely that the artists in both cases came from what is known as the Aurignacian culture, which existed until about 28,000 years ago. “Abri Castanet has long been recognized as one of the oldest sites in Eurasia with evidence for human symbolism in the form of hundreds of personal ornaments (such as) pierced animal teeth, pierced shells, ivory and soapstone beads, engravings and paintings on limestone slabs,” lead author Randall White told Discovery News.
White, a New York University anthropology professor, added that the artwork “is associated with members of some of the first modern human populations to leave Africa, dispersing into Eurasia, replacing the preceding Neanderthals.” White and his international team analyzed the engravings, which were made with ochre on a 3,307-pound block of limestone found in a rock shelter occupied by a group of Aurignacian reindeer hunters.
The researchers believe the limestone was once the shelter’s low ceiling, which later collapsed. The engravings include depictions of “the back end of a horse,” according to the researchers, as well as multiple images of the female vulva. Other “zoomorphic” and “geometric” engravings are included, along with additional images of female sexual organs. Unlike the Chauvet paintings and engravings, which are deep underground and away from living areas, “the engravings and paintings at Castanet are directly associated with everyday life, given their proximity to tools, fireplaces, bone and antler tool production, and ornament workshops,” White said.
The discovery in many respects leads to more questions than answers, given the subject matter of the artwork. “While there are animal figures, the dominant motif is that considered to represent abstract female vulvas,” White said, mentioning that other interpretations could be possible.
Additional Aurignacian artwork, however, clearly represents female sexual organs. The Venus of Hohle Fels, for example, is an ivory figurine dating to at least 35,000 to 40,000 years ago, according to Nicholas Conard, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Tübingen who reported the find. The figurine, found in a southwestern Germany cave, depicts a woman with what Conard told Discovery News were “large projecting breasts” and a pronounced vulva and labia majora visible between the woman’s open legs.
Additional so-called “Venus figurines” from the Gravettian period have been found, so there may have been a shared cultural tradition. “All place an emphasis on sexual attributes and lack emphasis on the legs, arms, face and head, made all the more noticeable in this case (the Venus of Hohle Fels) because a carefully carved, polished ring -- suggesting that the figurine was once suspended as a pendant -- exists in place of a head,” Conard said.
The abstract female vulvas depicted at Abri Castanet appear to follow that style. It remains unclear if men or women created the depictions or if they were used for ritualistic purposes. White concluded, “The discovery, in concert with the rich records of approximately the same time period from southern Germany, northern Italy, and southeastern France, raises anew the question of the evolutionary and adaptive significance of graphic representation and its role in the successful dispersal of modern human populations out of Africa into Western Eurasia and beyond.”
Last edited by Ishtar Babilu Dingir; May 15th, 2012 at 08:27 AM.
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May 15th, 2012, 11:12 AM
I am not sure I should say this ,BUT having spent a lot of my early working life in a workshop, where the walls were adorned with pictures of Ladies, are we looking at early religious art or early porn,
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May 15th, 2012, 11:25 AM
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May 15th, 2012, 01:34 PM
not at all LOL, but maybe that was the art form of the day , I was just thinking about a load of guys joking around ,
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May 16th, 2012, 10:07 AM
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June 8th, 2012, 06:23 PM
Chauvet and Abri Castanet presents a Creatrix-of-Animals archetype
Dear Ishtar, Randall White's Abri Castanet article is basically a paper on dating of Aurignacian art. It proves that the typical Aurignacian art motifs, widespread vulvar images, cupules, zoomorphic imagery, various female and male hybrid imagery, including bison/man, bison/woman, and lion-man begins in the earliest level of the Classic Aurignacian. There are even earlier Upper Paleolithic (and presumably Homo sapiens sapiens) cultures in Europe (called 'Initial Upper Paleolithic' and 'Proto-Aurignacian' which begin almost 50,000 years ago. Classic Aurignacian tribes arrived in Europe from somewhere in Transcaucasus/South Asia after the Campanian Italy volcanic eruption covered much of Europe and Middle East with ash at 40,000 years ago. They have a distinctive fossil U2-mtDNA at Kostenki. In the present day U2-mtDNA highest frequencies are found on the Iranian plateau. Based on high frequencies of U2 subclades in South Asia, I suggest with respect to the language Classic Aurignacians spoke, it is an ancestral form of Dravidian. So if you want a present-day sense of how Aurignacian culture survives, one can visit South India and look at its art. These are extraordinarily productive artists then as now and still with a strongly divine female component.
Turning to the art, I post the main figure from White's article.
White Abri Castanet fig4 2012 148k 2.jpg
This engraved stone is not so great an example of the art, but one can see the so-called 'vulvar' image on the original and images B and D.
First off it is a circle. This means it is a symbolic metaphor and not a literal sign (like pornography is). The best intepretation of the symbol I think is Marija Gimbutas' poetic translation of them as 'seed-vulva-wombs'. This meaning continues through Magdalenian geometric signs into Neolithic figurines of Europe. Second something enters or leaves the circle. So it is a symbol of simultaneously intercourse (itself literal and metaphorical), conception (which was the most important motif in shamanic cultures of Siberia and also in Australian aboriginal religion, which by the way is also full of vulva-womb engravings and cupules), and childbirthing or birthgiving. Third, White's team observes a zoomorphic figure adjacent to the 'seed-vulva-womb' symbol. It is very vague; they suggest a bison head. The two clearly belong together. So on the concrete everyday level the symbols are part of a shamanic animal-increase ritual, which by Siberian parallel probably involved the shaman journeying to Upper World and/or Lower World to retrieve the spirit of the Bison, so that bison calves are conceived in the spring. On the spiritual level they would pertain to a shamanic and artistic symbolization of the creative process of conceptualizing and giving birth to art and other creative productions. Fourth, about 30cm from these two figurations is an 'anneau'. This is where the artist gouged deep in the rock to perforate it making a ring -- and as its on the ceiling, this is IMHO for suspending some sort of pendant, figurine, or other paraphrenalia as part of the ritual.
In the earlier excavation of this rock shelter Peyrony found hundreds of shell beads, a facsimile of a red deer canine tooth made out of mammoth ivory, and 4 more engraved limestone blocks. 1 has vulvar symbols, 1 a phallus, 1 a painting in red and black pigments too vague to identify, and a triangular stone with vulva and cupules. There were also lots of Aurignacian stone and bone tools.
White et al Fig. S2 2012 136k 2.jpg
In the White article it is suggested because of all the tools it was a habitation site, implying it was not a religious ritual site. It is not necessary to conceptually separate the two. On an archaeological expedition to the Australian outback we camped with elder's permission at an Aboriginal rock shelter that was still being used. Typically the shelters are tribal band homes and 'origin source of one's ancestors'. This particular site had sacred rock art paintings, a bark burial in a niche, and at same time it was a campsite where, if not cleaned up, would show a lot of habitation debris.
Finally, if we compare this and other Aurignacian stone engravings to paintings in Chauvet the same basic theme occurs at Chauvent and repeatedly. The gave has a dozen or so chambers and in each are one or more panel compositions with the identical pattern: predators (lion, bear) and prey (rhino, horse, bison, etc.) emerging from a cave wall recess symbolic of vulva-spring-water source. In the deepest chamber, filmed in Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams, you see this pattern, and in that back chamber, the painting of the bison headed man/lion/and bison-vulva-woman. So almost exactly the same thematics as Abri Castanet.
Anyway, that's my take on Aurignacian art in Western Europe.
Last edited by Ishtar Babilu Dingir; June 9th, 2012 at 11:27 PM.
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June 8th, 2012, 06:58 PM
Thank you, Jim, for that immensely rich and learned post.
I'm very much in tune with Marija Gimbutas' point of view too.
You picked up on some themes that I come against all the time, the two main ones being
1. The importance of fertility rituals and practises to shamans at that time.
2. The modern misunderstanding, rife in current archaeology and anthropology, that sacred space has to be kept separate from living space, just because we do it that way today. As I'm sure you know, it is only relatively recently that the sacred has been given its own separate time and space (the Sabbath and the temple). Our earliest ancestors saw no separation between Spirit and their everyday lives which were inspired by, and permeated and intertwined by the sacred.
Some interesting thoughts too, about the peoples of the Aurignacian period being Proto-Dravidians... and which opens several cognitive cans of worms!
Thank you once again for an excellent post.
(Incidentally, I resized your photos to 500 pixels width, to make them more accessible.)
By the way, you mentioned the lion statuette... we had an interesting article recently about newly discovered fragments of it leading to the view that it may not be male, as originally thought, but possibly female, and possibly a female shaman. You can read it here: Is the Lion Man Statuette a Woman Shaman?
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