Modern Humans’ Earliest Artwork and Music: New European Discoveries

Modern Humans’ Earliest Artwork and Music: New European Discoveries


Professor Randy
White is a professor at New York University. He also holds
research affiliations at a number of
institutions in France. He’s directed
long-term excavations at a number of sites in France,
you’ll hear about shortly, I’m sure. But I want to point
out that his excavation methods, his techniques,
his ways of working really are at the sort of leading
edge of how we do archaeology in the field. He has been able to
share his results widely, with many appearances
on TV and film and radio and, of course,
his numerous publications. I’m going to highlight
two books in particular, my own very well-worn copies. One is Dark Caves,
Bright Visions, and the other is
Prehistoric Art– The Symbolic Journey
of Human Kind. And the reason I
highlight these is it’s a dirty little secret that if
you teach the art of ice age Europe, whether
you know it or not, you’ve probably pilfered
images from these books. They really are classics
in sort of the presentation of the things that
are out there. My own lectures
are full of them. But it’s not just
about presentation. What’s really been
transformative, really important about
Professor White’s work is that some of the things
that he works on, things we might call personal
ornaments, things like beads– decades ago, these
were things you’d find at the end of a
monograph called small finds. They were trivial. They were unimportant
things that were sort of an appendix,
quite literally, often. They’re now seen as really
central to understanding how people navigate
social worlds, how to deal with the
world around them from an archaeological
perspective. His work has really
revolutionized the ways we think about prehistoric art. On a personal note,
I want to also say that Randy has for several
years been a good friend, a colleague, and a mentor. My first tenure track job
was at New York University. And if any of you have been in
this position, your first year of a tenure track job,
you’re very delicate. You’re very prone to break
down, which I did quite often, and Randy was often
there to help me out. I really, really came to rely
on his advice, his wisdom, and our conversations. So it’s a very great pleasure to
welcome Professor Randy White. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Thank you, Christian, for
that lovely introduction. Thank you for the
invitation to come here, which I snapped up immediately. Because Hallam Movius was
such an important figure in my young professional years. He set the sort of gold standard
for excavation techniques. And it’s really
true that his legacy remains from a
scientific perspective, but also from a
personal perspective. So this was an imitation
that I could not turn down. The other invitation
I couldn’t turn down was my 10-year-old
daughter, who said, you have to put a picture
of me in the presentation because I just got
my citizenship. So I’m imposing that on you. [APPLAUSE] She’s a 10-year-old
French girl who was born in Sarlat, in the
Dordogne region of Southwestern France, and now has
dual citizenship, so she’s very happy about that. I have a few pictures in my
archive of Hallam Movius. This is one with the famous
French prehistorian Francois Bordes. This one was taken at a
site called Combe Grenal. And in the bottom
right here, you can see a top view of the
really quite massive excavation of Hallam Movius at Abri
Pataud in the Vezere Valley of Southwestern France. That excavation,
which was able to make use of the new science
of radiocarbon dating, really revolutionized
our knowledge of the chronology
and stratigraphy of the upper Paleolithic period,
the period of the Cro-Magnons in Southwestern France. This is the usual slide in which
I thank the hundreds of people who have given millions
of dollars to the research that we’ve been doing
in Southwestern France. But it really is true that in
20 or so years of excavation, we’ve really had to
rely on the generosity of a number of different
foundations and individuals. So whatever I’m able to
say that’s new tonight is a result of that kind
of generous support. What I’m going to talk
to you about tonight inserts itself into a larger set
of questions and debates today about the origins
of modern humans and their dispersal
out of Africa and into other
parts of the world, as far as Australia
and the Pacific. And when we talk about
art and symbolism, we use a lot of words. I don’t like the word
“art,” personally. I prefer to just talk broadly
in terms of representation or material representation. But art is a hook. Everybody’s got their
thing about art, and it gets a lot of
people in the room. So we find early in
the record, as early as a couple of
100,000 years ago, evidence for such
things as hematite and red ocher and
other such things. For example, here at Blombos
Cave on the Indian Ocean coast of South Africa, we
have some geometrically scratched or incised lines
on a piece of hematite. We have evidence that hematite
was being ground or scraped in some way. And we actually have from
almost 100,000 years ago some shells, marine
shells, bivalve shells, that were apparently used to
store or to process hematite. There’s a lot of debate
about the degree to which before 40,000 years ago, there
is evidence for something that we might call “art.” I think there is, partly
because my definition of art includes such things as
personal ornaments, body decorations, and the like. I think they are of kinds of
representations, often very profound representations,
of who people are socially. That record is becoming
more abundant from outside of Western Eurasia,
including, for example, here at Qafzeh in Israel a
set of shells, many of which have traces of red
coloring on them and some other ostrich egg
shell objects, probably parts of water gourds that
date to about 55,000 years ago from southern Africa. The earliest graphic
representation that people find credible
is this painted plaque, which fell from the ceiling
of a rock shelter, which the vast majority
of archaeologists date to about 30,000 years ago. There are some people who
think it’s much older. But for the moment, this
is the earliest painted, recognizable image, that
I’m aware of at least, from the African continent. My guess is that in
the years to come, as art becomes more
of the mainstream of paleolithic
archaeology in Africa, that we’ll find much
older examples of this. Why not? After all, beginning
200,000 years ago, Africa was peopled
by modern humans– what we call modern humans,
anatomically modern humans, if you like the term– who should be operating in
many ways like we’re operating. By 40,000 years ago, personal
ornaments in particular become a really
banal, routine part of the archaeological record. Everybody’s doing it. And so it’s worth asking
what it is about ornaments, what it is about pierced shells,
what it is about pierced teeth, for example. And I’ll be talking a little
bit of that in a second. I’m blowing through this early
sort of proto-art record, if you like, very quickly,
because this really isn’t the subject of my talk tonight. But it does constitute a
significant debate right now, and there is a really
serious attempt on the part of some
scholars and scientists to resurrect the
Neanderthals and to make them symbolic creatures, such
as the case here at Fumane in Italy, where we
have bird bones that are interpreted as having had
feathers removed from them. And the feathers are
interpreted as being used as personal ornaments. Most recently, published in
Science just two weeks ago, we have claims for 65,000
year old cave art in Spain. I am part of a group of
scientists, 24 of us who are about to co-sign of
paper in PNAS, refuting, we hope, these claims. And I’ll just give
you an idea of what such claims are based
on and why we need to be skeptical about them. We’re going to look at
two dates from this image that you can see here. It’s a rectangular grid-like
thing with some other rather difficult to
interpret shapes off of it. But the claim is that this
dates to 64,860 years ago by uranium thorium. And the date comes from a
dating of that little piece of calcite crust that
you can see there. The problem is that the
authors don’t tell you that the other side
of the same image, the other side of
the same rectangle, has a date of 3,090 BP. So there are some serious
problems with this uranium thorium calcite dating. And I think the
jury is out as far as the credibility of these
very early examples, claimed examples, of painted
images by Neanderthals. So I don’t want to take
that argument any farther. I’m going to tonight try to
show you a bunch of new material that you will never
have seen before from our own excavations. We’ve increased the sample of
art from the ordination culture from Western Europe. We’ve increased the
sample by almost 40% in the past 10 years. And you’ll be seeing some
new images in that regard. But I like to drag up this
old set of concepts about art. George Mills, he’s probably
been dead for 50 or 60 years. But in a paper way
back in 1957, he raised some interesting
issues about art and what its essential
qualities were. And anthropologists
have struggled with this for a long time. Anthropologists are very
critical of the notion of art. They see it as being
culturally situated, as not some sort of iconic,
universal phenomenon. But his approach at least gives
us a way of thinking about art, that its essential qualities
lie in its formal organization and/or in its
metaphorical potential. And you’ll see why
this is important as we move through
the lecture tonight. And for him, the
anthropological side of it was really mostly
about metaphor, even though Aristotle– it would be hard to describe
him as an ethnographer. But the idea that what
was metaphorical in art gave it its evocative potential. So just bear these kinds of
simple arguments in mind, and we’ll bring them to bear. So metaphor gives the art
its capacity to be evocative. Now, how the hell do you get
at metaphors 40,000 years ago? Well, I’m going to try to
convince you that we can. So this is it, art,
according to Mills. It’s simple-minded, and
we could spend decades– we have spent decades–
worrying about what art is and whether it’s
universal or not. But for him, art was
simply controlled, qualitative experience. So let’s keep that
definition simple. And we’re going to
apply that definition and find some
illustrations of it in a culture that’s
very widespread, all the way from the Atlantic
coast to the Iranian Plateau, a culture called
the Aurignacian. Hallam Movius knew
this culture well, because it constituted
the four levels at the base of the Abri Pataud. And we now know through a
much more refined radiocarbon dating methodology that
the Aurignacian exists for a long period of
time, from 43,000 years ago to approximately 30,000
years ago in real calendar years, or as close as
we can get to them. It covers a very vast
area of Western Eurasia. And the material that I’m
going to be focusing on tonight comes from France, from Germany,
from Italy, from Romania. And more and more
sites are now being found as cave art
research intensifies into Serbia and Croatia– now we have examples– and as far afield as China
when it comes down to it. So that’s not Aurignacian,
because the cultural area of the Aurignacian
is confined to what you can see on this map. But if you’ve been following
it all new discoveries as they’re being published
in the popular press or in the scientific press,
you know that there’s been a lot going on lately. In this area, around
40,000 years ago– we’ve produced several
new discoveries, which we’ll look more closely at. But sites in
southwestern Germany, which yielded small ivory
sculptures to research in the 1930s, have now under
new excavations, much better controlled excavations,
produced a whole new series of such objects in
well-dated contexts. If you’re in this
room, you’ve probably heard of the Grotte Chauvet. And what I would just like
you to know about the Grotte Chauvet is that it is the
same time period as the work that we’re doing in a
quite different region. So one of the things
we’ll be noting is that this early corpus
of graphic representation is already characterized
by regional variation, against the backdrop of
some quite similar kinds of approaches. But it’s already
structured regionally. What we’re going to be
looking at as examples of representation
or art here are personal adornment, some really
quite spectacular examples; instrumental music, some really
quite spectacular examples. And you’ll hear some of that. And graphic imagery and
composition, both engraved, painted, sculpted, et cetera. Virtually everything
I’m going to show you predates 35,000 years ago. And there’s virtually
none of it that even comes close to 30,000 years ago. And so it really does constitute
the first few millennia of, so far as we know
today, the existence of graphic representations that
seem to represent something about the real world. Let’s take a brief, rich look
at personal ornamentation. Because it’s with
the Aurignacian that we see something more than
pierced shells, for example. Personal ornamentation
ethnographically, and this is what got me
intrigued by it 30 years ago, is important because it
allows the construction and communication of a
variety of social and personal identities. Just look around the room. Look out on the street. What you where is who you
are, socially speaking. It communicates an
awful lot about you. It’s complex in
its construction. Pig’s teeth have certain
value to New Guineans that they don’t have for us. It’s a cultural
construction in a way that expresses and
communicates social identity. It also allows you to internally
differentiate within societies, so that within
our own community, people wear different
things that we interpret as a signal to us, without much
in the way of interpretation on our part. It’s a kind of
gestalt experience. And here we return to
the question of metaphor. It allows metaphorical linkages
between chosen raw materials and social persons. And I’ll illustrate more
about what I mean about that. How do we construct the
elements of that communication of social identity? So let’s move immediately
to the Aurignacian. This is the animal that the
Aurignacians of Western Central Europe ate the most. At Abri Castanet,
which you’ll see some images of in
a little while, 94% of all of our animal
bone comes from this animal, the reindeer– caribou as we call
it in North America. How many ornaments do you think
in the entire Aurignacian– I’ve studied in
my career probably 3,500 Aurignacian ornaments. How many do you suppose
come from bones or teeth of reindeer? Zero. That’s already an
interesting observation, that the consumed animal record
shows a different proportion to the animal
record that’s being used for expressive purposes. So what are Aurignacians, then– what animal parts are they using
in their ornamental expression? These are the animals, with
examples, real Aurignacian, dated Aurignacian
examples beside them. Foxes, wolves, hyenas,
large cats, frequently. Bears. And then at the lower end of
the range, aurochs, wild cattle, some bison, some
horses, and red deer, the red deer only
being represented by these vestigial
canine teeth that have this kind of
rounded, nubby appearance. And when they don’t have
them, the Aurignacians are making them out of
ivory, as you can see in the bottom of this screen. It brings us to a
question of facsimiles, which they’re doing a lot of. They’re making ornaments that
are replicas of real world things, like teeth or shells. They’re making them
in other materials, which is something really
quite new on the horizon. And humans. We now have seven sites
from Western Eurasia, where the Aurignacians are preparing,
by perforation or by incision around the root, human teeth,
mostly adult human teeth, but some kids as well. So it’s a funny choice. What they’re eating is
not what they’re wearing. Let’s just put it that way. And you can raise
the question as to whether their choice of teeth
is because of something to do with the form of the teeth,
or whether it has something to do with the animal that’s
metonymically or metaphorically represented by the
teeth, presuming that most people in
these populations would have been quite able
to distinguish a horse incisor from a red deer canine. In addition to that,
there are a number of worked objects,
formed objects that aren’t animal parts. This is a recently
discovered from in situ, well-dated
deposits at Isturitz. This is a pendant
that some people think is anthropomorphic. Some people think it’s
a replica of a tooth. Some people think it’s
none of the above. But it’s made in
a substance that has its own importance for
these ornamental assemblages– talc, or soapstone. Talc, or soapstone, has
a really important place in Aurignacian
ornamental assemblages. It’s never found anywhere
before the Aurignacian. It has absolutely no purpose
in Aurignacian assemblages functionally speaking. It doesn’t play a
technological role. And as we’ll see in a second,
it comes from really far away. The sites that we’re
excavating in Southern France, the people had to go 1,800
meters into the high Pyrenees, sometimes 400 to 500 kilometers
away, to obtain this material, the only interest of
which it would seem is not its color but
its soapy texture. Here’s another one. This isn’t the first
thing you would expect people to
be making ornaments out of 41,000 years ago– amber. These are the oldest amber
ornaments in the world. This is an amber pendant
from the very lowest proto-Aurignacian
levels at Isturitz. And something that
you might take to be amber from Kostienki
17 on the Russian plain, it’s a fossil belemnite. It’s the rostrum of a
fossil belemnite, which is a kind of squid
that dates to, I don’t know, 65
million years ago. People are mining
these fossil rostra and transforming them into
these really fantastic, lustrous beads that you would
easily mistake for amber. But the Aurignacians are
crazy about another material– ivory. Ivory finds its place
in the Aurignacian in virtually every assemblage of
ornaments and art that we find. In my particular area
of Southwestern France, it takes the form in the
ornamental assemblages of these tiny so-called
basket-shaped beads, which measure on average
six millimeters in length. They’re tiny. We have to develop really
specialized techniques of recovery when
we’re excavating to recover these things. It takes an inordinate
amount of time to do so. And you can see that
they have a quality that I’m going to insist on,
which is that they’re lustrous. Ivory is lustrous. Why are we interested in ivory? Why are elephants being
drawn to extinction? Part of it is that
we have this thing about the soft, sexy
texture of polished ivory. Ivory is not a very
interesting material if you don’t have the
technology to polish it. And what we know
in the Aurignacian and from the microscopic
examination of these beads is that they’re being
polished with hematite. They’re using metallic
abrasives to polish these things to a fine luster. The other material that
they’re making those out of is talc, which shares some
of the same qualities, the soapy, sexy texture,
once you’ve polished it. And you’re seeing
here an example of raw talc, which,
as I said, is not particularly interesting. They’re going into
the high Pyrenees. They’re walking right
past malachite, turquoise, all sorts of other
things in the Pyrenees, and they’re picking up this
crappy beige, green-looking stuff that they’re transforming
into those fancy little beads. And they’re moving that
material across the landscape several hundred kilometers. Amber’s fun. This is a slightly
later amber bead. This is 37,000 years ago. On this amber bead, the hole
is 1 and 1/2 millimeters. This is some of the
practically microscopic work that they’re involved in. Many of these things
are miniatures. Yes, there are shells
in these sites. The shells are coming from–
in the case of Southwestern France, the shells are
coming from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean
coast, up to 700 kilometers from where we’re finding them. And you can see
some examples here from Abri Castanet, our
excavations at Abri Castanet, from 37,000 years ago. When they don’t have shells,
they’re making fakes. And you can see
here that these are two of six ivory
facsimiles of shells from a site called La Souquette,
now well-dated to 37,000 years ago. So what’s the context
of all of this stuff? Here’s Abri Castanet. We’ve excavated there for
years and years and years. I’ve gotten old excavating
at Abri Castanet. But at the bottom of this
very rich Aurignacian level, we have this fantastic
set of fire features. And because we’ve excavated
so meticulously using total station
technology, recovering all of the beads,
et cetera, we now have 150,000 objects
from 25 square meters. And when you map all of that,
what you can begin to see is some really quite
interesting pattern. I don’t know if you can make a– why don’t I have a– I have a crazy mouse. There are a series
of fire features here, around which we have
these very dense concentrations of bone, stone,
mineral, et cetera. Now, as far as
ornaments are concerned, when we map the distributions
of ornaments and unfinished in the process of being
fabricated ornaments, we can begin to see very
interesting spatial patterning around these
fireplaces, including 1 and 1/2 square meters, in
which virtually all of the bead production debris in the
whole level is found. So pretty easy to
imagine someone sitting at the edge of this fire
feature, manufacturing ivory beads. So this is what I think. I think that the shared quality
of all of this is luster. Whether it be dental
enamel, whether it be talc, or soapstone,
whether it be ivory or whether it be
mother of pearl, the thing that they
seem to be choosing to manufacture ornaments of
are natural raw materials that are susceptible to luster. Mother of pearl, polished
ivory, soapstone, tooth enamel, et cetera. So the Aurignacians
are doing this. There’s virtually no
well-preserved Aurignacian site that doesn’t have
these kinds of examples of personal ornamentation. We’ve been working in
the Vezere Valley, where Hallam Movius worked
all of those years, at a number of sites– Castanet, Blanchard, Cellier. It’s an area that we refer
to as the classic zone, because it was
first excavated by, it was first researched by
people like Lartet and Christy back in the 1860s. A lot of the sites
have suffered badly, because they’ve been excavated
in the trial and error development of our
excavation techniques. So a lot of them have
suffered quite badly. But we’ve made it our
business to go back to a series of these
sites and to see if we could find remaining
deposits that would allow us to have a better
understanding of chronology and such matters. The earliest evidence
of Aurignacian engraving or graphic imagery
was discovered at the site of Fongal in the
Vezere Valley by Otto Hauser. Some of you may know a
little bit about Otto Hauser. He was a very
controversial figure at the beginning of the century,
before the First World War. And he was the first to have
claimed Aurignacian artwork of this nature. Much of that has been
dispersed, but most of it is still preserved in museums. Our return to the
field took place first in this little valley, the
Vallon du Castel-Merle, which if you know the region
is halfway between Les Eyzies and Montignac. And you have two
adjacent rock shelters, which together
yielded to research the beginning of
the century about 65 engraved limestone slabs,
engraved or painted limestone slabs. These include limestone slabs
with the famous female vulva on them. If you’ve read any of the
stuff about paleolithic vulva, that record comes from here. The initial record
comes from here. These sites were excavated
in 1909 and 1910, or 1910 and 1912, respectively. You can well imagine that
excavation techniques in those days were not
what they are today. And I’ve had the very
disagreeable experience of passing many,
many field seasons, walking on hundreds of stone
artifacts left in the back dirt by these early excavators. Because they made very severe
choices about what they kept. And for an archaeologist
who’s interested in context, it’s really depressing to
see what was destroyed. At Abri Castanet,
Peyrony excavated there from 1910 to 1912
and again in 1923. And we returned to the
site for 14 field seasons in another section of the
site, the southern section of the site, which is where
those fire features were found. But in the blurb
for this talk, there is some mention of back dirt. Well, the back dirt
contains lithics. But look what Peyrony
left in the back. This is us struggling
in Peyrony’s back dirt to move this large limestone
block, which has a bas relief sculpture of an aurochs
or a bison on it that dates to 37,000 years ago. So it wasn’t just lithics
that were being left behind, stone tools that were being
left behind in the back dirt. Peyrony left us a block that I
can’t even get my arms around, with an engraving and a hole
drilled in it from this very remote period. But in the sector
that we excavated, we were very interested
in understanding the context of these engraved
and sculpted limestone blocks. Were they freestanding blocks? Well, the one you
just saw, we think, was a freestanding block
on a living surface. But it has always been
suggested that most of these were blocks that had fallen
from the ceiling of the rock shelter. And what you’re looking at
here is a technical drawing of basically the collapsed
rock shelter of Abri Castanet. And that big block in
the middle, block K, took us two years
to get down through. But it is a block that’s
collapsed from the ceiling of the shelter. And we had to be
careful, because you don’t know what’s going to be on
the underside of these blocks. Too many of them have
been badly excavated, and we didn’t want to be one
of those culprits, if you like. So we excavated this
thing from the top down. We split it very carefully
into salami slices, using old medieval stone
wedging techniques. And, indeed, on
the underside of it were a series of
deep engravings that were in direct contact with
the archaeological layer. And we have 21 dates on
that archaeological layer that average 37,000 years ago. So this is the very first of
these blocks in this valley, this famous valley, that
we actually have a date on and a context for. We know that people are
living on this surface and they’re engraving
images over their heads. We also know from
geological reconstruction that the ceiling is two
meters from the floor, so it’s within arm’s reach of
people standing on the surface. Don’t want to bore you
with radiocarbon dates, but just know Abri
Castanet is probably the best dated
archaeological level in the Western
European paleolithic. Its sister site, Abri
Blanchard, yielded in 1910 and ’11 to this
guy, who was a hotel owner. That’s what goes on here. Hotel owners excavate sites. Local farmers excavate sites. They pay people to
excavate sites for them, and it explains the
very rich back dirt that we have to
struggle through. But Didon stumbled
on probably what is the richest Aurignacian
site in all of Eurasia, Abri Blanchard. And it yielded to him a whole
series of engraved blocks, of personal ornaments,
of pendants. If any of you know anything
about the Aurignacian, it’s very famous for
an antler object, known as a split-based point. Abri Blanchard has more
than 200 split-based points in only 50 square meters
of archaeological surface. So these sites are
major and important. The museums in France contain
some of these objects. Some of the objects, including
blocks, were dispersed, were sold. Some of the objects were
left in the back dirt, as we saw with
Peyrony’s example. They have been the subject of
a certain number of analyses. But even after all
these years, we had the pleasure of
discovering a Chauvet-like lion on one of these blocks
that have probably been studied 50 times by
archaeologists before us. But until we had
Chauvet as the model, nobody could see that
there was a lion there. But there it is, in a
level that Abri Blanchard dated to 38,000 years ago. But our goal, really, was
not to recover objects from the back dirt. It was to see if we could
find some dirt in place that might yield some of
these things in situ, so that we could actually get
dates and context on them. And so we excavated the northern
extremity of Abri Blanchard, that you can see here. And that big sort of round pile? That’s the first back dirt
pile of Didon’s excavations. So they dug a trench, and
they dumped all the sediment to the left. And then they
moved to the right, progressively to the right. And they left us about
seven square meters under the back dirt of
intact Aurignacian deposit, corresponding to this very
rich level of Abri Blanchard. So we excavated that
carefully over two seasons. And in the middle of that
quite concreted layer, we came down upon this
large slab, about 50 to 60 centimeters in each direction. It’s the only
discovery of its that’s actually– the discovery
which has actually been filmed in real time. We have film of the excavation
and the turning over of this thing. Because the top part of
it has nothing on it. But as I said before,
in these sites, you never know what you’re
going to find on the bottom. And what we found on
the bottom was this. In a layer that now
has very solid dates at 38,000 years ago,
the engraved surface is facing downward. It’s almost certainly a
piece of site furniture. It’s not a part of the
ceiling, so far as we can tell. The entire surface is
prepared by abrasion. We know from a very
careful analysis of the operational
chain that produced it that the first thing that
went onto that surface were the dots. These are drilled
dots, basically. And then the animal itself was
engraved around those dots. And then that big
hole in the middle was gouged in, and may well
be why the piece was broken, although the fact
that the piece seems to have been broken
in situ and it’s got the engraved face downward
raises another possibility. And that is that it
was broken by pressure after it had been there. Was it turned over purposely? We don’t know, but we have
evidence from the older excavations that eight
out of 10 of these blocks, 80% of these blocks, had their
engraved surfaces downward in the archaeological level. That is, when you
excavate these things, they’re not staring up at you. What’s represented
is an aurochs. And in the immediate vicinity,
we have a series of stone tools that have very heavy
damage on them, which is consistent with– I’ll just go one step forward– with what our experimental
work shows stone tools to show when you’ve used them
for a certain amount of time, doing this kind
of deep engraving. They tend to be very large,
thick blades, or even broken cores, that sort of
thing, used for this purpose. So we think we may actually
have the very tools that were used to produce
this thing, but that would be an awfully hard
thing to demonstrate. So that was a pretty interesting
piece of salvage research, and allowed us to know a lot
more about the chronology and the context of at
least one of those blocks from Abri Blanchard. Another site that
has contributed to questions surrounding the
origins of the graphic arts– and if any of you read any of
the papers by Whitney Davis, for example, on
the origins of art, you’ll know that you focus
is a lot of attention on so-called vulva, female
vulva, and other images, most of them coming from
the Vezere Valley. One of the key sites for
those is Abri Cellier, which yielded to an American
team from Beloit College, believe it or not,
in 1927, which yielded a whole series of
engraved and sculpted limestone blocks in a
rock-sheltered context. This is a view of the site
during our excavations of it. Like at Abri Blanchard,
we were hopeful that we would be able to
find some piece of the site that they had left behind. And, boy, they were really
rigorous about excavating. We were almost ready
to abandon ship, when we found about three
square meters at one end of the site that was
intact and corresponded to the stratigraphy as
they had reported it. But look at this. In the middle of this site,
they left a witness section. They were required by
the French government to leave this witness section. And you can see
against this witness section is a whole series
of blocks piled up. This is a photo on
one of the last days of excavation in 1927. And when we went back
to excavate in 2014, that pile of blocks, while
dispersed, was still there. And they had left them
there because, well, they couldn’t carry them
back to Beloit College. These things are cumbersome. Some of them weigh 200 kilos. They left them
there because they thought they might be candidates
to have something on them. They had recovered, I
think, 13 blocks that are in the Museum in Les Eyzies
And they left this pile behind. So we were more than
willing to– well, we also have some indications
of where some of their blocks came from. They showed us in
at least two cases. And you can see here
some of the blocks that they recovered,
many of them containing what are
interpreted as vulva. But there are also
some animal images. But what do our blocks contain? What does that pile of
blocks there contain? Oh my god, it’s just
a treasure trove of Aurignacian engraving that
they simply left on the site, including vulva. These are objects,
decorated objects, from their excavations. This is our cleaning up of
the site and the stratigraphy at one end of the site, which
contained one of these blocks still in place. And this is a very
boring slide, but it shows you the blocks from 1927
on the top and then the blocks that we have. We doubled the number of blocks
just through our work on-site. What’s on these blocks? Lots of things,
and nothing at all. The Aurignacian are
great for just giving you a line that goes nowhere, or
giving you a bunch of lines that are hard to interpret. Some people think this
might be anthropomorphic. But this adds to the
Abri Cellier corpus. What is it? Who knows? But it’s very purposeful,
and there it is. Several blocks with these gouged
hooks in them, some of which are clearly parts of
a collapsed ceiling. They seem to have been gouging
these things into the drip line. Peyrony thought that they were
dropping animal skins down from them to close off the
front of the shelter, which is as good a hypothesis
as I can think of. But, boy, they left
some lovely things. Maybe if we didn’t have
Chauvet in our heads, we wouldn’t know this
was a woolly mammoth. But, boy, is this
a woolly mammoth. And it’s on one of
these gouged blocks. Or how about this one? If you didn’t have
Chauvet, you might not think that they were
making images out of dots. But we’ve argued that this is a
very simple kind of pointillism in which animal forms
are being constructed out of individual points. Aurignacian are complicated, and
behind all of this simplicity is a complexity. At Chauvet, for example– some of you may
know this already, but this is a rhinoceros, a
pointillist rhinoceros that’s constructed out of dots. And if you look
carefully, you can see that there are fingerprints,
finger marks, and hand marks around these dots. That’s because each dot was
applied to the palm of the hand and then applied to the
wall to construct out of 106 separate dots
a woolly rhinoceros in pointillist fashion, 36,000
years ago in the Aurignacian. Sometimes you don’t know if
you can believe what you see. We think this is a woolly
mammoth, but lots of people would disagree with us. You might be able to
see an eye and a trunk. That’s what we think is
there, but sometimes they just leave you exasperated. This is perhaps a little
better view of it up here. A not so great horse. A not so great horse. But if you’re
counting 38,000 years, it’s a pretty great horse. And this is a block that we
found in situ in the deposits that they left behind for us. We don’t know what
the hell is on it. Maybe there’s a
horse in profile, but it’s got a whole series
of incised lines and gouges and markings on it. And then there’s
one painted block. I put this in for
Christian, because we talked about using DStretch
yesterday afternoon. And when you apply
DStretch to this, you can see there’s just a very
simple, very clear red line on one side of this block. So I’m not, as I said,
going to bother you with these boring pie
charts and things, except to say that we’ve
increased by almost half the number of blocks by
recovering them from back dirt, by recovering them from in
situ, by picking up the ones that they left behind
all those years ago. And so it’s really
changed the whole corpus. How does it change the corpus? Well, at Abri Cellier,
for example, there were no mammoths previously. So now we have a very
different species profile of the animals that
are being represented. So that seems to
us to be important, going back to this whole
idea that they’re not representing reindeer. They’re eating
reindeer like crazy, and they’re not representing. What are they representing? They’re representing mammoths,
horses, ibex, and mammoths. Did I say mammoths? I said mammoths. So this is just an
opportunity to see some of this crazy
Aurignacian iconography here that includes things like animal
paw prints, mostly felids, and some other animals
that are not in the diet, or very seldom in the diet,
including woolly rhinoceros. And what’s kind of funny is
that those animals, those themes show up across great distances. In one case, [INAUDIBLE]
in Romania and Fongal in the Vezere
Valley, for example. So there are
certain animals that seem to be part of a very
widespread set of ideas about what to represent. Switching geographic
areas now, we have a very different tradition
within the Aurignacian of sculpting small
ivory sculptures. None of these that
I’m going to show you is more than four
centimeters long. So they’re tiny. They’re lost in the palm of your
hand, which is why some of them ended up in the back dirt. This lovely woolly
mammoth was found in Nick Conard’s excavations
of the back dirt at Vogelherd. And, of course, this
one made the press seven or eight years
ago now, I guess, which is a female representation
from Hohle Fels, dated to approximately 40,000
years ago, in ivory. But perhaps the
most stunning aspect of this South German record– I think we have it in
Southern France as well, but nobody ever looked for it. We have fragments of
what I think are flutes. But in Germany, they’ve gone
back to the back dirt piles, and they’ve excavated some
of these things in situ. And they’ve found
wind instruments, flutes in particular. This is one that was
known from Southern France from excavations in
the ’20s and ’30s. It’s been replicated, and I have
a little bit of sound for you. I have this crazy
mouse that I made really big so you could
see it, and now it’s gotten out of control. This is the Isturitz. Forget the background music. [FLUTE PLAYING] This is actually being played
by a professional flutist. [FLUTE PLAYING] Surprising what four holes can
give you and a lot of talent. From the same level as this
so-called Venus of Hohle Fels is another flute,
found in close proximity. And there are now a
total of seven or eight, I think, from the
South German sites. The most spectacular
is probably this one from Geisenklostere, which is
fully sculpted out of ivory. How do you sculpt a
flute out of ivory? They sculpted a pencil-like
rod out of ivory. They split it down the
middle, and they gouged out the chamber in the middle. And then they glued the
thing back together again, with a whole series of little
incisions on the outside, which seem to be a means of
wrapping sinew or something around it to hold it together. These are some details of that. And I’m going to
play both of these. This fellow, unfortunately,
is no longer alive, but this is a reconstruction
of what that flute looked like. And if I can control this mouse,
[INAUDIBLE] what it sounds like. [FLUTE PLAYING] Sounds very German,
but he’s German. [FLUTE PLAYING] So when we think about
an Aurignacian camp site, we can think about kids playing
and screaming and laughing. And we can think about
the sounds of music. We don’t know what
the music was like, but we certainly know
what the sound quality is of the instruments were. It adds a whole new dimension to
our thinking about these 40,000 year old Europeans. I’m going to finish up
just in a couple of minutes with the work of someone
who you should really read, if you’re really interested
in the origins of art. The book has not yet been
translated into English. It’s called The
Prehistory of Cinema. And you might sort of
chuckle about that, but there’s really
nothing to chuckle about. Mark has, I think, demonstrated
at Chauvet and other places that what we’re looking
at in many instances is the beginning of animation. And nowhere is that better
illustrated than at Chauvet. I have a lot of slides,
and I could give you the whole tour of Chauvet,
with the whole narrative and all of that. I’m not going to do that. I’m just going to show you
some examples of animation. And we find this from the
Aurignacian, all the way through the end of the
upper Paleolithic sequence. This is the very
end of Chauvet Cave. You may recognize it. It has a lot of lines in it. You can see on the
left a rhinoceros. And let me give you just a
sense of Mark’s arguments about how Grotte
Chauvet is constructed. So at the end of the
cave, we have this panel. It’s a very complicated panel. There’s a hunting scene here
of lions hunting aurochs. And then on the far left, there
are lions in a hunting pose, in a, what do you call it,
stalking pose, these ones. The question is, what
are they stalking? Of course, in most cases,
we look at these panels, and we presume that somehow
the panel circumscribes what’s being represented. But Mark had the very
good idea of looking at the cave in a much more
three-dimensional manner. And what he thinks
they’re stalking is the rhinoceros
on the next panel back, that,
actually, Chauvet has to be viewed as a
three-dimensional construction, and that the
animals on one panel are in direct relationship
with the animals on the panel behind them. That’s a revelation. There are very few
places in Paleolithic art where anyone has made
that sort of argument or where we can see
that sort of thing. Remember, Chauvet is probably
the earliest painted cave we have in the entire upper
Paleolithic, the oldest dates going back to 37,000 years ago. So this is really
complicated representation for such an early moment. There’s one more example here. I sort of referred to it, but
it’s this one with the lions here, in a direct confrontation
with a herd of aurochs, hunting. And there are some really
quite savage scenes at Chauvet, where the lions are actually
consuming the aurochs. So not only is Chauvet
exceptional for what I just showed you, but it’s
also exceptional in that there does seem to be
a narrative that you can follow throughout the cave, which
is a narrative of lions in predation. So that forces us to think
in a more complicated way about these Aurignacians. I know I can show you
some other images here, but I think it’s
almost time to stop. Except that directly
adjacent to this panel is an image that some
of you will know, if you’ve followed
Chauvet at all, which is the hybrid woman
bison or woman aurochs. She’s on a stalagmite, directly
in front of that panel. But you have to go behind the
stalagmite, facing the panel, to see her. She’s got some relationship
to this hunting scene with aurochs and lions. But I guess, as
Hallam Movius would have said, we’ll
never know, as he was a great skeptic about
our ability to address these kinds of questions. But there are other ones with
horses and other such things. But let me blow
through this to– controlled,
qualitative experience turns out to be a
very complicated thing and is probably in some
sort of complex relationship with Aurignacian cosmology,
their relationship to the animal world, and
other difficult aspects of their lives and thoughts. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE]

Dereck Turner

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