Borneo rock art
Photograph by Carsten Peter
I'm really enjoying this month's issue of the National Geographic magazine, particularly the beautiful article 'Hands Across Time, Exploring the Rock Art of Borneo', also found on NG's website.
"Deep within the cliffside caves of eastern Borneo, 10,000-year-old paintings featuring the hands of the artists themselves may offer clues about ancient migrations." Thus begins an excerpt of the article, well worth reading. Then view the photo gallery.
The interactive image is magical and powerful. "Ghostly hands—many decorated with dots, dashes, and other patterns—reach out from the wall of Gua Tewet in the rain forest of eastern Borneo. Dated back to more than 10,000 years ago, the stenciled hands may suggest initiation or shamanistic rituals, perhaps related to prehistoric Aboriginal art in Australia. The French-Indonesian expedition team called hands connected by long curving lines, at right, a "tree of life." The design may symbolize ties that connect individuals, families, territories, or spirits to each other."
Luc-Henri Fage, the author of this story, wrote on the occasion of this, his ninth expedition: "I'd thought back to my first expedition here 17 years ago. A documentary filmmaker and magazine editor, I had set out on a 700-mile (1,100-kilometer) trek from one end of Kalimantan to the other with a few caving friends. Halfway across the island, taking shelter under a rock, we found ancient charcoal drawings on the ceiling. When I returned to France, I was surprised to learn that no such rock art had ever been reported in Kalimantan.
I returned in 1992 with Jean-Michel Chazine, a French archaeologist and specialist in Oceanian prehistory. Two years later we discovered prehistoric paintings in East Kalimantan. In 1995 Pindi Setiawan, an Indonesian anthropologist, joined our team, and together, year after year, we found dozens of caves with paintings throughout the region, some with unique designs hinting at a mysterious forgotten people." They have found about 1,500 hand prints in 30 caves.
And then there is their marvellous website Le Kalimanthrope, about past expeditions and amazing photos of exquisite prehistoric artwork. Most of it is in French, but the numerous pages of photos with almost 40 photos of Gua Tewet speak for themselves.
Adriel Heisey desert photos
After blogging about cuneiform last week, I happened to go its source, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia. I noticed this announcement: "FROM ABOVE: IMAGES OF A STORIED LAND,"Adriel Heisey's Aerial Photographs of the American Southwest Desert Offer a Unique Look at Ancient and Modern Landscapes. It looks like a fascinating exhibition, on until October 2, 2005, so if you are in Philadelphia...
"Chaco Canyon, Casas Grandes, and the Aztec Ruins National Monument are among the places photographed by Adriel Heisey, whose dramatic pictures are captured from a unique vantage point: his homebuilt, one-man, ultra-light airplane.[...] Heisey's photographs offer viewers an uncommon opportunity to explore the complicated, curious, and often breathtaking patterns that people have imposed on the land over the years. The ruins of living structures and ritual facilities, remnants of roads, dry rivers and canals, and images carved into desert gravels that are featured in these images carry a wealth of information about how past generations of humans have pursued their basic needs. They mark important transitions such as the move from the migratory life of the hunter/gatherer to the more sedentary village life of early farmers and traders. At the same time, there is a juxtaposition of modern elements – new homes, cars, highways, fences, power lines, and even footprints – that remind the viewer of the unceasing nature of change and the ongoing impact of human interaction with the earth."
Disappointed that the museum website only features one image, I've been doing a bit of virtual exploring to learn more about Adriel Heisey. There's an exhibition catalogue available, and National Geographic also has an article, photos and videos by Heisey on an earlier project, but not too many photos of this exhibition that I could find.
Inspired by the long list of sites photographed by Heisey, I went exploring and found many riches. Here are a few: Ancient Observatories: Chaco Canyon, Casas Grandes, which is also on the World Heritage List, and Aztec Ruins National Monument.
Una Vida petroglyphs - from Chaco Culture National Historical Park
The American Southwest is an area I've never been to, but has numerous fascinating natural and manmade features that I dream of visiting and photographing myself one day, now re-inspired by Heisey. Hmm, I wonder why most archaeological sites seem to be in hot, dry places? (I'm heat intolerant.)
Lascaux & Lakota
The Swan Winter Count
On a short lunch and rest break from final preparations for painting (rooms not canvas), I'm wandering through some favourite blogs. I'm really excited by these two posts about early man's art and its reproduction, and unique record keeping by a first nations people:
Lascaux at Ionarts. I'm also envious that Charles Downey has personally seen the Spotted Horses in the cave of Pech Merle.
This is my monogram in cuneiform the way an ancient Babylonian might have written it. See what yours looks like at Write Like a Babylonian. With my interest in petroglyphs and pictograms, I was fascinated to learn that "Pictograms, or drawings representing actual things, were the basis for cuneiform writing". Cuneiform was written on clay tablets, and then baked hard in a kiln; here's how to make your own, a fun project with the young ones in your life. Interesting historical stuff here too.
One can view many excellent images along with translations of the cuneiform collection of the Science Museum of Minnesota.
UPDATE: Blogisisko (in Finnish) has picked up this story, with another interesting link to a Finnish-Sumerian dictionary. Apparently in the ongoing research to find origins of Finnish language, some possible connections have been found to Sumerian.
Art in Nature
Doesn't this scene look very magical and surreal, with the strange almost man-made looking sculptural forms scattered about in the landscape?
Photo from the World Conservation Union (IUCN), via BBC
It is the desert floor of Wadi al-Hitan, or Whale Valley, south of Cairo, littered with fossils of the last whales known to have legs. The remains reveal the transition of whales from land-based to the ocean-going mammals we know today. It is one of eight areas of natural beauty that have been put on the World Heritage list by Unesco (do look at them all).
National Geographic also reports on this, stating that "Egypt's Wadi Al-Hitan ("whale valley") reveals one of the iconic transitions in the record of life". Have a look at this photo of a whale, and another at UNESCO World Heritage Centre where you can also visit all the sites around the world on their list. Check out how many are from your country.
Here's a small collections of links I've been saving to share for your reading pleasure:
3. Fab artist blogger Anna L. Conti's art-bloggers poster must have been a lot of work! Many have already linked to it, but if you missed it, go check it out!
4. And for the Friday night treat, here's a quiz! The result surprised me but that's rather close to Finnish, eh? Try it out. Via blogisisko (blogsister, in Finnish).
|Your Inner European is Swedish!|
Relaxed and peaceful.
You like to kick back and enjoy life.
writers and hoodoos
Hoodoos near Drumheller - photo by Marja-Leena
A few days ago I found Anita Konkka's fascinating writer's dairy. I quickly became absorbed reading the beautifully written entries, in a Finnish that I was able to understand and enjoy easily. (I've sometimes been frustrated not understanding today's slang used by many Finnish bloggers.) Anita Konkka is the author of many novels, essays, radio-plays, and a dream-book. Some of her novels address the question of Ingrian identity because of her father's roots (the Ingrian Finns are from around St. Petersburg). Other novels are richly informed by dream studies and diverse cultural mythologies. An English translation of "In the Fool's Paradise" is forthcoming (Dalkey Archive Press, 2006) which I will definitely look for in the North American market. I must try to get some of her Finnish books in the meantime! English readers will enjoy Anita's excerpts of her writings at her literary website.
Attracted by her interest in dreams, myths and culture, including that of Russia, I emailed her and was very pleasantly surprised to receive a nice reply. Anita expressed fascination for the hoodoos in my "Silent Messengers" prints and had several good questions, which I think might interest my regular readers too.
What are hoodoos? These are geological formations of weathered rock in columnar or pillar forms and sometimes with caps. The Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park website has a good explanation as does Wikipedia.
Do the hoodoos have native petroglyphs or pictographs? "For hundred of years, the Blackfoot people visited this valley and believed that this amazing place was sacred and the home of spirits. Although it is rare for rock art to be found on hoodoos, there are both pictographs and petroglyphs upon the sandstone cliffs along the Milk River" in Writing on Stone Provincial Park. This is why I am still planning to visit these sites.
Is "hoodoo" an aboriginal word? This question stumped me as I'd not seen anything about its etymology. Googling found another writer, this time Canadian Bill Casselman, a broadcaster and the author of many books on Canadian words, sayings and names. He wrote an interesting story behind the word "hoodoo" and how it has nothing to do with "voodoo" as others have claimed. Here's an excerpt: "American aboriginal peoples of the northwest picked up the word hoodoo from English-speaking fur trappers and, like them, used hoodoo to refer to any malignant creature or evil supernatural force. That's how it came to be applied to the curious columns of earth or rock. For they were thought to be evil in the mythologies of many first peoples. But, borrowing works in the other direction as well. For example, in Siksika (Blackfoot) mythology, the strange hoodooesque shapes were giants whom the Great Spirit had turned to stone because of their evil deeds. Deep in the night, the petrified giants could awaken and throw boulders down upon any humans passing nearby."
No wonder hoodoos are such an attraction to artists and writers! Thanks to new virtual friend, Anita, for the great questions!
badlands, hoodoos & petroglyphs
Hoodoos near Drumheller 1999 - photo by Marja-Leena
We have been planning a short driving holiday through the Rockies into southern Alberta, visiting friends along the way in BC and Red Deer, Alberta. Our ultimate destination, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is a place I've been wanting to visit for some time. I want to photograph the hoodoos and petroglyphs for my continuing Silent Messengers series.
On a visit to Red Deer in 1999, our good friends took us to see the Hoodoos and the Royal Tyrrell Museum near Drumheller. They were so inspiring that some of those images eventually went into a few of my Nexus series, such as Nexus II and again recently in the first three Silent Messengers.
Some time in the 70's we first drove through the Alberta "badlands" on the way to northern Saskatchewan, unfortunately in too much of a hurry to stop for photos, but that sight left a lasting impression. Much later, during Expo 86 in Vancouver, that memory was vividly revived by an outstanding Imax 3D film called "The Last Buffalo" by Stephen Low, set in those same badlands. It features the creation of a sculpture, so the artistic theme appealed too; I've seen it twice and recommend it highly.
In fact, Tom Montag and I had an email conversation a while ago about the Alberta hoodoos which he's visited "twice in this lifetime". Tom said: "I think the hoo-doos at Writing on Stone are more personal; they speak right to you. I think the hoo-doos at Drumheller are more impersonal; they'll talk to anyone.... if you get what I mean?" Having nothing else better to compare them to at the time, the Drumheller hoodoos still spoke very powerfully to me!
So, we have been looking forward to revisiting some of these unique areas as well as to our first visit to Writing-on-Stone. However, a week ago we heard from reports in news media and friends that there was flooding in this normally arid southern Alberta, and that the Park was closed due to washed out roads. Now we've learned that central areas of Alberta are experiencing severe flooding and travel is not advised. I feel empathy for the suffering Albertans, and very sad and disappointed that we've had to cancel our exciting trip. Hopefully we can make it later this summer - I really need to add to my image library!
I occasionally visit and explore PrimitiiviNet, an interesting website about archaeology and anthropology news, articles, books, and links to other related sites. It is written in a slightly disconcerting (to non-Finns) mix of English and Finnish by a Finn, Pekka Vaartela. What is unusual about the author, to me, is his personal interest in ancient spear throwers called Atlatl in Aztec or Woomera in Australia, having been introduced to it by an article "Atlatl - The Stone Age Kalashnikov" in New Scientist. Have a look at this photo of Vaartela practising spear throwing in this Finnish article. There's even a World Atlatl Association of members who study the weapon's mechanics, replicate them and practise using them.
Have a chuckle over the image below, from his site (creator unknown).
Journey of Mankind
"Who were our ancestors? From where did we originate? If we came out of Africa, what factors governed our routes? And when? Now finally this interactive map reveals an exciting journey of opportunity and survival, confirmed by genetic science and documented by ancient rock art."
The Bradshaw Foundation, in association with Stephen Oppenheimer, presents a virtual global journey of man over the last 160,000 years as the world was peopled.
Great stuff - lots to study and come back to often! I've mentioned the excellent Bradshaw site a few times in the past, regarding the rock art of South Africa and Australia , and concerning endangered art .
As readers know, I'm fascinated by rock art, so Tom Montag-The Middlewesterner's recent posts about a rock art conference that he is involved with really grabbed my attention. As media coordinator for the 2005 ESRARA Rock Art Conference in Wisconsin, Tom interviewed two participants. The first one with Jack Steinbring particularly interested me when I read that in the early part of his career he was founder and chair of the anthropology department at the University of Winnipeg. (As some readers know, my childhood and early adult years were spent in Winnipeg, and many happy holidays in the Whiteshell.)
Jack Steinbring describes in fascinating detail the finding and mapping (1966-1970), with a student of his, of the largest petroform site in North America at Tie Creek in Whiteshell Provincial Park. "It covers nine acres. It has seven interconnected features, one of them over a hundred feet long. One has a bird shape, one is a huge rectangle, there's a circle with a triangle in the middle, and a great elliptical shape. These were obviously placed there by man, not by natural agency." The term "petroform" was invented by that student who later became Dr. Peter Douglas Elias. These big features and images imagined from a perspective of altitude were already known in the American southwest and called "geo-glyphs." After many requests for protection of the site, it was fenced in and locked in 1978. I have never heard about this site or about petroforms until reading this, so it's exciting to me.
He also says, "the image present in the mind of the public is greatly conditioned by the cave art in Europe, which is spectacular, and more attention was directed toward it at the beginning of interest in ancient art. Now we call this "Euro-centric," meaning that judgments about rock art are conditioned by the rock art of Europe, when in fact rock art covers the globe. There are many areas around the world that have immensely greater concentrations of rock art than Europe – for instance, Australia, South Africa, and the southwestern United States." There's much more fascinating information, including about the Peachy petroform site near Rosendale, Wisconsin, which will be part of a field trip for the conference participants.
The second interview with Robert (Ernie) Boszhardt is also interesting, dealing mainly with Wisconsin's petroforms. He adds, "The problem is that there are not many rock art sites openly accessible to the public. That is because of the fear of vandalism to the sites, such as the spray-painting at Roche-a-Cri. Or at the Goschell site, where a person tried to saw a piece of rock art out of the rock face and destroyed a pristine site in the process. The dilemma is this: you want to let people see the rock art, so they become excited about it, and at the same time you want to protect the rock art. It takes only one vandal to destroy a site."
In fact it's also hard to find any images and information on the petroforms online, including Tie Creek petroform site in Manitoba. Manitoba Conservation's Parks page has a bit about Bannock Point Petroforms: "The Bannock Point Petroforms are figures laid out on bedrock in the forms of turtles, snakes and humans, and also in abstract patterns. Anishinabe and other First Nations people believe that they were left here long ago for the benefit of all people that might visit this site to receive their teachings and healing. There are no fixed interpretations of the figures. There are many levels of understanding, therefore, many ways to interpret the teachings."
The Petroforms of Manitoba provides more information with a few illustrations, such as "Teaching Places, Healing Places" on how the sites are still used as sacred places by the Anishinabe. Here's a definition of petroforms : "Petroforms are defined as features formed by the placement (not piling) of stones to create the outlines of figures or shapes. The stones or small boulders are arranged on bedrock outcrops in the shapes of snakes, turtles, humans and geometric forms. Archaeologists group petroforms with rock paintings or "pictographs" and refer to them as "rock art," although both are thought to have been made by Native people for religious purposes. It seems likely that petroforms were intentionally built in remote places so that whatever ceremonies were conducted there could be done privately."
Some illustrations here remind me of the Seidas of Northern Europe, the ones on fields or forest glens with the rocks laid out in formations, not the stacked rocks. Once again there is evidence of a world-wide similarity in the rock art works of earliest man.
One of the few interpretations given is of this illustration I lifted of a human effigy feature as an example of the theme of Immortality: "This feature has to do with a teaching or legend that has a meaning for all people. In the legend, one of the Anishinabe people asked Waynaboozhoo (who is both good and evil, both human and spirit) for everlasting life. This person wanted immortality, so Waynaboozhoo turned him into a rock. We must be careful what we wish for."
Found some links for Wisconsin rock art sites with photos:
Umrara has several links
prehistoric art and us
Wandering through some old book-marked articles, I came across a very interesting old one (2003) that seems very timely so soon after my Creswell Crags post. In Taking shape: Prehistoric art and us Victoria James discusses what prehistoric art and artifacts can tell us about the emergence of modern human behavior, centred on a book by Randall White, "Prehistoric Art: the Symbolic Journey of Humankind". There has been great controversy over when exactly early hominids were considered to be "human" in the modern sense, in their skills and behaviour.
As I understand it, some experts believed very early patterned and non-representational "art" did not qualify as the work of a modern human. I've always felt strongly that anything that was made by the hands of early humans showed they were indeed human, not animal, as well as displaying "modern" skills.
James writes,"Indeed, some of the most powerful evidence for human cognitive sophistication found in White's book lies not in the "artistic" quality of such objects as cave wall paintings, figurines or items of personal adornment, but in what such works reveal about the technological skill and complex organization of the societies that made them."
And, "A guesstimate that we have considered is that this process may have been completed as much as some 300,000 years ago. That may be the depth of the modern mind."
Creswell Crags cave art
An overdrawn photo of the stag engraving in Church Hole (Photo: Sergio Ripoll).
Found at Zinken, where it may be viewed much enlarged.
For over a year I've been reading with great interest about the rock art finds in the caves of Creswell Crags, a limestone gorge in Nottinghamshire, northern England. Further surveys revealed that one cave called Church Hole contains about 80 carvings of animals, dancing women, and geometric patterns, perhaps the most elaborate Ice Age cave-art ceiling ever discovered. The finding proved for the first time that early dwellers of this region were capable of producing artwork similar to that of their Paleolithic (early Stone Age) counterparts on continental Europe, and that cave art is spread across a much wider geographical area than originally thought. Now reports confirm their date as more than 12,800 years old - isn't that quite amazing?
And to me it proves again what sophisticated artists existed already so very long ago. One day I must go on that dreamt-about archaeological and art tour of the UK (and France and Spain and...) !
Here are several articles about this find but photos do not seem to be widely available yet. If any readers have found more, please let me know in the comments.
BBC, explore more links provided
Art Daily includes a photo
Creswell Crags homepage
Creswell Crags Virtual tour - I found it disappointing that the rock art itself is not shown.
Discovery News- more photos
National Geographic News August 18, 2004
Guardian April 15, 2004 article 'Dancing girls and the merry Magdalenian'
Thank you, everyone, for all the lovely get well wishes, I do appreciate them very much. A bad week was followed by another one, still battling bronchitis now with some antibiotics, but I think it can only get better now.
When I started the blog I said to myself I would not talk about politics, religion or health. Broke one out of three, in trying to explain my absence, but I'll try not to let it happen again.
Stone Pages Archaeo News is on my regular reading list. The article below piqued my interest and the wish to share it. It's copied in its entirety because their articles are not hyperlinked.
'Teaching British children archaeology
A Decade ago they would not have known what the word meant, but programmes such as Time Team have filled today's youngsters with enthusiasm. Wiltshire (England) children as young as five will soon be studying archaeology as part of their school curriculum - and the county's world-famous landmark, Stonehenge, will help them.
The Government says Key Stage 2 pupils can go back as far as the Egyptians to learn about history, and in Wiltshire many schools have decided to make use of the ancient treasures on their own doorstep. 22 teachers from around the county took part in a day-long session at Salisbury Museum and were given ideas on how to teach the wonders and mysteries of Stonehenge and archaeology in general. Children will also learn about the King and Prince of Stonehenge, who were laid to rest with their possessions, including fabulous gold earrings or hair clasps, 4,300 years ago. Their discovery near the stone circle at Boscombe Down three years ago was hailed as one of the most important finds of recent decades. Field trips to Salisbury and other Wiltshire museums are also likely, and children in other parts of the county may focus on sites nearer their schools, such as the Avebury circle.
Amanda Feather, Stonehenge World Heritage Site educational co-ordinator, said: "Children these days are knowledgeable about techniques they have seen on TV and very interested in the whole concept of uncovering the past. They like the idea of becoming detectives and trying to solve the mysteries of the past. Many of them want to be archaeologists." Last year a Stonehenge Scheme of Work was trialed at Amesbury primary school to support the teachers' use of Stonehenge in their lessons. Ms Feather said: "This year we are launching the initiative to support all schools in Wiltshire." Source: Western Daily Press (18 March 2005)'
I would love to be in these classes if I were a schoolchild again! Does it seem that there's a huge growth in archaeology and public interest in its findings? With education through schools, museums and through the internet, hopefully there will be more committment to preservation against vandalism and encroachment by developers. On the other hand, why do looters seem to have a very lucrative market?
Are you a bookmarker like me? When I come across some interesting web sites that I don't have time to read in depth at that moment, I'll save it into a temp folder. The list gets rather long, so now and then I go through a few of them. Some get saved into properly named folders, some discarded, and some are great to share, like this one - Becoming Human: Paleoanthropology, Evolution and Human Origins. It's a very well done interactive flash documentary that tells the story of our origins. There is even a section on Culture about our ancestors' great creativity, their rock paintings, engravings and sculpture.
So get a cup of tea, a comfortable chair, turn up the volume and enjoy! (or bookmark it for future reading, like me!) And sorry, I don't remember where I found it but thanks to whomever shared it, perhaps another bookmarker.
Australian rock art
Linden Langdon, a printmaker living in Tasmania, has chimed in with a lovely comment on last week's post Anniversary & Rocks. She writes: "I have put together a flash file of a few photos my mum has taken while she has been travelling in the outback (Australia), which I thought you may be interested in seeing. It is always so stunning to see such similarities and also diversity in such ancient art work - no internet to let each other know what they were doing!"
So over to her blog I went, as I do almost daily, to read about her family's interest in rocks and rock art (February 8, 2005) and Linden's kind mention of my blog. The Flash presentation of Outback Australian rock art is beautiful! Thank you, Linden, to both you and your mom for sharing, and for the compliments!
One of the very great pleasures of blogging for me are the interesting people who have written to me from around the world and shared their similar interests and sometimes their own research and photos, like Linden has today, and also Vyacheslav Mizin of St. Petersburg, Russia. The world has shrunk indeed.
I haven't really researched Australia's Rock Art yet, but here are a few links that I have bookmarked if you are interested. If any readers have suggestions and would like to share them, I can add them to the list.
The Bradshaw Foundation has been mentioned before for their excellent work around the world. Check out the "Bradshaw Paintings" for Australia's art.
Steve Lonker's page
Auranet, Australian Rock Art Research
anniversary & rocks
Well, today is this blog's first anniversary and what a wonderful ride it has been. Many thanks to all you faithful readers and commentors and the still growing numbers of visitors who have been and are still making this new adventure such a pleasure for me!
It's like receiving a birthday present to find an email this morning from artist and keen rock art researcher-explorer Loit Joekalda of Tallinn, Estonia. He writes that Finnish photographer Ismo Luukkonen has updated his web site of rock art photos taken in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Portugal.
Alas stenar, Kaseberga, Skana, Sweden by Ismo Luukkonen
Some of the navigating is a little confusing but this page gives additional direction. New pages include the Traces of the Ancients which "introduces the layered landscape of south-west Finland. In the cultural landscape of the 21st century lie also marks of the prehistoric ages." Especially wonderful are the photographs of standing stones in Sweden at Two Tours, one of which I have borrowed above. I'm amazed to learn that there are so many in Sweden. You may also enjoy his other subject matter as well, like the touches series.
Some long-time readers may remember that I wrote about Luukkonen's site last summer, and about Norway's petroglyphs with links to some Swedish and Danish ones as well. If you missed them, have a look!
Aztec Empire exhibit
Charles Downey has visited The Aztec Empire exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (lucky guy!). I highly recommend you read his excellent review if you are interested in the Aztec culture as I am. As he says "For someone who has not yet visited any of the great Mesoamerican sites...", I'm pleased to see some of these works online, and I envy New Yorkers and visitors who get to see the real thing!
"Catalogue # 17, fragment of an anthropomorphic brazier, Aztec, fired clay and pigment, 18 by 22 by 9 centimeters, circa 1300 A. D., Museo Universitario de Ciencas y Arte, UNAM, Mexico City." Note how immense in scale it seems, yet it is actually quite small, less than life size.
Amongst the additional links that Charles Downey always provides is Michele Leight's essay for The City Review, from which I captured the above image which is my favourite, (like Downey's'). Here's an interesting quote to perk your interest:
"The show at the Guggenheim is biased towards the most pleasing aspects of Aztec civilization and it is noticeable that there are far fewer sacrificial daggers and references to human sacrifice in the Guggenheim exhibit than there were at Burlington House; gory as it seemed back then in the tender teenage years, the daggers got and maintained my attention for life, so my only criticism of this show would be the down-playing of the ritual violence that was ever-present in the lives of this particular ruling elite.
The young, who are wise and fooled by nothing, are fascinated by the less tolerant human tendencies in any given culture, and it would not have hurt this show to include more of that aspect of the Aztec ruling class.
As the young know from playground politics and the history books they are required to read throughout their schooling, all cultures have a violent artery, or less than perfect underbelly - not the least of which being the British who used hanging, drawing and quartering well into the 18th century to punish wrong doers and to entertain the crowds who flocked to these barbaric rituals as we might now go to the theatre or rock concerts - this was a good three hundred years after the Aztec empire. I studied the Tudors in depth - and therefore mentally endured many beheadings and gruesome executions - so I have no illusions. To my knowledge the Aztecs never beheaded a queen in public.
It was only recently that the electric chair was put aside as being an unnecessarily barbaric means of ending a convict's life - but art, in the form of Andy Warhol's lurid silkscreen images, reminded us of the barbarism inherent in our own civilization, as did those gruesome, jade handled daggers at The Museum of Mankind. They instantly connected my childhood sensibilities with the relentless obsession of all civilizations with death, ritual and punishment. So before anyone gets on their high horse about human sacrifice - which the Aztecs practiced to appease the gods, not as a punishment - check the history books."
Here's an interesting tidbit about Stonehenge found in today's Arts Journal: Daily Arts News: 'Stonehenge Under Attack (For 150 Years) - Debate is roaring over a plan to redo the Stonehenge site to accomodate tourists. But photographs over the past 150 years show that successive generations have meddled with the site trying to make it more "user friendly".'
This refers to an article in Guardian: Hundreds of photographs dating back 150 years show how the site has developed in new book: Stonehenge, A History in Photographs by Julian Richards. It is fascinating and appalling how much tourism has impacted on the site even so long ago.
I'd like to see these photos! And the numerous related links in this article will keep me busy. This is timely since a recent mention of Stonehenge in an article about endangered art.
There are lots of news breaking stories of new archaeological discoveries around the world, especially in newly "opened" countries like Bulgaria and China, as evidenced on Stone Pages and Zinken for example. Even in the British Isles, which seem to be one giant archaeological site, finds are still being unearthed. These are always heralded as important treasures to be studied and protected.
Then why are we reading about long-existing and well-known sites like Stonehenge and Tara Hill, Ireland being threatened by freeways? Global outrage is mentioned, but it seems to me it isn't loud enough.
Then there is the wear and tear and vandalism of unprotected sites, like in Africa. Restoration of the temples in Malta has become a commendable governmental initiative, but why not include those on the island of Gozo?
War-torn nations like Iraq suffer looting of treasures that are turning up in wealthier (and greedy?) Western countries seemingly eager to accept the spoils. I could go on, but I'm getting depressed.
Have a look at Bradshaw Foundation's gorgeous photos of African art and the temples of Malta, and feel the awe and then the outrage.
Norway's rock drawings
It has been a little while since I visited Arkeo.net, a Finnish (no English) archaeological web portal written by Marjukka Mäkelä. It is a wonderful resource on the activities and research mainly into Finnish and some Russian and Scandinavian archaeology. The latest news points to a great photo site on Norway's Rock drawings. Just look at those fabulous details of wonderful Viking-like ships! The text is in Norwegian only, which I can't read, but there are numerous interesting photos. There are further links to images to explore at the bottom of the page for Denmark and Sweden, like the Tanum site, and still more in Norway. Enjoy!
Rock Art: Siberia and Alps
Erkki Luoma-aho presents his photographs of petroglyphs at Siberia's Tom and Jenisei Rivers and at Valcamonica in the Italian Alps, taken during his travels in 2000 and 2001. The site is in Finnish, but it consists mostly of photos.
An interesting point that he makes is that in Scandinavia many of the petroglyphs were painted originally to bring out the details, but these have weathered and worn off with time. Luoma-aho has also "painted" these images, digitally of course, to bring up the details. To view, begin at the list and click at a link. Click on the image so you can compare it with and without the digital enhancement - notice how some of these are barely discernible. (Under the image are three red icons for navigation: the left hunter takes you back one image, the center one back to the list, and the right one forward to the next photo.)
Petra, Jordan has long been on my dream wish list of places I'd love to visit and use in my artwork.
Now Art Daily reports that the Cincinnati Art Museum will feature Petra: Lost City of Stone, the most comprehensive exhibition ever presented on the ancient city of Petra and its creators, the Nabataeans. I like it when museums have a website like this: a QuickTime tour of Petra and lots of interesting information to browse through, though short on photos of the collection...makes up for not being able to visit in person, doesn't it? Check the FAQ's to find out how come the Museum has so much work by the Nabataeans, and learn that Petra is a Greek word that literally means �rock�.
National Geographic magazine had a wonderful article on Petra in their December 1998 issue, and some of those photos can be seen on their site.
rock art photography
Have you seen my earlier posts on the rock art of Utah, the US Southwest, and their damage by acts of vandalism? If you looked at the links to some of these already beautiful photos, you will see that Briot's are exceptionally brilliant in comparison. I think that they have been digitally enhanced to bring out the details and colours of these ancient works. The whole site is wonderfully inspiring - enjoy exploring it! (Thanks, Mark!)
Art Daily is back
Flying stones of Lapland
I have been having an interesting email correspondence with Vyacheslav Mizin, a Russian in St. Petersburg who found my site and wrote to me about his interests and research into Arctic stone cultures. His research trips around the St. Petersburg region, Murmansk region and Karelia are the subject of a report he is preparing for the Russian Geographical Society in St. Petersburg and for a book he is writing. Vyacheslav sees many parallels between the northern European Saami and Canada's Inuit and hopes to put together a website on this.
He has kindly allowed me to share some of his writing and photos here in the hope that these Russian Arctic megaliths will be of interest outside Russia. ( By his request, I have edited the English, but only minimally and I hope correctly.)
"Flying stones of Lapland": Northern megaliths of Russian Arctic Region.
In the Karelia and the Murmansk region of north-west Russia are many ancient places of power with sacred stones from pre-historic ages. The Saami (Lapps), who are the most ancient Finno-Ugric people of northern Europe, named these stones "seidas". Their weight can be up to 20 tons, some lie singly, some are in complexes of hundreds of stones. One of the riddles concerning seidas is their similarity with dolmens of Western Europe, Canada and Korea. If these stones were not in the Arctic but instead in England, they would be named dolmens. Near seidas there are often other megalithic forms - stone circles, stone heaps, square "altars".
In Russia the known seida complexes are on Mount Vottovaara, in the national park of Paanajarvi in the Kuzova Islands in the White Sea. On the mountain seidas were put on other rocks, on marked tracks and in water, and in some places are in lines and circles. Some are located among contorted dead trees and this place is a "place of power", the centre of an ancient earthquake and with a bad reputation.
Lapland has legends that seidas could fly - that has given it the second name Laplandia - "country of a flying stone". Another Saami legend is when the spirit departs from a stone, the stone shatters.
Photos by Vyacheslav Mizin:
left: Note the delicate balance where the top stone actually keeps the lower ones from falling.
centre: A plateau of seidas in the hundreds in the Murmansk region
right: This Vottovaara seida weighs more than 10 tons.
left: UFO-like seida in the Murmansk region
centre: Vottovaara trees, a Karelian place of power
right: Line of seidas in the Karelian woods on Vottovaara
I also have thought about these connections between the seidas of the Sami in NW Russia & Finland and the inuksuit in northern Canada. I was surprised that Korea was mentioned so he has provided this Korean site. The expression "places of power" seems to be common in discussions of the sacred rock art of the north!
(thanks Erika for helping me with the photo placement! )
Rock Art defaced
News from�Stone Pages: �Rare Rock Art defaced in Utah
Utah archeologists are fuming with the discovery that ancient art has been vandalized. The Buckhorn Pictograph in Emery County (U.S.A.) has been defaced with charcoal and chalk. The Bureau of Land Management is already putting up a $1,000 reward for information on suspects, and plans to try and remove the vandalism this weekend.
� � �The Buckhorm panel is believed to be anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 years old; the rock art was created by Native Americans in the San Rafael Swell. Now the art has been defaced, someone has written with chalk, "I love you Wendy" it stretches nearly six feet long. In another area someone has used charcoal to inscribe the name Sherrie next to another pictograph.
� � �The rock art is some of the most accessible site for the public to see and is very rare. The vandalism is extremely disappointing for land managers. This site was recently cleared of vandalism in 1995 during a project to restore the rock art. Now the same rock art conservator, Constance Silver is being flown in from New York City this weekend so she can attempt to remove the vandalism without ruining the rock art. The BLM is asking for help in finding who is responsible and is offering that $1,000 reward.
Source: KSL News (4 August 2004)
This kind of news makes me very sad and angry. Such vandals should be hung by their toes!
Inuit Places of Power
This is a beautiful and moving site that I came across yesterday in my web research on the art of Canada's Northern people: The Canadian Museum of Civilization exhibition Places of Power, Objects of Veneration in the Canadian Arctic.
This online version is a selection of the 36 photographs taken by Norman Hallendy, "showing extraordinary places and objects in the Canadian Arctic revealed to him by Inuit elders. The images celebrate 'unganaqtuq nuna', the Inuit expression meaning 'a deep and total attachment to the land.' These incredible sites were revered for countless generations by the Inuit -- the Arctic's first known inhabitants."
From the introduction: "These places are numerous and varied, and include 'inuksuit', the stone structures of varied shape and size erected by Inuit for many purposes. The term 'inuksuk' (the singular of inuksuit) means 'to act in the capacity of a human.' It is an extension of 'inuk', human being. In addition to their earthly functions, certain inuksuk-like figures had spiritual connotations, and were objects of veneration, often marking the threshold of the spiritual landscape of the 'Inummariit', which means 'the people who knew how to survive on the land living in a traditional way.' "
Enjoy and admire the photographs.
Addendum: Some time later I found this beautiful book:
Inuksuit: Silent Messengers of the Arctic by Norman Hallendy.
Southwestern US Rock Art
A few days ago I wrote about the endangered rock art of Nine Mile Canyon in Utah. One of the links for sites of images was that of Doak Heyser. While browsing elsewhere, I found a link to Heyser's Southwestern US Rock Art Gallery, which includes the Nine Mile photos. I also found John Campbell's Petroglyphs & Rock Paintings. These impressive galleries of numerous high quality photographs of some of the most beautiful artworks on rock have left me enthralled and awed and wanting to share them with readers - enjoy!
Nine Mile Canyon, Utah
News from Stone Pages (July 24.04): "Court backs natural gas probe of Utah's Nine Mile Canyon"
"A federal judge gave the go-ahead Wednesday for a company to search for natural gas near Utah's Nine Mile Canyon, renowned for its ancient rock art, ruling that the work would not threaten the ancient etchings. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan dismissed the challenge by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance to the exploration plans in redrock slot canyons adjacent to Nine Mile Canyon, saying it failed to prove that damage would be done by the gas work.
� � �Seismic exploration, using sound waves to penetrate the earth and search for gas deposits, is already under way in portions of the 57,000-acre project area. If the tests show a likelihood of gas in the area, then the company will file the necessary paperwork to develop the gas reserves. Diane Orr, a Salt Lake City photographer who has climbed and hiked Nine Mile Canyon photographing the rock art panels, said she already can see the difference in the area from the traffic that the exploration has spawned.
� � �In May, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Nine Mile Canyon area one of its most endangered places in the country because of the proposed gas development. The Bureau of Land Management says Nine Mile Canyon has more than 10,000 American Indian images etched into the canyon walls, making it the richest collection of rock paintings in the nation. Source: Salt Lake Tribune (22 July 2004)"
The National Trust site, which has some images of the petroglyphs, states "National Trust named Nine Mile Canyon one of America's 11 most endangered historic places...Located in a remote part of Utah, Nine Mile Canyon is often called 'the world�s longest art gallery' as it contains more than 10,000 images carved onto canyon walls by Native Americans". This area is actually 40 miles long. These petroglyphs and pictographs are attributed to the Archaic, Fremont and Ute people begun about 1700 years ago.
The Religion & Ethics Newsweekly has an interview about how "the drive for new energy development collides with the obligation to protect a sacred place".
Larry Sasputch, a spiritual leader of the Ute Indian tribe said:" They call it rock art, because that's all it is to them. It's just like looking at our dances and stuff, that's entertainment -- it's art, and that's as far as they carry it. They don't understand the symbolism. They don't understand the spirituality. All they understand is what they see.... It's really how native people think. Everything is connected to the Creator. This here is our church. These cliffs, they're as high as any cathedral. They're all natural. They're what God put here. All those other churches and cathedrals -- that's man-made. This is already here."
"Jerry Spangler is an archaeologist who has written a new roadside guide to the sacred sites of Nine Mile Canyon. Like others, he worries that the rumble from the seismic testing and the trucks and the dust will damage the carvings and drawings. He says,' I think the risk to Nine Mile is too great. [It] is unlike any other place I've ever read about, let alone known about. We know of approximately 1,000 sites in Nine Mile Canyon today. We think we have maybe 5 percent identified; that's absolutely amazing.' "
Colony of Avalon
This caught my eye today on CBC Arts News: "Funding problems plague ongoing Nfld. archeological dig."
"An ongoing excavation project in Newfoundland and Labrador continues to turn up some of the oldest artifacts ever discovered in North America, but the archeologists will have to cut their field season short this year by lack of funds. For more than a decade, an archeology team has been excavating the long-forgotten Colony of Avalon, the settlement founded in 1621... Over the years, the site has turned up more than a million artifacts... So far this summer, workers have uncovered some coins they believe could be the oldest money pieces ever manufactured in the New World and a gravestone, which may help archeologists find the descendants of the colonists."
Ignorant and curious, I googled and found the Colony of Avalon, an excellent and extensive website about this archeological site and museum. It includes a fascinating Virtual Walking Tour. I spent a pleasant hour exploring the site.
Karelia's Rock Art & History
Andrew Heninen is a Karelian (Finnish-Russian) programmer with a keen interest in the history of lost Finnish territories. Karelia (or Karjala in Finnish) is a territory which straddles the present-day border between Finland and Russia, and is home to the Karelian people, related to Finns. Heninen's site has numerous pages in English, Finnish and Russian about Karelian history that is like walking into a museum. These pages about the area's rock art fascinate me the most:
Karelian petroglyphs in drawings and photos
Another interesting note, when on the home page, if you click "refresh", the photos change. (Like my homepage, did you notice?)
In case you missed it, I wrote a related post some time ago called visiting Karelia.
Read about the sad history of the Many Karelias from which this quote:
"Karelia holds an important place in Finnish cultural history. The material for the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala and numerous other collections of folk poetry were gathered mainly in the northern parts of Finnish and Russian Karelia. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Karelia provided the inspiration for many of Finland's leading artists, composers and writers and played an important role in the 19th century national awakening and the development of a Finnish national identity."
Finnish Rock Paintings
"Finnish rock paintings are an unique link to the world of the Stone Age people. The paintings are made 6000- 3000 years ago in vertical rock surfaces. The nearby lake was an important waterway, These pages introduce some of the over 90 rock painting sites in Finland. The photographs are digitally retouched to make the paintings more visible. In nature they are much weaker."
This is the introduction to Ismo Luukkonen's extensive site of photographs of Finnish rock paintings with accompanying text in both Finnish and English. Ismo Luukkonen is an award winning photographer and teacher with a passionate interest in the ancient marks of Finland's early people.
Click on the place names in the left navigation area to view the many sites of the paintings. Read about their possible meaning, and how he digitally retouched his photographs to enhance the images, shown with lots of detail! A great site that has captured some of the spiritual feeling of these places!
(Ismo Luukkonen's site was updated in early 2005, so above links have been adjusted accordingly.)
the Sami and Siida
Part of my ongoing research into my Finnish ethnology has been learning more about the other groups in the Fenno-Ugrian family of people. The Sami (formerly called Lapps) of Northern Finland, Sweden, Norway and Northwest Russia are one group and they have a wonderful centre, Siida, located in Inari in Finnish Lapland.
Siida is the home of the Sami Museum and Northern Lapland Nature Centre, both a meeting place and an exhibition centre devoted to the Sami culture and the nature of the far north. It includes an open-air museum begun in 1960 and restored in 2000. There are many interesting pages to explore and learn, for example, that this is the oldest area in Northern Lapland inhabited by people and that some archaeological findings from the area are from 9,000 years ago. People have lived there as early as the prehistoric times, the Stone Age and the Early Metal Age, about 6,000 -2,000 years ago.
Like many indigenous people around the world, the Sami have been actively reviving their ancient culture and this centre offers many events celebrating it and others, for themselves and for visitors. One of this summer's visiting exhibitions is from Hokkaido: The Ainu and the World of Gods. (I happened to write about the Ainu a while ago.)
The Calendar Archive lists the rich variety of past events. Skolt Sami includes a digital slide show with narration about the wartime evacuation and settlement of this group of displaced peoples. The annual Skabmagovat Reflections of the Endless Night Festival in January 2004 is interesting - click on "Northern Lights Theatre" (left sidebar) which is made entirely of snow and lit with real candles. The coldest shows have taken place at -40C! Then click on "Animation" and see the Aurora.
More about the Sami.
Rock Art in Saskatchewan
I'm learning more about rock art in other parts of Canada. Here are reproductions and photos of aboriginal rock paintings or pictographs along the Saskatchewan portion of the Churchill River. These are taken from the book The Aboriginal Rock Paintings of the Churchill River by Tim E. H. Jones.
He writes: "At least 70 aboriginal rock painting sites are known in Saskatchewan north of the 55th parallel and perhaps two dozen more occur in northern Manitoba. The Churchill River, a major historic waterway, spans this northern area and possesses an important series of rock art sites.[...] From the evidence of Cree and Ojibwa Indian oral traditions, and early European explorers' writings, many of the paintings are known to be at least 200-300 years old, but archaeological cross-dating evidence from the Ural Mountains in the Soviet Union suggests that our paintings could be 3,500 years old or more. The Urals rock paintings occur in very similar geological and climatic circumstances to the northern Canadian ones."
There are some interesting links to explore here, such as how the reproductions were made, and how to find the sites by canoe (click on the "canoe route" numbers next to the pictograph illustrations).
More about Saskatchewan
South African Rock Art
Rock art of northern Europe is of great interest to me because of my roots, but unfortunately there are not many really good photo resources available online. So, when sorting through old bookmarks and coming across an article from a Finnish media site, YLE, about South African rock art, I became quite enthralled. This inspired me to dig further and find a wealth of beautiful material to study.
First, back to the article, which states that "South African rock art is said to be one of the most complicated rock arts in the world. The research into this sophisticated ancient art form is considered very important in the post-apartheid era. [...] South Africa is the cradle of humankind, the place where our very first ancestors lived. The oldest human skulls found in the area are more than two million years old. The oldest piece of art ever found on earth, a piece of ochre that was only found last year, is 77 thousand years old, says Dr. Benjamin Smith, the director of the Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa."
What is amazing when you view these images is how very sophisticated these works are. We have learned that "rock art tells a wholly different story than the old history books" written by white colonialists who wiped out the ancient local histories in South Africa ( and many other countries). Dr. Smith's view is that "archeology has a key role to play in making history relevant in South Africa".
"The rural areas are the poorest in South Africa. Sustainable rock art tourism could help the people living there. The South African government has given large sums of money to build the guided tour centers. The work is done by local people, using traditional building techniques. Showing people that rock art is not just culturally valuable, but can also provide living to those living in rural areas, is the best way to protect the ancient art of South Africa."
Here are a few more related links:
Bradshaw Foundation, a vast site with images and writings about Tanzania, Namibia, West Central Africa, Niger and many other countries in the world. I just found it today and will be busy poring over this resource!
Stonehenge & Manhattan
Here's a great link that I had bookmarked and forgotten about for a while: NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day. They are truly incredible images that I wish I could claim as my creations!
Stonehenge is very well known though I have never seen it in person, so this 360 degree view comes close, maybe even better since the site is now fenced in.
Going through some of my old bookmarked links, I came across a favourite saved sometime around the year 2000, The Karelian Journal. It is a fascinating real-life story about an international group that travels to the northwestern region of Russia called Karelia to attend a conference to save the beluga whales of the White Sea and see the best petroglyphs in Scandinavia. It also gives us a glimpse of life in this much-ignored region of Russia after perestroika.
The author is Jim Nollman, who was invited to join the expedition. He is "an American conceptual artist who works with themes pertaining to human/animal protocol, and a musician who has spent twenty years attempting to communicate with various whale species in the wild. [In 1997, he] staged a theatrical performance on the subject of shamanism in Helsinski, which was promoted by a poster displaying [ a] petroglyph."
Leader of the group is Rauno Lauhakangas, an engineer with Nokia and "a researcher at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics in CERN Switzerland. CERN is where the World Wide Web got started and Rauno was there at the inception". He started The Whalewatching Web, "which promotes the idea that wherever whalewatching flourishes, whaling must wither. Today, the site flourishes with tens of thousand of hits every day, and has helped instigate the growth of whalewatching around the world, especially in Japan, the Azores, and Spain... Rauno is also the president of the Finnish Society for Prehistoric Art, and an avid student of Northern European history which dates back several thousand years."
"Scandinavian bedrock is adorned in many places with petroglyphs, some dating before 5000 BC. The images run the gamut from moose, swans, whales, ships, astronomical motifs, men with giant hands, battle scenes, and depictions of village life so effusive in their detail that they could have inspired Breughel. No one can say for certain whether this art was created by Finno-Ugric people..., or by ancient Saamis (Lapplanders).... Some of the best petroglyph sites are found in Karelia, the Russian Republic that shares a long western border with Finland....Much of the oral folklore upon which the Finnish epic poem, The Kalevala, is based was actually collected in Karelia."
Because of this Rauno Lauhakangas "organized an international conference on petroglyphs in collaboration with the Russian Academy of Sciences. A secondary reason for organizing the conference relates to his compassion for whales. One of the best known Karelian petroglyph sites on the White Sea displays several reliefs that depict human beings interacting with cetaceans. Many scholars believe they are the oldest pictures of whales found anywhere in the world. The fact that belugas still reside in the White Sea, suggests to Rauno that whalewatching tied to a program of petroglyph interpretation could provide the spark to ignite Karelian tourism. Because Russia was one of the world�s most active whaling nations until ten years ago, the current economic pessimism could easily entice them to start it up again, perhaps focusing on coastal species like belugas. But if whalewatching is established on the White Sea, it will obviate the resurrection of whaling, while contributing one more building block to the edifice of Karelian self-sufficiency."
"Two of our traveling companions in the backseat are Estonians, Vaino Poikalainen (president of Estonian Prehistoric Society) and Loit Joekalda, author and designer of the first book in English on the subject of Karelian petroglyphs." Other participants include "Juhani Gronhagen, a Finnish archeologist who conveys the most uplifting story of the day�s long journey. Frustrated by the illegibility of ancient paintings found at a lakeside dig, Juhani brought in two Finno-Ugric tribespeople from Siberia to help interpret."
Nollman writes that the region "is the worst of the Third World. The town is falling down before my eyes, as if years have passed since anyone bothered to change a street lamp, repair a window, or pick up the trash."
There's a great deal of interesting reading here, full of interesting connections.
This story is very personally meaningful for me for two reasons. The first is known to regular readers of this blog concerning my interest in my Finnish ethnicity and the ancient rock art of northern Europe. The second is about synchronicity again. My research into this area started around 1999 - 2000. In 2002, in conjunction with an exhibition in Finland with two colleagues, we made a trip a trip to Tallinn, Estonia, where we met Loit Joekalda and saw his work about the Karelian petroglyphs. It wasn't until later back at home, rereading this web page that I made the connection, not having remembered Loit's name in the article!! One day I hope to go and see these sites for myself.
Columbia River petroglyphs
As regular readers of this blog know, I have a special, sometimes passionate interest in the rock art and petroglyphs of ancient people, particularly of Northern Europe and the northwest region of North America. So, this comes as good news regarding the recognition and preservation of these culturally significant works, from the Stone Pages.
"Exhibit of Native American petroglyphs opens
A new exhibit of Native American petroglyphs opened quietly this spring in the Columbia River Gorge, which marks the border between the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington. The region once held one of the richest deposits of tribal rock imagery in the world. But hundreds of the petroglyphs were submerged under water in the 1950s, when the federal government dammed the river. Some of the petroglyphs were rescued before the flooding, and now federal officials are trying to make amends.
[There are] 43 chunks of rock, covered with Native American figures chiseled in the former cliff face hundreds if not thousands of years ago [...] Each rock image holds spiritual significance to northwest tribes. There are stick figures of deer and elk, swirling lizards, and haunting owls.[...] they've been moved and delicately cleaned and restored. [...] centuries after their creation, the petroglyphs remain enormously significant to northwest tribes.
[...] the 200th anniversary of the explorations of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark will bring thousands of tourists through the Columbia River Gorge. [...] the petroglyphs [are] a one of a kind opportunity for them to learn about northwest tribes."
Read more at VOA
The Columbia Hills State Park site (not yet updated for this announcement)
"One hundred thousand years ago, our ancestors walked out of their African homeland to explore and settle the rest of the world. The paths they chose were to lead them to all corners of the earth. While some tribes turned left into Europe, others turned right into Asia. It was not long before the descendants of those who turned left ran into the uncrossable barrier of the Atlantic Ocean.
The descendants of those who turned right found a larger world at their feet. The path led them across Asia and to the narrow Bering Strait - the gateway to North America. When these people set foot on the island of Newfoundland 5,000 years ago, they could not have known that they stood on the other side of the Atlantic barrier.
It would be the Vikings who would close the circle. Driven by ambition and a need to find new lands, they ventured farther and farther from mainland Europe in sturdy, ocean going knarrs. Their journey brought them from Scandinavia first to the Orkneys and Faeroes, then Iceland, then Greenland...
In the early summer of the year 1000, Leif Ericson and his crew sailed from Greenland to explore a land hidden in the distant mists. What the Vikings discovered was a vast wilderness already inhabited by aboriginal people they called Skraelings . After one hundred thousand years, the descendants of the people who turned right were about to meet up with the descendants of the people who turned left.
Humanity had come full circle."
These are the opening words to the fascinating history of the Vikings and the First Nations in Labrador and Newfoundland: Full Circle: First Contact. In the year 2000, the Newfoundland and Labrador Museum commemorated the extraordinary events that surround the Viking landfall in L�Anse aux Meadows at the turn of the last millennium with tours in North America and this website. It is full of interesting information and links to related sites about the Norse and North American First Nations.
petroglyphs in BC
Rock carvings and paintings are found throughout the inhabited world. In British Columbia alone, over 500 examples of this type of archaeological site have been recorded, more than in any other province in Canada.
Last week, on our way to the west coast of Vancouver Island, we stopped to look at a site at Sproat Lake Provincial Park. Like most petroglyphs, it had worn down considerably but still was a fairly impressive sight, like a mural carved on a rock face on the edge of the lake, the lowest images partly submerged. Below is one photo of this, the details are even harder to see here as the light conditions were not ideal.
On our return journey we stopped at Petroglyph Provincial Park, Nanaimo. This was most disappointing because the numerous rocks scattered on the lovely hill were quite worn down. Concrete castings had been made of the originals but these were also quite worn and hard to decipher (the website's photo was misleading). It was rather sad to see the results of weathering and especially the vandalism and sometimes a lack of enough care and appreciation.
The Spell of Rock Art
A prize possession of mine is the 2003 Finno-Ugric Calendar published by the Estonian Society of Prehistoric Art and the Fenno-Ugria Foundation. The photo work was done by society member Loit Joekalda, whom I met in Tallinn in 2002.
It is full of gorgeous colour photographs of the rock art of the Finno-Ugric region as well as short bits of ancient folk tales and songs in the original languages and in English. It is an inspiration to me in my art work and because of that, I may quote some of the writings here from time to time.
Vaino Poikalainen, chair of the Estonian Society of Prehistoric Art, wrote a most beautiful introduction, which I quote here in its entirety (though it is long):
UNDER THE SPELL OF ROCK ART
A great deal of ancient art is to be found in the present and historical territories of the Finno-Ugric peoples. Various figurines functioned of bone, wood, clay, or metal, figures painted onto rock (petrograms) or carved into it (petroglyphs), as well as cult constructions and arrangements (barrows, sacred seita-stones, labyrinths etc.) were created to animate ancient religion. Myths, traditions and rituals served the same purpose. They all reflected a vision of the world order and corresponding behavioural and communicative patterns.
Ancient art and religious practices were used to explain natural phenomena to heal the sick, to teach children and to ensure sufficient food for the community. Rock art provides perhaps the richest source of information for our present knowledge of ancient beliefs. But the very roots of our modern world views, our national identities, legislation, natural sciences, medicine, as well as many other branches of sciences, art and education were nurtured by ancient art in general and rock art in particular.
The richest sites for Finno-Ugric rock art are found in: the Tom River basin of Western Siberia (Proto-Ugrian tribes); the central and southern areas of the Ural Mountains (Proto-Ugrian and Proto-Permian tribes); the eastern coast of Lake Onega and the Vyg (Uiku) River estuary in Eastern Karelia (Proto-Finnic and Proto-Saami tribes); the islands of Lake Kanozero, the middle courses of the Ponoi River and Cape Rybachi in the Kola peninsula (Proto-Saamis); and in southern, Eastern, and Southeastern Finland (Proto-Finnic Tribes). Most of these monuments, which were created by ancient hunters, fishers and gatherers, date back to the Stone and Bronze Ages, for which no contemporary written sources are available. The oldest rock art ever discovered are the cave paintings found in the southern Urals. They are thought to be 15-17 thousand years old. The Karelian petroglyphs and the Finnish rock paintings are considered to be about 4-6 thousand years old. The Kola and Alta rock art was produced between 2.5-6 thousand years ago, while the age of the rock paintings of the middle and southern Urals as well as the Tom River petroglyphs is estimated at 3-6 thousand years.
Although the ancient images found on rocks may at first seem primitive, they eventually cast a spell over anyone who takes the trouble to look at them more deeply. Part of the reason for this may lie in their slightly childish yet aesthetically pleasing appearance. A more significant reason, however, is hidden in their power to reveal and make sense of the universality of creation, as it was reflected in ancient belief systems and a way of life closer to nature.
The significance of rock art is further enhanced by the very locations chosen as sacred sites. These were singularly shaped natural formations, bodies of water, rocks and stones where the essential magic and rituals necessary for the tribe�s existence were carried out. The aim was to achieve a harmony between the man and the environment and to ensure the continuation of the traditional way of life. Any conflict with nature, any wasteful misuse of resources or deviation from familiar patterns might have posed a threat to the livelihood and very existence of the tribe itself.
This is a way of thinking that has almost been forgotten today. In our consumer society, prosperity and a sense of security are ensured through constant growth and an increase in consumption, which can only result in constant change. Perhaps for this reason alone, it becomes difficult for the modern person to comprehend rock art. Moreover, the ancient world view and system of beliefs were doubtless part of a considerably larger whole than the fragments that have been passed on to us in the form of rock art. And yet, we can use our rich capacity for imagination together with our sense of the time and place to penetrate this ancient world in order to bring it to life in our minds, if for no more than a brief moment. The resulting spiritual contact with our ancestors from beyond millennia will prove to be an unforgettable experience; much like the first sensations in childhood: fragmentary, perhaps not fully understood, pictures, sounds and smells out of one�'s memory, full of emotion and fascination, coming back to each person in its own way.
what makes us human?
A year ago, City of Tampere's Museum Centre Vapriikki in Finland presented a multi-media exhibition on rock art organized by an international consortium: "Dawn of the Human Spirit"
The exhibition statement offers a clear perspective on why rock art is of such interest and importance to us, and I quote some of it:�
"No topic is more central to understanding our place in the universe than the question What makes us human? Although there are many traits that set us apart from the natural world, one defining characteristic is our ability to make art. And unlike other traits that may also be important, such as language, art is archaeologically visible, especially in the form of rock art � the cave paintings and rock carvings whose appearance seems to signal the dawn of the human spirit."�
"Rock art is, of course, more than just art. Just as it expresses humankind�s aesthetic achievements � if not the birth of our aesthetic sensibilities and religious beliefs � so too it is also a reflection of technology: technology in the making of the art, as well as the wider ranging technologies of the prehistoric cultures that it portrays. Similarly, it is an expression of natural history and our changing relationships to our environment: the prehistoric environment of the art�s creators, shown in the paintings and carvings, serving as a kind of prehistoric account of animal extinctions over time. Even more fundamentally, the first appearance of rock art charts our human migration across and colonization of the earth.�
Pictures are among the first important traces of human culture. The earliest rock art pictures such as those in the Chauvet Cave are pictures of the highest artistic expression and quality. In principle, the creative power that produced these pictures is the same as that of the artists of our own time."
Rock art research
In my research into the history and art of my ancestors, a wealth of information has come from Loit Joekalda. He believes the best researcher of the rock art of the Fenno-Ugrians is Väino Poikalainen, chair of the Estonian Society of Prehistoric Art**, of Tarto, Estonia. The society publishes papers on rock art and folklore to Folklore.
Poikalainen wrote a book review about KALLIOKUVAT KERTOVAT (Pictures on rock are telling) by Pekka Kivikäs (Atena kustannnus oy, 2000. 124 pp. In Finnish.) He writes: �The art teacher Pekka Kivikäs has become well-known for his work as an active documenter and publisher of Finnish rock paintings... the book is aimed at the wide circle of readers interested in the ancient culture of Finno-Ugric regions...Kivikäs considers rock art the silent message of man from behind the thousands of years, to perceive which one needs to relax, listen and see. When we loose the ability to do this, we also loose[sic] the possibility to perceive those near us and our environment.�
Folklore has also printed an article by Kivikäs(PDF)on the subject.
UPDATE: March 21.05 **link no longer active
A fast ferry ride across the Gulf of Finland took us to Tallinn, Estonia with its fascinating medieval walled old town, surrounded by a busy city rapidly catching up with the west after the Soviet collapse.
We met award-winning printmakers Virge and Loit Joekalda, who gave us a grand tour of the studios of the Association of Estonian Printmakers, and the Estonian Academy of Arts, as well as their own studio and several galleries and exhibitions.
Loit had just installed his exhibition of frottages and photos from his expeditions to sites of rock art by Fenno-Ugrians in Karelia. Seeing this work was, for me, a totally unexpected, mind-blowing and breathtaking experience! For some years I have been fascinated by this subject, and here was an artist, a kindred spirit, who had actually been to these sites! Loit is a very active member of the Estonian Society of Prehistoric Art** and the Fenno-Ugria Foundation.
Virge has exhibited and won awards in a great number of international print exhibitions, as well as travelled to many places. To see her work, visit Kunstikeskus, available for viewing for a little while.
We felt extremely honoured to have met and become friends with this exciting couple!
UPDATE: March 21.05 **link is not working, unfortunately
Some of my image research delves into the marks left by early humans, particularly the Fenno-Ugrian peoples. Their region includes Finland (my birth country), Karelia (now in Russia), Estonia and Lapland or Sami.
The Gallen-Kallela Museum in Finland had an exhibition called "Ugriculture 2000 - Contemporary Art of the Fenno-Ugrian Peoples" with an excellent catalogue. Besides the art works shown, there is an interesting map of the areas where the many different but related groups live across northern Europe.
UGRICULTURE 2000 Contemporary Art of the Fenno-Ugrian Peoples
More about Fenno-Ugrians: Finno-Ugric World