Ritorno a capo automatico the museum of the origins of Man



Pietro Gaietto

Museums around the world are many, and they are constantly increasing.
Museums that exclusively regard the origins of the man do not exist, to my knowledge.
Findings displayed in the museums concerning the origins, that is the Paleolithic, generally are skeletal findings, at the museums of natural sciences; or skeletal findings, also burials with equipments, lithic tools, and art of Upper Paleolithic at the archaeological museums. Today much use is made of casts of skeletons, tools and Paleolithic sculpture at museums not having the originals.

The virtual Museum of the Origins of Man (Genoa, Italy) exhibits exclusively Paleolithic stone sculpture, which was mainly found in Liguria, but also includes finds from important Paleolithic surface deposits in Italy and Western Europe. Since May 1, 2000, there is in the web the site of the museum.

The site includes the photographs of part of the sculptures displayed in the museum, attributed to the lower, the middle and the upper Paleolithic, and also photographs of finds from other museums and collections, which refer not only to the Paleolithic art, prehistoric in general, historical and ethnographic, but also to the funerary equipments, and skeletal finds of the man of every phase of the Paleolithic.
The inclusion in the site of this photographic material, not in possession of the Museum of the Origins of Man, found in every part of the world, together with the lithic sculptures from Liguria and Europe, is aimed to the INTERPRETATION of the sculptures themselves, from the origins of the lower Paleolithic to the end of the upper Paleolithic, that is from some million years BC, until approximately 12,000 years BC.

Before analyzing the need for interpretation of Paleolithic art, let us analyze the desire of most art museum visitors. The interests of art museum visitors are many, and each has its own codes of interpretation, i.e., appreciation. Contemporary art museums (with works by Pablo Picasso, Mondrian, Lucio Fontana, etc.), for example, do not interest everyone. Museums of ancient art, on the contrary, have a much wider audience. Almost all people who visit ancient art museums are looking for "beauty", that is, they go to have a " pleasure" related to aesthetics. This " pleasure" is generally more related to paintings, which are colorful, than to sculpture. For example, the capitals of Romanesque churches, which have carved figures very rich in historical information, but are not " beautiful", are of little interest to most people.
The lithic sculpture of the Paleolithic is not " beautiful". The lithic tools of the Paleolithic are not " beautiful". The skeletal findings of the Paleolithic men are not " beautiful". These finds are " interesting " for the discoverers, for the scholar, and for the amateur, in how much they have a meaning for the study of the origins and the evolution of the Man Who wants to approach the art of all the Paleolithic, therefore, must not look for aesthetic values, but those values constituting the work of art, through parallelisms with art works of the successive times of which we know the meaning, even if the interpretation is not ended here.
The issue on the origins is difficult to resolve, as, even if the Paleoanthropologists would have to date Homo to ten million years ago, for the purposes of the evolution of art it would not change anything.
For scientific convention we consider Homo the one who has begun to manufacture the first lithic tools and, I add, also to produce the first sculpture; and before such activities he is considered " beast ", although a " noble beast ", to be considered like " our progenitor " ". It will be the posterity to establish from how many million years Homo is really Homo, however, and anyhow, the lower Paleolithic, according to the current datings, covers the 99,99 % of life of mankind.

When I founded the Museum of the Origins of Man, I adopted the word " origins ", but I think that the " origins " will never be found. Today, I believe that we must exclusively observe the evolution, in fact, if datings of the first phases of the lower Paleolithic are correct, we can see that, for one, or for several million years, man has produced always identical tools, that is with very little evolution (Pebble culture). Also the sculptures of the same cultural phase are always equal, that is with very scarce evolution.
In the stone tools of the Pebble Culture, the evolution from the oldest to the most recent types is understood only by scholars specialized in that research and by a few others, while for people, but also for scholars of other disciplines, no differences are seen, when indeed they look like no more than simple broken pebbles,
However, while about the industries (tools) of the Pebble Culture an immense and inter-continental territorial documentation exists, about the art (sculptures) of the Pebble Culture there are enough rare findings, and this, not because there are only few, but because there is a scarcity of researchers, who dedicate to the origins of the art.
The interpretation of the tools (in the last two centuries) has been easier than that one of the Paleolithic sculpture, for two reasons : I) because the tools have been found quantitatively to million times greater in comparison to the art; II) because about the tools it has been possible to evidence the function, that is, which type served in order to cut the skins and the meats of the killed animals, therefore precursor of the knife of metal; which type served in order to scrape the skins in order to make clothes or tents for living, etc.
The interpretation of art must use different methods. 1) The technique of making a sculpture is more complex than the technique used for tool making, but this is of secondary importance, since the analysis is about the obtained shape. 2) Whichever shape or type of sculpture, and in the Paleolithic they are many, in order to be interpreted, must make reference to parallelisms with post-paleolithic sculptures, prehistoric in general, historical and ethnographic. As an example, Paleolithic sculptures of bicephalic human heads must have parallelisms with sculptures of bicephalic human heads that can be found in history and ethnography of all the continents, perhaps except Australia.
Beginning from Europe, we must make parallelisms with the sculptures representing bicephalic Janus, which from time to time, near every people and in every time, has been object of different cults, but however generally considered by scholars of religions an omniscient all-seeing god. It follows, that the bicephalic anthropomorphic sculptures, for deduction, represent a " god ".

The typology of the sculptures is vast, and increasing in the more recent phases of the Paleolithic. Some types are rare and others more frequent. The typology changes in the different ages of the Paleolithic, in how much from coarse forms are reached more elaborated shapes, also for the invention of new processing techniques.
The typology includes the cult subjects, that is sculptures of a human head, or of an animal head; heads with bust, both human and animals; bicephalic and threecephalic human heads; the union of human heads with heads of animals; humanized animals, etc.
Always related to typology are styles. Style is the language of art.It exists a range of styles "infinite", where some, but not all, are to opposite extremes the one of the other, as an example, they can have a strong realism, and this is opposite in other sculptures (of different periods or other zones) to a lengthening of the head with abolition of the eyes, with a generic orbital zone, etc.
Each style is different in time and among each people. In fact, if we examine one hundred different representations of the human head in one hundred different primitive populations around the globe, we find that they are almost all different from each other, that is, in different styles. If we examine the words "human head" in the spoken language of a hundred different populations, we find that they are almost all different from each other. Stylistic language is saying the same thing in a different way.

Another component of the art, that re-enters in the typology, is constituted from the men represented in sculpture, which are more numerous of those classified in the skeletal findings that we know. For example, a sculpture of bicephalic human head, if depicting two archaic neanderthalians, is different, and more ancient, from a sculpture of bicephalic human head depicting the union of two Homo sapiens sapiens. If then a bicephalic sculpture represents joined a head of Homo sapiens neanderthalensis to one of Homo sapiens sapiens, it can be asserted sure that the two human types lived together.
I invented the method of anthropomorphic dating 40 years ago; it allows to give a chronological order to the Paleolithic anthropomorphic sculptures, by making reference to the shape of the Paleolithic men skulls, which the Paleoanthropologists have found and chronologically ordered.

Also the " composition " of the sculptures re-enters in the typology. As an example, in the sculptures of bicephalic human heads, that is two human heads joined by the nape, the heads can be one larger of the other, or can be with look turned in more directions, not only in opposite direction, but looking upwards or downwards, and consequently with different meanings, that in the site of the Museum of the Origins of Man are analyzed.

Other factor of no secondary importance in the interpretation of the Paleolithic lithic sculptures, is the first approach that the profane has to them. A sculpture and some stone tools displayed in a museum showcase, and with explanatory caption, are accepted tacitly as such, and this from people of middle culture. Experiments done with the same objects in occasional encounters ("Look at what I found"), demonstrate that the tools for most people are simple stones.
The Paleolithic stone tools, although acquired by the science much more than the lithic sculptures, are not yet fully understood; however, for be understood, their use must be understood. They must be held in the hand, turned to appreciate the cutting or scraping parts, and for understand how the Paleolithic man made them.
With regard to the Paleolithic lithic sculpture, the matter is similar to that for tools, at least for the sculptures of small dimensions staying in the palm of a hand. These sculptures are generally obtained from flakes or pebbles, and are different in every phase of the Paleolithic, and, in most cases, the head image is in semi-frontal view.
When the sculptures are bicephalic, one of the two heads can be differently shaped, that is not semi-frontal, but frontal, that is changing from the profile of the head, to the face itself. It is necessary for the observer of the sculpture to look for the correct point of vision, or, as we say today, the correct point of "reading".The point of " reading " of the paleolithic lithic sculpture is similar to the " reading " of the lithic tool, in which the cutting part has to be understood, and therefore its original use.
The photographs of the sculptures exhibited in the website of the Museum of the Origins of Man have been all done in the correct point of " reading". Where there are more points of " reading ", in how much the sculpture has more images, have been made more photographs. Who wants to approach the Paleolithic sculpture, would be good to adhere to the concepts I have exposed.
A sculpture of the lower or the middle Paleolithic is much different from an historical sculpture (Greek or Roman). The historical sculptures, not in bas-relief, but those all round, when photographed are similar to the photographed living persons; i. e. in photograph we see a part, and we imagine the other. Therefore, in the photograph of the historical sculpture all round, an obliged point of " reading" does not exist. To the contrary, in the sculpture of the lower and middle Paleolithic, the photography must focus the point of " reading" , otherwise the meaning changes, until it is not possible to understand it. Today we can do more, with a camera we can pick up the Paleolithic sculpture all around, and it is as being in front of the sculpture itself, where the point of " reading " is found immediately.

The Museum of the Origins of the Man is a virtual museum. The sculptures of the Lower, Middle and Upper Paleolithic, here displayed, belong to private collections in Genoa, and , and can be viewed by appointment.
All the post-paleolithic material, introduced in this site, has the function to guide the visitor to the interpretation of the Paleolithic sculptures through parallelisms. This material is indicative of a method of investigation, since it is well little thing compared to what can be found in the historical civilizations and in the ethnography.
These the purposes of the museum:
1) To introduce the Paleolithc sculpture of the Genoese collections, for promoting the study of the origins of art.
2) To promote the study of the Paleolithic anthropomorphic and zoomorphic menhirs..
3) To promote the study of the Paleolithic anthropomorphic rock sculpture.
4) To promote the study of different parallel artistic civilizations in the Paleolithic, and in particular in the Upper Paleolithic, during which, for example, when in France or Spain animals were painted in cave, in Liguria human heads were carved on cliffs, or in Brittany anthropomorphic menhirs were made.
5) To promote the anthropological research also through the anthropomorphic sculptures, which can integrate the scarcity of skeletal findings in some periods of the Paleolithic.
6) To promote the study of the Paleolithic religions through the sculpture.
7) To promote in anthropology the study of the spirituality, alike the study of the physical aspect of the man.

Pietro Gaietto
Director of the Museum of the Origins of Man (Genoa, Italy)



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