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Pietro Gaietto

Jacques Boucher de Perthes has been a great researcher, and founder of archaeology, that is, as it was said then, "the history of man through the history of the earth and its revolutions". In France he has been rightly considered the " Father of prehistory".
The history of his life, his discoveries, his publications, and his foundations of museums, is told in the book " Boucher de Perthes, 1788 - 1868, Les origines romantiques de la préhistoire" (Authors: Claudine Cohen et Jean-Jacques Hublin, Editions Belin, Paris, 1989), with a preface by Prof. Yves Coppens. In this book, very rich in information, is given very little space (a few lines) to the research of Boucher de Perthes on the origin of art; indeed, it is ironized on his " too fertile imagination", and are rejected in full all his discoveries of sculpture, according to the opinion of the authors, which evidently reflects the opinion of the French academic scientific world.
Boucher de Perthes in 1846 publishes the first volume of " Antiquités celtiques et antédiluviennes, mémoire sur l'industrie primitive et les arts 6agrave leur origine". In 1857 he published the tenth volume.
These volumes were reprinted in 1989 in France, as they evidently always have an interest in the history of science.
For at least a quarter of century the publications by Boucher de Perthes were a point of reference, they promoted the progress of research in prehistory.
His research was about industries and art. About industries he was preceded by the discoveries of other researchers; about art, it seems he was the first, and perhaps the only one, for years, to do research. And, about art, precisely, his intuition must be underlined, both in having imagined it, and in having continued to search for it, and to interpret it.
Everyone knows that his research about industries was successful, partly because many researchers of the time shared discoveries and opinions, while art had no success in science.
To give a judgment about the art, it would be necessary to see the artifacts (which were sculptures), but it is impossible, as they were stored in the Museum of Abbeville, and were destroyed by a bombing in 1940. The few remaining finds are insufficient for a judgment
However, the art had not success, in how much the observers considered (much superficially) the findings only zoomorphic or anthropomorphic stones, but not sculptures, that is art. (I want remember that in the area of the researches of Boucher de Perthes exist nodules of silex with bizarre shapes, in which natural breakings, can appear intentional).
For an evaluation only the drawings of the findings are left, that are numerous in the tables of his publications, and with them I try to give a realistic judgment.
Given that the drawings, both of the tools and the sculptures, are extremely insufficient in order to understand like they were really made, only a comparison of principle can be made, by placing in relation the drawings of the tools with the drawings of the sculptures. As for that little that can be understood, are perhaps more numerous the false tools of the true ones, than the false sculptures of the true ones; and for false I mean the casual, that is what seems, but it is not, and it is not made by human workmanship.
When the research has begun on wide scale, with the specialization, every error has been gradually eliminated and forgiven for what concerns the tools; nothing has happened for the sculptures, but with my experience of sculpture of the lower and middle Paleolithic, I see in the drawings by Boucher de Perthes that a good quota of art, even if in a minimal part, is effectively valid. This is deduced from the shape, that is similar to that one of lithic sculptures of the lower and middle Paleolithic found in the second half of the 20th century.
Those people that still today (for tradition?) continue to deny the art found by Boucher de Perthes, considering it false, if they had to give a judgment about the tools collected by him through the drawings of his publications, they would have to consider them almost all false; excluding only the amygdales ( bifaces), that on the other hand do not re-enter in his more important discoveries, since they were already collected before.
I believe in the art found by Boucher de Perthes, because I have found similar art, and I began to study it over 40 years ago, when I didn't know anything about him yet, and I could also do a detailed analysis of all the mistakes he made about art, but I don't want to do it, because his mistakes were inevitable, as in his time there were no "cultural tools" for a correct interpretation.
Boucher de Perthes' great merit was intuition, but not only that; he must have had great respect for man, and in especially for "antediluvian man", to imagine him as an art producer.
Let's look at the cultural context in which the insight matured.
The cultural contexts are two, that in which he personally lived, and that which was the cultural (artistic and scientific) context of his time. Jacques Boucher de Perthes was a botanist's son, therefore a scientific researcher. Probably his research on the origins of man developed from a research tradition which he found at home.
He lived in a culturally advanced environment, moreover, unlike the 1900s, the philosophy of the Enlightenment was fertile in his time, and evidently involved him. The people he frequented were also important. Pauline Borghese, sister of Napoleon Bonaparte, was his partner for several years. (They seem to have met in Genoa, when part of Italy was French Empire.). Boucher de Perthes as an employee of the French Customs traveled extensively. Under Napoleon's 's protection he enjoyed a pleasant life.

Jacques Boucher de Perthes

He frequented the Genoese violinist Nicolò Paganini. He was also a writer, before devoting himself fully to the study of the origins of man. His training as a researcher was artistic and scientific; the artistic training was useful for intuition, and the scientific training was useful for research.
When Boucher de Perthes began his research about art, only intuition guided him; certainly on the basis of found sculptures, as the general cultural and scientific context was negative, and provided no helpful support:
1°) There was not yet a science of the prehistory ( to be always in mind!).
2°) The first skeletal findings of "fossil man " were considered " antediluvian", producing in the people more scandal than enthusiasm, as to think that the man derived from the monkey, as said then, was not liked absolutely.
3°) The fashionable art at the time was neo-classicism, that is, " the beautiful ". The sculpture of Pauline Borghese, by Antonio Canova was " beautiful", as Pauline Borghese was " beautiful".
4°) The art of the " primitives" of that time, all over the world (wooden sculpture of equatorial Africa, Oceania, etc.), had not yet entered the western culture, because not considered " beautiful", even if it had a great variety of styles.
5°) It was not existing the photograp, that will be medium of diffusion of the images.
6°) Paleolithic zoomorphic painting in the caves of France and Spain was not yet discovered.
7°) The feminine sculptures (Venus) in stone of the upper and middle Paleolithic had not been found yet.
8°) The stone artifacts, found by others before him, belonged to every phase of prehistory, with great fascination, and much mystery. No classification (obviously) existed yet, and the situation was chaotic.
9°) There was not yet the modern art, that with a whirling succession of fashions and artists has created works with hundreds and hundreds of different styles, inspired also to artworks of every time and place, that in turn have favored a change of mentality, even in the appreciation of prehistoric art.
10°) Despite the Illuminism, middle-class school culture was strongly tied to " written history" and there was not yet interest in the archaeology that was emerging. So there was also dialogue difficulty. Proposing one's own ideas about the art of antediluvian man to the people, had to involve a great faith, but also a great courage, because on the one hand there was the indifference ( existing still today), on the other hand the convinced opposition. The indifference was caused by the fact that the sculptures were not " beautiful" the opposition, instead, was based on the firm conviction that the antediluvian man, considered just more than a beast, cannot " make art".
Boucher de Perthes dies in 1868 at the age of 80. A few years before his death, some important scientists visit his collections, and recognize the existence of the "antediluvian industries", i.e. the tools, but art is ignored.
In the years preceding his death, through his several publications Boucher de Perthes has a remarkable number of followers, who continue to research art, and the sculptures (or presumed to be such) will take the name of "figure stones".
Towards the end of the XIX century, many things happen and others change:
1°) They start the discoveries of the zoomorphic paintings in the caves, and the science has not any difficulty ( in a short time) to attribute them to the Stone Age, therefore, these paintings will be considered " the first art", and today we know that it is not at all the first art.
2°) Prehistoric science is moving forward in every direction. New methods of excavation are invented. New chronologies of the prehistory are done. Excavations and discoveries in general multiply, in particulary in the art of the upper Paleolithic (painting, engraving, sculpture).
3°) The photograph is introduced in the books, which are increasing; the graphic drawing of the tools is perfected; more space is given to new discoveries, new interpretations and new classifications, and consequently all work by Boucher de Perthes is to be considered automatically outdated, i. e. not useful anymore.
4°) Research activity in prehistory, which in Boucher de Perthes' time was private and amateur-like (he paid with his money his publications), begins to become a state activity. This process developed slowly between the end of the 1800s and the first half of the 1900s, and consolidated in the second half of the 1900s. Ministries of Culture are created, prehistoric deposits are rightfully protected against collectors robbing them. Operators and professionals (around the prehistoric man's remains) increase more and more.
The managerial staff increases. The culture becomes transformed in a strange way that makes it similar to a religion. Basically a kind of "dogma" enters in the culture and therefore also in the prehistorical sciences ambience. Researchers working with the mind ( luckily) are increasing.They are divided in a multitude of disciplines, so they hardly have a global view about the origins of man. The researchers are divided in a multitude of disciplines, for which, hardly they have a global vision of the origins of the man. Partly because of the " dogmas", partly because of the multitude of disciplines existing, the issues concerning the origins of art have not yet entered into the State's programs, to say the Ministries of Culture, to say..... nobody knows who! It exists in the world an army of persons paid by the State, swirling around the man of the Paleolithic, and that are not interested to the origins of art, and consequently to the spiritual aspects of man.
In May and June 1999 I wrote one hundred mails to one hundred scholars of paleoethnology and paleoanthropology of western Europe and North America to sensitize them on the origin of art, and I had just one answer after three months ! These one hundred addresses referred to participants in international congresses, so I believe that I am not wrong if I say State culture, since it's the State that pays for participation to the congresses, pays for travel and everything else. This was one of my last experiences, which have been repeating themselves from time to time since forty years, demonstrating the ills of the science, which today are greater than in Boucher de Perthes' time, since then indifference was from a few, now it is from many.
All the art of the lower and middle Paleolithic (once said of the antediluvian man) must be studied (and analyzed) for typologies, and for quantities. The unique interesting finding in the lithic sculptures in these cultural phases does not exist, like not exists the unique interesting finding in the lithic tools.
Boucher de Perthes, and all the researchers of art coming after him, for beyond a century have accumulated great amounts of sculptures, many of which casually anthropomorphic or zoomorphic, therefore false. It happens that the solitary researcher, who cannot exchange opinions, convinces himself that a false is true, and this happens with the unique pieces; but it happens also that some commissions that make superficial analyses interpret only the false findings, convincing themselves that all is false, not being able, therefore, to individualize the true one. Still today there are collectors of "figure stone" who are not experienced in prehistory, but their collections are worth to be seen: there may always be the important discovery.
The scientists who in the first half of the nineteenth century have analyzed the art of Boucher de Perthes, have made a superficial analysis, but, however, could not do differently, because there were no " cultural tools" for a correct interpretation.
The intuition of Boucher de Perthes, moreover, could not be useful as a demonstration. In the Abbeville Museum where these artifacts were, bombs dropped. Nothing is there anymore. The finds of art of the researchers who came after him that were in the museums, are lowered into the cellar, and are menaced of destruction.
The State culture continues to deny the entry of the lower and middle Paleolithic in the books of art, therefore at scholastic level and of middle culture (in the world) nothing is known.
State culture, good or bad, is always a sales guarantee for publishers who have large distribution, therefore, are the publishers themselves who may or may not facilitate knowledge. Publications by small publishers, which often favor private research, have poor distribution, and therefore are useless.
Luckily, Internet has come to aid studies on the origins of art. Through this communication medium, news exchanges are in real time, and private culture has the same possibilities of diffusion as State culture, at least for the contact with those interested in the origin of art, who document themselves via telematics.
Through Internet, in 1999 the study of Lower and Middle Paleolithic art has progressed significantly..

Dear Boucher de Perthes, I hope that on the bicentennial of your death everyone will recognize your insights about the art of antediluvian man.

Boucher de Perthes: Table with drawings of tools (Axes) from "Antiquités celtiques et antédiluviennes, mémoire sur l'industrie primitive et les arts à leur origine". In this table the drawing is little convincing, nevertheless the research on the tools has gone ahead, and has made therefore progresses

Boucher de Perthes: Table with drawings of sculptures of birds, from "Antiquités celtiques et antédiluviennes, mémoire sur l'industrie primitive et les arts à leur origine".
In this table the drawing is better than that one of the table of the tools, but it is not enough convincing. On the contrary, the descriptions of these sculptures are made with great competence, and also in critical way, for the sculptures for which exists a doubt.

"No. 14 is a yellow and gray flint head, 22 cm long on 11 wide and 10 thick; it is that of a bird of high-flight, of a vulture, of a condor. It has an appearance of truth that nevertheless not gives a complete certainty..
Its analogue, representing a head of eagle or falcon, in green and yellow silex, has only 8 cm of length on 6 of width and 25 millimeters of thickness; but the work is more marked. A third has the same characteristics.
Under the same number, two grayish flints, 16 to 18 cm long, 10 cm wide, little worked, represent two heads that are so close to those of the prey birds.
No. 15 , in gray-black flint of 20 cm. of length on 10 of width and 7 of thickness, is a head of bird with long and curved beak. This curve is 6 cm. A chip that seems to have been removed by pattern shapes the eye.
His similar figures no less well the head of a flamingo or ibis. It is made of dark brown flint, mixed with red and yellow. Its length is 20 cm, its width 10 at its basis and 3 at the tip. Its curve is thus 3 cm. This piece is cut by large strokes, but in an evident manner and with the intention of imprinting the arched form on it.
A third is almost similar to the second. There are also smaller ones, or 5 to 6 cm in length over 5 or 6 in width.
No. 16 is the head of a gavina. Here again one has benefited from the cutting of the stone, but the peel has been removed all over. It is a grayish flint on which natural spots represent eyes very well.
This other flint has relationships to the cormorant head. The end of the beak alone offers working indices; this is light evidence and this piece is doubtful."
( Boucher de Perthes, Antiquités celtiques et antédiluviennes, mémoire sur l'industrie primitive et les arts à leur origine,

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