Boucher de Perthes
PALEOLITHIC ART MAGAZINE

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THE INTUITION OF BOUCHER DE PERTHES

Pietro Gaietto

Jacques Boucher de Perthes has been a great researcher, and founder of archaeology, i.e., like said then, " the history of the man through the history of the earth and its revolutions ". In France he has been just considered the " Father of the prehistory ". The history of his life, of his discoveries, his printings, and his foundations of museums, is told in the book " Boucher de Perthes, 1788 - 1868, Les origines romantiques de la préhistoire " (Authors: Claudine Cohen and Jean-Jacques Hublin, Belin Editions, Paris, 1989), with preface of the Prof. Yves Coppens. In this book, very rich of information, it's very little space (little lines) to the searches of Boucher de Perthes on the origin of the art; indeed, it is ironized on his " too much fertile fantasy ", and come knocked away totally all his discoveries of sculpture, according to the opinion of the authors, evidently reflecting the opinion of the French scientific academic world Boucher de Perthes in 1846 publishes the first volume of " Antiquités celtiques et antédiluviennes, mémoire sur l'industrie primitive et les arts à leur origine". In 1857 he publishes the tenth volume. These volumes have been reprinted in 1989 in France: evidently, they have always an interest in the history of science. For at least a quarter of century the publications of Boucher de Perthes have been a point of reference, promoting the progress of the researches in the prehistory. His search was bout the industries and the art. Regarding the industries he has been preceded from the discoveries of other researchers; on the art, it seems has been the first one, and perhaps the only one, for years, to make research.And, on the art, precisely, we must emphasize his intuition, both in having imagined it, and in having continued to search it for, and interpret it.
All know that his researches about the industries have had success, also why many researchers of the time shared discoveryes and opinions, while the art has not had some success in scientific field.
For being able to give a judgment on the art, it would be necessary to see the finds (that were sculptures), but it is impossible, being conserved in the Museum of Abbeville, and having gone destroyed from a strafing in 1940. The few finds remained are insufficient for a judgment.
In any case, the art has not had success, as the observers considered (very superficialally ) the finds only zoomorphic or anthropomorhic stones, but not sculptures, that is art. (I have to remember that in the zone of the researches of Boucher de Perthes they exist some silex with odd shapes , where natural breakings, can appear intentional.) For an appraisal they remain only the designs of the finds, most numerous in the tables of his publications; about these I try of giving a realistic judgment.
Premised that the designs, both of the tools and of the sculptures are extremely insufficient in order to understand as really they were made,we can only made a comparison of principle, putting in relation the designs of the tools with the designs of the sculptures.
For the little that can be understood, perhaps the false tools are more numerous of the true ones, comparating to the false sculptures in relation to the true ones; and for false I mean the accidental one, that is what seems, but is not, and it is not of human manufacture.
Some margins of error have existed always, and exist still today; in the first half of the 800 they were greater. When the research is begun on great scale, with the specialization, every error has been gradually eliminated and excused for 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 made by Boucher de Perthes that a good portion of art, even if in minimal part, is effectively valid. This deduces from the shape, similar to that one of lithic sculptures of Lower and Middle Paleolitic found in the second half of the '900. Those people that still today (for tradition?) continue to deny the art of Boucher de Perthes, regarding at them as false, if they had to give a judgment about the tools found by him, through the drawings of his publications, would consider them nearly all false ; only excluding the amigdals (bifaces), that do not re-enter in his more important discoveries, as they were collected already before.
I believe in the art of Boucher de Perthes, why I have found of similar, and have begun to study it beyond 40 years ago, when I did not know still nothing about him, and I could make also a detailed analysis of all the errors whom he has made about the art, but I do not want make it, why his errors were unavoidable, in how much in his time did not exist "cultural instruments " for a correct interpretation ".
The great merit of Boucher de Perthes has been the intuition, but not only; he must have a great respect for the man, and particularly for " the antediluvian man ", in order to imagine him producing art.
See the cultural context in which the intuition is matured. The cultural contexts are two: one in which he has lived personally, and another what was the cultural context (artistic and scientific) of his time. Jacques Boucher de Perthes is son of a botanist, therefore of a scientific researcher. Probably his research on the origins of the man develops from a tradition of research found at home.
He lives in an atmosphere culturally much advanced,moreover, differenctly from the ' 900, in his time was fertile the philosophy of the Illuminism, evidently involving it.
Also the persons whom he attended were important. Paolina Borghese, sister of Napoleon Bonaparte, was his loving friend for several years ( it seems that they knew at Genova, when a part of Italy was French Empire). Boucher de Perthes as employed of French Customs travelled very often. Under protection of Napoleon he could make the beautiful life.


Jacques Boucher de Perthes

He attended the musician Nicolò Paganini. He was also writer, before devoting himself totally to the study of the origins of the man. His formation of researcher was both artistic and scientific; the artistic formation had the function to perceive by intuition, and the scientific formation had the function to make research . When Boucher de Perthes began his researches on the art, only the intuition leaded him; sure on the base of sculptures found, in how much the cultural and scientific general context was negative, and it did not give some support of aid.
1°) a science of the prehistory still did not exist (to remember always !).
2°) the first skeletal finds of " fossil man " were considered " antediluvian ", and in people they produced more scandal that enthusiasm, in how much to think that the man derived from the monkey, as said then, did not appeal to at all.
3°) the fashionable art in that time was the neo-classicism, that is the " beautiful ". The sculpture of Paolina Borghese, made by Antonio Canova was " beautiful ", like was " beautiful " Paolina Borghese.
4°) the art of the " primitives " of the time, everywhere in the world, ( wood sculpture of equatorial Africa , of the Oceania, etc), still had not entered in the western culture, why not considered " beautiful ", even if had a great variety of styles.
5°) the photography, that will be medium of diffusion of the images did not exist.
6°) the paleolithic zoomorphic painting in the caves of France and Spain still had not been discovered.
7°) still they had not been found the feminine sculptures (Venus) in stone of the Upper and Middle Paleolithic.
8°) lithic tools, than others before he had uncovered, belonged to every phase of the prehistory, with great fascination, and much mystery. Classifications did not exist obviously still, and the situation was chaotic.
9°) the modern art still did not exist, that with a whirling succession of mode and of artists, has created works with hundred and hundred of different styles, inspired also to works of art of every time and place, that have favorite a change of mentality, also in the appreciation of the prehistoric art.
10°) In spite of the Illuminism, the scholastic culture of the bourgeoisie solidly was tied to the " written history ", and not there was still interest for the archaeology that was being born. Therefore it was also difficult a dialogue.To propose his ideas on the art of the antediluvian man to people, had to involve a great faith, but also a great courage, why from a part there was indifference (that it exists still today), from the other part the convinced opposition. Indifference was due to the fact that the sculptures were not " beautiful "; the opposition, instead, was based on the firm conviction that the antediluvian man, considered little more than a beast, " could not make art ".
Boucher de Perthes dies in 1868 to the age of 80 years. Some years before his dead , some important scientists visit his collections, and recognize the existence of the " antediluvian industries ", that is of the tools, but the art comes ignored. In the years before his dead , through his numerous wrotings Boucher de Perthes have a remarkable number of followers, that continue to make researches on the art, where the sculptures (or presumed such) will take the name of "stone figures ".
Towards the end of the 800 many things happen and others change:
1°) They begin the discoveries of the zoomorphic paintings in the caves, and science does not have no difficulty (in short time) to attribue these to the Age of the Stone, therefore, these paintings will come considered " the first art ", and today we know that it is not at all the first art.
2°) prehistoric sciences go ahead in every direction. New methods of digging are invented. Chronologies of the prehistory are made new. The diggings and the discoveries are multiplied, in particular in the art of the Upper Paleolithic (painting, engraving, sculpture).
3°) In the books, that are increasing, incomes the photography; the graphical drawing of the tools is perfected; more space for new discoveries, classifications and interpretations, and consequently all the work of Boucher de Perthes is considered automatically old, that is not more useful.
4°) the activity of research on the prehistory, at the times of Boucher de Perthes private and as amateur ( he paid with personal money his printing), begins to become an activity of State. This process develops slowly between the end of the 800s and first half of the 900s, and it is made solid in the second half of the 900s. The Ministries of the Culture are created, the prehistoric layers are protected from the collectors who rob them. The employed on the work (around to the remains of the prehistoric man) increase more and more.
They increase the leaders. The culture assumes the strange transformation that makes it similar to the religion. In short a sorte of " dogma " enters in the culture, and therefore also in the atmosphere of prehistoric sciences. The researchers who operate with the reason (fortunately) are in increase.Researchers are divided from a multitude of disciplines, for which, difficultly they have a total vision of the origins of the man. Both for the "dogmas", and for the multitude of disciplines existing, the problems of the origins of the art are not still today in the programs of the State, as the Ministries of the Culture, as.....I do not know who! An army of people paid from the State exists in the world, turning around to the man of the Paleolithic, and not interested to the origins of the art, and consequently to the spiritual aspects of the man.
In the months of May and june of 1999 I have written 100 letters to 100 researchers of paleoethnology and paleoanthropology of western Europe and the North America in order to sensibilize them on the origin of the art, and I have had one single answer three months after ! These 100 addresses referred to participants to international conferences, therefore I think not to mistake if I speak about culture of State, in how much it is the State that supports the fees for the participation to the conferences, paying the travel and all.This has been one of my last experiences, repeating sometimes from 40 years, and demonstrating the ills of the science, today most in comparison with the times of Boucher de Perthes, as then indifference was of little, now is of many.
All the art of the Lower and MiddlePaleolithic (once it were said of the antediluvian man) is to study (and analyze) for tipolgie, and quantitative. In these cultural phases does not exist the only interesting find between the litic sculptures , as the only interesting find between the lithic tools does not exist.
Boucher de Perthes, and all the researchers of art coming after him, for beyond a century, has accumulated large quantitative of sculptures, many of which, accidentally anthropomorhic or zoomorphic, therefore false.
It happens that the researcher "hermit", than does not succeed to exchange opinions, convinces that a false one is true, and this happens with pieces unique; but it happens also that of the commitees that make superficial analysis, only interpret the false finds, convincing himselfs that all is false, not succeeding, therefore, to see the true one.
Still today there are "stone figures " researchers that are not expert of prehistory, but their collections deserve of being seen: it can be always the important discovery.
The scientists, than in the first half of the 800s, have taken in analysis the finds of art of Boucher de Perthes, have made an analysis superficial, but, however, they could not have made differently, because the " cultural instruments " for a correct interpretation did not exist. The intuition of Boucher de Perthes, moreover, could not be useful as demonstration. In the Museum of Abbeville where they were these finds are descents the bombs. Not there is more nothing. Finds of art of the researchers come after him, that were in the museums,have finished in cellar, and are threatened of destruction.
The culture of State continues to deny the income of the art of the Lower and Middle Paleolithic in the books, therefore to scholastic level, and of middle culture (in the world), does not know nothing. The culture of State, good or bad that is, is always a guarantee of sale for the editors that have great distribution, therefore, is the same editor that can favor or less the acnowledgement.
The printings with small editors, that often favor the private research, have insufficient distribution, and therefore,
they are little useful. Happily, in aid of the studies on the origins of the art Internet has arrived. Through this medium the news exchanged are in real time, and the private culture has the same possibilities of distribution of the culture of State. Through Internet, in year 1999 the study of the art of the Lower and Middle Paleolithic has made remarkable progresses.

Beloved Boucher de Perthes, I hope that, for the bicentennial of your death, all recognize your intuitions on the art of the 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. To the contrary, the descriptions of these sculptures are made with great competence, and also in critical way, for the sculptures for which there is doubt.

Le n° 14 est une téte en silex jaune et gris, longue de 22 centimètres sur 11 de largeur et 10 d’épaisseur; c’est celle d’un oiseau de haut voI, d’un vautour, d’un condor. Elle a une apparence de vérité qui pourtant ne laisse pas une certitude complète.
Son analogue, qui représente une téte d’aigle ou de faucon, en silex vert et jaune, n’a que 8 centimètres de long sur 6 de large et 25 millimètres d’épaisseur; mais le travail y est plus prononcé.
Un troisième porte les mémes caractères.
Sous le méme n° deux silex grisatres, longs de 16 à 18 centimètres, larges de 10, peu travaillés, rcprésentent deux tétes qui se rapprochent aussi de celles des oiseaux de proie.
Le n0 15, en silex gris-noir, de 20 centimètres de long sur 10 de large et 7 d’épaisseur, est une tete d’oiseau à hec long et recourbé. Cette courbe est. de 6 centimètres. Un éclat qui paraìt avoir été enlevé à dessin forme l’oeil.
Son similaire figure non moins bien la téte d’un phénicoptère ou d’un ibis. Il est en silex brun-corné, m~lé de rouge et de jaune. Sa longueur est de 20 centimètres, sa largeur de 10 à la base et de 3 à la pointe. Sa courbe est aussi de 3 centimètres. Ce morceau est taillé à grands coups, mais d’une manière évidente et avec l’intention de lui imprimer la forme arquée.
Un troisième est presque semblable au second. Il y en a aussi de plus petits, ou de 5 à 6 centimètres de long sur 5 à 6 de Iarge.
Le n0 16 est la téte d’un goèland.Ici encore on a profité de la coupe de la pierre, mais l’écorce a été enlevée partout. C’est un silex grisàtre sur lequel des taches naturelles figurent assez bien des yeux.
Cet autre silex a des rapports avec la téte du cormoran. L’extrémité du bec offre seule des indices de travail; ceci est une preuve légère, et ce morceau est douteux".

( Boucher de Perthes, Antiquités celtiques et antédiluviennes, mémoire sur l'industrie primitive et les arts à leur origine,

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