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Pietro Gaietto

Bicephaly is very frequent in the study of the religions, and scarcely held in consideration from the art scholars, therefore, scarcely present in the art books, and therefore very little known.
Bicephaly is present in nearly all the ancient religions of the world (with the exception of those peoples who practice "only" painting).
Bicephaly can be both verbal and iconographic..
In astral mythology of the Society Islands (Polynesia), Sagittarius is " the red star that shines in the evening with two faces" (verbal bicephaly).
Iconographic bicephaly with more than one head or more than one eye is an exclusive peculiarity of omniscient beings, and therefore an unequivocal sign of their celestial or solar or sky-solar nature.
When the number of heads increases disproportionately (fifty heads, many hands, etc. in the same depiction), and becomes monstrous, as in the art of India and Far East Asia, then the nature of the subject depicted becomes demoniac and, in any case, its place is in the evolved civilizations of historical times.
The bicephalic anthropomorphic or zooanthropomorphic representations in sculpture are interpreted like omniscient or omniscient- all-seeing deities, and this in the first historical civilizations. For the Paleolithic, similar hypotheses can be made.
The zooanthropomorphic bicephaly is the less widespread one, and the animal side is mainly constituted by heads of big mammals. Very rare the heads of birds.
In this paper I introduce two bicephalic sculptures with human head and head of bird, one of the ancient Mexico, and the other of the middle-upper Paleolithic of Liguria, in how much I have considered them much affine.


The sculpture of Xochicalco (Mexico) (Fig. 1) is of basalt. It measures cm 56.5 of height and cm 38 of width, and is dated variably between 600 and 900 AD, or between 856 and 1168 AD.

Fig.1 Bicephalic zoomorphic sculpture of Xochicalco

Fig.1 Bicephalic zoomorphic sculpture of Xochicalco

The opinions about its iconographic interpretation are two:
1) the archeologists of the National Museum of Anthropology of Mexico City (where it is preserved) say that it is a "parrot head".
The guacamaya, or macao, or ara is a rare bird, connected to the CULT OF THE SUN.
The most probable dating of this sculpture, according to the Mexican archaeologists, is the century XII for the "characters of the strong stylization tending to the abstract and the emblematic".
2) my opinion is different. I am convinced that this sculpture represents a human head and a head of parrot joined by the nape with look in opposite direction; therefore, a zooanthropomorphic bicephalic sculpture .
The sculpture is pierced, and partially hollow inside.
In this sculpture there are two different styles: one of geometric type for the human head, and another of non-geometric type for the parrot head. Certainly, the two styles for tradition are connected one to human and the other to animal in separate depictions.
The head of the parrot is more detailed than the human head. This is a norm in all the zooanthropomorphic sculptures of the Paleolithic. The head of the parrot, indeed, has the beak, both of the upper and the lower part, that is the jaw; and also the tongue, that from the photograph seems obtained from a stone of dark color inserted on purpose. To the contrary, the human head has no mouth.
This tongue of the parrot has been placed, for equal parts, between the head of the man and the head of the parrot and, even if from the line in relief separating the two heads is evident that the tongue belongs to the parrot, gives rise to the hypothesis that it represents a " one deity", to say a spiritual whole.
The back of the sculpture is the same in lateral view, as in photograph, but the tongue is absent. I do not know if the tongue that is missing is intentional from the artist, or if it has been lost for damage; i. e. if there might have been two tongues.
In both the parrot and the human head, the two ends narrow; that is, there is a greater thickness of sculpture in the middle, which narrows at the two opposite sides, which are the beak and the human face.
The eye of the parrot is on the beak, but taking into account the stylistic deformation, it is like being on the head; the artist of that time was as the artist of today, in that he "invented" by varying the natural. It was the fashion of the time.
Who asserts that this sculpture is " only " a head of parrot, could also assert that the eyes of the parrot are instead " nostrils ", and what I consider the eyes of the man, are instead the eyes of the parrot. This, in my opinion, is impossible, because, even in stylistic deformations brought to the maximum, since the theme is figurative, it must be possible to understand the figure and what it represents, as if the figure (human or animal) had no stylistic deformation.
Art is divided into only two parts: figurative and abstract. The abstract art in the ancient times was used for the decoration.
This sculpture, in the side without the tongue, can be seen in the site of the National Museum of Anthropology of Mexico City.
The bicephalic zooanthropomorphic sculptures from Liguria, Mexico and every other part of the world, object of these studies, in every time constitute always an only divinity, but one of the two parts that compose it can have, or assume, subsequently, a greater importance.
The human head in the sculpture of Xoachicalco is characterized from the great eye, versus the small eye of the parrot (proportions of ratio that are natural); but what further distinguishes the head of the bird compared to that one of the man, are the engravings on the face of the man. These engravings can give rise to some interpretations, according to material that will be found to compare. My opinion, currently, is that it is the depiction of the bird's feathers on the man's face, and the depiction of these feathers is entirely invented, and falls within the fashionable style of the time.
In the human head one can see a part of divinity decreasing in value, but also an anthropomorphic deity that becomes "animalized", i.e. one of those depicted beings that I call "humanized animals". An example of depiction of "humanized animals" are some wooden African masks, which consist of a human face in an imitative style of the real thing, and with ears not human, but feline. Therefore, the human head could be of animalized man, as it has a "feathered" face.
The head of the parrot, on the other hand, has traits that bring it closer to man, therefore, important clues of "humanized animal".These traits, even in the difficulty that the profane reader can face for the " style of the work", are constituted by three components :
- the upper beak, that instead of being curved like that of the parrot, descends vertically like a human nose, even if with stylistic deformation;
- the open mouth with out tongue that is human grimace ( moreover since the beak is closed). This tongue certainly belongs to the parrot, as it falls within the carved line in relief that separates the two heads.
- the vertical structure of the head, even if it concerns the only beak, which has a setting closer to the human head, than to the head of a parrot.
This sculpture, therefore, is not the simple representation of a human head joined by the nape to a head of parrot, but is a human head animalized joined to a head of humanized parrot, at least this is my opinion.


The bicephalic zooanthropomorphic sculpture from Vesima (Genoa, Italy) (Fig. 2) is obtained from a grey-green rock, and has a strong patina of light brown color due to the acids of the ground. It was found in secondary lying, about 150 meters above sea level in the mountain that descends to the sea of Liguria. It measures 28 cm in length, 18 cm in height, and has a maximum thickness of 8 cm. It weighs kg.3,700. Its cultural attribution is the Middle Upper Paleolithic. it represents a human head joined by the nape to a head of bird, with look in opposite direction. The bird is considered a royal gull, both for the shape of the beak and for the forehead. The herring gull (Larus argentatus) is the largest of the gulls. It has a large wingspan and is an excellent flyer and swimmer; it is stationary on the coasts of the Ligurian Riviera even today.
Fig.2 Bicephalic zooanthropomorphic sculpture from Vesima

Fig.2 Human head and head of royal seagull
(the eye of the royal seagull has been colored, since the graffito is eroded by water rolling, and you can't see it in the photograph).

Fig.2 Bicephalic zooanthropomorphic sculpture from Vesima
( limestone is due to soil acids)

Fig.2 Bicephalic zooanthropomorphic sculpture from Vesima
(frontal view of the beak of the royal seagull)

Fig.2 Bicephalic zooanthropomorphic sculpture from Vesima
( top view: royal gull beak on the left )

This sculpture is worked on all sides (front view as photographed, top and bottom, while the back is flat). It has a slight fluitation from alluvial tumbling.
The sculpture of Vesima does not have a base, as nearly all paleolithic sculptures have not, therefore its orientation is variable. This is true also for the orientation of the sculpture here in photograph.
The orientation of the sculpture concerns the orientation of the looks, and has different meanings, if the look is turned forward, or upward, or downward.
In the paleolithic sculpture, generally, the look down represents a dead person or a skull, and this is inferred from those bicephalic anthropomorphic sculptures, where the other head is unequivocally with look forward: these sculptures represent joined half head (face) in frontal view and half head with lateral profile.
The placement of this sculpture on the ground was certainly horizontal, in how much the sculpture on the back has not representation, that is flat, contrarily to the Paleolithic "venuses ", that are carved to all round, and that, probably, like other Mexican statuines "without feet ", were held in vertical position inserted in the ground.
The two heads (the man and the royal seagull) have two different styles, that certainly are consequence of two different traditions.
The human head has a style that takes into account the proportions of the skull, but the eye is not represented, and is replaced by a large orbital zone. The nose is integrated in the profile of the face. The mouth is absent. The ear is never represented in the Paleolithic sculptures, and not even in this one.
The style takes into account the proportions of the head, but is not realistic. However, this side profile of human head has its own solemnity, which could celebrate silence, that is, the representation of a deceased. < BR > As for the physical aspect studied by anthropology, by bisecular tradition, through the human skulls, also the human head of Vesima can give informations concerning this discipline. The human head, in fact, has of the traits that approach it to a hypothetical Homo sapiens archaic type, but also to a Homo sapiens neanderthalensis with mixed characters of Homo sapiens sapiens, and this is deduced from the forehead and from the jaw on the lower side. Given that the profile of the face, from the upper part of the nose to the chin, is much thinned, we cannot exclude that in the alluvial tumbling it has lost some fragments of rock, that is, that the sculpted face has deteriorated in that point, therefore, there are no certainty in the interpretation of the physical aspect of this man.
The head of the royal seagull in the bicephalic sculpture of Vesima is in very realistic style, and well proportioned. The beak is represented only in the upper part, while the jaw is missing, but nevertheless, it is more effective visually than a complete beak. This beak is carefully sculpted, and hollowed out underneath.
The head of the royal seagull, in the upper part, is much proportioned to the natural, in how much there is the "forehead", that is that frontal part of the head that rises from the beak. This also according to the opinion of ornithologists of the Natural History Museum of Genoa.The eye is scratched in form of rhombus, a little damaged from the tumbling, but perfectly centered in the head of the seagull, as in the natural.
The graffito of the eye (engraving for rubbing) re-enters in a technique, that typologically is different from the technique of sculpting, that models the shape of this lithic sculpture. Therefore, in this sculpture two different techniques of working are present.
The eye of the seagull is lateral; while the eye (the orbital zone, that is the hollow that replaces the eye) in the human head is frontal. The two heads, in fact, are in lateral view but, with the relief, are also semi-frontal.
The head of this royal seagull, moreover, beyond to the lateral representation, has an emphasized frontal representation, in how much the pointed beak from 7 cm of width reaches in tip a thickness of 1 cm towards the center; that is the beak gets thinner from the two sides.
The forehead is 5 cm wide, and the whole beak narrows from the bottom to the top, like a normal seagull beak. In this beak, moreover, there is marked the shape of the part of skin that joins the beak to the head, which is found with more evidence in the nestlings, as it has a light color.
In this sculpture the head of the royal seagull is larger in size (according to natural proportions) than the human head. That is, while the sculpted human head is smaller than natural, the head of the sculpted seagull is larger than natural, but here they are represented in same dimensions.


1) The two bird heads, which are smaller than the human head in nature, are the same size as the human head in these sculptures.
2) The bird heads are more realistic than the human heads joined.
.3) Bird heads have a different style than human heads.
4) human heads do not have mouths.
5)human heads do not have ears.
6) Human heads look like heads of deceased, as they have no expression.


1) The iconographic bifrontism is connected to some celestial or solar or cielisolar deities.
These two bicephalic zooanthropomorphic sculptures, according to the more shared hypothesis, should be deities, if the same interpretation of the bicephalic anthropomorphic sculptures is applied, that is those joining two human heads.
To this must be added that the guacamaya or macao or ara is a parrot connected to the "cult of the sun", therefore also the representation in sculpture of a parrot must re-enter in this cult.
2) These two sculptures, instead, could re-enter in the cult of the deceased, in how much the two human heads, being inexpressive, can be interpreted like heads of the deceased.
The union between the bird's head and the human one, could mean the travel of the deceased to heaven, brought by the bird.
In any case, is not a ritual like the burial of the dead ones, but these sculptures can re-enter in a cult of the deceased connected to the reaching of the deity in heaven. With this hypothesis the bird would not be a deity, but it would be sacred like an angel of the historical times.


In the evolution of the art from the Paleolithic to the historical and current times it is necessary to take in consideration the components that change, those that do not change, those that are present, and those that are absent.
Paleolithic men in Liguria were impossible to represent parrots, because they did not exist.
Today, in the Sanctuaries of the world, the statuines of deities sold to the faithful are made of synthetic material; a new material, which was absent in the past millennia.
Art and religion are present from all times, that is from the beginning of the Paleolithic.
In Paleolithic and historical times, the art is predominantly at service of the religion.
The man has more interests in religion that in art.
The religions have more elements, that the art.
Some components of the religions are very ancient, and have remained unaltered for tens of thousands of years, as it is deduced from the sculptures of Vesima and Xochicalco.
Art has made technical progresses (in the workmanship), and spiritual progresses (in the composition of the work).
In the spiritual aspects of the man, beyond to the religion, between the others, it must be considered also the " thought " for the planning and the composition of the work of art, and this since the beginning of the Paleolithic.



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