Ritorno a capo automatico art and palethnology



Pietro Gaietto

In palethnology, art seems a daughter unwanted.
The art is object of scarce studies and scarce divulgation.
In the books of introduction to the Paleolithic the pages dedicated to the art vary from 4% to 8%.
On the art are not made researches; when a research on the Paleolithic art is found, it happens for hazard.
The palethnologists are concerned with the origins of tools, but NOT with the origins of art.
Neither the scholars of Paleolithic art care about the origins of art.
The problem of the origins of the art can be solved in a short time.
Art has to be managed by palethnologists.
The remedy exists.


To this question should answer the palethnologists, but the facts demonstrate that the interest is really scarce.
The paintings of Europe's two most important caves were discovered not by palethnologists, but by children. In 1879 a 12 years old girl discovered the paintings of the Altamira Cave. The Lescaux Cave was discovered by two boys in 1940.
It seems, however, that the disinterest for the art in the science precedes the palethnology.
The work "Antiquités celtiques et antédiluviennes", in which Jacques Boucher de Perthes illustrated his discoveries of industries and art, was introduced in 1846 to the Académie des Sciences and published in 1849, but it was received by a general skepticism and aroused therefore a wide discussion, in which many famous naturalists were involved (J. Prestwich, J. Evans, C. Lyell, H. Falconer, etc.). Later the validity of a part of the industries was recognized, but not the validity of the art, constituted by flint sculptures.
In the second half of the 1800's the study of the industries made great progress, as object of intense researches, on the contrary of the art that was not an issue considered by the palethnologists. It is evident that the voluminous treatises by Boucher de Perthes were not consulted.
The first discoveries of zoomorphic paintings in cave were made by a twelve-year-old girl, daughter of Marcelino de Santuola, a Spanish nobleman, who started excavating the Magdalenian deposit of the Altamira Cave, in Cantabria.
In 1879, four years after the beginning of the excavations, child Maria, which her father brought with him for the first time, attracted his attention to the animals painted on the vault of the cave just above the excavation.
This episode should give us an opportunity to reflect. Santuola was a cultured man who for four years conducted excavations in cave in the light of lamps. How can we explain that he was never able to see the paintings on the vault? The only possible explanation is that who does not asks himself the problem, does not see. But when his child pointed out the paintings to him, his brain started working in the direction of art.
Santuola published the discovery in 1880, and although his interpretation was correct, it was not accepted by official science, whose representatives were no longer naturalists, who denied art, as at the time of Boucher de Perthes, but palethnologists.
Those who examined were unprepared to accept products of high artistic maturity and great technical skill as those of Altamira, dated back to the Magdalenian, especially since the lithic industry of Magdalenian is the most "ugly" of all the Upper Paleolithic.
Official science gave the recognition of the Altamira paintings after more than twenty years, between 1902 and 1906, and after new discoveries of Paleolithic paintings in caves of Dordogne around 1900.
Twenty years is a long time. One cannot blame the official science, neither justify it because it must be prudent. About Altamira the problem, in my opinion, has to be looked for in the indifference that the palethnologists had for art. These palethnologists could have consulted experts (artists or fresco painters) to understand if the paintings of Altamira were false or ancient. Nothing of this. Total indifference. As in Middle Ages, they put Santuola's findings in prison and threw away the key. Only the Dordogne caves opened the door to Altamira.

The naturalists of the first half of the nineteenth century are concerned with the man, but not with art.The palethnologists of the second half of the nineteenth century are concerned with the material life of the Paleolithic man, where the central pivot of their studies are the industries, but they do not deal with art. The twentieth century inherits this tradition of studies of "material culture", and not of art.

With the first years of the 20th century begin in intensive way the discoveries of paintings in cave, the discoveries of small feminine sculptures (Venuses), and the discoveries of "Art mobilier" of the upper Paleolithic, that obviously must be studied. Not is known, at this point, if the palethnologists do escape the occasion to study the Paleolithic art because not interested to it, or because they are unprepared, or because the scholars of art (not palethnologists) appropriates of it having already a base of competence in the field of art in general.
Art scholars have always existed. In Hellenistic Greece they had a high specialization. In our times the art scholar generally deals with art history, with specialization in some periods and not in others, and where the central theme is the "beautiful", which gives "pleasure" to the public to whom his work is addressed.
For modern and contemporary art, the art scholar is defined as the "art critic", and whoever has more charisma also becomes an "ideologist".

A merit of the palethnologists (indeed one of the many merits) has been to study the evolution of the tools from the most ancient shapes to the most recent ones. To the contrary, scholars of art of the upper Paleolithic have set up their studies with the same concepts of the history of art of the historical periods, where the term "evolution" is absent.
The study of the art of the upper Paleolithic is in a situation of stall, and is revived, from time to time, from some new opinion, that is not known if credible or less; or from some new discovery, or from some new dating, but the scientific study does not go ahead, like instead goes ahead that one of the industries.


Boucher de Perthes has been the first to look for the origins of art, but not to look for the origins of the Paleolithic art, because not yet discovered. He was looking for the art of antediluvian man.
Paolo Graziosi, known scholar of art, considering that the art of the upper Paleolithic presents itself very mature in every application and variety of styles, hypothesized in 1959 that it had to have a more ancient origin to be searched outside Europe. Probably he thought to an extra-European origin, as in Europe there were no finds, and perhaps, as previous phase, he meant the middle Paleolithic.

My research began with different assumptions. It was 1958 or 1959, I was in my early 20s, great lover of art. I was producing sculptures in welded iron, being in Genoa in the avant-garde of abstractionism, which was in vogue in those years. My interest in archeology began a couple of years before. Alone, I went to visit the cave of Niaux, then unguarded. Those paintings fascinated me. So I decided to look for Paleolithic art in Liguria, because I could not believe that it was lacking.
In the Liguria caves I found neither paintings nor engravings. On the rocks I did not find engravings. I found instead lithic sculptures on the mountains to the borders between the provinces of Genoa and Savona.
They were sculptures representing human heads, some were bicephalic. The prevailing type was Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, so I thought that they belonged to the middle Paleolithic. These sculptures, however, were not at the origin of the zoomorphic paintings of the French upper Paleolithic, but they were previous.
Some sculptures of bicephalic human heads associate a head of Neanderthal to one of Sapiens sapiens, testifying a coexistence of the two human types. Other sculptures of heads of Homo sapiens sapiens, always found on the mountains of Liguria, had a variety of types with different characteristics between them and much similar to the actual mankind, and I placed these in the Upper Paleolithic. Twenty years after Leslie Freeman, and other Spanish palethnologists, discovered in the Cave of El Juyo (Santander, Spain) a sculpture with typology similar to those that I had found, representing a human head joined to a head of feline, and dated to 14,000 years.
This finding at El Juyo confirmed my conviction that, in parallel to the civilizations with painting, in this case the Magdalenian civilization, there were other civilizations with sculpture (and without painting) in different zones.
My findings of sculptures of the middle Paleolithic present themselves as mature, both for the human subjects represented, for the composition in bicephalic combinations, and for the technique of working; therefore I thought that they had to have a more ancient origin. My research then moved to the large surface deposits of the Lower Paleolithic.
I started with the Gargano where I went every summer for five years, then I did intensive work on other Italian and French deposits, and a few surveys in Spain and Greece.
In these deposits I found flint anthropomorphic and zoomorphic sculptures, also bicephalic,, that I have attributed to the Acheulean and the Abbevillian. I have obtained the cultural attribution comparing the technique of working of the sculptures with that one of the lithic tools, that are all datable for typology, and also with the degree of flowing that associates the more ancient artefacts. The human types are archaic, and there are not representations of Homo sapiens sapiens. Some of these sculptures have the head with the body without limbs: the human ones have the body in vertical position, the ones depicting animals have the body in horizontal position.
Recently in Israel at Berekhat Ram in the High Golan has been discovered an anthropomorphic sculpture, similar to an Aurignacian Venus, and attributed to the Acheulean (studied by Alexander Marshack, Francesco D'Errico and the Israel Prehistoric Society).
Also the Abbevillian sculpture, although it may appear coarse to the profane eye, seemed quite complex to me, and so I looked for its origin in the previous cultural phase that is the Pebble Culture.
The deposits in the open air of Pebble Culture in Italy are rare, and have damaged artefacts from tumbling, but the sculptures that I have found are in good conditions.
At the current state of my researches on Pebble Culture, the typology is only one, constituted from the representation of the human head, of a much archaic type, that seems to have been represented without jaw.
A similar sculpture has been found by Mary Leakey in the Gorge of Olduvai, and has been dated to 1,700,000 years.

For my part, the problem of the origins of art is resolved in an indicative way, inasmuch as, with my experience of more than forty years of research, I do not believe that it is possible to find typologies very different from those that have been found. Certainly, the period taken into consideration is so vast, that my findings, however numerous, are very little to complete all the tesserae that have already been occupied by industries. And, then, the other zones of Europe and the other continents where have not been made researches remain.

For the official science, obviously, the problem is not solved, because it is not existing.

Researches are made to look for life on other planets; researches are made (there is almost a competition) to look for the missing link man-"monkey" researches are made to extend the knowledge of the material life of the Paleolithic man in the most ancient times, and therefore, it is good that we begin to make research on the origins of art, and consequently on the spiritual life of the Lower Paleolithic man.
From 40 years, the writings that I have read on the spiritual life of the man of the lower Paleolithic are based on the jaws of the Euranthropus, of the Atlantropus, of the Sinanthropus and on some other pieces of skull, for an ethnographic parallelism with funerary rituals of the current Homo sapiens sapiens.
Art expands the boundaries of the spiritual life of the lower Paleolithic man, giving him the same level of Homo sapiens sapiens, even if at a lower cultural level.


Finding the sculptures of the lower and middle Paleolithic is very similar to finding the tools, since the knowledge is necessary. Who has not knowledge can not be able to find neither tools, neither sculptures. To start the research on the art of the lower and middle Paleolithic, and therefore the study on the origins, it is necessary that the palethnologist deals with the study of the art that he has found, and that are the palethnologists to reassemble these researches in chronological and of geographical distribution order, exactly like for the industries.
In paleoanthropology, who finds the skeletal find studies it directly, and there are paleoanthropologists who investigate the evolution of the finds, not caring about the spiritual aspects.
For the study of the lower and middle Paleolithic art it is necessary a separation of the material components, that are visible, from those spiritual, invisible.
The use of artifacts is an invisible component, which can be considered "spiritual" in the use of sculpture, as it is a ritual, and "not spiritual" in the use of tools to cut, scrape, etc.
Obviously, if a sculpture is found over a skeleton, we have to think that the ritual was funerary, and this concerns the spiritual aspects, that must be held in high consideration, but that cannot be inserted in statistical studies together with the material components. So also, for what the depictions represent in the cult; and in this case, are necessary historical and ethnographic parallelisms with similar depictions of which we know the meaning, like the bicephalic anthropomorphic sculptures and the several types of zooanthropomorphic sculptures that, independently from the quality degree, are similar in the Paleolithic and in the first historical civilizations of the ancient Mediterranean.
Material components are processing technique and material choice, in common with tools. The other components are anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, or zooanthropomorphic depiction, and stylistic deformation.
Anthropomorphic sculpture depicts the heads of many human types, varying in each cultural phase.
The stylistic deformation is the true language of the art, that reflects the "fashion" of a determined period. The sculpture of a head can be deformed at maximum for lengthening, but one can understand if it is a man or a mammal; meanwhile in the middle stylistic deformations the human type is always understood, i. e. if it is an archaic or recent neanderthalian, or a sapiens sapiens.
The range of the stylistic deformations is very ample, like in the art of all the historical times and all the world.
The anthropomorphic sculptures with minor stylistic deformation are proportioned to the real, with clear representation of the human type, that in the scientific search has the double utility to give a chronology to the sculpture on the base of the dating of the skeletal finds, and in the meantime to supply images to the paleoanthropology that the Paleolithic man has made of himself.

The art of the lower and middle Paleolithic has to be searched and every place can be good or bad.
The art is not found in the places of dwelling, but in those of cult.
In the middle Paleolithic, in the zones of middle mountain, some groupings of sculptures let us presume the collocation in places of cult. In the lower Paleolithic, where the sculptures often introduce signs of alluvial transport, it is much difficult to establish the places of cult; however, in the excavated dwelling places the sculpture does not exist.
The more ancient periods, exactly the lower and middle Paleolithic, are the surest for the cultural attributions of the art, and therefore for their dating.
In the more recent periods of the Paleolithic and protohistory, it is most difficult to date the art works.
About 15 years ago UNESCO made a census of Paleolithic cave paintings and protohistoric rock engravings all over the world, counting 20 million of them.
All these works are in worship places, and in the most greater part not even the human settlements are known, that is we do not know who has made them. The datings that often are given, in relation to the brevity of the periods, are generic attributions, and therefore, in comparisons, less precise than the datings of the lower and middle Paleolithic.

I conclude
and I wish a good journey to those who will start the research
best wishes to find their first sculpture
and this magnificent journey will never end.



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