Why do we need to attribute symbolic meaning to the creations of extinct cultures?
I have a picture of a squid, drawn by my five-year-old nephew. It is pink and squiggly but is clearly the thing that it is. Because he is a part of our current culture, and because we inherently understand the artistic thought process of a well cared for child, living in the United States in the 21st century, we don’t attach anything to the drawing beyond the obvious: Aw, how cute.
When I was writing a story about a Neolithic child, I stumbled around the internet to make sure I had my basic information correct, (namely that yes, there were people living here about 10,000 years ago and yes they hunted grazing animals with spears.) In my link-clicking, I wound up on a Wikipedia page about cave paintings, and what I noticed was how similar those pictures look to pictures drawn by my nephew.
But if you read the entries you will see entire sections on the symbolic nature of the paintings. Or rather, the symbolism attached to the cave paintings by the knowledgeable scientific types who study them.
One scientist, “interpreted the paintings as being hunting magic, meant to increase the number of animals.” Another states, “the paintings were made by paleolithic shamans. The shaman would retreat into the darkness of the caves, enter into a trance state and then paint images of their visions”
Really? Isn’t it possible that on rainy days the adults sent the little kids into the caves with the leftover paint and they entertained themselves the same way my nephew does now. Is it really any more complicated than that?
For December 3rd’s Daily Prompt, I came back to this post and reworked it with what I’ve learned in the last few months. I fixed a few grammatical errors, added a picture, relevant tags and links using Zemanta – which always feels a bit like cheating to me. =)