Guest post by Kaye George

One of the best part of the internet in general and the Prehistoric Fiction Writers group in particular is getting to meet other writers and enjoy their views.  Here’s Kaye George, author of Death in the Time of Ice as well as other books, including the mystery Fat Cat at Large.  Welcome, Kaye!

My own misfits and heroes

Kaye George photo

The fact that Kathleen Rollins has two groups of strangers meet in her A MEETING OF CLANS is so exciting. What must it have been like to venture to another continent with only the most primitive technology (although, to them, it was the latest and greatest)! And to think you are alone on a continent, then discover you’re not. Great stuff.

I’m also fascinated with what life was life long ago. A group I’ve always loved to study is the Neanderthals. The first images of them so maligned the whole people that I like to try to help overcome that. When I decided to write about Neanderthal characters, the complete mapping of their genome, plus much more research that is being announced almost weekly, fell right into my lap, and totally in step with my project. It seemed like I had to do it!

I love knowing that, at one time, there were different kinds of people on this planet. Homo neanderthalensis, Homo sapiens, and Denisovans, all at once. [1] Until scientists decided they didn’t really exist, we had the Hobbit people, too. There are also the Cro-Magnon (I know, the term is out of favor, but they weren’t actually just like us).

It would be the most exciting thing ever to meet up with a Neanderthal or a Denisovan. Since that’s not possible, I turn to fiction. Kaye George book

Neanderthals are my main characters. Being primarily a mystery writer, “my” Neanderthals have to be involved in a mysterious murder. It’s been such fun to do research for this writing. Another love of mine is the megafauna that existed in North America before 10,000 BCE. What could I do? I brought the Neanderthals over to North America before the last Ice Age and wrote what I call alternate history. (Although just because Neanderthal artifacts and remains haven’t been discovered here doesn’t mean they weren’t here, right?)

The best thing about writing about Neanderthals is that there are conflicting theories about many of their characteristics and abilities. I figure I can pick and choose whatever suits me best.

However, I do try to stick with generally accepted theories. (Except for putting them in N. America.) Take speech [2]. More and more it’s thought that they could talk, although there are holdouts against fluent speech similar to ours. My solution was to give them speech, but to reserve it for special occasions, “pronouncements” by the leader, mostly.

Was I telepathic, having the women be hunters? Some support that idea [3], some don’t [4].

Okay, I know no one says they were telepathic, except William Shatner [5]. But that was my way of getting around the speech controversy, which was more controversial when I began writing Death in the Time of Ice. It’s also my way of filling up their brains, which were larger than ours. (I read this while writing the book, but it’s apparently no longer true. Still, there’s room for telepathy in the Aborigine brain.)

There are a few misfits in this Neanderthal tribe. Twin girls, abandoned by a starving tribe (most likely) were taken in as small children. One of them, Enga Dancing Flower, turns out to be a hero (or heroine if you prefer). Another misfit is a Cro-Magnon (or modern human) that the tribe also takes in. He is an adult who has been cast from his tribe, but no one knows much about him, because there’s a severe language/telepathy barrier. I won’t reveal whether he turns out to be a hero or not. That would ruin the mystery!

[1] http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2012/issue132a/

[2] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140302185241.htm

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-25465102

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/05/science/05nean.html?_r=0

[4] http://www.the-spearhead.com/2012/01/10/were-neanderthal-women-gender-equalists/

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neanderthals_in_popular_culture (search for Shatner)

 

 

Kaye George, national bestselling and multiple-award-winning mystery writer, writes several series: Imogene Duckworthy, Cressa Carraway (Barking Rain Press), People of the Wind (Untreed Reads), and, as Janet Cantrell, Fat Cat (Berkley Prime Crime cozies). Her short stories appear in anthologies and magazines as well as her own collection, A Patchwork of Stories. Her reviews run in Suspense Magazine. She lives in Knoxville, TN.

http://kayegeorge.com/

Links to the books:

http://store.untreedreads.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=6_158

http://www.amazon.com/Death-Time-Ice-Kaye-George/dp/1611873835/

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/death-in-the-time-of-ice-kaye-george/1115521961?ean=9781611873832

Guest Post by Mary S. Black

 Mary S. Black is the author of Peyote Fire, a novel set 4,000 years ago in the canyonlands of southwest Texas. Mary S. BlackLearn more about her at http://www.marysblack.com, or find her on Facebook. She also participants in the Prehistoric Writers and Readers Campfire on Facebook and Goodreads. Her book is now available on Amazon.

PF cover

Tell us a little bit about your new book.  What’s it about?

Peyote Fire is the story of people who created incredible rock art in southwest Texas over 4,000 years ago. This area is known as the Lower Pecos region today, and is located right on the Rio Grande, about 50 miles west of Del Rio,Texas. Archaeologists have identified over 300 rock art sites in four different styles in this area. My protagonist, Deer Cloud, is painting just such a mural when his powerful grandfather dies, and his life changes.   Deer Cloud is called to walk the shaman path and finally, to bring the buffalo through his visionary power.

To reach his goal, Deer Cloud must visit five mythical wolves who make him fear for his life and his sanity in order to become a shaman. Of course he must ingest powerful hallucinogenic herbs to see the wolves, and that frightens him even more. He must learn to overcome his fears and find his true life.

The female shaman, Jumping Rabbit, takes an interest in him, and introduces him to a little cactus, peyote. Peyote naturally grows in the Lower Pecos and has been used for thousands of years as a powerful medicine. However, this new drug threatens another shaman, Stone Face, who wants to hold on to his own power. When scouts spy a herd of buffalo several days away, Stone Face challenges Deer Cloud to call the beasts using his new spirit helper.

Of course Stone Face uses his own songs and hallucinogenic drugs to call the buffalo. The herd comes and are stampeded over a cliffwhiteshaman rock art panel in a horrific scene. But whose magic really called them? Stone Face or Deer Cloud? The one with the most powerful magic will lead the people from now on.

What inspired you to write about these people?

 I’ve made many trips to the Lower Pecos over the past 25 years to see rock art and other archaeological sites. Every time I’ve seen these rock art panels, I always wondered who made it. I’ve always wondered what the artist thought about as he or she painted the stories in the rockshelters. The paintings are complex, and up to now, little has been known about their meaning. Today, researchers are making great strides in interpreting these stories from the past, so it’s very exciting. (Photo, right: White Shaman rock art panel, the same image that appears on the cover of Peyote Fire.)

The remains of a huge buffalo jump in one of the smaller canyons have been known by archaeologists since the 1930s or before. It’s estimated over 800 animals died in one amazing episode, and many bones are still there today. So part of the story is based on this as well.

Spring, Lower Pecos canyonlands

I wanted to make these ancient people walk and talk in my novel, using everything archaeologists and others have learned about their culture to bring them to life.  (Photo left: spring in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands)

 What differences between their era and ours do you find most striking?

Well, certainly the people had a completely different world-view than we do today. Yet they had explanations for the phenomena of the world. Generally their explanations centered on the behavior of certain gods, such as Father Sun or Mother Rain, but often included the behavior of animals as well. For example, in my book, the people’s explanation for fire is that Possum discovered Fire already in the wood, and brought it to the people. I actually took this story from Huichol mythology. The people’s observations of the world around them were acute—they had to be in order to live. Fire was considered the Great Transformer, because nothing that enters fire comes out the same ever again. Of course this is a world-view that I constructed based on ethnographic research, and certainly cannot be “proven” to be “correct.” It’s fiction, after all. We’ll never know exactly what they thought, of course.

 

How did you get the background information you needed about these people and their lifestyle?

Fate Bell Shelter, Seminole Canyon, Texas I did years of research. I didn’t start actually writing until I thought I knew enough to begin. Even then I would have to stop every other paragraph to look something up. I wanted to be as accurate as possible, based on what archaeologists and others have discovered. Sometimes translating those scientific papers, etc., into language for the general public is not easy! But I wanted to share what is known about these people with a wider audience. I also visited the Lower Pecos many times and was lucky enough to tag along with a few archaeologists so I got to see and experience many places inaccessible to the public. I was fortunate enough also to study for a short time with one of the most important researchers of that particular rock art. (Photo: Rock art panel in Fate Bell Shelter, Seminole Canyon State Park, Texas)

What do you want readers today to know about ancient peoples?

I want people to know that these ancient people were fully human, with complex thinking, planning, and organizing skills. I find many Americans today know little about the ancient past and therefore fail to celebrate the ingenuity of all human beings.

What are you working on next?

I’m writing a brief travel guide to the Lower Pecos. It will be divided into three sections: Environment, Rock Art, and Towns and Ghost towns. After that I’ll start the second novel, about the female shaman who seduces Deer Cloud in book number one.

You can find Mary S. Black’s book Peyote Fire on Amazon.com.  She says the Kindle version should be out soon.

Monte Verde Mysteries

Monte Verde is an archaeological site in southern Chile, currently situated some 35 miles (45 kilometers) east of the Pacific coast on Chinchihuapi Creek. It doesn’t look extraordinary, but discoveries made on both sides of this little creek are shaking up the archaeological world. After twenty years of challenges from doubting archaeologists, especially those supporting the Clovis First theory, the evidence from Monte Verde still supports the thesis that this site was occupied by humans at least 14,800 years ago, which makes it the oldest widely accepted site of human habitation in the Americas.

Monte Verde siteMonte Verde map

The site, incredibly well-preserved by a bog, challenges many – make that almost all – of our preconceptions about ancient explorers in the Americas. And it raises many questions without easy answers.

 

 

 

Question 1

Is the site 14 ,800 years old – or more than twice that old?

The oldest human habitation date that archaeologist and anthropologist Tom Dillehay suggested – and subsequently defended against loud criticism from fellow American archaeologists – was 14,800 years ago, the date he and his colleague, geologist Mario Pino, connected with the bottom layer of the first excavation. In this area, they found stone artifacts including points, bola stones, and a drill, the remains of wood frame structures apparently covered in hides and floored with rough planks, ropes and knots, two large fire pits, animal bones and fur, remains of tubers, seeds, nuts, berries, mushrooms, seaweed, algae, and leaves. The finds included 15 species of aquatic plants and 45 other plant species. It was an extraordinary discovery.

But it was complicated by an even more extraordinary find just the other side of the creek, where Dillehay and Pino found stone tools and evidence of hearths that were over 30,000 years old. Dillehay knew that 14,800 year old date would be extremely controversial, so he chose to effectively ignore the earlier finds.

Pino and Dillehay(Pino, left, and Dillehay, right, in photo)

“I don’t yet see any reason to believe people were in the Americas and that far south 30,000 years ago,” Dillehay remarked. In his report, he acknowledged the presence of the stone tools and carbon scatters consistent with hearths but refused to make the much earlier claim.

Mario Pino, on the other hand, did make the claim. So how old is Monte Verde? “There’s no doubt about the age – it’s 33,000 years old,” Pino said in a New York Times article in which he noted the age of the sediment layers bearing the apparent artifacts.

Now that most of the archaeological powers that be have reviewed the evidence of the first site and grudgingly accepted it, opinions are softening somewhat toward the older site. “We’ll open up that level and see what’s there,” Dillehay said in a more recent interview.

So Monte Verde is 33,000 years old – maybe, or 14,800 years old – probably – at least.

 

Question 2

What does the variety of food and medicine found at Monte Verde say about the people?

MV close-up map

Mastodon bones sticking out of a washed out riverbank first drew attention to the Monte Verde site. Experts estimate the animal that went with the tusk fragment weighed two tons. Finds also included a chunk of mastodon meat, remains of llama, shellfish, fish, small mammals, edible seeds, mushrooms, tubers, berries, stalks, and wild potatoes. In all, remains of 45 different plant species were found on site, over 20% of them originating over 150 miles away. Some of the plants came from the coast – 56 miles (90 km) to the west back then; others from marshes, forests, and arid grasslands. So either the people gathered food from very distant sources and brought it back to their village or they engaged in trade with other people in other locations. In either case, these people understood seasonal availability and enjoyed a varied diet.

And about all that seaweed …

At least nine different species of seaweed, both edible and medicinal, were originally found at the site. Later exploration of the site provided evidence of many more. Dillehay’s 2008 Nature paper indicates they found 19 seaweed species, five of which came from the coast. The following list includes some of the seaweed species discovered at the site, all of which are still used as a good source of minerals and protein, fertilizer, wound dressing, and medicine:

 

Durvillaea – a large kelp (“bull kelp”) found between Chile and Antarctica that is able to float because of air held within its honeycomb blades. It forms large rafts that can cross the open sea. It provides essential minerals and acts as an antioxidant. Currently, it’s used to promote heart and kidney health and to slow cellular degeneration associated with aging.

Porphyra – red/black algae from the south and west, edible. Called nori in Japan, it’s commonly used to wrap sushi. In Asian medicine, it’s combined with other seaweed species to treat goiter, cysts, tumors, lymph node swelling, liver and spleen enlargement. It’s currently the most valuable marine crop in Asia, worth over $1billion dollars.

Mazzaella – edible red, iridescent seaweed from the coast, currently used as a thickening agent and a commercial fertilizer

Sarcothalia (Luga negra) – currently harvested off the coast of Chile. David Horgen of Hawaii Pacific University is studying the ability of waixenicin A, a compound in Sarcothalia, to fight cancer.

The four species listed above are from west and south of Monte Verde.

 

Garcilaria – seaweed found in near shore tide pools and reef flats, believed have come from the Philippines and Hawaii, a sea vegetable with anti-viral qualities, currently used to fight herpes and HIV

Gigartina – near shore seaweed used as a sea vegetable. In medicine, it’s used as an anti-viral and immune booster, helpful in controlling skin lesions, herpes, and other infections.

The two species listed above come from the coast.

Currently, Gracilaria, Sarcothalia, Gigartina, and Porphyra are considered four of the most important seaweed species Chile harvests and sells. They’re used in the production of food and medicine, as well as fertilizers and filters.

MV giant kelp

Macrocystis – giant kelp, (photo left), an incredibly fast growing plant of cooler waters along the coast of North and South America, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. The plant’s long stalk, up to 160’ tall, is held up by a gas bladder. Large stands form kelp forests that support a wide range of wildlife. Rich in iodine and potassium, it’s long been used as a food source and wound dressing.

This seaweed grows offshore.

Sargassum – a seaweed originating in Japan, capable of surviving in a variety of habitats, including open water. Sargassum forms large floating mats at sea, which may explain how the species has successfully invaded shore areas around the world. Medicinally, it’s useful for treating goiter, tumor, pain, and swelling.

 

Sargassum is most commonly found in open water, not by the shore. Interestingly, most of these seaweeds come from the south and west of Monte Verde. Both Sargassum and Durvillaea form large floating mats that can cross open water. (photo, below)

Lines_of_Sargassum

Trentepohlia – a green alga (often appearing orange) that grows on tree trunks, buildings, and shore rocks. Recent research has shown it to be a powerful anti-microbial agent against five species of bacteria and five species of fungi, including agents of human, animal, and plant diseases, mycotoxin producers, and food spoilage agents.

What an interesting combination of plants! It seems we’re just now catching up with our relatives from long-ago in understanding their value.

The “cuds”

While it’s impossible to infer their uses for all of these, we can be fairly sure they used some as medicine because of the “cuds” found at the site – partially chewed mixtures of plants still bearing the mark of the chewer’s upper palate.

These “cuds” suggest the people of Monte Verde were familiar with properties of different seaweed species.   In addition, they went great distances and faced considerable difficulties of harvesting coastal and open water species. “This is suggestive of a fairly sophisticated knowledge of coastal ecosystems,” Dillehay remarked.

Or perhaps they traded with others who lived on the coast. Presence of material not found locally, such as quartz and tar, support the idea of a trade network. In 2007, the discovery of another site nearby, Pilauco Bajo, led to the theory that the two sites were associated. If Monte Verde was part of a trade network, it must have been the southern terminus. During the Ice Age, glaciers covered the southern tip of South America.

 

Question 3 – Where did the residents of Monte Verde come from?

This question brings up lots of other questions and even more arguments.

The Land Bridge Route

 paleomigration map

The most common theory of migration into the Americas involves the Land Bridge from Asia known as Beringia. According to this theory, the first people in the Americas walked across from Siberia to Alaska, following big game. From there, they found their way south and east through an ice-free corridor that opened up between mile-high ice sheets around 13,000 years ago. (Red line in map)

But see there’s a problem now, if a site in southern Chile is older than the ice-free corridor. Actually, the Beringia theory is so widely accepted that some archaeologists declared the Monte Verde dates to be impossible because they came before the Beringia dates.

 

The Coastal Route (pink line on map)

Then another theory surfaced – the coastal route. Harvard archaeologist Carol Mandryk said the ice-free corridor idea through Canada wouldn’t work because even after the ice sheets began to melt 13,000 years ago, vegetation would have been too scarce to support big game. Instead, she said, people came down the coast in small boats. In this case, people came from Asia but rather than walking, they took the sea route, hugging the edge of the coast and ice, until they reached what’s now Oregon, which was ice-free. From there, people populated the rest of the Americas.

But at 14,800 years old, Monte Verde predates the known sites in Oregon. Well, some argued, rising sea levels had covered all evidence of earlier passage. Or the bands of people were so small, they left no trace. They were “archaeologically invisible.”

 

The Kelp Highway

Proponents of the Kelp Highway hypothesis say that early explorers traveled by boat from Asia to South America following the kelp beds. This would explain the knowledge of different seaweed species, especially giant kelp, found at the Monte Verde site. However, giant kelp, Macrocystis, is typically found in open water rather than shallow coastal waters. “It was blown ashore in storms,” proponents explain.

MV Solutrean

The Solutrean Solution

Dr. Dennis Stanford, head of Archaeology of the National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian, a former Clovis Firster, changed his mind and came up with what’s been called the Solutrean Solution, claiming that people from northern Spain/southern France brought advanced technologies like weaving, sewing, painting, atlatls, and stone work across the North Atlantic by taking boats north from Europe toward Greenland and then south, hugging the shore/ice until they reached modern-day southeastern USA. This Solutrean stonework then turned into the famous Clovis points that spread east to west across the continent with trade. (Solutrean path is marked in red on map)

An interesting theory – with many critics. However, in order for those people to reach Monte Verde, they would have had to go the length of the Americas and around the tip of South America to the west side, during the Ice Age, when the Patagonian ice sheet covered the whole area.

MV mysterious Pedra Furada art

The West from Africa Route – The Pedra Furada Dilemma

Pedra Furada is actually a large cluster of sites in the Serra de Capivara Park near the northeast coast of Brazil. Its presence, and the tenacity of its principal investigator, Niede Guidon, have become a serious problem for the Clovis/Beringia theorists. Pedra Furada sites have consistently returned dates of 32,000 to 48,000 years ago. Since these did not fit with the Beringia theory, archaeologists from the US, in a terrible example of academic blindness and resentment, refused to consider it.

Pedra Furada

One look at Pedra Furada on a globe will show the closest land mass is – West Africa, not Asia. But this migration route would involve open water travel, which archaeologists seem reluctant to believe despite the evidence that people traveled over open water to Australia in an even earlier time period. Ocean currents and prevailing winds would take a boat traveler from West Africa directly to South America. Now a few maps include a west from Africa route, but not many.

But even the West Africa Route would not explain Monte Verde. The Andes stand in the way.

 

The South Pacific Route

If Monte Verde is indeed 33,000 years old, and the oldest date in North America is 20,000 younger, it seems to indicate some other migration route: across the South Pacific. This would explain the knowledge of open ocean seaweeds. Ocean currents would take people from the Pacific Islands south and then swing north as they neared South America. (Southernmost route marked on map)

Multiple routes map

 

Actually, a shocking discovery points exactly there.

According to a paper published in the journal Nature, April 2013, Polynesian DNA has been found in ancient Native American bones.

Molecular geneticist Sergio Pena analyzed DNA from teeth in skulls of Botocudo, indigenous people who lived in southeastern Brazil until they were eradicated by the Portuguese in the 1800s in an attempt to quell dissent.

 

Botocudo man, South American natives of eastern Brazil, historical portrait, 1875

(The drawing included here is a portrait of a Botocudo man made in 1875.)  Fourteen Botocudo skulls were kept in a museum in Rio de Janeiro.  To the scientists’ surprise, in two of the skulls, they found DNA indicating Polynesian ancestry.  A second lab confirmed the findings.  Pena remarked, “The most exciting potential explanation of the DNA findings is that ancestors of the Botocudo once interbred with those of Polynesians before the peopling of the Americas 15,000 – 20,000 years ago.  Prior studies of skull shapes hinted that two distinct groups entered the Americas – one more Asian type seen now in the vast majority of extant Native Americas, and an earlier type seen in skeletons in Brazil and elsewhere that resembled some African groups, Australians, Melanesians, and Polynesians such as Easter Islanders.”

Loud debate erupted as soon as the news was released.  Yet one of the most interesting parts of the discovery went unnoticed.  DNA studies, on which we currently base our models of human colonization of the Americas, were – up until this study – based almost exclusively on living people.  Thus any race that went extinct, such as the Botocudo and many others, would never be represented and their part of the story never told.

Easter Islanders have Polynesian DNA. Apparently Polynesian navigators found a small island about 2618 miles (4229 KM) from Tahiti. If ancient navigators could take on open ocean voyages to Easter Island, they could probably find a continent.

Response

And yet, here’s the official response: “No scholars seriously consider the possibility that the early Americans landed first in South America. All linguistic, genetic and other evidence points to the Bering Strait as the most likely point of entry” (John Nobel Wilford). “No archaeologists seriously consider the possibility that the first Americans came by sea and landed first in South America.” (Charlie Hatchett).

Well, perhaps they should. And while they’re at it, perhaps they should consider the antiquity of sites in Pennsylvania, Texas, and South Carolina which predate sites on the west coast. Perhaps they should abandon their strange allegiance to a theory that has proven desperately incomplete on so many fronts.

 

What if the answer is many answers?

Evidence from Pedra Furada, Monte Verde, Topper Hill, Paisley Caves, Cactus Hill, and other sites points to multiple points of entry into the Americas, at different times.  If so, the diagram would look something like the one above.  Actually, it might have a lot more arrows on it.

Monte Verde gives us a new and very different view of early visitors to the Americas. Perhaps further research will answer some of the thorny questions Monte Verde has posed.

 

Sources and interesting reading:

Avila, Marcela, and others, “Economic feasibility of Sarcothalia cultivation” Hydrobiologia 16th International Seaweed Symposium, 1999.

Buschmann, Alejandro H. and others, “Seaweed cultivation, product development and integrated aquaculture studies in Chile,” World Aquaculture, (36) September 2005

Curry, Andrew. “Ancient migration”: Coming to America, Nature news feature, 2 May 2012, http://www.nature.com/news/ancient-migrations-coming-to-America-1.10562

Dillehay, Tom D. and others, “Monte Verde: Seaweed, Food, Medicine, and the Peopling of South America,” Science, 9 May 2008 (320) 764-786, http://www.sciencemag.org/content/320/5877/784. Or http://www.ncbi.nlm.nnih.gov/pubmed/18467586

“Durvillaea Antarctica,” Seaweed Industry Association, http://seaweedindustry.com/seaweed/type/durvillaea-antaractica

“Durvillaea Antarctica,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durvillaea_antarctica

“Edible seaweed,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edible_seaweed

“Evaluation of In Vitro Antioxidant and Antimicrobial Activities of Green Microalgae Trentepohlia umbrina,” ScienceAlerts.com http://sciencealerts.com/stories/2065293/

“Gracilaria,” Invasive Algae Database, http://www.bishopmuseum.org/algae/results3.asp

Hames, Raymond. “Chilean Field Yields New Clues to Peopling of Americas, New York Times, 25 August 1998, http://www.unl.edu/rhames/monte_verde/monte_verde1.htm

Hatchett, Charlie, “Monte Verde Excavation: or Clovis Police Beat a Retreat,” Archaeology Fieldwork.com, http://www.archaeologyfieldwork.com/afe/message/topic/2830/discussion/monte-verde

Hirst, Kris, “Monte Verde Photo Essay: Seaweed Exploitation at Monte Verde II”   About.com Archaeology, http://archaeology.about.com/od/preclovissites/ss/monte_verde_4.htm

Hirst, Kris. “Pacific Coast Migration Model” About.com Archaeology, http://archaeology.about.com/od/

Hirst, Kris. “Kelp Highway Hypothesis: A variation on the Pacific coast migration model of colonizing America,” About.com Archaeology http://arcgaeology.about.com/od/kterms/pt/kelp_highway.htm

Lovgren, Stefan, Earliest Known American Settlers Harvested Seaweed,” National Geographic News, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/pf/15550150.html

“Macrocystis,” Natural History Museum, http://nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/species-of-the-day/biodiversity/climate-change/macrocystis

“Monte Verde Archaeological Site, UNESCO World Heritage Center, http://whc.unesco.org/

“Medicinal Uses,” The Seaweed Site: information on marine algae, http://www.seaweed.ie/uses_general/medicinal uses.php

“Monte Verde Archaeological Site,” UNESCO World Heritage Centre, http://whc.unesco.org/

“Monte Verde,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monte_Verde

Oppenheimer, Stephen. “Archaeological Evidence in South America that humans crossed into the Americas before the Ice Age,” The Bradshaw Foundation, http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/journey/clovis-text.html

“Pedra Furada sites,” Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedra_Furada_sites

Rose, Mark. “The Importance of Monte Verde,” Archaeology, 18 October 1999 http://archive.archaeology.org/online/feautres/clovis/rose1.html

“Sargassum muticum, Wireweed,” The Seaweed Site: information on marine algae, maintained by M.D. Guiry, 2000 – 2014.

“Sargassum,” Wilipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sargassum

“Science dean continues research at National Cancer Institute-designated facility,” Hawaii Pacific University News, March 2013 http://www.hpu.edu/HPUNews/2013/03

“Seaweed confirms Monte Verde dates, but also migration patterns?” Geotimes, July 2008, http://geotimes.org/july08/

Swaminathan, Nikhil, “America, in the Beginning,” Archaeology, Secptember/October 2014, 22-29

 

 

The Shaman and The Spirit Master

Wow – What is it?

Bizarre, vaguely human figures in rock art have long puzzled viewers. They look a little like people yet clearly they’re something else. Why do they have weird heads, often without facial features? Why do they often have fewer than five fingers on each hand (or occasionally more)? Why do they have long torsos and missing limbs?

Anasazi pictograph

Animal Master PBA

 

Learning to see through others’ eyes

In the 19th century, anthropologist Edward B. Tyler introduced the concept of animism to describe the widespread ancient belief that all entities, including humans, animals, and natural features such as mountains, rivers, and trees, have souls, or spirits. All of these entities are interconnected, sharing a magical power. The person is identified not just by a physical body but by all of the connections made to the rest of the spirit world. Tyler found this belief to be the oldest and most common spiritual belief in the world. (It’s also the basis of “The Force” in the Star Wars films.)

rock art in Arkansas

In the 1980s, David Lewis-Williams argued that many odd figures in rock art, including the spirals, dots, and therianthropes (figures that combine human and animal characteristics) were images typical of a visionary trance brought on by chanting, drumming, fasting, and taking hallucinogenic drugs. He pointed out that many of these images are typical of visual distortions associated with trance experiences. They have been replicated many times in experiments involving LSD. Lewis-Williams argued that the rock art figures like the one in the photo (left) represented the shaman in the process of transformation into something supra-human, able to change physical form and slip between worlds.

 

Game Pass Shelter pictographHe described the famous fresco on the wall of the Game Pass Shelter in the Drakensberg region of South Africa as a shaman in a dream state connecting with the dream beast, the eland. The shaman is bleeding from the nose, as is the eland; their legs are crossed in exactly the same position. The eland is dying in order to bring rain to the people. The shaman has entered a pseudo-death in order to make the connection with the dream beast. For Lewis-Williams, the therianthrope – the figure combining human and animal characteristics – represents the shaman in his or her transformed state. (Photo left, drawing below)

Game Pass Shelter drawing

 

In 1976, Patricia Vinnicombe published the results of her work with the Drakensberg (South Africa) rock art paintings, in a book titled People of the Eland. In it, she reviewed stories told by San (Bushmen/Khoi San) people and recorded since the 19th century. Some told of a shaman catching a “rain beast” – usually a female ox, eland, elephant or other large herbivore. This was done through a trance, with the help of the group chanting, drumming, and dancing. Then the beast was sacrificed, and rain would fall where the beast was killed.

Interestingly, two San men that Patricia Vinnicombe interviewed saw the therianthropes in this image as mythical people of an earlier race, the First Bushmen, not images of transformed shamans.

These seem to be two very different explanations, but they may in fact be complementary. The shaman in a trance state may be the means of contacting spirit entities, including animal spirits, nature spirits, and spirits of the dead.

South central California rock art

New research on rock art in southeast California may suggest a slightly different way of seeing the famous panel in South Africa – and perhaps another mysterious figure found in the deepest part of Chauvet Cave in southern France.

The Patterned Body Anthromorphs Patterned body anthromorphs, Coso Range, CA

While studying thousands of rock art images in what is now the China Lake Air Force Base, Dr. Alan Garfinkle and his associates noted over 700 strange figures they called Patterned Body Anthromorphs, images notable for a long torso marked with various patterns, a head devoid of normal facial features, and truncated or missing legs, often with three toes. Sometimes a twisted snake accompanied the figure. In many cases, there was no gender evident, but in others, the figure had male, female, or both male and female characteristics. Almost all carried a staff or atlatl (dart thrower). Some carried a bag of seeds, which trailed out in lines behind the figure.

 

The Kawaiisu and other American Indian groups that lived in the area where the paintings appeared shared similar beliefs, which Dr. Garfinkel felt could provide a frame of reference for the rock art figures. Caves were seen as important places, imbued with sacred power. A spirit named Yahwera lived in a cave where the spirits of all the animals resided, even animals that had been killed.

 

In the spring, Yahwera opened the portal and allowed the regenerated animals to fill the land. Yahwera also provided healing medicines (“magic songs”) and successful hunts. Occasionally, a human, through accidental discovery or shamanistic transformation, could enter the world of Yahwera through a portal in a rock surface or a cave. There, below ground, the visitor would see all the animals, including those waiting to be reborn. Guarded by a large snake, the androgynous Yahwera was the keeper of the animals, wisdom, and power.

 

Images of Yahwera were inscribed on the sites of the portals. A known portal to the home of Yahwera was located near a spring and marked with an image of the Animal Master: a humanoid figure with red circles for the face, a feathered headdress and clawed feet. Next to the figure was a snake almost as tall as the main figure.Animal Master, Coso

The two drawings included (left) are representations of the patterned body anthromorphs in the Coso rock art collection (on the left) and the known representation of Yahwera, the guardian of the animal spirits (on the right).

The Yokuts, another tribe in the area, refer to rock art sites as “shaman’s caches,” vaults of magic power. When a shaman spoke to the rock, the portal opened, and the Spirit Master gave the shaman magic songs and wisdom.

The shaman as intermediary

The shaman talks to the rock, but the Spirit Master opens it. In this sense, the shaman is the intermediary. Because he can break the confines of this world, he is able to intercede for the people, asking the Spirit Master to release the game the people need to live. (I’m referring to the shaman as male though San people indicate that any male or female could accept the dangerous role of dream healer if desired.) The shaman delivers the request, not only for game but also for rain, wisdom, or cures for sickness. In this way, the shaman is acting in the same role as a modern priest, delivering the faithful’s requests to their Spirit Master.

One Kawaiisu narrative tells of a man who took jimsonweed (or raw tobacco in other versions) and found Yahwera’s cave. Inside he saw many animals, including deer and bear, who spoke the same language as the people. Yahwera explained that the animals weren’t really dead; they were only waiting to be reborn. At the end of the experience, the man was cured of his illness and left the cave through water at the end of a tunnel. When he came out, he found himself far from his starting point. He’d been gone so long, his people thought he had died.

In the Coso rock art, the strange figures on the rock surface are probably not shamans in a transformative state. According to tribal beliefs recorded in the 19th and 20th century, the figures represented the Spirit Master, the keeper of the animals, the source of magical power. The shaman was the one who is sensitive enough to find the portal to the Spirit Master’s realm and powerful enough to traverse the dangerous realms beyond this one.

Rock art images like the one included here from Utah seem to indicate a hierarchy of spirits because one figure is so much larger and dominates the image.  While all things living and dead may share in spirit energy, some are apparently far more powerful than others. Horseshoe Canyon, Utah, HolyGhost

 

An interesting side note:

The Memegwashio Indians of Quebec explain the red handprints on the rock over a sacred place as the mark of the spirits where they close the portal.

And another:

Cheyenne traditional beliefs held that the realm of deep earth could be accessed through sacred caves. In certain caverns animal spirits gathered, from which the animals might be released in physical form or refused rebirth.

 

 

And now to ancient cave art in Europe

Please forgive the jump from North American cave art to Europe 35,000 years ago. I don’t pretend to know the cultural references that would explain the beautiful ancient cave art of southern France and northern Spain, but others more knowledgeable than I have seen some commonality that bears examination. And the similarities are hard to ignore.

The oldest cave painting in Europe, possibly the work of our Neanderthal cousins, is a series of handprints on the wall of El Castillo Cave in Spain dated to 40,800 years ago. The cave shows no evidence of use as a living space, so it was apparently visited for other purposes. If the artists were Neanderthals, they were painting at the end of their reign. Not many years later, modern humans took over. Still, the idea that they may have marked the cave as special and that modern humans continued the association is intriguing. We now know that Neanderthals and modern humans interbred. Perhaps their ideology was passed along as well.

As Enrico Comba points out in his paper, “Amerindian Cosmologies and European Prehistoric Cave Art: Reasons for and Usefulness of a Comparison,” rock art of Paleolithic Europe is an art of caves, mostly in remote areas hard to access. The figures are mostly animals. The few human figures are hybrids – human/animal crosses. The cave functions as a womb and a refuge for the animals, much the way that Yahwera’s cave held the animals in the California rock art references.

The second-oldest known cave art in Europe is in Chauvet Cave, at least 32,000 years old. The animals painted are realistic yet dreamlike, incomplete, presented in moving groups without any ground line.lascauxpanorama

In the back of the cave, in the last and deepest chamber, is a curious image known by some as “Venus and the Sorcerer.” It is a combination of a bull head and a public triangle surrounded by female legs that blend into the front leg of the bull and the leg of a lioness.

Venus and Sorcerer

It’s not much of a stretch to see this image as the Spirit Master, the keeper of the animal spirits in the cave, similar to the androgynous spirit that the shaman called upon in California art to release the animals held in the cave so they could be reborn in the spring.

Once again, the cave would function as the home of the animals, many of them pregnant with new life. It’s certainly an interesting possibility – that the mysterious Sorcerer/Venus figure in the very back of Chauvet Cave serves the same function as the Spirit Master.

 

Sources and interesting reading:

“Ancient Rock Art of the World,” Rock Art Documentary, DVD, ILecture Films, Boilerplate Productions, made in conjunction with the Bradshaw Foundation

“Art of the Chauvet Cave,” Ice Age Paleolithic Cave Painting, Bradshaw Foundation www.bradshawfoundation.com/chauvet

“Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” DVD, Chauvet Cave documentary film by Werner Herzog, IFC Films, 2010

“Cave Painting,” Wikipedia   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cave_painting

“Cave Paintings (40,000 – 10,000 BC)” Artchive.com   http://www.artchive.com/artchive/C/cave.html

Comba, Erico, “Amerindian Cosmologies and European Prehistoric Cave Art: Reason for and Usefulness of a Comparison,” Arts journal, 27 December 2013   www.mdpi.com/journal/arts

Garfinkel, Alan, with Donald Austin, David Earle, and Harold Williams, “Myth, ritual and rock art: Coso decorated animal-humans and the Animal Master,” Petroglyphs.US, 19 May 2009 <http://www.petroglyphs.us/article_myth_ritual_and_rock_art.htm&gt;

Garfinkel, Alan and Steven J. Waller, “Sounds and Symbolism from the Netherworld: Acoustic Archaeology and the Animal Master’s Portal,” Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly Vol.46, 4

Howley, Andrew. “70th Anniversary of the Discovery of Lascaux” National Geographic Newswatch, 17 September 2010, http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2010/09/17

Lymer, Kenneth, “Shimmering Visions: Shamanistic Rock Art Images from the Republic of Kazakhstan,” Expedition (Journal of the Museum of Pennsylvania), vol. 46, no. 1

Solomon, Anne. The Essential Guide to San Rock Art. South Africa: ABC Press, 1998

“The Sorcerer (cave art)” Wikipedia   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sorcerer_(cave_art)

“Talking Stone: Rock Art of the Cosos,” DVD starring Dr. Alan Garfinkel, distributed by the Bradshaw Foundation

Than, Ker. “World’s Oldest Cave Art Found – Made by Neanderthals?” National Geographic News, 14 June 2012, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/06/120614

“Venus and the Sorcerer” image from http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/chauvet

Witze, Alexandra, “Rock Art Revelations?” American Archaeology, Summer 2014, vol 18, no. 2, 33-37.

 

 

 

Eclipse

Eclipses in 2014: two lunar and two solar

Eclipse_lunar, stages

Given clear skies, people in North and South America will get to see a full eclipse of the moon (lunar eclipse) on the night of April 14-15, 2014, when the earth’s shadow covers the entire surface of the full moon, turning it red – a “blood” moon. (See composite photo.)  In addition, the red planet, Mars, will look like a fiery red star next to the red moon.

The diagram below shows what makes a lunar eclipse happen: the shadow of the earth covers the moon.

lunar eclipse diagram

 

 

 

 

The second eclipse of 2014 is an annular (ring) eclipse of the annular solar eclipse
sun (solar eclipse), visible on April 29 to people in Australia, southern Indonesia, and the southern Indian Ocean. In this case the view of the sun is partially obscured by the moon, leaving a ring of sunlight visible. (See photo)

 

partial-lunar-eclipse

The third eclipse of 2014 is a partial eclipse of the moon, in which the earth’s shadow darkens only part of the moon. It will be visible on October 8, 2014 from locations in the Pacific Ocean including New Zealand, part of Australia, Hawaii, Japan, and easternmost Asia. (See photo.)

The fourth eclipse of 2014, on October 23, is a partial solar eclipse, visible from North America and Canada.  Partial solar eclipses can vary from only a darkened slice as in the photo, to an almost full eclipse. partial solar eclipse

 

The Tetrad

In addition, the two total lunar eclipses of 2014 will be followed by two more total lunar eclipses in 2015 (April 4 and September 28) without any partial eclipses between, a succession known as a Tetrad.

Eclipses – wonders or warnings

Indian eclipse watchers

People who notice eclipses seem to find them a source of great wonder and delight or a fearsome warning of doom. Those who chase eclipses around the globe (A total solar eclipse happens somewhere on the earth every 18 months or so) describe the sensation of watching the sun or moon go dark as deeply emotional and thrilling. They find the experience so moving they seek it out over and over. One “shadow follower” said of his experience during the total eclipse: “You just felt different. Extraordinarily different.” E. C. Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California has seen thirteen total eclipses already. “They’re a chance to see the universe working,” Krupp says. “The solar system is doing its thing right before your eyes, and it’s a deep and personal pleasure.” The Griffith Observatory will be providing live streaming coverage for those who can’t catch the show in the sky. Look for it at http://www.griffith.obs.org, or follow the action at NASA’s site at www.nasa.org

Others see the darkening of the sun or moon as a bad omen. Some current articles about the four Blood Moons warn they are a sign of the second coming of Jesus Christ and the end of the world.

 

“Two Eclipses”

The appearance of a lunar eclipse on November 8, 1044 and an annular solar eclipse on November 22, 1044 inspired Shmuel Hanagid, a Hebrew poet in Spain, to write the poem “Two Eclipses,” in which he describes the ring of light around the darkened sun as:

“its halo of light on the darkness,

like a crown on the head of a Libyan princess,

and the earth whose sun has set,

reddened – as though with tears.”

The experience led him to wonder about the nature of God: “This is the work of the Lord who toys with creation.”

Like many ancient people and many today, Hanagid saw the eclipses as a demonstration of the power of a terrifying God.

 

Dark Power

Others saw the darkening of the sun or moon as the work of dark forces in the universe that were always present. To lessen their fears, they made up stories to explain an eclipse.

According to Norse legend, a giant sky wolf named Skoll chased the moon; his brother, named Hati, chased the sun. If either caught its prey, an eclipse resulted.

In Chinese myth, a dragon was trying to eat the moon. The Chinese word for eclipse, “shih,” means “to eat.”  To frighten away the dragon, people shouted and beat drums.

In Vietnamese lore, a frog ate the moon during an eclipse. In Korean mythology, fire dogs constantly tried to steal the sun or the moon. When the fearsome dogs took a bite, an eclipse resulted.

 

The other common recourse was to turn to the wisest person in the village for an answer. Through incantations, herbs, sacrifice – whatever it took, this wise person would fight the forces of darkness. Then, when the eclipse passed and the sun or moon returned to its rightful place, the wise person’s prestige and power grew.

 

Predicting eclipses

That power increased when a person could predict this horror – and appear to fight it off. Thus, knowledge of the eclipse schedule became very valuable. If the viewer knows the date of one solar eclipse, it’s possible to predict others. An eclipse period lasts 6,583 days, a little over 18 years. After this period, a practically identical eclipse series will occur. Armed with this information, a person could appear to have the power to control the events playing out in the heavens – to conquer chaos itself.

Columbus and eclipse

Christopher Columbus used this information to his advantage when his ship ran aground off Jamaica. The local Taino people fed him and his crew for months while the Spaniards tried to repair the ship, but after a while the locals grew tired of the endless provisioning. Knowing that a lunar eclipse would occur on February 29, 1504 from reading his charts, Columbus threatened to take away the moon if the locals didn’t keep feeding his crew. When the eclipse occurred, the natives were astounded and, of course, fed the great man who could control the light of the moon.

On the flip side, in China, Emperor Zhong Kang is said to have beheaded two astronomers who failed to correctly predict an eclipse 4000 years ago.

 

Dangers of an eclipse

Though widespread beliefs about the dangers of exposure to an eclipse still linger, especially regarding pregnant women, the only real danger is looking at the sun during a solar eclipse – or any other time!

The other danger is the propaganda distributed by some groups that use the appearance of the eclipse as a way to foment hate toward a certain group. One Blood Moon site I visited posted a graph showing the eclipses, the death of Comet ISON (which it called a Jewish comet), and the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant in Japan, then noted that two of the eclipses fell on Jewish holidays in 2014 and two in 2015. It’s hard to tell what the reasoning behind this list might be, but it’s a shame that anyone would take something as truly awesome as an eclipse and make it a weapon of hate.

I agree with E. C. Krupp: viewing an eclipse is an amazing opportunity to see our universe display its awesome power.  Enjoy.

 

 

Sources and interesting reading:

Dickson, David, “Get ready for the April 15, 2014 total lunar eclipse: Our Complete Guide” Universe Today, 2 April, 2014

Espenak, Fred, “Eclipses During 2014,” NASA, http://eclipse.nasa.gov

Espenak, Fred, “Lunar Eclipses for Beginners,” MrEclipse.com, 2007 http://www.mrecelipse.com/Special/LEprimer.html

Griffith Observatory on-line at www.griffithobs.org

HaNagid, Shmuel, “Two Eclipses,” World Literature, Donna Rosenberg, ed.  New York: McGraw Hill/Glencoe, 2004

Lee, Jane. “Solar Eclipse Myths from around the World” National Geographic Daily News, 1 November 2013m http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/11/131101

Mercer, Brandon, “Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse Visible April 14-15 Beginning Rare Series of Total Eclipses” CBS News 4 April 2014 http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2014/04/04

Muller, Natalie, “Fear of eclipse widespread in Aboriginal culture,” Australian Geographic, 14 June 2011 http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/news/2011/06/fear-of-eclipse

Ruggles, Clive and Gary Urton (editors). Skywatcing in the Ancient World: New Perspectives in Cultural Astronomy, University Press of Colorado, 2007

“Solar eclipse” Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_eclipse

Weise, Elizabeth, “Blood moon eclipse on April 15 is a special event,” USA Today, 3 April 2014 http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/04/03

 

Photos:

Partial solar eclipse: www.thevenustransit.com

Lunar eclipse stages: “Eclipse,” Wikipedia

Partial lunar eclipse: www.timeanddate.com

Lunar eclipse diagram: University of Maryland Department of Astronomy: Intorductory Astronomy: Eclipses, www.astro.umd.edu

Eclipse watchers in India: http://www.Boston.com

Christopher Columbus and the eclipse of February 29, 1504, from the book Romance of Spanish History by John S.C. Abbott

 

 

Solstice and Equinox

Up here in the Great Lakes region, spring arrives, at least according to the calendar, on March 20 this year.  More specifically, the vernal equinox arrives (autumnal to those of you in the Southern Hemisphere).  Few people today care about this celestial event, but ancient people cared very deeply, so deeply they traced the exact moment it happened by marking it in stone.

You can follow it too.  All you need to do is look at the rising run each day from a fixed point.  Note where the sun rises.  If there is a building in the way, note where the sun rises in relation to the building.  If it’s a hill or a tree, note that position.  As the days go by, you’ll see the spot where the sun rises change.  If you keep track, you’ll see the rising sun location follows a certain path along the eastern horizon.   Then one day you’ll see the rising sun stop its forward motion.  That moment when the sun seems to stop and change direction is a solstice (sol = sun, stice = stop), a sun-stop.

If you keep following the sunrises, you’ll see a progression back along the same path on the horizon until it once again seems to stop.  That’s the other solstice.

sunrise-by-season

If you followed the sunsets each of these days, you’d find an equal swing from north to south and back again.  Burlington, Vermont erected an “Earth Clock,” a modern answer to the ancient circles of stones.  They’ve even provided blueprints for other communities that would like to build their own “henge.”  The University of Massachusetts created a “Sunwheel” that marks the solstices, equinoxes, and moon cycles (diagram).

University of Massachusetts sunwheel diagram

While the far points mark the solstices, the mid-points in these swings are the equinoxes (equi =same, nox = night), where the length of the day and night are the same.  In the northern hemisphere, we  will have the spring equinox around March 21, the summer solstice around June 21, the fall equinox around September 22, and the winter solstice around December 21.

Many ancient structurMound 72 woodhenge at Cahokiaes celebrate exactly this cycle.  Stonehenge and many other circles of standing stones or wooden posts, like the woodhenge at Cahokia Mounds in the photo, are aligned to mark the solstice points.

 

The Maya E-group, a common architectural feature in Lowland Maya sites, is believed to mark both the solstice points and the equinoxes  (See diagram).

solstice Sharer-E-Group

Unlike modern people, who see the celestial events as mechanical, predictable, and fairly unimportant, ancient people saw them as terribly important parts of their lives.  The changes in the heavens caused the changes on earth: the end of winter, the coming of spring, the rebirth of nature.  But without human help, the motion of the heavens could cease or change, causing ruin and death for all the beings on earth.   Important changes, such as the solstices and equinoxes, required recognition and participation, often in the form of rituals and sacrifice.

While we don’t usually sacrifice humans or animals to ensure the change of the season anymore, we often engage in ritual behavior associated with important holidays that fall on or near the solstices and equinox.

Vernal Equinox – in North America, March 20, 2014

During the vernal equinox, the sun shines directly on the Equator, and the day and night are equal length (12 hours each). It falls on the mid-point of the swing between the equinoxes.

The Vernal Equinox marks the beginning of the New Year in many cultures.  Traditionally, spring is associated with rebirth and fertility, often symbolized by the egg and the rabbit.  Modern versions include the Easter Bunny, which (curiously) lays eggs and leaves candy for children.

The Maya pyramid called El Castillo at Chichen Itza (photo) is famous for the Snake of Sunlight that courses along the stairway on the Vernal Equinox.  Excellent videos of the event are available on YouTube. Scholars have debated why it was so important for the Maya and other ancient people to mark this moment – to celebrate it in their monuments. 
 Some say the people needed to know when to plant and harvest, but they would have known that from many signs, just as you would know the change of season froElCastillo, Chichen Itzam your immediate environment.  Around here, you could see skunk cabbage pushing up through the last snow, red-wing blackbirds returning, hear wood frogs singing.  Your dirt road would turn into a mass of ice and mud.  Your dog would shed.  You wouldn’t need a stone monument to tell you spring was happening.   But if you believed that you needed to help spring arrive, a large, impressive monument would be very important as a focal point for the ritual of bringing in the change.

Easter, the Christian feast celebrating the triumph of Jesus Christ over death, falls on a date determined by the Vernal Equinox, specifically the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox.

The Summer Solstice in North America, June 21, 2014

The June Solstice is one of the two sun-stops in the path of the sunrises (and sunsets).  In the Northern Hemisphere, it marks the longest day of the year; in the Southern Hemisphere, the shortest.  Festivals in Scandinavia celebrate the day of endless light, the Midnight Sun.  Ancient Germanic, Celtic, and Slavic people celebrated with wild parties and bonfires. In ancient China, it was the festival of the Earth and female/yin forces.  For the ancient Greeks, it marked the first day of the year.

Medicine Wheel, Wyoming

The Medicine Wheel (photo), set high on a mountain in Wyoming, is designed to mark the Summer Solstice.  Built around 1200, it is still considered a sacred site by American Indians in the area.  The photo shows the sunset on the longest day of the year.  Many researchers feel this was one of several installations in the area, each of which marked one particular moment in the turning of the year.

 

Stonehenge, the great circle of standing stones in England, has become a popular gathering place for people celebrating the Summer Solstice, though the site may have had many purposes, including honoring the dead during the Winter Solstice.  Over sixty cremated remains were discovered inside the inner circle.  The giant stone trilithon frames the Midwinter solstice sunset.

However, the revelers are not wrong in choosing this spot to mark the June solstice.  Archaeologist Parker Pearson, who has been working at the site, pointed out the avenue, discovered in 2008, that leads out of Stonehenge, built over a natural rock ledge.  Next to this ledge, pits were dug 10,000 years ago to hold a line of posts.  This feature, at least 4,000 years older than the familiar circle of giant stones, points directly to the spot where the sun rises on the midsummer solstice.Stonehenge

Celebrations at Stonehenge may also have been musical affairs.  The bluestone used to construct the famous henge makes loud and varied sounds, like gongs, bells, and drums, when struck, an early rock concert, if you will.  Some researchers believe these sonic qualities were one of the reasons ancient people dragged the giant stones 200 miles from Wales to Stonehenge. Researchers say the sounds could have been heard half a mile away.

Autumnal Equinox in North America, September 22, 2014

The September Equinox falls at the same midpoint as the April Equinox – the halfway point in the sun’s path across the horizon at the moment it rises.  Like the Vernal (spring) Equinox, the day and night are the same length.sun dagger stone, Chaco

The famous Sun Dagger on Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, built at least 1000 years ago, provided a different way to mark the solstices and equinoxes.  In 1977, an artist recording rock art in the area noticed three rock slabs leaning against a cliff.  Whether they were placed exactly there or someone noticed them there is not known.  But researchers soon realized that the spirals carved on the cliff face were very carefully placed to take advantage of the shafts of light falling between the stones.  At the summer solstice, sunlight passing between the rock slabs would fall directly across the center of the larger spiral.  During the Equinoxes, the dagger would fall between the center of the spiral and the edge.  At the Winter Solstice, two daggers would appear, one on each edge of the large spiral.  Unfortunately, visitors to the site caused some damage and the site is now closed to the public.

Harvest festivals are common around the Equinox.

The Winter Solstice, December 21, 2014

By far the most dangerous of the events in the sun cycle was the shortest day of the year, a time when darkness far outweighed light.  Ancient people feared the light would not return.  To ensure it did, they kept careful vigil, especially on the night of the winter solstice and the following day.  The passage tomb at Newgrange, Ireland, built more than 5,000 years ago, features a special roofbox opening that allows light to shine along the inner passage at sunrise on morning of the Winter Solstice.  The light illuminates a stone basin below intricate carved spirals, eye shapes, and disks. The photo shows how the site looked in 1905.  It’s now a very popular tourist site.

Newgrange, 1905 photo

Maeshowe, on the Orkney Islands in the north of Scotland, has a roofbox that admits a shaft of light from the Winter Solstice setting sun.

The Great Zimbabwe complex in sub-Saharan Africa may have served a similar purpose.  Other sites in the Americas, Asia, Indonesia, and the Middle East may have also marked this important day.  In Iran, people observed Yalda by keeping vigil through the night and burning fires to help the sun battle the darkness.

We still want to light up the darkness, even if we’ve forgotten about the solstice.  We still celebrate the passing of the sun on its yearly course, but those celebrations are now submerged into our holidays: Easter, Christmas, Halloween, even Groundhog Day.  Because Groundhog Day falls halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox, we’ll always have six more weeks of winter, but the groundhog gives us a reason to party.

Happy Vernal Equinox!

Sources and interesting reading:

“Chart of 2014 equinox, solstice and cross quarter dates and times,” archaeoastronomy.com, http://www.archaeoastronomy.com/2014.html

“Chichen Itza Pyramid, the descent of the feathered serpent” (video) YouTube

“Customs and Holidays around the March Equinox” timeanddate.com, tyyp://wwwtimeanddate.com/calendar/march-equinox-traditions.html

“EarthClock measures hours, months, solstices and equinoxes,” Freethought Nation, July 29, 2011, http://freethoughtnation.com/earth-clock-measures-hours&#8230;

“Fajada Butte,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fajada_Butte

Griffiths, Sarah, and Amanda Williams, “Stonehenge was a prehistoric centre for rock music: Stones sound like bells, drums, and gongs when played,” Mail Online, Daily Mail (UK), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2515159/Why-Stonehenge-prehistoric-cent…

Hirst, K.Kris. “E-Group: Ancient Maya Building Complex,” About.com Archaeology, http://archaeology.about.com/od/mayaarchaeology/qt/E-Group.htm

“Huge Settlement Unearthed at Stonehenge Complex,” Science Daily, http://sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/01/070130191755.htm

“June Solstice’s Influence Across Cultures and Ages,” timeanddate.com, http://www.timeanddate/com/calendar/june-solstice-customs.html

“March Equinox: March 20, 2014,” timeanddate.com, http://www.timeanddate.comcalendar/march-equinox.html

“Newgrange,” Wikipedia http://ed.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newgrange

Odenwalk, Dr. Sten, “Ancient Astronomical Alignments,” Sun-Earth Day 2010: Ancient Mysteries, Future Discoveries, NASA, Godard Space Flight Center, http://sunearthday.nasa.gov/2011/articles

“Rock Art and Ancient Solar Energy,” Stanford Solar Center, http://solar-center.stanford.edu/folklore/rockart.html

“September Equinox Customs and Holidays,” timeanddate.com, http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/september-equinox-customs.html\

“Stonehenge Revealed: Why Stones Were a ‘Special Place’” National Geographic Daily News, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/13/130621

“Summer Solstice Traditions, History.com, June 18, 2013, http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/summer-solstice-traditions

“Winter Solstice – December 21,” http:www.crystalinks.com/wintersolstice.html

Young, Dr. Judith S., Department of Astronomy, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, “Moon teachings for the masses at the UMass Sunwheel and around the world: the major lunar standstills of 2006 and 2014-25,” http://www.umass.edu/sunwheel/pages/moonteaching.html

The Writing Process Blog Hop

Thank you, Jessica Knauss, editor, translator, and author of Seven Nobel Knights, Providence stories, and other works, for inviting me to participate in this blog hop about the writing process.

What are you working on?

I’m currently getting A Meeting of Clans, the third book in the Misfits and Heroes series, ready for publication. In this book, members of the two original settlements – one on the southern coast and one on the northern coast of what is now southern Mexico – meet for the first time.  The book, like the others in the series, is set about 14,000 years ago.

Editing and polishing are the little known step-children of the writing process, but they’re important.  With this book, I was lucky to have the help of a professional proofreader who not only spotted wording and spelling errors but also marked problems with consistency and pace with margin notes like “Wow, this action comes out of the blue,” or “You’ve been going over this argument for four pages now,” or “This character died fifty pages ago.  Did you mean her sister?”  Very helpful.

How does your work differ from others of its genre? 

Since the Misfits and Heroes stories are set 14,000 years ago, they fall into the Prehistoric Fiction category, but since nothing is really pre-history, I suppose they’re speculative historical fiction with elements of fantasy.  Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear, Valley of Horses, and other books are also set during the Ice Age, but they take place in Europe and tell very different stories.

Why do you write what you do?

I want to show early explorers in the Americas as complicated, flawed, yet ultimately heroic people.  While 12,000 BC seems like a long time ago, it’s really not, in terms of human history.  Archaeological finds in Blombos Cave, South Africa, show humans making pierced, dyed jewelry out of shells and mixing red ochre, fat, and ground limestone to make a red paste probably used for body decoration 80,000 years ago. Blombos Cave jewelry (See photo)

The fabulous cave paintings in northern Spain and southern France were created 32,000 – 40,000 years ago. (Photo)

Lascaux horse with dots

The first mathematical tally stick, the Lebombo bone, is at least 35,000 years old (South Africa/Swaziland). (Photo)

Lebombo bone

Open water navigators

It’s now clear that our distant relatives crossed open ocean into Australia at least 50,000 years ago, into Okinawa, Japan 32,000 years ago, and into Flores Island, Indonesia, at least 80,000 years ago.

Migration into the New World

In the Misfits and Heroes books, groups of explorers come from West Africa across the Atlantic and from what is now Indonesia across the Pacific.  They meet in the third book, A Meeting of Clans.  In the fourth book (not yet written), a small group from the north of Spain will join them.  All of these explorers cross the sea to reach the New World.

While I don’t doubt that some people walked across the Bering Land Bridge to the New World, the theory that everyone came to the Americas by that route doesn’t fit the evidence.  The earliest settlements in the Americas are in coastal South America (southern Chile and northeastern Brazil).  The oldest settlements in North America are on the east coast (South Carolina and Virginia).  If everyone came through Alaska, why aren’t the oldest sites lined up along that route?  The coastal settlements seem to indicate access by water, not land.

We sorely underestimate the abilities of ancient people, partly out of an ingrained sense of superiority.  One person asked me if people were even talking 14,000 years ago.  Well, they organized hunting parties and trade routes, built villages and boats, navigated rivers and open water, learned game patterns and plant characteristics, preserved food, even painted images on walls and carved series of notches into bones.  It’s hard to imagine any of these being possible without an accurate and sophisticated communication system.

Actually, the ancient peoples had far more abundant natural resources than we do.  All they had to do was learn to work together to harvest them.

Pedra Furada deer

Rock art deer from Pedra Furada in northeastern Brazil, first occupied over 40,000 years ago (photo)

How does your writing process work?

Like Jessica, I like a routine.  I work in the same place and listen to the same pieces of music all the way through the writing of a book.

I also talk to myself as I write (as long as no one else is around).  I just say what I want to write and my fingers type the words.  When I taught composition, I encouraged students to try this technique.  Interestingly, some tried it with their children who were struggling with writing.  They started by having the child talk about something while they wrote the words down, then moved to having the child talk into a tape recorder, play it back, and write down the words.  In the last stage, the children learned to slow down their speech and speed up their writing so they could write (or type) their words as they spoke them. The technique worked very well, even for children with learning difficulties.

It also helps with proofreading.  Try it. If people give you strange looks when they hear you mumbling over your papers, tell them it’s “speech-directed writing.”  That sounds more impressive than talking to yourself.

Look for Emma Right’s post in the blog hop on her blog, Books for Young Adults, www.emmaright.com on March 17, and check back with Jessica Knauss to read about her thoughts on the writing process at her blog at http://jessicaknauss.blogspot.com   And cheers to all the writers out there!

Sources and interesting reading:

“Ancient Humans Crossed Ocean Barrier?” Popular Archaeology Magazine, http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/09012013

Bednarik, R.G. “Replicating the first known sea travel by humans: the Lower Pleistocene crossing of Lombok Strait, Human Evolution (journal) 16, 229 – 242 (2001)

Bellwood, Peter.  “Special Report: Ancient Seafarers,” Archaeology Magazine March/April 1997, http://archive.archaeology.org/9703/etc/specialreport.html

Mayell, Hillary. “Early Humans May have Crossed Sea to Leave Africa” National Geographic News, 13, May, 2005 http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/pf/s9713086.html

Pringle, Heather. “Did Humans Colonize the World by Boat?” Discover Magazine, June, 2008, http://discovermagazine.com/2008/jun/20

Than,Ker. “World’s Oldest Cave Art Found – Made by Neanderthals?” National Geographic News, June, 2012, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/06/120614

“Very ancient mariners: Early human ancestors were more advanced than first thought and sailed the high seas,” The Daily Mail (UK) 19 August 2011, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2027619

The Eagle and The Serpent, Reconsidered

eagle_snake_by_stoffe3337- on deviantart

Several readers of this blog have wondered about the meaning of the battling serpent and eagle, a very dynamic image, especially popular in tattoos.  It turns out there is no simple explanation.  In some cases, it represents a battle of good vs. evil.  In others, a battle of the present vs. the past, or one belief system vs. another.  In others, it is a dynamic combination of opposites that becomes the force that turns the universe.

The Eagle

The eagle is a logical choice for a group’s symbol.  It’s a large, powerful predator.  Like all raptors, it has amazing eyesight, a hooked beak designed to deliver a killing bite and rip flesh off bones, and sharp talons that can pierce and hold prey. An eagle’s wingspan is typically twice the length of its body, allowing it to soar easily.

The eagle stands for admirable, intimidating power, which is why it appears in connection with so many political entities, second only to the sun, moon, and stars in its appearance on official flags and seals.  It might be the black eagle, golden eagle, or bald eagle. It might have one head or two.  In some cases, the two headed eagle represents the combination of secular and religious power.

flag of Russia,_Federal_agency_for_government_communication_and_information,  Flag of Albania

The eagle is sometimes shown with a crown over its head, reinforcing its connection with royal power.  In the same way, the eagle might be holding a royal scepter or orb in its talons.  It often has a shield or emblem on its chest carrying the colors or symbols of the political

eagle -Flag_of_the_President_of_the_United_States_of_America_svgentity.  The United States versions, shown on everything from the official seal of the President of the United States to the dollar bill, feature the eagle carrying a bundle of arrows (a symbol of military might) in one foot, an olive branch (a symbol of peace) in the other.

The Mexican flag carries the image of the golden eagle atop a cactus, grasping a snake, the very image the people had been promised would direct them to the place they would make their new home, Tenochtitlan, now the site of Mexico City.

The eagle is also used as a team name and symbol (e.g. the Philadelphia Eagles), taking the impressive power of the animal and associating it with the sports team, in the same way as the Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Falcons, Memphis Grizzlies, Jacksonville Jaguars, Carolina Panthers, St. Louis Rams, and many more.

So the eagle symbol seems pretty clear.  It’s powerful, strong, and beautiful.  It demands respect.  It transfers the strength and glory of the eagle to the group, or at least to its leader(s).

The Serpent

Adam and EveThe serpent/snake/dragon is a far more complicated part of the equation.  Many people associate the serpent with evil because of the Bible story in which the snake offers Eve the fruit from the forbidden tree, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” In the Genesis story of the Fall of Man, the serpent is described as “more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.”   The serpent says to Eve: “Did God really say, ’You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’”  When she replies that God told them not to eat the fruit or even touch the tree in the center of the Garden for if they did, they would die, the serpent replies, “You will not surely die…for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  That’s apparently the selling point, for then Eve, “desirous of gaining wisdom,” takes the fruit, eats it, and gives some to her husband.  (It’s very curious that this image and others portray the fruit as the Amanita muscaria mushroom!)

After that, all the problems of humankind were laid at the feet of the woman – and the snake.

Except that, even in the Bible, the snake is not necessarily evil.  But it is associated with scary power.  When Moses and his brother Aaron go before the Pharaoh to demand he let the Israelites go out of Egypt, Aaron throws down his staff and it becomes a snake, just as God had promised.  In reply, the Pharaoh’s sorcerers throw down their staffs and each one becomes a snake.  In a final show of power, Aaron’s staff/snake swallows up the other staffs/snakes.  Both sides used snakes as tools of power.

In the New Testament, Jesus tells his disciples to go forth and be “as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves” (Mathew 10:16).

Admittedly, there are lots more negative serpent images than positive ones in the Bible.  Take the deadly Leviathan in the sea, the Apocalyptic red dragon with seven heads bearing seven crowns that throws a third of the heavenly stars to the earth, and “the dragon, that old serpent, which is Satan and the Devil” from the Book of Revelations.

Still, even in the Bible, the snake is not always a symbol of evil.

Caius College, Cambridge UniversitySerpent Power

Curiously, even with the negative press the Bible gives the snake, its symbolic use is fairly common. It shows up on many flags, including one for Gaius College, Cambridge (illustration).

In 1754, during the French and Indian War, Benjamin Franklin published the famous “Join or Die” cartoon in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  It shows a snakeagle join or die flage cut into eight segments, each labeled with the initials of one of the American colonies. American colonists adopted the rattlesnake and the eagle as symbols of their new land.

The Gadsden American flag, first created in 1775, eagle Gadsden_flag_svgfeatures a coiled rattlesnake on a yellow background, and the words “Don’t tread on me.”  It effectively connected the power of the snake (and the fear it instills in others) with the fledgling American colonies that were facing the much stronger British forces.  It is currently being used by the Tea Party, a right-wing faction of the Republican Party.

 

World Serpents

Buddha_from_Cambodia,_Angkor_kingdom,_Bayon_style,_12th_century,_sandstone,_HAAIn the rest of the world, serpents have a long history as symbols of fertility and rebirth, as well as spiritual power.  The meditating Buddha was shielded by a multi-headed serpent deity, or naga, named Mucalinda (photo).  In Hindu mythology, Vishnu was said to sleep peacefully while floating on the cosmic waters, supported by the serpent Shesha.  In Dahomey mythology (West Africa) the serpent that supports everything is called Dan.  In Vodun of Benin and Haiti, Ayida Weddo, the Rainbow Serpent, is a symbol of fertility, rainbows and snakes, and a wife of Dan, the father of spirits.

In Mesoamerican and North American Indian groups, snakes often served as spirit guides, or Others, during shamanic trances, enabling the shaman to cross over into the spirit realm in order to restore balance between the two worlds. The figure on the right side of the rock art photo has snakes on the left and right side, generally interpreted to be the shaman’s spirit guides.eagle rock art with snakes

The vision serpent curls up from the dish holding a Maya blood offering, allowing the penitent to communicate with the ancestors. In the illustration, the head of the ancestor appears out of the vision serpent’s mouth.Yaxchilan Divine Serpent

In Australian Dreamtime stories, the Rainbow Serpent is the Mother of Life, creator of the waterways and the laws, the humans and the stones.

Then why are Western images of serpents so negative?

Pre-Christian Europeans were animists, believers in spirits that resided in natural elements such as trees, rivers, the sky, and various animals.  Snakes and birds were especially important because they were capable of crossing between worlds: the snake could go above ground or to the Underworld; the bird could be on the earth or part of the sky.  As such, they held special powers. Because they can shed their skins, snakes were associated with the cycle of life and death.   A very old Celtic snake goddess named Corchen was connected with the energy of the earth and rebirth. The Ouroboros, the snake biting its tail, was a symbol of eternity. The Celtic god named Cernunnos was usually portrayed as a man with stag antlers because he could shape-shift into a stag. Typically his legs were snakes, sometimes horned snakes.

Serpent devotion was common in Britain and the continent.  The Druids’ symbol was the snake.

When Christianity arrived in the British Isles, the Catholic Church felt it was important to transfer religious power from the Druids to the new religion.  Saint Patrick is said to have driven the snakes out of Ireland, but actually there weren’t any snakes in Ireland after the last Ice Age.  The driving out was symbolic, one of many such efforts.  The snakes belonged to the old religion. St. George impaled the dragon on his righteous spear.  St Margaret stabbed a dragon with a cross.

Saint_George_and_the_Dragon_by_Paolo_Uccello_(Paris)_01In the painting by Paulo Uccello (shown), the knight arrives on a white horse just in time to slay the dragon and save the maiden in distress.

Meanwhile, Cernunnos, the god with snake legs and stag horns, was made into a devil figure.

Serpent subdued by eagle Byzantine eagleSo the snake/serpent/dragon came to represent the old, pagan, lesser power now subdued by superior, Christian power, as shown in the mosaic floor from the Imperial Palace in Constantinople (photo).

A combination of Old and New

But the dragon refused to be conquered.  Long a favorite of the Celts, Anglo-Saxons, and Norsemen, the dragon continued, even after the advent of Christianity, to be the emblem of the chief.  King Arthur, whose father was Uther Pen-dragon, wore a dragon insignia on his helmet.  Later, the dragon became the symbol of the kings of England, especially those who needed to establish themselves as having a legitimate claim to power.  Henry VII took as his personal symbol the red dragon, which helped to link his family, the Tudors, to the ancient kings.  Later it was used by Henry VIII, Edward V, and Elizabeth I.  (Of course, the imperial dragon was the symbol of the Chinese Emperor, as well.)

Book of Kells snake

More often, the old ways simply merged with the new ones.  The Book of Kells, the beautiful illustrated manuscript made in Ireland (c. 800 AD) features many snakes and birds, as well as other animals, plants, and landscapes in the decorative chapter pages and initial letters of sections.  The snake, always a symbol of rebirth, becomes a symbol of Christ’s death and resurrection in the book.  So while it appears in a Christian book, it continues its original pagan association.

The Eagle and the Serpent as One Entity

Pliny the Elder (c.100 AD), in his work Natural History, refers to a certain large serpent that fights with eagles.  It tries to steal the eagle’s eggs.  In the struggle, the snake wraps itself around the eagle so tightly that the two look like one animal with two heads.  This is a very early reference to the eagle and snake involved in a match of equal, opposite powers.  It’s also a reference to what seems to be the combined animal – the winged serpent.

At this point, when the eagle and serpent are perfectly paired opposites, they represent not victory or defeat but dynamic cosmic completion, the union of spirit and matter, as shown in the Japanese emblem (illustration).

dragon and phoenix, from Vinnycomb book

This is the same combination as the American Indian winged rattlesnakes, the Mesoamerican feathered serpent, the Egyptian winged snake goddess Wadjet, and the paired winged, serpent-tailed creator beings in Chinese myth.  This is the force that drives the universe as the celestial bird and the serpent wheel forever, in perfect balance of opposite energies, around the portal of heaven.

Sources and Interesting Reading:

“Adam and Eve,” painted wood ceiling at  St. Michael’s church, Hildesheim, Germany, 1192 AD www.ambrosiasociety.org/the_fruit_of_the_tree_of_life.html

Birrell, Anne. Chinese Mythology: An Introduction. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993

“Celtic Gods and Goddesses,” www.joellssacredgrove.com

“Dragon,” The Medieval Bestiary http://bestiary.ca./beasts/beast262.htm

“Double-headed eagle,” Wikipedia

“Eagle” A-Z Animals.  A-Zanimals.com/animals/eagle

“Eagle,” The Medieval Bestiary http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast232.htm

“Eagle Snake” tattoo design by stoffe3337 on deviantart.com

“Gadsden flag,” Wikipedia

Hero, Hawk, and Open Hand: American Indian Art of the Ancient Midwest and South.  Richard Townsend (ed.) The Art Institute of Chicago in association with Yale University Press, 2004

Holy Bible, New International Version, 1984.

Oodgeroo Nunukul. Dreamtime: Aboriginal Stories. First published as Stadbroke Dreamtime.  Angus & Robertson, 1972

Power, Susan C.  Early Art of the Southeastern Indians: Feathered Serpents & Winged Beings. University of Georgia Press, 2004

“Rainbow Serpent, The” ferrebeekeeper.wordpress.com (a wonderful blog)

Rock Art images,  http://www.eskimo.com/~noir/southwest/rockart

“Saint George and the Dragon,” painting by Paulo Uccello (c. 1458), Wikipedia Commons

Saint George and The Dragon, retold by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, Little, Brown, 1984.

“Serpent,” New World Encyclopedia. www.newworldencyclopedia.org

“Serpent and Saint Patrick,” I Am An Owl blog, (a very interesting blog) http://amayodruid.blogspot.com

Saunders, Nicholas. J. Animal Spirits. Little, Brown, 1995

“Serpent (symbolism)” Wikipedia

“Snake,” The Medieval Bestiary (1400 AD)  http://besatiary.ca/beasts/beast264f.htm

Taylor, Sea, and Fernando Vilela. The Great Snake: Stories from the Amazon.  Frances Lincoln, 2008

The March of Progress

You’ve probably seen the image or one of hundreds of parodies of it.  The original shows fifteen males, starting with an ape on the far left and ending with a modern human on the far right.

March_of_Progress - full version

The simplified version frequently uses only six. The artist who painted the original illustration, Rudolph Zallinger, said it wasn’t meant to imply a straight or simple path from ape to human, but in fact that’s exactly what it did.  From the moment it appeared in Early Man, the 1965 Time-Life book, it became conflated with the Darwinian theories of evolution and natural selection.  Currently, the article “What is Darwin’s Theory of Evolution?” on Livescience.com sports a simplified March of Progress illustration right at the beginning, one of many such references.

Criticism of the image is loud and ongoing.  All of the figures are male, culminating with a contemporary white male.  It’s sexist, racist, ethno-centric, and stupidly self-congratulatory.  Though so common it’s hardly noticeable anymore, it reinforces Social Darwinism, grossly over-simplifies the story of human history, and blinds us to the abilities of our ancestors.  Its only saving grace is that it spawned dozens of funny variations, including these:

Homersapien

Survival of the Fittest

Implied in the original March of Progress illustration is the theory of Survival of the Fittest.  Darwin noted that more individuals of every species are born than can survive.  Therefore, the ones that have an edge, perhaps through an adaptation, are more likely to survive than the others.  Those who survive are more likely to reproduce.  He uses many examples from the natural world, including the famous finches in the Galapagos Islands.

Darwin's finches

Though they share a common ancestor, they have developed different beak shapes and sizes to help them reach and process the different foods they eat.  Thus, adaptation allows for survival.

Social Darwinism

In the 19th century, Darwin’s idea of survival of the best-adapted, or fittest, was frequently applied to social situations, especially as a way to explain why some people had all the money and power while others starved to death.  It was simply Nature’s plan, the rich people argued, unfortunate, perhaps, but inescapable.

Survival of the Fittest – and Luckiest

Harvard University paleontologist Stephen Gould modified the idea of survival of the fittest by saying that chance also plays a huge part in the success of individuals and species. His book, Wonderful Life, published in 1989, explores the concept using the fossilized sea creatures in the Burgess Shale formation in British Columbia, Canada, as examples.  He points out that they were well-suited to their environment yet all perished because of an overwhelming environmental change.  Basically, he thought survival was a function of luck as much as ability.

About that Linear Progress

Another problem with the March of Progress image is its assumption that the hominids that preceded us were much less capable than we are.  New finds challenge that idea.  In fact, they pretty clearly indicate that long before there were modern humans, there were great explorers.

The oldest dates for modern man (Homo sapiens sapiens) are hard to pin down because experts argue over what defines a modern human and because new evidence contradicts older theories.  According to skull shape, modern humans first appeared in East Africa somewhere between 115,000 and 160,000 years ago.  According to genetic studies, anatomically modern humans appeared in Africa between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago and first migrated out of Africa 125,000 years ago.  According to Archaeologydaily.com, modern humans arrived in Europe between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago.

And yet, consider these finds:

Dmanisi, Republic of Georgia – hominid remains dated to 1.8 million years ago which show dental wear consistent with frequent use of a toothpick.  Also thousands of extinct animal bones and a thousand stone tools

The Sima del Elefante rockshelter in the Sierra de Atapuerca of northern Spain – remains of Homo antecessor, dated to 1.1 million years old

Happisburg, near Norfolk, England – 78 pieces of razor-sharp flint shaped into cutting tools, dated to between 840,000 and 950,000 years old

Pakefield, near Lowestoff in Suffolk, England – flint tools dated to 700,000 years old

Boxgrove, England – stone, antler, and bone tools dated to 500,000 years old

A cold phase that began around 470,000 years ago probably killed or forced out the resident hominid populations in Britain.  New settlers arrived during the next warm spell.

Swanscombe Heritage Park, northwest Kent, England – hand axes and skull fragments dated to 400,000 years old.  The skull, dubbed “Swanscombe Man,” was subsequently found to belong to a woman.

Bilzingsleben, Germany – 200,000 stone artifacts and hundreds of bone, wood, and antler artifacts, fragments of two hominid skulls, probably Homo erectus, remains of a circle of oval huts, all between 320,000 and 412,000 years old, a fragment of elephant tibia incised with lines (illustration)

 Bilzingsleben bone

Schoningen, Germany – wooden throwing spears found with 16,000 animal bones, the first evidence of active hunts, dated to 300,000 years ago

So these ancestors were apparently long-distance explorers with a social structure, counting and building skills, as well as collective hunting ability.  Those assume some sense of geography and an accurate communication system (language).  Since rivers were the easiest way to get from one forested or mountainous area to another, boat building was probably also necessary for survival.  If they were out after dark, some form of navigating by the moon and stars would enable them to return to their village or camp.

Hardly grunting dim-wits.

Oldest cave art, in Spain

It’s curious now that research has shown many of us to be related through our DNA to the Neanderthals or their Denisovan cousins, attitudes toward them have changed.  Suddenly, the earliest cave art in Spain, a painting of two seals, and a series of negative hand prints and rows of red dots, have been ascribed to Neanderthal painters.

We have a fascinating history that we’re only beginning to understand.  Perhaps someday, instead of the March of Progress, we’ll come up with an equally compelling but far more accurate illustration of that story.

Sources and interesting reading:

“Ancient Britons were earliest northern Europeans,” Natural History Museum (UK), 07 July 2010

Borenstein, Seth. “Cave art suggests that Neanderthals weren’t such Neanderthals, after all,” The Christian Science Monitor, 15 June 2012

“Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.”  All about Science.  http://www.darwins-theory-of-evolution.com

“Devon jawbone reveals earliest NW European,” Natural History Museum (UK) 02 November 2011

“Evolution,” Wikipedia

Gould, Stephen Jay.  Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History.  Norton & Co., 1989

Hirst, K. Kris, “Bilzingsleben (Germany)” About.com Archaeology

Hirst, K. Kris, “Lower Paleolithic Sites in Europe,” About.com Archaeology

“Homo heidelbergensis” Wikipedia (an excellent article)

“Hunting for the first humans in Britain” British Archaeology magazine, May 2003.  http://www.archaeologyuk.org/ba/ba70/feat1.shtml

“March of Progress,” Wikipedia

“More Findings Emerge from Oldest Known Hominin Fossils Outside of Africa” Popular Archaeology, 07 October 2013 http://popular-archaeology.com/issur/09012013

O’Neil, Dennis. “Early Modern Homo sapiens.”  Evolution of Modern Humans: Early Modern Homo sapiens.  http://anthro.palomar.edu/homo2/mod_homo_4.htm

“Recent African origin of modern humans” Wikipedia (an excellent article)

“Resourceful Neanderthals in France,” Popular Archaeology, 01 November 2013

Sample, Ian.  “First humans arrived in Britain 250,000 years earlier than thought,” The Guardian. 07 July 2013 http://the guardian.com/science/2010jul/07/first-humans-britain-stone-tools

Than, Ker “World’s Oldest Cave Art Found – Made by Neanderthals?” National Geographic Daily News, 14 June 2012

Missing: Fierce, Powerful Goddess

Seated Woman with Lions, at least 10,000 years old

Catalhoyuk, Anatolia, present-day Turkey

Middle East Ankara_Muzeum_

Very little is known about the spiritual beliefs of the people from Catalhoyuk, but the figurine, one of many like it found at the site leads to some interesting possibilities.  She is enormously fat, like the Venus figurines (See earlier post on the Venus Figurines) but she does not look like a victim.  She sits on a throne flanked by lions, two symbols of power.  James Melhart, who excavated the site in the 1950s and 60s, claimed this figure and many others like it found at the site, carved from marble, limestone, basalt, alabaster, and clay, represented an Earth Mother deity.  However, Ian Hodder, who worked on the site in 2004 and 2005, claimed “in fact there is very little evidence of a mother goddess.”

The map below shows the major settlements in the ancient Near East, including those mentioned in this post.  (Map courtesy of Resources for History Teachers)

Ancient Near East

Al-Uzza, Al-Jauza, Al-Jabar

“What’s in a name?” Lots, as it turns out.

OrionPic

The constellation we know as Orion the Hunter was known to ancient Arabic astronomers as al-Jauza, a feminine form meaning the Central One.  In ancient illustrations of the constellation, al-Jauza is clearly a woman.   However, the name later changed to al-Jabar, a masculine form meaning “The Giant.”  When the Greeks named the constellation, it became Orion the Hunter.  However, echoes of the past remain in the star names, including Betelgeuse (“Bet-al-Jauza,” translated as the armpit of the Central One, the hand of the Central One, or the house of the Central One, depending on which scholar’s work you’re reading).Orion illustration from Heritage Arabe des Noms Arabes Pour Les Etoiles

The ancient Arabic goddess called al-Uzza, meaning “The Mightiest One” or “The Strong,” was associated with both fertility and war.  She was worshipped, along with Hubal (the chief of the gods) as well as Manat (goddess of fate) and Al-lat (goddess of the Underworld) at many important sites between Medina and Mecca, including the Kaaba, though all shrines, statues, and other evidence of their worship have been destroyed.

Inanna, Queen of Heaven, Goddess of Love, War, Fertility, and Lust

Sumeria – present day Iraq; main temple in Uruk, 6,000 years agoInanna, Louvre vase

The most powerful Sumerian goddess was Inanna, who may have been borrowed from an even earlier mother goddess figure.  But Inanna was no loving mother figure.  Often pictured standing on the backs of two lionesses, she was associated with both sex and war. It was said she could stir up confusion and discord.  According to one story, a bully who drank blood and ate the flesh of his victims terrified the residents of Uruk until one of Inanna’s men defeated him, hitting him with an axe.  The villain then begged forgiveness of Inanna, promising to praise her and make offerings at her temple in Uruk.

Her planet was Venus, the Morning and Evening Star, famous for its brilliant appearance in the western twilight sky, followed by its disappearance into the Underworld and reappearance in the eastern pre-dawn sky.

Ishtar, Queen of the Night, Goddess of Love, Fertility, and War

Akkad – center in city of Uruk, 4,300 years ago,

Sumeria – Uruk, in present-day Iraq

Assyria – Nineveh and Ashur, in present-day Iraq

Ishtar

The Akkadian Empire absorbed almost all of the land drained by the Tigres and Euphrates Rivers about 4,300 years ago, putting both the Semites and Sumerians under Akkadian rule and enforcing the Akkadian language. After the fall of the empire 140 years later, two main groups emerged: Assyria in the north and Babylonia in the south.

Ishtar was simply a later version of Inanna.  She was an unpredictable goddess of love, fertility, sex, and war.  She was incredibly powerful, capable of creating and destroying.  While she was praised as the creator of the human race, provider of continuing sustenance, and giver of arts and culture, she also had quite a reputation as a cruel lover, often killing her partners.  Like Inanna, she was associated with lions, often pictured standing on the backs of two lionesses.  Venus, particularly as the Evening Star, was her planet. In the terra cotta plaque of her that is now located in the Louvre (pictured), she is also flanked by owls, an indication of her position as Queen of the Night.  Her temple at Tell Bank in present-day Syria contained thousands of figurines of staring owls that were able to “see” justice.

Both Inanna and Ishtar were often portrayed with horns on their heads representing the crescent moon.

Astarte, Queen of Heaven, Goddess of Fertility, Sexuality, and War

Phoenicia – centers in Tyre and Byblos, 3000 – 5000 years ago

Sicily

Astarte, Statuette_Goddess_Louvre_AO20127Cyprus

Dama_de_Galera AstarteAstarte is the Phoenician version of Ishtar.  Since the Phoenicians were great sailors and traders, they spread the cult of Astarte throughout the eastern Mediterranean from the early Bronze Age to classical times, when the Greeks made her into Aphrodite and the Romans made her into Venus.  While these goddesses kept her sexuality and capriciousness, they downplayed the warlike aspects of Astarte.

Astarte’s symbols are the lion, horse, sphinx, and dove.  The statue of the Lady of Galera in Spain (left) shows Astarte flanked by sphinxes.  Her statue now housed in the Louvre (pictured) shows her naked except for her necklace and long earrings, with blazing eyes and a blazing navel.  The crescent moon on her head looks like horns.  In Phoenicia, she was sometimes portrayed leaning forward at the bow of a ship, becoming the original for the figureheads on many later boats.

Astarte appears in Egypt as a warrior goddess, often conflated with the lion-headed goddess Sekmet and with Isis.

She appears in the Bible as Ashtoreth, combining Astarte with bosheth (abomination), who is condemned as a female demon of lust.

Sekhmet – Powerful One, The Destroyer, Lady of Terror, Eye of Ra, One Before Whom Evil Trembles, Lady of Life, Protector of Pharaohs

Centers – Memphis and later Thebes, Ancient Egypt

Sekmet seated

Depicted as a lioness or a woman with a lion’s head, Sekhmet (also Sekmet), daughter of the sun god Ra, was one of the oldest deities in the Egyptian pantheon.  Nothing soft about this lady; her hot breath was said to create the desert.  When Ra felt that humans had failed to live correctly, he sent Sekmet as his avenger.  She killed so many people that Ra tried to stop her, but her blood-lust drove her to more killings.  Finally, Ra poured thousands of gallons of pomegranate-stained beer in her path.  Thinking it was blood, she drank it until she passed out and the killing stopped.  In her honor, public drinking festivals were held each year, which might be one reason her cult lasted 3000 years.

Since she was associated with lions, tame lions were often kept in her temples.

Later on, Sekhmet’s image changed when she was merged with Hathor, particularly at the Temple to Sekhmet-Hathor at Kom-el-Hin.  Hathor was the mother goddess, pictured as a sacred cow or a woman with cow’s horns on her head.  Unlike the warlike Sekmet, Hathor was associated with joy, sex, music, dance, pregnancy, and birth.  The combined figure was known as “Destroyer of Rebellion,” “Mighty One of Enchantment.”

Tanit – Virginal Mother, Fertility Goddess, Goddess of War

Tanit, Bardo_National_Museum_

Center – Carthage, present-day Tunisia, on the Mediterranean coast across from Sicily

Tanit was the Carthaginian version of Astarte, worshipped from Malta to Gades (Cadis) on the coast of Spain.  She is usually pictured with a lion’s head.

Many of these goddesses obviously share some characteristics.  It’s easy to see the shared qualities of Inanna, Ishtar, Astarte, Sekmet, Ariadne (Crete), Neith (Lybia), Asherah (Hittite), and Anat (Assyria).

In all of these, she shares heavenly titles such as Goddess of the Heavenly Upperworld, Lady of Heaven, Queen of Heaven, Ruler of Heavens, Shining One, and the Torch of Heaven.  To recognize her fierce qualities, she was referred to as Goddess of War, Lady of Victory, Lady of Sorrows and Battles.  She was also Goddess of Love and Goddess of the Evening.

However, as the goddess morphed over time, her warlike qualities began to disappear.

Ba’alat Gebal – Goddess of love, Goddess of Byblos

Center – Byblos, Phoenicia, Temple built 4700 years agoStatue of Ba'alat Gebal at British Museum

As the Greeks made Astarte into Aphrodite, she became the love goddess, a physical beauty.  The first century AD statue of Ba’alat Gebal now housed in the Louvre, shows the transition.  The Phoenician goddess stands in a classical Greek pose.  Her symbol is no longer the lion but the dove, included in her headdress, which also includes a sun disk, a symbol of the Egyptian goddess Isis.  She retains two feathers in her headdress, reminiscent of Astarte.

Hathor with cow horns

Hathor – Celestial Cow, Personification of the Milky Way, Lady of Stars, Mother of MothersEgypt -Isis suckling Horus

Isis – Nurturing mother, Patroness of Nature and Magic

Hathor, the Celestial Cow, was an ancient Egyptian goddess probably morphed from Bat.  She is shown early on as a full cow with a sun disk between her horns. Later, she appeared as a woman with a sun disk between cow horns (pictured, right).  She was the patron of music, dance, and sexual delight, also associated with cosmetics and incense.

In many ways, Isis absorbed the qualities of Hathor but added the dimension of loving wife and mother.  As mother of the falcon-headed god Horus, she is often pictured holding or suckling the infant (pictured, left).

The fierce goddess, the lady of terror, has gradually disappeared.

With the rise of the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the goddesses disappeared almost completely.  The name Queen of Heaven was applied to Mary, the virginal mother of Jesus wearing a mantle of stars, often pictured holding or suckling the infant Jesus.  In Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe continued the heritage of the Aztec Mother Earth goddess Tonantzin.  However, the Reformation downplayed the role of Mary and outlawed statues of her or the saints as idolatry in Protestant churches.

The sea is still referred to as female though the figurehead on boats has disappeared.  The terms Mother Earth and Mother Nature survive though in most uses they engender none of their original respect.

Many of the areas where the goddess cults once flourished now practice extensive discrimination against women that has become accepted as part of the culture.

I miss the fierce goddesses.  I wander through the local toy store, looking at endless rows of pink Barbies looking like so many perky prostitutes, and wonder what happened.

Sources and interesting reading:

“Ancient Near East,” courses.cit.cornell.edu

“Arabic in the Sky,” Saudi Aranco World, September/October 2010

“Arabian Mythology,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabian_legend

“Asherah,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/Asherah

“Astarte,” Encyclopedia Britannica, www.britannica.com

“Astarte,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astarte

“Ba’alat Gebal,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/ba’alatGebal

“Betelgeuse,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betelgeuse

Cass, Stephanie. “Hathor,” Encyclopedia Mythica. http://www.pantheon.org/articles/h/hathor.html

“Catalhoyuk,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalhoyuk

Cross, Fran Moore. Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the Religion of Israel. Harvard University Press, 2009.

“Inanna,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inanna

“Ishtar,” PaganPages.org, http://paganpages.org/content/tag/ishtar

“Isis,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/isis

Map of the Ancient Near East During the Amarna Period, www.ancient.eu.com/image/171

Map of the Ancient Near Eastern Empires.  http://resourcesforhistoryteachers.wikispaces.com

Map of the Oriental Empires about 600 BC, www.hope of Israel.org

“Neith,” Wikipedia

Palestine History: From pre-Bible to the Old Testament, http:/www.israel-a-history-of.com/palestine-history.html

“Phoenicia Trade Routes” map from “Phoenicians,” Wikipedia

“Seated Goddess, CatalHuyuk, “AP Art History: Art of the Ancient Near East.” http://www.westcler.org/gh/curlessmatt/arthistory

“Sekhmet,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sekhmet

“Statue of Ba’alat Gebal,” British Museum http://depts.Washington.edu/silkroad/exhibit/rome

“Statue of Tanit,” Bardo National Museum, http://upload.wikimedia.org

Stuckley, Johanna H. “Goddess Astarte: Goddess of Fertility, Beauty, War, and Love” http://www.matrifocus.com IMB04/spotlight.htm

al-Sufi, Kitab suwar al-kawakib (The Constellations), 903 – 986 AD, World Digital Library

“Tanit,” Wikipedia