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.

The Lion-headed Figurine

lion-headed figure

The most well-known – and controversial – piece of Paleolithic European art is the carved mammoth-ivory sculpture known as Lowenmensch, German for “lion-man” or lion-human,” although perhaps Lion Lady, or Lion Man/Lady would be more accurate.  Like everything else about it, its gender is the subject of debate.  While little is known about the people who carved it or its significance to them, the figure, even in fragmentary form, is arresting.  Now, new clues from the cave where it was found and others in the area put the famous figure in better context.

The figure is about 30 cm (11 ½ inches) tall, with a clearly formed lion head and a left arm, which looks more like a lion’s leg, bearing striations.  A double line runs down the side of the head, from the front of the ear down to the neck.  The posture is human but the body and left arm (front leg) seem very feline. The hand seems more like a paw though the left foot seems like a small human foot with a pointed toe.  A clearly marked navel lies above the ambiguous genital triangle.

It’s thought to be somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 years old.

History

Given its complicated story, it’s surprising we know about The Lion-headed Human at all.

In 1861, a priest collecting bear bones in Stadel Cave, one of several caves in a limestone cliff in Hohlenstein Mountain in southwestern Germany, also found thousands of flint chips, but being interested only in the bear bones, he dug around with his shovel, found dozens of bear skulls, and threw everything else away, destroying levels of archaeological sediments and fragile pieces of ivory in the process.

In 1939, Robert Wetzel came to the cave to check on the rumored flint tools.  Unfortunately, he had little time.  World War II was beginning, and soon he was called up for service in the German military. On the day he was to leave, his team discovered fragments of ivory below pieces of worked flint.  Because he had to hurry, he scooped up the fragments he’d excavated into cardboard boxes, then hid the boxes until after the war, when he donated them to the Ulmer Museum, where they were placed in storage and forgotten.

lion-headed figure2

Between 1954 and his death in1961, Wetzel continued his excavations in Stadel Cave, finding bones that indicated the cave had been inhabited by both Neanderthals (The thigh bone he found is one of few Neanderthal bones found in southern Germany.) and Homo sapiens.  The bones included those of a man, woman, and child with severed heads, buried together.  In addition, he found bone fragments from at least 54 individuals.  As with the fragments of the Lion-headed figurine, he donated these finds to the museum at Ulm. (The photo at the right is from the Ulmer Museum exhibition.)

In 1969, in the course of an inventory at the museum, Dr. Joachim Hahn came across the mammoth-ivory fragments and noticed a similarity among some of the pieces.  Eventually, he pieced together nearly two hundred fragments to make a human/animal figure missing a head.  Dubbing it Lion Man, he saw this figure as evidence of Stone Age people’s belief in mystical/spiritual concepts.

Twenty years later, Elizabeth Schmid added more pieces from the museum’s collection and completed a new examination of the cave, finding many other fragments, completing the head and arm.  However, Schmid disagreed with Dr. Hahn and declared the figure was female, not male, noting what she identified as a clearly marked pubic triangle.

The mystery continues to play out clues.  In 2011, the Stadel cave was excavated again, in the same place as the original find.  In the course of the excavation, archaeologists sifted through the rubble piles left behind by the first group.  Claus-Joachim Kind, who oversaw the screening, announced: “We have about a thousand items which may be of the statue.”  In order to fit them exactly, the old glue was removed and the new pieces inserted.  New finds include part of the neck and back, as well as most of the missing right arm.  Researchers also found more striated marks on the surface like those on the arm.

Artifact found in Hohle Fels Cave

Artifact found in Hohle Fels Cave

The digging spot was located beside a fire pit in a niche 27 meters from the entrance from the cave.  Nearby were decorated deer teeth and artic fox incisors as well as ivory beads.

More Finds in the Neighborhood

A few kilometers from Stadel Cave is Hohle Fels cave, which is famous for the Venus of Hohle Fels figurine found there and dated to 35,000 years ago.  There, in 2001, a smaller version of the Lion-Headed Human was found.  Like its taller cousin, this one-inch tall, partial figure exhibits both human and animal characteristics, with a clearly carved leonine ear and truncated arm/leg, just like the Lion-Headed figure.  Also, it has a clear slash mark down its left arm.  It cannot be determined whether the figure is meant to be male or female because it doesn’t have any genital area.  This figure is thought to be 33,000 years old.

After considering the curious similarities between the different Venus figurines (See earlier post on Venus Figurines) found in fire pits, broken into pieces, it’s very interesting to find the same circumstances for this figure.  The cut marks found on the figure, as well as its “Little Brother,” are also reminiscent of the marks on the Venus figurines.

The Shaman’s Journey

Many experts say the Lion-HumSan theriotropean combination suggests a shamanistic trance in which a person may enter another world, often through the portal offered by a cave.  In this sense, the shaman may take on the characteristics of an animal as part of the transformation.  In the San rock art picture from South Africa (left), the figure on the left is the shaman who has become part human, part large animal, taking on the power of the animal (n’om) in order to fight off illness or imbalance in the tribe.

This shamanic alteration is common in many parts of the world, where holy men and women wear headdresses or whole skins of animals as part of their ritual.  If that is the case with the Lion Human, it indicates a very early sense of this dual world and the ability of some humans to access it.

The apparently hermaphroditic condition of the figure would be consistent with the shamanic theory.  Some cave paintings from the same era include both male and female characteristics, such as the famous “Sorcerer” figure in Chauvet Cave, which combines the head of a bull with a female pubic triangle.  According to Dr. Jean Clottes, it is the combination of opposites which creates power.

In any case, the combination of lion and human, for which this figure seems to be the first representative, plays a very important part in our history, from the lion-headed goddesses like Tanit, Astarte, and Sekmet, to the lion-headed incarnation of Vishnu, to the lion (singa) city (pora) of Singapore, and King Richard the Lion-Hearted.

Guennol Lioness, Mesopotamia

As post script, the Guennol Lioness, a 5000-year-old limestone statue found in Iraq, features a well-muscled lioness with a human body and hands (pictured, left).  It was sold through Sotheby’s Auction House to a private collector for $57 million in 2007.  The notes on the 3 ½” figure indicated that many ancient Near East deities were represented by anthropomorphic figures, which evoked the Mesopotamians’ belief that they could attain power over the physical world by combining the superior physical attributes of various species.  Interesting, eh?

Sources and Interesting Reading:

“Archaeology: Lionheaded Figurine” http://www.showcaves.com/english/explain/Archaeology/Loewenfrau.html

“Caves of Germany” Hohlenstein, http://www.showcaves.com/english/de/caves/Hohlenstein.html

Davidson, Laura Leigh. “First Flute Found: Scientists discover the world’s oldest musical instrument,” www.scholastic.com

“Guennol Lioness” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guennol_Lioness

“Lion – Cultural Depictions”  Wikipedia,  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lion

Lion-headed figurine” – updated, TYWKIWDBI, March 8, 2013, http://tywkiwdbi.blogspot.com/s013/lion-headed-figurine

The Lion Lady – Die Lowenfrau, Don’s Maps, www.donsmaps.com/lionlady.html.

“Lion man of the Hohlenstein Stadel,” Wikipedia, January 25, 2013

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lion_man_of_the_Hohlenstein_Stadel,

Partian, Gary. “The Lion Man of Hohlenstein Stadel: Mystery from the Stone Age” October 21, 2009     http://voices.yahoo.com/the-lion-man=hohlenstein-stadel-mystery

“The Paleolithic Age” The Prehistory of Homo Sapiens, Part IV, The Essay Web, http://essayweb.net/history/ancient/prehistory

Schulz, Mattias. “Puzzle in the Rubble,” Der Spiegel, 2011, http://www.spiegel.de/speigel/print/d-82612721.html

“Swabian Jura,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swabian_Alb

Ulmer Museum Archaeological Collection, The Lion Man Exhibition

http://www.showcaves.com/english/de/misc/UlmerMuseum.html

Marsha Walton, CNN.com “Cave Art from 30,000 Years Ago?” December 18, 2003