Language and art: From paleolithic art to writing Four lectures 12th Early Fall School of Semiotics “Semiotics of Genre” September 10-20, 2006 Sozopol (Bulgaria) Wolfgang Wildgen, Bremen (Germany) First lecture The cognitive presuppositions of art and writing
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12th Early Fall School of Semiotics “Semiotics of Genre”
September 10-20, 2006
Wolfgang Wildgen, Bremen (Germany)
The cognitive presuppositions of art and writing
1.1 Periods of hominid evolution leading to art and language
1.2 The evolution of the neo-cortex as predisposition for art and language
1.3From animal motion to animal sign behavior
1.4 Instrumentality in higher mammals and man
H. sapiens, language
Homo erectus, stone tools
Primates like gorillas, orang-utans and chimpanzees
10 million y. 7 million y. 2 million y. 400.000 y. 40.000
Calculated brain size (in g) in relation to the evolutionary time scale in millions of years.
AF=Australopethecus Africanus, AB= Australopethecus Boisei, HH= Homo habilis, HE= Homo erectus, HSP=Homo sapiens praeneanderthaliensis, HSN= Homo sapiens neanderthaliensis, HSS= Homo sapiens sapiens
Comparison of the cavities used for articulation: a newborn child (adapted size), b: Chimpanzee, c: Neanderthal man (Chapelle- aux-Saints ), d: adult man
Curves of growth for humans and chimpanzees
(the age scale of chimpanzees has ben adapted to the age scale of chimpanzees)
(taken from Lenneberg)
Weight of the body /the brain
Horizontal scales: relative age in years with relevant phases
Evolutionary comparison of the brains of :
Rats, cats, apes and humans
Measured energy transport in the visual and the acoustic mode of language
The evolution of tool use seen or heard
The last stage, “cultural tool-making”, can only be observed in primates and in man.
Human tool use in the Paleolithic seen or heard
Lithic technologies. Left: reconstruction of the technique; right: products of the Levallois technique
The industry had to consider the following factors:
„Chopper“ of the Olduwai.-culture seen or heard
Handaxe in the early Paleolithic seen or heard
Biface (Le Stade)
Le Champs de Mars
(cf. Weiner, 1972: 130)
Abbévillien= 600.000-350.000, second glacial period; Acheuléen= 350.000-100.000; third glacial period
(middle), La Quina
(right) , La Quina (all in the Mousterian period)
Blades from the Solutrean Charente
Blades from the Magdale-nean
The beginning of graphical art and the first steps in its evolution
From tool-use to cave art Charente
Periods in ky = 1000y.
Rock-engravings and color use Charente
Bone of a mammoth with ornaments from Mezin (Ucrainia)
The engraved bone in the possession of a person and the engraving on it may be used as a prototype (or a model of imitation) which orients further perception of similar objects. It is also an object of value (it can be given, stolen, inherited or buried with the owner). Becoming an object of value marks the point of transition to ritual and magical objects.
A: Willendorf; B: Lespuge;
C: Grimaldi; D: Dolné-Vêstonice,; E,F und L: Kostienki;
G: Khotylevo; H und J: Avdevo;
I und K: Gargarino
The dominance of female statuettes and female symbols (“vulvas”) was interpreted as the consequence of a more “gendered” society in the Upper Paleolithic. Eventually a more egalitarian society was replaced by a society with social differentiation and a divergence between female and male roles
From: Sanchidrián, 2001: 12
Males and females
Magdale-nean caves in France Charente
Magdalenean caves in Central and Eastern Europe. Maps from Sacchi, 2003:14f.
The syntax of cave paintings (narrative or hierarchical) Sacchi, 2003:14f.
Monochrome drawing of a horse(Peña de Candamo)
Battle between two rhinozeros
The oldest cave with high-level painting yet known is the cave Chauvet in the valley of the Ardèche (confluent of the Rhône north of Orange). Different periods of visitation are dated between 31 and 23.000y. and thus belong to the Aurignacian. Picture taken from: Chauvet (1997: 64 f.).
A group of chasing lions; Cave Chauvet. Picture taken from: Chauvet (1997: 64 f.).
A bison which turns ist head in attack; Chauvet (1997: 64 f.).
Taken from Chauvet, 1997
Details of horses Chauvet (1997: 64 f.).
Taken from Chauvet, 1997
The evolution of art in the Mesolithic
3.1From iconic schemata to abstract signs
3.2The representation of humans in a social context
3.3The disappearance of the Sahara civilizations
First signs of abstraction interpreted as pictures or figures. The transition between iconic signs and abstract signs (symbols) occurs first with very frequent contents. Two human body-parts appear regularly in the paintings and engravings:
Styled Represen-tations of hands
Cave Santian (Spain)).
Contours of a deer’s head
Sketch of a deer’s head
Many other pictures cannot be linked with specific contents, from which they are derived. Leroi-Gourhan (1992: chapter IX) made an inventory of the Franco-Cantabric signs and distinguished three major classes:
Leroi-Gourhan comes to the conclusion that all these signs have only a very indirect association with the animals represented in the paintings. They are a supplementary code. This is very clear in Lascaux, where signs and pictures are systematically combined into one gestalt and have corresponding sizes (cf. ibidem: 337).
The abstract sign is of the tectiform type
1-10 Dordogne ( Les Eyzies)
11-16: Northern Spain (Altamira, Castillo, u.a.)
17 23: isolated signs
In the period between 12.000 and 7.000y. BP, i.e., just before or after the rise of agriculture, a wealth of engravings is found in which humans occupy the central place. The arrow had been invented and chasing (probably also warfare) had been sophisticated. The individual huntsman or the group of hunters and the animal (sometimes the enemy) are the major topics. The scenes are very dynamic as they show people and animals running, attacking, fleeing. In many cases, there is a basic relation, e.g., a huntsman shoots at an attacking ibex, four huntsmen with a leader, or a battle between two groups, etc. We could say a relation or a valence schema is realized in the painting.
Art of the Levante (Spain) ca. 9-8 000 BP after the Magdalenean 17.00to 11.000)
Northern Sahara (Kargur Talh) (Neolithic 4-5. Thou. B.C.)
The Franco-Cantabric had parallels in northern Africa; the style resembles the rock engravings in the Sahara Atlas and the oasis Fezzan (south of Tripoli). Between 7 and 6.000y. BP cultures based on cattle breeding reached this area from Sudan. They continued the same realistic style (mainly with contours engraved in the rock) but with different contents.
The transition between Mesolithic and Neolithic civilizations may have its origin in the area north of the Sahara, which was an ideal zone for hunting and later for cattle breeding. A huge amount of rock engraving has been discovered in this area. Probably this civilization which was in contact with first cattle breeding civilizations in the Sudan immigrated to Egypt and the near East, when the climate became hot and the water supplies were dramatically reduced.
Distribution of rock-engravings in Northern Africa after the Magdalenean 17.00to 11.000)
Transition between an iconic engraving and an ideogram
The neolithic cultures of the Sahara had not only cattle breeding, they also demonstrate the domestification of sheep, horse and (later) dromedary. Taken from: Striedter,1983: 258 (map) and 11 (pictures)
The Menhir of AlgundMuseum of Meran (Ebers/Wollenik 1982: 47)
Selection of typical items in Capo di Ponte (prov. Brescia) Trentino(Ebers/Wollenik 1982:98f)
These rock-engravings belong already to the Neolithic period and continued until the Bronze age. An archeological sensation was the discovery of the Ötzi-man in the Alps who lived 6000 y BP
Such geometrical patterns were probably also the starting point for the invention of many rule-governed games using graphical schemata.
If de Saussure was inspired by chess as a metaphor of language as a rule governed system, he should rather have referred to the Mesolithic / Neolithic evolution of symbolic games than to the much older system of language.
The evolution of writing
4.1Developments after the Neolithic revolution
4.2Some aspect of the Egyptian writing system and the transition to alphabets
Early object-symbols (choice from a field of 12 categories) systematically developed in Mesopotamia, which became a melting pot of many cultures and concentrated large populations into one organized political system. The paths for the exchange of goods, values, and ideas became complex and difficult to control. The civilizations of Mesopotamia (and the “golden crescent”) took their new shape between 11 and 8.000y. BP. The first “token” systems, called “object languages” by Schmandt-Besserat (1978), appeared ca. during this area and were not dramatically changed for almost five millennia. Only in the Bronze Age, between 7,500y. BP and 5,100y. BP, did the number of tokens increase and their shape differentiate and finally give rise to Sumerian writing (ca. 5.000y. BP; cf. also Friedrich, 1966: 42 f.). The context was not religious but economic. The storage, transport and control of goods motivated a system of bookkeeping. A closed jar contained a number of symbolic objects, which stood for the goods sent to a destination. On the jar, a list of the symbolic objects in the jar was marked.
Writing industries in Egypt by Schmandt-Besserat (1978: 87 f.) we notice the geometrical and abstract character of the signs: spheres, discs, pyramids, cones, tetrahedrons, biconoids, and ovoid are the basic shapes. On these bases, other abstract geometrical shapes are marked (in a lower dimension): holes, lines in/on the sphere, disk, etc. The Sumerian pictograms later flatten the symbolic objects to two-dimensional shapes.
The scribe and his instruments. A wood cut 4700 years old
INSCRIPTION IN THE MIDDLE:
Neb = hieroglyph for basket
Kheper (hieroglyph for the Skarabäus)
Re = hieroglyph for the Sun
Together they compose the proper name of the possessor:
The three strokes below the Skarabäus stand for the vowel „u“
(taken from: Claiborne, 1975: 107)
Signs for nouns /concrete contents
Signs for verbs /processes
As a word stood for a whole family of words with the same root, determina-tives were used to distinguish different word-forms. As only consonantal patterns were mapped into written symbols, the written forms were still ambiguous. There were two major methods of disambiguation:
First simplifications in the 3rd millennium B.C.
Latest text 3rd century AD
Latest text: 476 AD
Diffusion of the writing-systems between 1600 BC. (yellow) and alphabets 450 BC. (green)
The evolution of the Greek alphabet from the Phoenician and alphabets 450 BC. (green)
Friedrich, 1966: 275
A rough summary of the evolution of writing and alphabets 450 BC. (green)
Different solutions for the design of writing systems were in conflict and in Europe and western Asia the ideographic systems disappeared and the alphabetic principle expanded into all directions.
Only in China did the ideographic writing system survive. It had found its very abstract shape already in the old bone-engravings (1 400-1 200 B.C.). The basic economy of these systems has, in spite of its ideographic character, structural similarities with the alphabetic systems.
In Japan and Korea mixed systems were created. In Japan phonetic syllables are designed by writing symbols and completed by Chinese ideograms.
Chinese signs for words and their original pictorial form (ca. 20). Thus the number of elementary signs corresponds roughly to the number of signs in an alphabet (22 to 30).
Bibliography (selected) (ca. 20). Thus the number of elementary signs corresponds roughly to the number of signs in an alphabet (22 to 30).