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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
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 last stage, “cultural tool-making”, can only be observed in primates and in man.
Lithic technologies. Left: reconstruction of the technique; right: products of the Levallois technique
The industry had to consider the following factors:
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 Magdale-nean
The beginning of graphical art and the first steps in its evolution
Periods in ky = 1000y.
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
Magdalenean caves in Central and Eastern Europe. Maps from 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.).
Taken from Chauvet, 1997
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
Styled Represen-tations of hands
Cave Santian (Spain)).
Contours of a deer’s head
Sketch of a deer’s head
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.
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.
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)(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
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
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)
Friedrich, 1966: 275
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.