Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Paleoart - The Oldest "Work" of Art?

The Makapansgat jasperite cobble, 3 million years, South Africa.

According to archeologist Robert Bednarik, manuports are : “unmodified objects transported and deposited by hominids, and they are distinguished by being of a usually striking material clearly foreign to the sediment containing the occupation deposit they occur in.”

The Makapansgat pebble is such a manuport, found in a cave in South Africa’s Makapansgat Valley, associated with Australopithecus' remains. It is a natural object with distinct color and shape and with marks that resemble a face. Although the marks themselves were produced by natural processes and not by the actions of our distant relative or ancestor, that is, the object was not made but only found, Bednarik associates it with paleoart.

Red Cliffs at the head of the Makapansgat Valley

According to the archeologist the object “conveyed non-inherent properties to its collectors that were imposed by neural processes and involved an incipient form of consciousness.” That is, the act of collecting and transporting the pebble is evidence of early perceptive and projective capacities and choices linked to the exercise of inner mental dispositions, in this case, we may add, not related immediately to material needs. An instance of internal processes inscribing their patterns in the external world. And therefore leading gradually to the imposition of order upon empirical reality via selection, collection and classification.

Selective activity precedes and prepares the production of graphic marks, symbols and patterns. A process that, according to Bednarik, will later result on to the invention of art. From "reading" to "writing" perceptual-symbolic patterns in reality.

We can say therefore that art started with the “ready-made”.

Marcelo Lima


Robert G. Bednarik
- Manuports and very early palaeoart
CogWeb: Cognitive Cultural Studies (UCLA) -
Hominid Family History
Human Evolution - Hominid fossil record and hypothesized lines of human evolution

Early hominid sites in South Africa


Australopithecus afarensis compared to Homo erectus.
Credit: Laszlo Meszoly, Harvard U.


"On the basis of a skull found at Hadar in Ethiopia in 1992,
the artist John Gurche has produced a stunning
reconstruction of Australopithecus Afarensis.
This species flourished in the period 3.7 million
to 3 million years ago."

Human Philogeny



"Under the current taxonomy (based on genetic rather than behavioral criteria), the term "hominid" refers to members of the biological human family Hominidae: living humans, all human ancestors, the many extinct members of Australopithecus, and our closest primate relatives, the chimpanzee and gorilla. "


Hominidae : Humans, great apes, and their extinct relatives
"Phylogeny in part from Purvis (1995)."

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