Museum of the Origins of Man
To analyze the origin of art and its evolution it is necessary to consider the functions of the first artifacts from the origin of the Paleolithic (three million years ago). These were stone implements (tools) and lithic sculptures (art).
Tools are part of material culture, while sculptures are part of spiritual culture.
Sculpture is the most ancient form of art, followed by engraved drawings on stone. Painting is the most recent artistic development of the Paleolithic, in which it was necessary to invent colors (by imitating natural colors) and to produce them.
Art is part of spiritual culture, as it has always been produced to depict religious subjects. In order to find evolutionary relationships we have inserted post-Paleolithic works of art, of which we know the religious function, alongside Paleolithic artwork whose function we could not know, if not by comparing various works of art of the same typology of subjects.
Historical and current art are appreciated for their beauty, and have a function as furnishings.
Art and tools from the beginning of the Paleolithic represent the earliest known ideas of beauty, whose evolution through their subsequent transformation became more and more rapid.
The beauty applied to art precedes the beauty applied to tools in which only the function was necessary – to cut the skin off mammals or removing the flesh for food, scraping the skins for making clothes or covering for huts, and so on.
The evolution of beauty is evident in the forms of Paleolithic sculptures, and it is amply illustrated on this site; it is clearly visible that it is not the type of beauty to which we are accustomed, after millions of years have passed, but its transformation is already visible, as happens in the beauty of all art of every successive epoch up to the present day.
The sculptures of the Lower and Middle Paleolithic represent mainly human heads that are imitations of real ones, but their representation, in every epoch, following different “fashions”, varies the real form. This transformation has been defined as "style".
This transformation today is found in art, in the form of household utensils, cars and other equipment, and so on.
The representations in sculpture of human heads vary remarkably in the arc of three million years, in how much the different human species are represented; the most ancient have the head represented with forehead and chin absent, while the most recent show Homo sapiens sapiens with forehead and chin. It follows that the most ancient ones have the appearance of a snout, almost "animalistic" in type, while the most recent ones resemble modern humans. Many intermediate forms appeared over time. The stylistic deformation of a sculpted head of Homo erectus, for example of elongated type, or with the intentional absence of representation of eyes and nose, always highlights the profile of the face. Through anthropological analysis it is always possible, with some approximation, to establish the species of Homo depicted. The style is beauty.
On the contrary, some difficulty occurs when interpreting the majority of lithic sculptures found in alluvial deposits.
These sculptures along with stone tools were produced during the Lower and Middle Paleolithic in hilltop or mountain settlements and then transported by floodwaters of torrents or rivers. The resulting rolling action has smoothened or removed some features of the sculptures and some cutting or scraping marks of tools.
Some of the sculptures on display at this site come from alluvial plain deposits but their disfigurement is mild. The sculptures and tools produced from hard stone like flint are less disfigured by rolling than those produced from soft stones, in which features can be completely erased so that they become mere pebbles unrecognizable as sculptures.
Sculptures of lower and middle Paleolithic are eight types:
1) Human head;
2) Animal head;
3) Bicephalic human head;
4) Bicephalic animal head;
5) Human head joined at the neck to an animal head;
6) Human head mixed with an animal head;
7) Naked woman (Venus);
8) Animal head with a human body.
The most ancient type of sculpture is the bicephalic human head which has an absolute dating of three million years and has been produced in southern Africa by a species of Australopithecus, a hominid that preceded man.
It is important to consider that the bicephalic human head is not an imitation of Nature; it did not exist but is an invention of human spiritual culture.
All these eight types of sculptures appear in the Lower Paleolithic and are all connected to a cult, that is to a religion, and served no functional purpose in material culture.
On this site there is a review of all the types of sculptures and other artistic applications of post-Paleolithic eras. The religious function is shown to be established as a tradition that has lasted until our days.
As you can see from the photographs, the two heads are always different in size and orientation, even in the same sculpture; this certainly had a meaning that is unknown to us.
The representation of a single head, and of combinations of heads, finds a confirmation in the cult of the skull of the deceased of the Lower Paleolithic, hypothesized by authoritative scholars in the first half of the 19th century, given the remarkable amount of finds of parts of skulls compared to other parts of the skeleton.
Findings of human skulls preserved in burials are known from the Middle Paleolithic to historical times, and from many small primitive civilizations of the present day. Preservation of bear skulls also occurred during the Middle Paleolithic.
In the post-Paleolithic epochs the eight typologies evolved enormously with the application of new technologies of working and the use of new materials, and the development of sculptural composition and religious meanings.
To the bicephalic human heads are added new heads, a human body, multiple arms, also eyes on the body, clothes, colors and so on, as for example is found among Indian divinities. Even the styles will acquire characteristics different from those of other styles, as in the geometric anthropomorphic sculptures of Mesoamerica.
In conclusion, the approximate cultural attribution of an anthropomorphic sculpture of the Lower or Middle Paleolithic found in an alluvial deposit where absolute dating is not possible, is determined by the represented human species, by the typology of the composition, by the style and technique of stone working, as is widely described and used by paleoethnologists in dating the manufacture of stone tools.
More chronological determinations are obtained when the sculptures of bicephalic human heads represent the union of two different human species, such as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens sapiens..
Page translated from Italian into English by Paris Alexander Walker.
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