A Very Neolithic Halloween

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Mornings at the Çatalhöyük dig house were a chaos of tools and tea cups. Too many archaeologists were crammed into a small outpost in the middle of the dusty Anatolian plain and civility came later in the day, after breakfast. It is a very particular way of living that not everyone can cope with; in print I’ve compared it to Goffman’s Total Institution:

“a place of residence and work where a large number of like-situated individuals cut off from the wider society for an appreciable period of time together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life”

The specialists would retreat to their respective labs–paleobot, osteo, zooarch, lithics, pottery, finds–but the excavators would climb up the tell to escape, pushing squeaky wheelbarrows full of tools. The real prize was to be the first to get away, as you got the best tools and a wide open vista of blue sky and long, golden-brown grass. For a moment you could imagine that you were alone on that big hill, fat with archaeology and promise. And quiet. A little wind flapping the tent, but otherwise, gorgeous, gorgeous quiet.

Of course the chaos of the dig house would eventually clamor up the hill after you, and the day would roll on, but you’d hardly notice by then as you were stuck in, troweling, drawing, taking photos, bagging samples and artifacts. We were digging in Building 49, a smallish mudbrick building that fit onto a sheet of permatrace–so under 5m square, almost bijoux, but full of paintings and people buried underneath the floor.

All archaeologists are atheists, but we are all atheists with ghost stories. Actually, that is not even remotely true, I’ve met my share of witches and christians in the trench, and we are a profession ripe with superstition. I take it as part of my professional ethics not to believe in ghosts or anything remotely supernatural but if you study humans, then you must acknowledge a sort of placebo-effect of religiosity–if you believe it is true, then it is true for you. This is a convoluted way of saying that if you deal with the remains of people for long enough, you will eventually come across things that creep you the fuck out. Sometimes it’s not even in the ground.

So on that sunny, slightly misty morning in July, I pushed my rusty wheelbarrow up to the side of the trench. There was a fine layer of dew covering the archaeology, plaster floors, low, muddy walls, and pits where we’d dug several of the eventual 15 bodies to come out from beneath the floors of the house. I was preoccupied with a series of scrappy paintings layered on top of each other, black lines, then squiggles, then hands, then red.

That morning, there in the dew, a line of footprints snaked across the floors and platforms that we’d carefully uncovered the day before.  I was digging with two other archaeologists that year and we all stood at the edge of the trench, staring down at the footprints. The feet that had made the prints were bare, medium sized, and it was obvious where they’d came out of the trench and left the tent. What wasn’t obvious is where they’d entered the trench.

You see, nobody was allowed on the tell outside of working hours. I’d worked on projects before where people had illicitly come in the night and messed around in the archaeology to hunt for whatever treasure they thought we were after. In this instance, nothing was out of place. Someone probably just had a sunrise amble across the tell. Barefoot. Yeah.

So after a little while we just got on with it, took out our tools and went to work. But we never figured out who took a stroll through the Neolithic that night and I remember wondering if we should have recorded the prints before I used a small brush to gently whisk them into oblivion.

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Happy Halloween!

New Publication: Dig Houses, Dwelling, and Knowledge Production in Archaeology

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 11.29.57 AMScreen Shot 2015-09-12 at 11.24.22 AMI was tempted to title our article, “protracted conversational barking” in honor of this hilariously cantankerous quote from Petrie. Dan and I just published a new article in the Journal of Contemporary Archaeology titled Dig Houses, Dwelling, and Knowledge Production in Archaeology which was probably the most fun I’ve ever had writing an article. Here’s a link to the final draft, as it seems that most people don’t have access to JCA yet, and I couldn’t find the budget to publish it OA. Sorry.

Sadly a lot of the historical research did not quite make it into the article, but we managed to get in a wide range of archaeological dig houses, from Petrie’s tomb to the “palace” headquarters of the Tell Asmar excavation, barasti huts in Bahrain, Villa Ariadne and Harriet Boyd Hawes’ sanctified bone yard. We also looked at modern dig houses, often hotels, and tried to make a case for more lively places of knowledge production on excavations. And we sneaked in a bit about dig houses hearkening to Goffman’s total institution. But maybe that’s just Çatalhöyük.

Speaking of Çatalhöyük, our case study in the article describes the destruction of a re-purposed building on the project called the “Chicken Shed,” which we argued was an example of what Stewart Brand calls a “low road building”–good to think in, and a great place to come together and remove structural barriers in a project. It was torn down in 2011, in a way that became very symbolic to much of the former team as the end of an era. The virtual reconstruction of the Chicken Shed shared a similar fate, after the end of Okapi Island in Second Life.

Anyway, give it a read and let me know what you think about our “archaeology of us.” If you’d like a copy with the figures, drop me a line.

Morgan, C. & Eddisford, D. (2015) Dig Houses, Dwelling, and Knowledge Production in Archaeology. Journal of Contemporary Archaeology 2.1 169-193.

50 Years of Visualization at Çatalhöyük

As I previously mentioned, Jason Quinlan and I co-presented a poster at this year’s EAA in Istanbul. While it isn’t quite as brilliant as Alison Akins’ Plague Poster, I enjoyed putting something together about the photography at Çatalhöyük, especially with one of the primary photographers involved!

Regardless, I’ve put our poster below. Of particular note is the immense increase in the size of the archive after Photoscan was introduced at Çatalhöyük.

EAA-Poster_Final

Jason and I collaborated on this remotely, and so there is some funny bits with converting between iterations of Illustrator, most notably in the wandering photo code above.

Let me know what you think!

 

EAA Istanbul: A Blast from the (Çatalhöyük) Past

Tea on the Ferry across the Bosphorus, taken in 2006 (!)
Tea on the Ferry across the Bosphorus, taken in 2006 (!)

For the first time ever, I’m attending the European Association for Archaeology (EAA) meetings, 10-14 September in Istanbul. Istanbul is probably my favorite city in the world, so full of chaos and color, heady intellectualism, romanticism and a past that stretches deep beneath the Bosphorus. I don’t think my Turkophilia sits all that well with my Turkish friends, who have to struggle with the conservatism of Erdoğan’s government and have to fight in the streets to protect themselves from his police state. I worry about my friends in Turkey, I worry about Turkey’s slide into militancy, but I also believe in them and their passionate resistance and refusal to be silenced.

So my joy to be returning to Turkey is somewhat tempered by the ongoing struggles of the Gezi protesters and Erdoğan’s move from prime minister to president, with the accompanying fears of a cult of personality that will elevate him into an autocratic regime.

Whew–after that fairly heavy-handed politicizing, I’ll be presenting in two sessions, both about previous (slightly old & moldy) work that I did regarding Çatalhöyük that I need to publish.

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First is a paper:  The Life and Death of Virtual Çatalhöyük in Second Life

Abstract: From 2007 until 2011, OKAPI Island in Second Life hosted a virtual reconstruction of the Neolithic village of Çatalhöyük. This simulation included reconstructions of current excavations, past and present lifeways at the site, a virtual museum, and hosted several forums and open days. Using the reconstruction we hosted a mixed reality session,filmed machinima, held university lectures, and collaborative virtual building sessions. OKAPI Island in Second Life was an incredibly fertile proving ground for re-thinking our assumptions about archaeological interpretation and outreach.When Linden Labs, the makers of Second Life, decided to end the educational discount that made OKAPI Island affordable, a team of students and professors at the University of California, Berkeley made the effort to preserve the virtual reconstruction by record, a process that is familiar to archaeologists. After the “death” of a virtual reconstruction of an archaeological site, what lessons can be learned about digital materiality and preservation? How can we use the example of Çatalhöyük in Second Life to inform our future reconstructions? What is next for collaborative virtual work in archaeology?

Since my fairly effusive 2009 work in Archaeologies, (Re)Building in Second Life: Changing Virtual Reality in Archaeology, I wanted to add a coda–so many virtual reconstructions and digital projects are built, published, and we are left to puzzle out what happened later, so I wanted to wrap up all the work that we’d done and the eventual fate of the reconstruction.

I’m also very happy to be putting together a poster with my good friend and colleague Jason Quinlan:

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Title: Fifty Years of Visualization at Çatalhöyük

Abstract: Çatalhöyük, a spectacular archaeological site in central Turkey, has been the subject of visual interpretation for half a century. From Ian Todd’s photography performed during James Mellaart’s 1960s excavations to Ian Hodder’s work since 1993, a vast visual record has accumulated of over 100,000 images. The collection records not only site excavation and finds but also embedded changes recorded in the archive’s collective “metadata” in both technical and theoretical approaches to site photography over time.

In this poster we explore the changes in technology, methodology and theory at the site as seen in the changing modes of visualization at Çatalhöyük. Through quantitative and qualitative analyses of the visual record, we provide insights regarding the contrasting archaeological processes at the site. Finally, we look to the future of visual interpretation at Çatalhöyük.

I’m happy to finally be able to draw a line underneath my work at Çatalhöyük and get more of my dissertation research out the door!

Open Access Article: An Archaeology of the Contemporary: A Standing Buildings Survey of “The Chicken Shed” at Catalhoyuk

Rainbow over the Chicken Shed by Jason Quinlan

One of the primary goals of this report is to preserve by record the physical nature and some of the history associated with what is now the oldest modern building on the site. A secondary goal is to make visible a rarely-discussed aspect of an otherwise exhaustively recorded enterprise…the study of the use of architecture and space in archaeological dig houses, while secondary to the primary research goals of an excavation, remains an oral tradition on even the most reflexive of excavations. Recording the chicken shed at Catalhoyuk allowed us to consider the history of the site and the reuse of buildings as well as reconsider the social space we live and work in while conducting research on the lifeways of people in the past.

Dan and I wrote a short piece for the 2011 archive about the beloved chicken shed at Catalhoyuk, something that I hope we can expand upon in a more formalized article. You can read the rest here (starting on page 138):

Archive Report 2011

It is all a little bittersweet now that the team has been fully turned-over and the chicken shed is slated for destruction. Anyway, enjoy!

Pseudoscience, Archaeology, and the Public

There’s a minor tussle going on over at Aardvarchaeology and Archaeological Haecceities over a public lecture at Linnaeus University in Sweden. The lecture is by Semir Osmanagich, a fringe “archaeologist” who claims to have found pyramids in Bosnia. I actually posted about this back in 2008 with photos of some of the nice geological sections that have been gouged into the hill:

https://middlesavagery.wordpress.com/2008/10/12/the-bosnian-pyramids/

When I saw the invite to the lecture “The Bosnian Valley of the Pyramids in Context,” I have to admit that I cringed–surely a university wouldn’t lend any credibility to this obvious hoax. In the comments over at Aardvarchaeology, Cornelius Holtorf explains, courtesy of Google Translate:

We invite him, not because we are his interpretations of scientific seriousness, but because we think we have to discuss his work and its effects. The Bosnian pyramids have affected not only tourism and the perception of cultural heritagein Bosnia, but is also how we look at the cultural heritage of the wider community. Can fictional heritage have the same (or greater) power than genuine cultural heritage? What is it that the tourists are really looking for when they visit cultural heritage sites and how they present archeology and heritage to the world media so that it has an impact? What is Osmanagich himself at his critics within the scientific archeology and the archaeologists who work in Bosnia?”

This should be an interesting talk–I’d very much like to see the lecture and the discussion afterwards. Osmanagich’s work is fascinating in this respect; how did he get so far with such an obvious hoax? Why is the idea of pyramids in Bosnia so compelling to so many people? I admire Dr. Holtorf’s work and would like to be as high-minded, inclusive and controversial as he is–I mean, why not discuss the implications of imaginary heritage when compared to actual cultural heritage? Sadly I think I would have a problem getting past Osmanagich’s wanton destruction of actual archaeological sites while bulldozering for imaginary architecture, and I hope someone at Linnaeus University takes him to task for that. A full rundown of the situation is available on wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosnian_pyramids

Oddly enough, an interesting parallel popped up on the Catalhoyuk facebook page–a handful of posts by Artūras Jazavita, projecting a “proportional grid” on many of the photographs of artifacts and architecture:

His proposition is that the Catalhoyuk “proportional grid” is the same as Gobekli Tepe, a claim that oddly echos some of the recent academic literature about Gobekli. By posting his photos on my blog, am I giving him undue credence? Or am I putting it into context, much like the invited lecture above? Should the Catalhoyuk Facebook page owner delete the posts? I actually find the inscribed photographs strangely beautiful, though completely imaginary in their claims:

By offering high-quality digital images to the public, there is a risk of our photographs being co-opted by pseudoscientists who use them to advance these specious claims. We could restrict access to the photographs, or not invite controversial speakers to our universities, but perhaps this would rob us of the chance to counter the claims, or even for us to draw inspiration from their imaginations. As I understand the situation, Dr. Holtorf wants to know why Osmanagich’s work is so compelling, and perhaps then try to refocus this public interest back to actual cultural heritage. Artūras’ images made me want to take out my drawing tablet and sketch on some archaeological photographs. Can we co-opt the co-opters? Can we steal back the imaginations of the public from the psuedoscientists?

Is it all Macabre? Recent Murals from Çatalhöyük

Ian Hodder and Lynn Meskell published a piece titled “A ‘Curious and Sometimes a Trifle Macabre Artistry’: Some Aspects of Symbolism in Neolithic Turkey” in the April 2011 issue of Current Anthropology. It’s paywalled, sadly, but you can read the abstract for free, which I’ll copy here:

Comparison of two Turkish Neolithic sites with rich symbolism, Çatalhöyük and Göbekli, suggests widespread and long-lasting themes in the early settled communities of the region. Three major symbolic themes are identified. The first concerns an overall concern with the penis, human and animal, that allows us to spread of a phallocentrism in contrast to the widely held assumption that the early agriculturalists in the Middle East emphasized the female form, fertility, and fecundity. The second theme concerns wild and dangerous animals, even in sites with domesticated plants and animals, and particularly the hard and pointed parts of wild animals, such as talons, claws, horns, and tusks. We interpret this evidence in relation to providing food for large-scale consumption and the passing down of objects that memorialize such events within specific houses. The third theme is that piercing and manipulating the flesh were associated with obtaining and passing down human and animal skulls. The removal of human heads was also associated with symbolism involving raptors. Overall, we see a set of themes, including maleness, wild and dangerous animals, headlessness, and birds, all linked by history making and the manipulation of the body.

This summer about half of the excavators read the article and it became a hot topic of discussion, discussions that obviously quickly degenerated into “finding cock” on site. I don’t necessarily have a huge problem with the article, but I think it is an interesting example of just how different interpretations can be on site. I don’t have a lot to say about Göbekli, though I’d love to work there, but I find myself mystified at some of the central arguments regarding the Çatalhöyük imagery.

There is little doubt that there are a lot of little penis figurines. They’re really cute, and though they’re not prominently featured, you can check them out here:

http://figurines.stanford.edu/repository/index.php?cat=27

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There are also a whole lot of cute little fat people. Are they ladies? Are they guys? Does the sex or gender matter? You’d have to ask a figurine expert. I have to say that I generally prefer the little animals:

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So cute! There is little doubt that there is a variety of imagery coming from the figurines. To be fair, the Macabre article cited above is also ambiguous about the figurines, though they state that a lot of the zoomorphic figurines are represented by horns which they link to maleness. But female aurochs and sheep/goats had horns too…perhaps that is beside the point. In contrast to the hard things that are emphasized in the article, the horns, claws, beaks, etc, I can’t help but remember the soft curves of the benches, pillar caps, ovens, and the voids of the crawl-holes and niches that are often nearby in the same house.

I should probably just skip to the heart of what is bothering me–the murals. In the 1960s Mellaart’s team excavated a stunning array of murals, a few of which I had the pleasure of seeing up close and personal a couple of days ago in the Museuem of Anatolian Civilizations. A couple of these murals depict hunting scenes and wild animals, but the majority of the murals on site are geometrical patterns, solid blocks of red, or hands, many of them child-sized. These former hunting scenes are what dominate the article, with no mention of the geometric patterns found in a majority of the paintings uncovered.

This year an extraordinary large panel was uncovered (by a fantastically dedicated team of undergraduates and conservators!) in the South shelter area. This painting was similar to a painting that I excavated in building 49 in 2008, with twisting, cellular shapes that look like an M.C. Escher-esque interpretation of a mudbrick village.

Photo by Jason Quinlan, click through to see the detail.

A few days ago ten red hands were discovered in the 4040 area, again by a trusty group of undergraduates who had to pick away at the plaster layer by layer to reveal the paintings. Hands are everywhere on the site–tiny, large, red, orange, white–yet they are only mentioned in reference to their redness, which Hodder and Meskell link to the representation of blood.

So, while I’m not a big fancy famous archaeologist by any means, I am dissatisfied with the picture that Hodder and Meskell paint of the imagery at the site. I have little doubt that blood, sex/penises, and wild animals were very much a part of life in the Neolithic, and I know that Hodder and Meskell were not trying to provide a holistic view of imagery at Çatalhöyük. But I feel like they miss other, perhaps more interesting aspects of the abstract imagery in their focus on the figural/phallic.

What are people doing when they are creating geometric shapes and connecting them in patterns? Even as they were excavating the latest panel, the students were speculating that the patterns were bricks, roads, or…”just doodles.” While the last suggestion is tempting, there was too much preparation involved in priming the surface and mixing the paint. Do they represent weaving, as was speculated by Mellaart, or counting, or even architecture–the cellular forms look like bricks, after all. Just what is the brain doing when it is creating abstract designs? What kinds of synaptic paths are formed? Many of these paintings are overlaid, time and time again, often directly on top of one another. Why? And if there are disruptions in the continuity, can they be linked to other stratigraphic “events”?

I’d also like more a more systematic study of the hand paintings. Where do they occur? How many are created with an actual hand? What sizes/shapes are they? Why are there so many of them? Can they be tied to other archaeological “moments” in the stratigraphy? Do these moments correlate across buildings?

There are seven responses to the Macabre article, and then a response to the criticism from Hodder and Meskell. All of the responding professors are better equipped than I am to provide a larger perspective to the article–I can only mention what I’ve read over the years, what I have uncovered with my hands, and what my fellow excavators have shown me. These moments, by the way, are the best–when the person in the next trench over catches my eye and waves me over. The discussion in low tones over a discovery, sometimes only just beginning to be revealed, before the conservators, the directors, and certainly the news media get to see it. That simple shared wonder over the stuff of the past. To get back to the article, while this sense of discovery does not necessarily privilege my interpretation over that of more experienced archaeologists, I cannot help but feel like this part of the past is erased when omitted from larger narratives constructed about the site.

(edited March 4, 2013, after Stanford decided to break all of my image links.)

Turkey – the Whirlwind Tour

It seems strange that I was at Catalhoyuk only a couple of days ago. Oh Catalhoyuk, you busy little excavation out on the Konya plain. In less than a week’s time there it was like I’d never left–my feet were covered in mosquito and flea bites, I was tired and mildly ill from Efes and Raki and I think half of my clothing blew away in a freak windstorm. Still, I wasn’t part of the current project madness–writing up the current round of volumes and excavating. It was a little strange writing in my corner in the seminar room all day, but I got a lot of dissertation work done, a pace that I hope to keep up for a few more months.

I’m in Ankara now, staying at ARIT to check out their incredible archaeology library and perhaps investigate our permit situation a little bit. I’m not sure why Ankara gets such a bad rap–okay I’m quite sure, compared to Istanbul most cities look pretty bad. Still, there are big, lovely parks around and everyone is friendly. I have never seen so many blond Turks in my life! ARIT is up in the hills in the embassy district, right across from the president’s house–something I didn’t realize until one of my fellow hostelers showed me the tennis courts and the guys with machine guns that you can see from our balcony.

The ARIT library isn’t open on Sunday so after I type out these few words I’ll head out to the Museum of Anatolian Civilization and the Atatürk Mausoleum, maybe checking out Ulus while I am at it. It’s been a strange trip so far, I’ve spent most of the time alone, either writing or going on long walks in various cities. Alternately, I was back at Catalhoyuk, where I was around so many dear friends that I didn’t have time to talk to them all. I feel a little addled, but good–after another couple of weeks of this my wanderlust might quiet down for a little while. Maybe. Probably not.

 

Dinner with Sinan

The MUNI ride was interminable. I was late, but I knew I was going to be late, after checking out an Afro-Futurist art show in Hayes Valley and standing for too long on a windy windy hill while the sun set over Divisidero. The MUNI was behind schedule and packed. The gears and wires groaned as we inch-wormed over the hills of San Francisco.

Most of the guests were around the table already, drinking wine and eating cheese. Ruth’s dining room has been a constant during my graduate education–dinners with visiting academics, Thanksgivings where I’m one of the few Americans attending, parties for the successful passing of first year exams, always centered on her long, wooden table.

The occasion last night was a visit from playwright Sinan Ünel, who doing some background research–he’s interested in writing a play about an archaeologist at Çatalhöyük. Burcu spoke about interacting with the local community, Meg (who has never worked at Çatalhöyük, but has no end of wonderful insights about archaeology) chatted about Maria Gimbutas and feminist/masculinist archaeology, and Ruth spoke of hand ballets and the differences between being filmed by a stranger as opposed to another archaeologist.

The conversation wandered from archaeology to the news, and back to Çatalhöyük again. We started talking about excavating burials, as Sinan was particularly inspired by Ruth’s Remember Me video:

I was trying to think like a playwright–how would you stage an excavation in a way that would be interesting and meaningful to an audience? Usually plays are up on stage, with audiences looking up at the actors, whereas archaeologists are often at the bottom of a pit, the gladiators in the colosseum–or the monkeys in a zoo–with audiences towering over us. The excavation could be projected above the actors, I suppose, if the director was looking for verisimilitude. It would be difficult to show the face to face relationship that an excavator has with a burial, the intimacy of the small tools scraping out lacunae, carefully keeping everything in place.

Finally, I was struck by a visualization of excavation that I have often felt, but have not really articulated. The excavator identifies a burial cut, clears away all of the fill, bags the finds, photographs & draws the skeleton, writes up the 3+ context sheets that accompany the burial, makes sure that everything is fully recorded, and then…relief. The time between the full exposure of a burial and lifting the skeleton is harrowing, tension-filled–will I finish recording it in time, will I be able to keep all of the bones clean and in place for the photograph, am I taking too long, am I hurrying too much? This anxiety accompanies the exposure of most complex archaeology, but is much more pronounced for burials–unless, I suppose, you are a bioarchaeologist who digs nothing but burials.

There is this moment of release after I realize that the burial has been fully accounted for and I can start lifting and wrapping the bones, and I suddenly thought of that moment as literal release, as the person, now free of the dirt, getting up and walking away. Not a collection of bones, but as they once were. A moment, while not real in the field, could be made actual on the stage. (And then the newly revealed person walks down into the bioarch lab, lays on the table, submits to an inspection, and then is rolled up into a labeled box to live on a shelf in a dusty storage facility.)

After dinner Ruth drove us to the BART and we chatted with Sinan for a while longer. He was overwhelmed by the subject, by all of us, and had to have some time to think.

Today, during my morning jog around the lake, I listened to another episode of Radio Lab. One of the commentators said something to the effect that while science tells us that we are not unique or special in this universe, art tells us that we are. I’m not sure that the archaeologist on stage will be recognizable to me, that I will identify her hand with my own as she trowels across the dirt, and if that it is even important that she is recognizable. Ultimately Sinan will decide what is important to convey about the science and art of archaeology, the deeper meaning of it all, and I am excited to find out what that is.

Cormac McCarthy vs. Catalhoyuk

Hands in negative with a red painted background at Catalhoyuk.

I listened to the Science Friday episode featuring Cormac McCarthy, Werner Herzog, and another guy (why didn’t they have Meg Conkey or someone who could actually address art and human origins?) after being sent the link by several people. Here it is, if you are interested:

http://www.sciencefriday.com/program/archives/201104085

Probably the most interesting segment to me (other than Herzog predicting the ultimate doom of all humanity) was Cormac McCarthy talking about the stylistic continuity of cave art. People who have been following this blog for a while might remember that I used to excerpt bits of fiction for writing inspiration by writers such as Jack Gilbert, Orhan Pamuk, and Mr. Cormac McCarthy himself. So I was particularly interested in hearing his take on Chauvet. An extended quote, transcribed from the audio:

“Well, the interesting thing about the caves to me is the longevity of this school of art. The oldest we know of (by no means are we to therefore say that the Chauvet Caves are the oldest there are, just the oldest we’ve seen) going back 32,000 years and then you come up all the way through the Magdalenian period to 11,000 years ago, this is 20,000 years and the paintings are the same. The perspectives they use, the style they use, the things that they use to show that the leg of an animal is not in the foreview but in the rearview is they disconnect it from the body, all these things persevered. If you look at the cave paintings at Chauvet, they’re really just the same; the same school of thought, the same school of art, the same type of work, that’s astonishing to me that you can have the same school of art unchanged for 20,000 years. I’ve never heard anybody’s view about that, I’d be interested to know what the people who study this what they think about that. Obviously there’s a culture here. Artifacts come from cultures, you have to have the cultures first. Obviously there’s a very strong and a very rich culture that endured for thousands of years and nobody seems to know anything about it. That’s astonishing.

When you get to the earliest so-called cities or communities like Catalhoyuk the first thing you see are paintings of bulls on the walls. They’re not as good, we’re already in a state of decline, but that’s amazing.

There is a lot going on with this quote regarding the “school of art” of the cave painters reflecting an ongoing, unchanging culture (I think more interesting parallel questions are why would the paintings change? why would they see or represent animals in a different way and why does this appearance of verisimilitude not extend to humans? But I’m not a rock art person….) but the last part of the statement is something with which I have more direct experience.

To call the art at Catalhoyuk indicative of “a state of decline” is to remove the context of the art into an art-historical vacuum where Turkey and France aren’t tens of thousands of years and over 2,000 miles away from each other. I don’t really feel the need to defend the artfulness of the material culture at Catalhoyuk, but to hear it being cited as a sign of a society that is anything but flourishing was startling.

It’s tempting to see parallels in ancient art–after excavating the above hands at Catalhoyuk, I always enjoy seeing hands and handprints in art from around the world. There are handprints at Chauvet Cave that are actual handprints – the hands in the Catalhoyuk painting above were styled after hands, but the fingers are all the same length. One could argue that this move toward more figurative painting indicated an advancement rather than a decline–if I were inclined toward drawing large, “just so” conclusions about the meaning of these hands and handprints in different contexts.

I appreciate the inspiration I can draw from auteurs and authors such as Cormac McCarthy and Werner Herzog in their creativity, but I really wished a proper archaeologist would have been there to challenge them, to push back on their assumptions and to contribute to the conversation.