"Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he."
-- Proverbs 29:18, King James Bible (KJV)

Thursday, August 04, 2016

The Great Avebury Challenge - How Did the World Actually Look in Ancient Days? Archaeology, Art & Astronomy

This posting introduces a series of postings deciphering the Avebury Stones.

Before you read any further about the Great Avebury Challenge, make sure you read an article by Timothy R. Pauketat, Questioning the Past in North America, in The Oxford Handbook of North American Archaeology, Edited by Timothy R. Pauketat, February, 2012, DOI:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195380118.013.0001 at http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195380118.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780195380118-e-1

It is the best archaeological piece we have read in decades and it provides a balanced perspective on how to view studies of the human past.
__________

What follows below is our own take on how to view the past for our work.

Many thousands of years ago, before the appearance of modern-day religions and sects, and before the advent of modern lighting, humans sat around their evening campfires and gazed up at the vast expanse of the starry night sky.

The few lucky persons living today who have seen the stars at night at a desert location free of city lighting know just how spectacular the Milky Way can appear as it spans the heavens. In an age where the term "awesome" is overused .... the MILKY WAY IS AWESOME, and was even more AWESOME for our distant ancestors, who did not have our modern astronomical knowledge.
  • What DID they know about the sky above?
  • How did they view their heavens?
  • How did they integrate that knowledge into their culture?
In ancient eras, the talk around the campfire surely centered at times on topics that are still manifested in news events today as the product of mankind's search to sensibly answer the following questions:
  • Who are we?
  • Where are we?
  • When are we?
  • What is our purpose on this Earth?
  • Who created all this? if it was created at all?
A good argument can be made that the ancients had better answers than we do in our contemporary world, given their prehistoric state of knowledge.

As we also do today, the ancients sought answers in the heavens true to the hermeticism of Hermes Trismegistus, "as above, so below". The sky was the presumed abode of the gods in ancient eras. Nothing much has changed in the interim. For modern monotheistic religions, "God" also resides "up there". We allege that such an "astronomical" belief goes back into prehistoric times.
  • How did our forefathers see the sky of stars in detail?
We are so used to living in a world dominated by the written word that we have lost sight of what it must have been like for prehistoric humans to confront their world without the tools of alphabetic or syllabic writing.

Imagine at the ancient campfires how the ancients pondered:
  • What is it that we see above at night (not knowing what the stars were)?
  • How does the night sky relate to the day sky?
  • Why does the night sky rotate, and
  • Why do the Sun, Moon AND Stars show numerous "regularities"?
We can see in our minds eye the shadows of ancient humans tracing figures in the ground with sticks as they discussed their various ideas about who they were, where they were, and what the sky above them was, and how it worked.

Humankind is never at a lack for answers -- be they right or wrong -- and so it was that some theories and ideas about the sky soon prevailed, all based on observations made with the naked eye (though there is evidence that the ancients may early have discovered the principle of lenses while glassmaking). Such theories fulfilled a need, even if they were less sophisticated than today.
  • What astronomical events did they observe?
  • How did they interpret what they saw?
  • How was this knowledge communicated to their peers or community?
At first, such "knowledge" was passed on orally, but explaining things with a stick surely led to "picture writing", to carvings on stone, and to rock art.

"Picture writing" was to the ancients what "alphabetic writing" is to moderns.

We will in future postings be discussing the art at Avebury Henge and Circles. Prehistoric art at Avebury, however, is not what is commonly called "folk art". Rather, we might compare prehistoric megalithic stone carving viz. "sculpture" and "painted" rock art to a modern form of art called Naïve art (viz. naïf art) described at the Tate as:
"simple, unaffected and unsophisticated ... characterised by childlike simplicity of execution and vision".
At the Wikipedia we find that:
"Naïve art does not necessarily evidence a distinct cultural context or tradition.

Naïve art is recognized, and often imitated, for its childlike simplicity and frankness.

[Naïve art has] a flat rendering style with a rudimentary expression of perspective. When ...
emulated by a trained artist, the result is sometimes called primitivism, pseudo-naïve art, or faux naïve art."
The above descriptions in fact reflect well our traced, colored astronomical decipherments of the Avebury Stones as they appear in subsequent postings.

We do our best to accurately portray the prehistoric style of art we have found, which draws figures within figures within figures in a simple manner.

Please be aware that the style of art on the Avebury Stones portrayed in our postings is by no means "our creation" as such. Rather, to the best of our ability, the style seen is intended to reflect the art of the ancients.

To remove further doubt, we had an exhibition of our own art works quite some years ago, and our own paintings are quite distant from naive art.

Our next posting is:

The Great Avebury Challenge - The Challenge - Can YOU Decipher an Avebury Stone Using Our Knowledge?