Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Prehistoric and Ancient Condolence: It's Written In Stone!

I love petroglyphs! 

Image A: petroglyph

Wikipedia reminds me that technically, I also love petrographs so, let's do some quick terminology housekeeping:
      • petroglyph (Image A) was made by "incising, picking, carving and abrading a rock surface."
    Image B: petrograph
  • petrograph (Image B) also known as a pictograph, is an image "drawn or painted on a rock surface."
Logging takes and timecodes
GBNP ranger explaining cave art
I encountered these prehistoric global practices (note: none yet found in Antarctica) on a video shoot at Great Basin National Park (GBNP) in Baker, Nevada.
  There are "seventeen known rock art sites" within this park.

Jack LeSieur, member, American Rock Art Research Association.
Upper Pictograph Cave, GBNP. "Under the red pictograph spots, you can see the figure
 of an anthropomorph, bearing the horns of a shaman."
Jack LeSieur. "Detail of one of the couples "holding hands."

Every message requires effort

When I view prehistoric art, I am in awe of the planning and extensive physical effort required to create the message. While many rock art sites are in "protected" areas such as caves, rock shelters or beneath overhangs, many messages were crafted on exposed surfaces, and often at surprising heights!

JoAnn Blalack, GBNP writer, explains: "The two colors used to create pictographs within Great Basin National Park were shades of red (the most common color) and black. The various shades of red were almost always made from iron oxide hematite (ocher) while the black colors came from charcoal. In order to make the paint, the mineral was ground into a fine powder and mixed with a binder. The type of binder varied from place to place depending upon availability. Types of binder included animal and vegetable oils, blood, and whites of eggs. Applying the paint to the rock surface was done in several ways, including using frayed twigs, small bundles of stiff grass, pointed sticks, and fingers."

"The main method used when making petroglyphs was pecking. This was done by either using a hammer stone, which created rough outlines with a shallow design, or the use of a stone chisel along with the hammer stone to create finer, more controlled lines. Scratching a design on the rock surface was also used."

Consider the labor of making paint, gathering tools, and undertaking a sometimes-precarious task that did not provide crucial daily sustenance. What impels a person in a hunting-gathering (and sometimes, cultivating) society to express himself?

Caring to connect

"The only person who knows the full meaning behind the drawings (if there is a meaning) is the artist himself." JoAnn Blalack

Jack LeSieur's captions suggest to me that creators of rock art are explaining their beliefs, relationships, and favorite experiences. Might the "horned shaman" tell the story of a significant ceremony or attempt to heal? Could the "couple holding hands" be in memory of a friend or mate who died? Rock art featuring action scenes such as a hunt, animals, individuals or groups of people are recording memories--one of the most important elements of a condolence note!

Longtime Wyoming journalist, Bill Sniffin celebrates what he calls a "treasure trove"in his reflection, A Prehistoric Land of Beasts Rock Art, Mysterious Places.

"Early man arrived here 13,000 years ago. Most experts think these were Asian people who crossed the Bering Strait on a land and ice bridge. From the time man arrived in our space known as Wyoming people have wanted to record their personal stories. Long before writing was developed, ancient people recorded tales of their daily lives on Wyoming’s rock walls.

"Perhaps these were holy sites where people would study in hope of receiving a vision to guide their way into their uncertain futures. Wyoming is full of these wonderful places, which can inspire both awe and mystery to present-day visitors. The ancient tribes of hunter-gatherers traditionally recorded their stories by scrawling messages on rock walls and creating eerie rock monuments. Were these sites created or built to honor some long-forgotten god or celestial celebration?"

Telling it like it is

Dr. Aaron M. Wright
Dr. Aaron Wright, a Research Associate with Archaeology Southwest, has conducted archaeological fieldwork in many parts of the United States. Recently speaking in Tucson, Arizona, Dr. Wright described surveys of rock art at South Mountain, south of Phoenix. He referred to it as:
 "a meaningful social practice, a dialectic between people and the larger social body." 
South Mountain rock art--predominantly pecked--used symbols and life forms associated with daily existence and the ponderings of forces like water, fire, and the cosmos. Very little of this area's rock art suggested the work of shamans; in fact, the artists were villagers-- tutored in the collection of tools (native rock cannot score itself!), panel selection, and pecking method. They were just 'telling it like it is.'
Humans are motivated (driven!) to leave a permanent record of existence and awareness. From pictograph to pen to pixel--we cherish our musings and our memories. But when it comes to memorialization and tribute, one ancient society stands out.

God's Words

The literal Egyptian origin of the term, hieroglyphs  (/ˈhaɪər.ɵɡlɪf/ hyr-o-glifEgyptianmdw·w-nṯr,is "god's words". Although I wonder if the author's use of a singular form is in error, since ancient Egyptians had many gods, I was thrilled to make this discovery.

When you write a memorable condolence note,
your comforting words channels a divine power. 

The idea of expressing words of a language in writing, is a hallmark of ancient Egypt. And the Great Pyramids of Egypt--tombs of royalty, were inscribed with prayers, assurances, and respect.

In Why the Ancient Egyptians Built Pyramids: a matter of religion, Alan Winston outlines reasons these tremendous structures were devised and built. He goes on to describe hieroglyphs in the Pyramid of Unas, the last king of the 5th Dynasty. [Note: the ancient Egyptians believed that a human soul was made up of five parts: the Ren, the Ba, the Ka, the Sheut, and the Ib. Unification was necessary for the afterlife (available to royals, only!)]

"In the burial chamber, the texts describe two funeral rituals. They begin with a ritual of offerings, always inscribed on the north wall of the burial chamber. The priests would repeat this spell each day in the mortuary temple attached to the pyramid, which would therefore continue to provide the king's ba with the necessities of daily life. The second ritual was for resurrection, intended to release the king's ba from its attachment to the body so that it could rejoin its ka and enjoy life once again. It begins by assuring the king that 'you have not gone away dead: you have gone away alive,' and then encourages him to "go and follow your sun...and be beside the god, and leave your house to your son of your begetting". It ends by reassuring the king that 'you shall not perish, you shall not end: your identity will remain among the people even as it comes to be among the gods.'" 

"your identity will remain among the people"

Isn't this why we share memories when we gather at funerals? The legacy of a loved one:  a skill, a smile, a special place in the heart--remains among the people he or she touched. The Condolence Coach assures you that a written condolence, when cradling a tribute, a memory, a caring connection, becomes a treasure to the recipient.

Thank you for caring!

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