Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mammoth Ivory, Movie Star, Big Assumption

The Mammoth Ivory Male head from Dolni Vestonice
A possible forgery
"Forgeries, Hoaxes and Curiosities"
Don's Maps

"This may be a portrait of the person with a protruding brow whose skull was found in Brno, Czechoslovakia, in 1891. The question still remains, when was it carved?

Since these photographs were published in the National Geographic in October 1988, and Plains of Passage was published in 1990, Jean Auel could well have used it as the model for Brugar, the person of mixed spirits described in Plains of Passage as having lived at Dolni Vestonice.

Eight centimetre high male head carved of mammoth ivory dated at 26 000 years BP.

Note that the figure has very heavy brow ridges. The figure has been stated to have a beard, but this feature is not obvious from the photographs.

Note also that Paul Bahn writing in 'Journey through the Ice Age', says that the head may be a fake. His main argument seems to be lack of provenance (meaning that it was not found by a recognised
[!] and trusted archaeologist, or with reliable witnesses to the discovery) and that the style is too modern. He also says that the Lady of Brassempouy (the ivory carving of Ayla) may be a fake...."

Dolni Vestonice, or Dolní Věstonice, is near the village Dolní Věstonice, also known as Unterwisternitz, in what's currently called the Czech Republic. I suppose that should be Věstonická and Česká Republika - but that's enough of linguistics for the moment.

As to whether or not the carving was really made recently, or about 26,000 years ago, my guess is that the late-20th-century analysis of uranium/decay products ratios is right - which puts the ivory and the carving of the ivory about two hundred and sixty centuries back.

Does the carving look "modern?" Yes, but so do paintings made on the walls of the Altamira cave - which we're pretty sure were made at the same time that someone carved that ivory head. Give or take a few millennia.

I think it's a mistake to assume that folks who lived a few centuries, millennia, or tens of millennia, ago were "primitive" in the 19th-century sense of the word.

Or that a particular style has to have come from a particular era.

Take the three sculptures in these photos, for example: they show a fairly clear progression: from a quite realistic, literal, interpretation of a subject, through an intermediate phase, to a highly abstract treatment.

Just one problem with that analysis: left-to-right, the sculptures were made approximately 2, 25, and zero millennia ago.

The "modern" one is about 22 centuries old.

Two points, and I'm done with this post: When I saw that ivory head, the first thing that came to mind was that it looked more than a bit like Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan the Barbarian; and, here's the cover of the National Geographic issue that Don's Maps quoted from:

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