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Conklin, E. (2006). Petitionary-Midwife Theory of European Paleolithic Parietal Art. PHILICA.COM Article number 35.

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Petitionary-Midwife Theory of European Paleolithic Parietal Art

Edward Conklinconfirmed user (Orlando Campus, Webster University)

Published in humani.philica.com

Abstract
Since European parietal art was discovered during the 1800s, a proliferation of views has been offered to explain this phenomenon. These artistic Upper Paleolithic remains represent intimate interactions with the earth, while the engraved and painted animal images suggest that the artists were primarily petitioning the earth as midwives to bring forth what was needed for survival

Article body


 

Petitionary-Midwife Theory of European Paleolithic Parietal Art

Edward Conklin, Ph.D

P. O. Box 41

Cassadaga Florida 32706

USA

Abstract

Since European parietal art was discovered during the 1800s, a proliferation of views has been offered to explain this phenomenon. These artistic Upper Paleolithic remains represent intimate interactions with the earth, while the engraved and painted animal images suggest that the artists were primarily petitioning the earth as midwives to bring forth what was needed for survival.

Petitionary-Midwife Theory

It has been estimated that there are approximately 350 sites of European Upper Paleolithic cave art dating from circa 35,000-10,000 BP (Clottes, 2001, p. 462). The art has been found from Spain to the Ural mountains of Russia but at least 95 percent of it is located in France and Spain (Clottes & Lewis -Williams, 1998, pp. 37, 59). A conservative estimate is that there may be between 10,000-15,000 cave art images from the Upper Paleolithic era (Pfeiffer, 1982, p. 140).

Some scholars are skeptical of finding any meaning or intention for Paleolithic parietal art (Davidson, 1997, p. 128). Other researchers think that any single or monolithic meaning for the art is not creditable (Lewis-Williams, 1997, pp. 321, 324). Shreeve (1995) thinks that since the cave art is an expression of varying rituals conducted in some 350 caves over thousands of years, there is no reason to expect that all of the art had a single ritual intention or purpose (pp. 314-315). In contrast, Breuil and Leroi-Gourhan, two of the most influential interpreters of the art, proposed that a single and major cultural intention or meaning did serve to generate the art (Conkey, 1983, p. 204). My research findings show that there was a single meaning and intention for the phenomenon of parietal art over a span of 25,000 years.

My view for the meaning of the art is based upon a hypothesis I refer to as the petitionary-midwife theory, which asserts that parietal art is an expression of a geocentric and gynocentric view that life had a beginning from the interior of the earth. Early humans through the subconscious perceptual processes of animism and anthropomorphism, and the conscious reasoning of analogy, perceived and conceived the earth to be a living mother that brought forth animal and plant life from the interior of her body. The cave gave access to the interior of the earth, while the narrow areas painted with red ochre symbolized menstrual blood and the birth of life.

I have researched the artifact evidence of Paleolithic parietal art and numerous theories that seek to explain the meaning and intention for the phenomenon. After having done so I reached the following conclusions which I refer to as the petitionary-midwife model:

1. Upper Paleolithic parietal art is an interaction with the earth in a meaningful way.

2. The cognitive basis for this behavioral interaction was the animistic perception of the earth as a living entity, and  the anthropomorphic perception and analogical conception that the interior of the earth was a female form. 

3. The animal images were petitions directed to the earth as the origin of  animal and plant life to provide food.   

4. The parietal artists were women and gynocentrically oriented males, who by drawing the images based on sensory observation, acted as midwives in petitioning and assisting the earth to give birth.

5. Parietal art is an expression of a geocentric and gynocentric view.

These main points summarize the structure of the petitionary-midwife theory. I will present evidence that the animal images were engraved and painted by female and male midwives as petitions and assistance to the earth to bring forth life.

Through animism, anthropomorphism, and conscious rudimentary reasoning, humans perceived and conceived the earth to be a living female that brought forth living forms from the interior of her body. The cave gave access to the greater interior of the earth, while the narrow areas coated with red ochre symbolized menstrual blood and the coming into existence of life. Evidence of animal bones placed in the floor, cracks, and fissures of cave walls at about a dozen French sites including Enlene, Les Trois-Freres, and Gargas, also suggests assistance to the earth to bring forth life. The artists were both women and gynocentrically oriented males. Parietal art is an expression of a geocentric and gynocentric view.

The present generally accepted theory is that modern humans or Homo sapiens sapiens originated in southeast Africa circa 100,000 BP and perhaps slightly earlier. D'Errico,  Henshilwood, & Nilssen (2001) report on recent finds of an incised bone at the Blombos cave site in South Africa. Also discovered at the site were two shaped pieces of red ochre engraved with cross-hatched geometric designs that date to circa 77,000BP (Henshilwood et al, 2002). The finds suggest an aptitude for and an early appreciation for geometric form by early Homo sapiens sapiens who eventually migrated into the Middle East and from here into Europe circa 40,000 BP. However, prior to this time there exists no evidence of parietal art and only isolated and sporadic expressions of portable art made by modern humans in Africa or the Middle East (Speth & Tchernov, 1998, p. 224). Consistent expression of representational art appears for the first time in Europe.

A few investigators point out that after early Homo sapiens sapiens arrived in Europe, they might have been inspired to make parietal art by examining and imitating the scratching and honing of claws by bears on the softer areas of cave walls. Study of the oldest engravings of clay and stone show random wavy lines, sometimes called Amacaronis@ and contour outlines, in seeming imitation of the bear markings (Maringer & Bandi, 1953, pp. 95-96; Nougier, 1966, p. 575).

I expand Maringer & Bandi and Nougier=s view by suggesting that when examining the scratch marks made on the walls by bears, humans paid attention to and perceived partial animal shapes in the formations of the cave surfaces. This examination contributed to the artist=s innate animistic tendency to use bulges, projections, or features in the rock and incorporate them into the animal images.

The lighting techniques used at the time torches or grease lamps … would cast a dim and fluctuating light … When such conditions are replicated, or even when visiting a cave with a candle, the walls seem to come alive with the moving shadows cast by the flickering flame. It becomes very easy then to see animals in the shape of the rocks … perhaps shapes seen in this way were taken for real and the artists then drew animals exactly where they happened to see them, possibly bringing them to life (Clottes, 1997, p. 211).

Other researchers have noted the use of the natural features of rocks and caves, commenting that the beginning of art may be found in the human mind (Gombrich, 1977, p. 90). 

Could it not be that bulls and horses were first "discovered"… in these mysterious haunts before they were fixed and made visible to others by means of coloured earth? … What we know of the beginnings of image- making confirms the continuous link between finding and making (pp. 91, 93).

I characterize as animism the deliberate finding of the likenesses of animals and the incorporation of these natural cave features into the animal images, and the innate attributing of life to nonliving forms. Early humans observed that living plants came from the interior of the earth and that animals were born within dens and in a sense came from the earth. Through rudimentary comprehension they understood that life came only from life, not from what was dead. Finding the rough resemblance of an animal in a cave wall, and having a basic understanding that life can come only from life and not from something that is not animated or that is dead, early humans perceived the earth as living.             

There are numerous examples of the incorporation of natural cave features into the animal images. While conducting field research during March 2001, at the cave of Pech Merle located in the Lot region of central France, I observed several examples. One of the better known paintings of parietal art is the frieze of dotted horses at Pech Merle. On a smooth slightly concave projected area of the cave wall located at ground level and roughly measuring one and one-half meters high and six meters in length, are a number of superimposed painted images. At the right end of the projected rock mass is a natural feature that closely resembles the head of a horse. The artist intentionally chose to add to this feature to produce the enhanced likeness of a horse measuring just over four meters in length and two and one-half meters in height.

The animistic perception of animal shapes in stone was also complimented by the innate perceptual process of anthropomorphism. Mithen (1997) sees conclusive evidence of anthropomorphism in statuettes and paintings of figures with both animal and human characteristics dating from circa 30,000 BP (p. 718). These figures are anthromorphs, animal images that appear to have some human characteristics, such as standing upright.

The artifact evidence suggests that in addition to animistically perceiving the earth as alive, early humans anthropomorphically perceived it to be the womb of a greater female body that brought forth life, the evidence of which for early humans was perceived in the partial shapes of the cave surface that resembled  animals. The artists sought to assist this perceived process of birth from the interior of the earth by artistically enhancing natural inchoate images found in the rock surface of the cave.        

Rudimentary analogical reasoning also contributed to conceiving the interior of the earth to be the womb of a greater female body that brought forth life. Reasoning by analogy consists of an association of relating this with that. It is suggested by imitation in tool making by Homo Erectus, Neanderthals, and Homo sapiens sapiens, that early humans possessed an ability to recognize similarity. This ability would have necessitated a learned set of purposeful behaviors and ability to plan and a talent for imitation in making one tool like another, suggesting a developing ability for rudimentary analogical reasoning as well. Klein (1990) argues that an actual change in brain function occurred circa 47,000-38,000 BP which brought about an increased ability for analogical reasoning. He sees evidence for this in the rapid expansion of Upper Paleolithic culture, and an improvement in the lithic technology during this time.

The cognitive perceptual processes of animism and anthropomorphism, and rudimentary analogical reasoning contributed to the development of a geocentric and gynocentric orientation to existence.

Geocentrism and Gynocentrism

Paleolithic cave art is the result of human intention and expression; yet in all of the engraved and painted depictions, there are no images of human presence such as a hut, fire, recognizable tools, or realistic weapons. Moreover, humans are almost never shown as participating in a scene or wearing any recognizable clothing (Clottes & Lewis-Williams, 1998, pp. 48-49). Parietal art could therefore be understood to have no direct relevance to hunting, fertility, action stories, or information directed to humans. Theories for parietal art based on these views appear to be the result of modern anthropocentrism, considering humans to be more important than other living or nonliving forms.

Occasionally an engraved or painted vulva (Marshack, 1991, p. 318; Giedion, 1962, p. 191) or an engraved shaped outline of the female form (Ucko & Rosenfeld,  1967, pp. 210-211; Breuil, 1979, pp. 334-335) is found in the parietal art but there are no scenes of human activity. Some researchers refer to the presence of a few engraved or painted male "sorcerers" in the art, but these depictions are more accurately attributed to super-impositioning, anthropomorphized animals, or creative imagination.

The engraved and the painted images of living forms located on the surfaces of caves and some rockshelters consist almost exclusively of animals. The phenomenon of parietal art consists of a focus of human attention directed primarily to the earth, and then to the relationship of animals with the earth. Human activity is not depicted, strongly suggesting that humans are subordinate to the earth and animals. The evidence suggests that early humans had a pronounced geocentric orientation to existence.

If the intention of parietal art is to be correctly comprehended, investigation requires more of a geocentric emphasis. Tattersall (1998) thinks there can be little question that whatever view or myth the Upper Paleolithic art represented, Ait incorporated at least implicitly the notion that these people were themselves an integral component of their natural habitat "which was thus a greater entity than they" (p. 217). Evidence supports this geocentric view. The evidence of parietal art suggests that humans recognized living forms to have an origin from the interior of the earth, accessed via the awesome presence of caves.

In general, the modern attitude toward caves is that they are alien and frightening places, inhabited by snakes, insects, spiders, bats, and possibly even a bear. However, for early humans, caves were much more than just holes in the ground. Caves and many large rock-ledge overhangs served as shelters and protection from excessive heat or cold, rain, and snow storms. During the Paleolithic era as today, caves probably averaged between 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit as a constant year round temperature.

The entrances of caves were sometimes used as living areas. Through pollen analysis, evidence indicates that in some caves used during the Upper Paleolithic era, large amounts of summer grasses and flowers were brought into the caves, probably for sleeping and for warmth (Bahn & Vertut, 1997, p. 12). Almost all footprints found in French Paleolithic caves belong to children, indicating a lack of fear of this subterranean environment (Bahn, 1997, p. 36).

While Upper Paleolithic humans would have experienced geographic sites such as a canyon, high cliff, mountain, large river, waterfall, or ocean, as mysterious or unusual, the cave environment may have been the most extraordinary. Unusually dark, and quiet, often containing lengthy passageways and large chambers, having a constant temperature, and sheltering various animals, the cave interior would have been in sharp contrast to the environment above. The entrances to some of the caves in the French Pyrenees, are so impressive as to evoke the experience of a passage or transition into another world (Clottes & Lewis-Williams, 1998, p. 81). Having traveled to France during March 2001, and having viewed the entrances to both Niaux and Bedeilhac caves located in the Pyrenees, I would agree with Clottes & Lewis-Williams. By my estimate the entrance of the Bedeilhac cave measures roughly 45 meters wide and 22 meters high, and the opening of Niaux is nearly the same.               

Visiting the grottos of Gargas, Pech Merle, and Bedeilhac, I found the interiors of these caves are no less awe inspiring. Within these caves are springs that percolate and continuously flow and drip from the ceilings, walls, and floors; there are projections and bulges everywhere that include elongated and odd speleogen or erosion formed pendent and flowstone shapes that suggest coming into existence. The caves contain various speleotherms or mineral water depositions and concretions such as conical stalactites and stalagmites, columns, roof crust, helictites, fistula, wavy and folded curtains, cave coral, and cave pearls; there are various cavities such as chambers, rooms, domes, vaults, passages, fissures, and small and large dripholes. The overall impression of the unusual projections and elongated flowing shapes and areas of the cave environment strongly suggest a place of shaping, forming, or of coming into existence.

My view is that the interior of the earth was perceived to be the origin of existence. In modern times, one cannot help but sense the life energy in the growth of plants and trees in the spring of the year. Early humans most likely attributed this bursting forth of energy in plants and in the young of burrowing insects and animals, and the hibernating bears coming forth from their dens, as originating from or given birth to by the earth. Life came not from what was above the earth or from a visible or invisible beyond but rather from within. Upper Paleolithic humans palpably sensed the below to be the origin of the visible world above.

Migratory flocks of birds, salmon runs, migrating reindeer, horses, bison, and cattle, were understood to have arrived from and departed to some place distant. Yet this distant place was likely not conceived as on the earth in terms of a vast distance of hundreds or even thousands of miles away, but rather identified as a not too distant and findable place within the earth. The large flocks, schools of fish, and herds of animals such as horses and reindeer would have not been understood as a migration, but almost as if they were coming from and or returning to an origin, which was not the vast surface expanse but rather the interior of the earth. While he does not offer details, Geist (1978) also thinks that during the Paleolithic era the caves were perceived as the origin of the animals (p. 322).

Out of the darkness of night came the sun, moon, planets, stars, and comets. To early humans, these heavenly bodies would have appeared to literally rise from within the earth as they appeared on the horizon. All were likely to have been perceived as daily arising from and descending back into the interior darkness of some greater opening of the earth beyond the distant horizon. When darkness came, so did sleep, which resembles death; from the darkness of sleep came dreams, night visions. Since dreaming usually occurred during the darkness of night, sleep and dream consciousness would have also been associated with the ever-darkness of the cave.

The caves could have been animistically perceived to give birth to the springs and streams usually found within them. Thermal springs that did not freeze would have been perceived as especially significant. It is possible to speculate that since mammals are warm to the touch, and that a lack of bodily heat is associated with death, that this observation could have further contributed to the animistic perception that the warmth of the hot springs coming from below was from a living entity and was therefore the place of origin of living things. It has been observed that a significant number of caves and sites containing parietal art in France are in very close proximity to springs, and especially thermal/mineral springs (Bahn & Vertut, 1997, p. 200).

For early humans, caves would have been the answer to the question of where all living things came from. Having observed human life come from the smaller opening of the womb for thousands of years, it would have been natural to first animistically, anthropomorphically, to perceive and then analogically equate where all things came from to the larger cave openings and interior of the earth. Both human and animal life came from within the dark unseen interior of the mother to exit into the visible exterior world. Caves were the greater interior which humans could experience, and as the evidence suggests, was understood to be female or feminine. The human female was the origin of life and also provided the nourishment of breast milk, both characteristics which represent the two great commandments of biological existence, to reproduce and eat. Paleolithic hunting-gathering groups, observing that many living forms came from or lived in the soil or rocks, would have perceived the earth as likened to the greater female origin or mother from which life had a beginning and who also provided nourishment for their own life existence. Leroi-Gourhan (1967) comments:

The cave as a whole does seem to have had a female symbolic character, which would explain the care with which narrow passages, oval-shaped areas, and the smaller cavities are marked in red, even sometimes painted entirely in red (p. 174).

This statement suggests that the oval and smaller areas and passages were perceived as the female vulva and womb, and that the painting of red ochre represented the life force of menstrual blood. In Leroi-Gourhan's (1982) last published work, he concluded that the meaning and intention for the parietal art was that the cave was probably symbolic of a female womb and that the artists had practiced some sort of fertility cult using magic rites (pp. 58-62). However he offered no elaboration of this view.

My view is that, rather than practicing fertility magic, early humans through the innate perceptual processes of animism, anthropomorphism, and rudimentary analogical reasoning related the opening and interior of the female vulva to the greater opening of the cave and the interior of the earth. This view is further supported by the following comments and evidence

In the so-called Hall of the little Bison at Font de Gaume, so narrow a cleft that two people can hardly stand there at the same time, the wall was smeared over with red ochre before any paintings were done; and in a side recess at Altimira, and another nother at Gargas, the walls remain rubbed all over with red ochre only.    Since this pigment was often painted on the bones of the dead and seems to have symbolized life, blood or fire … the painting of cave recesses with red ochre would appear to mean the magic making of life deep in the earth, as though in the menstruous womb of a woman (LaBarre, 1970, p.395).

At a number of cave sites, including the Cougnac cave of Quercy, France, natural formations of small clefts and cavities resemble a vulva shape, and have been "stained … with red ochre to symbolize the menstrual flow" (Rudgley, 1999, p. 196). Nougier (1966) poses an important question, and then gives the most probable explanation for the existence of Paleolithic parietal art.

The figures of the Great Ceiling at Rouffignac … form an indescribable            accumulation of reality pictures heaped upon one another in apocalyptic        excess and disorder … all running in different directions. Why is this ceiling, this section of the cave, so wealthy in figures? It is some 870 yd.  from the entrance and is preceded and followed by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of square yards of surface as regular or more so, and often more conveniently placed for painting … The choice of the ceiling …sheds light on one of the major meanings of prehistoric art, one of the underlying reasons, indeed, for its existence. The smooth surfaces of the Great Ceiling were chosen because they spread over the largest        subterranean chasm of Rouffignac, a vast funnel that gives access to the        second subterranean level. The mammoths and horses, then, were conceived as escaping from the depths … This passage into the bowels of the earth is, par excellence, the sacred place of the cave . in the   depths of the earth, the Earth Mother, creator, creator of men and beasts, creator of life … numerous animal figures unmistakably  associated with shadowy galleries, fissures, openings of narrow  passages, all kinds of pockets of darkness. It has been suggested that these dark recesses were … traps or pits, into which the animal would fall       and some examples can indeed be given of horses and hinds appearing to fall. But far more numerous are the animals that issue from pits, springing from dark recesses. It is thus necessary to formulate an inverse explanation: these animals rise from the bowels of the earth, the Earth Mother, creator of life and of game (p. 586)

The evidence suggests that the artists animistically and anthropomorphically perceived the cave to be the place of the beginning of life, the womb of the earth as mother. The artist's likely intention for penetrating so deeply into the caves is that they sought to reach that greater mysterious place of the beginning of all existence. Just as there was a mysterious place within woman, beyond the opening of her vagina, in the midst of the darkness of her abdomen or body from which a child developed and was born, so there was perceived a place deep within the interior darkness of the earth where all living things were animated and from which they came forth into existence.

Other researchers have noticed the phenomenon of the parietal art being frequently placed near the entrance to chasms or holes that lead to the mysterious and dark cave depths (Bhan & Vertut, 1997, p. 200). In the Les Eyzies region of France, there are several thousand caves and yet only about 100 of them contain parietal art (Pfeiffer, 1982, p. 118). It would be interesting to research these sites in the future to see that of those that do contain art, which have images placed near chasms.      

The artifact evidence of the use of red ochre further suggests a gynocentric view. Ochre is a rather common mineral found in regions where caves are generally located (Leroi-Gourhan, 1957, p. 110). Of all the minerals utilized decoratively in painting, red ochre is the oldest and most frequently used (Nougier, 1966, p. 590).

In my view the use of red ochre in the Paleolithic caves had a symbolic significance. The Paleolithic people's anthropomorphic perception and rudimentary analogical conception served to associate the deposits of red ochre with blood, and especially menstrual blood. Menstrual blood was likely considered the mysterious life force of the female body from which the individual newborn appeared, covered with blood. As used in the painting of parietal animal images, the ochre as a symbol of blood would also have been useful in assisting the depiction to be born or to be sent into existence. Likewise, the coating of various animal teeth and bones was most likely based on an association with the blood of birth and of life.

In about a dozen French caves, including those of Enlene and Les Trois-Freres, an important though usually over-looked feature of Paleolithic parietal art has been found. Hundreds of small pieces of bone and teeth have been found placed vertically into the cave floor and the fissures and cracks of the wall. Having been determined to have served no known utilitarian purpose, some of these bones and teeth were found located near "small smudges of red paint" or "reliefs covered in red paint." These bone fragments were transported far back into the cave and inserted into the walls for a ritual purpose (Clottes & Lewis-Williams, 1998, p. 83). This phenomenon has also been reported at Gargas cave where many animal bone fragments recently dated to 26,860 BP were found placed in a crack beside hand prints (Clottes, 1998, p. 46).

In my view, the placing of the bones was the act of a female or gynocentrically oriented male midwife to assist the earth to bring forth a living animal. The gesture of placing the bone pieces and teeth in the floor and wall crevices near the red ochre smudges and reliefs that are most likely symbolic of blood, was like the engraved and painted animal images, a petition to the earth to bring forth by adding life and completed form to the part of the animal.

Many researchers have commented on the tendency of the artists to incorporate natural features of the cave surface into the image of the animal (Conkey, 1981).

The lighting techniques used at the time torches or grease lamps … would cast a dim and fluctuating light … When such conditions are replicated, or even when visiting a cave with a candle, the walls seem to come alive with the moving shadows cast by the flickering flame. It becomes very easy then to see  animals in the shape of the rocks … perhaps shapes seen in this way were taken for real and the artists then drew animals exactly where they happened to see them, possibly bringing them to life (Clottes, 1997, p. 211).

While he does not mention specific cognitive functions, Clottes= comment provides further support for the view of animistic and anthropomorphic perception by the artists. In my view, the making of the parietal art was a way of assisting the earth to bring forth the potential and inchoate form present in the rock surface. Petitioning the earth to give birth to or send the animals portrayed, and assisting in bringing them to life, is the essence of the intention for the engraving and painting of the parietal images.     

Clottes & Courtin (1996) suggest that the common heritage in all of the painted caves was "that they were a sanctuary," defined as:

a place of importance with limited access where only certain people came, perhaps on special occasions, to take part in ceremonies (this term being understood in its widest sense as any activity of a cultural nature having nothing to do with the          immediate physical necessities of existence)… (pp. 179-180).   

While I agree that the painted and engraved caves were sites accessed by only a few individual artists on special ritual occasions important to the cultural group, I disagree with the view that this activity had nothing to do with the physical necessities of existence. The animal images represent the physical desire and need for food, and are thus petitions to the earth by artist midwives to bring forth or give birth to them so they could be hunted.

A few researchers have speculated that the images of parietal art were an early form of writing or that they expressed some sort of message or communication. Shortly before his death, Leroi-Gourhan remarked in regard to the parietal art at Lascaux that at this site he believed the artists had come very close to developing an alphabet (Rudgley, 1999, p. 77). In my view, what he meant by this brief remark was that the artists intended some sort of communication by painting and engraving the animal images. This view and the following statement appear to be cogent observations regarding Paleolithic parietal images.                             

It is a fair assumption that in the last Ice Age most of the cave art contained a "message" which was not aimed at us, and which we cannot understand… Palaeolithic art … certainly comprises a  "vocabulary" of symbols, some of which must have had considerable information value (Bahn & Vertut, 1997, pp. 208-209).

 Rather than an alphabet, the images are more accurately a mental representation of desire or entreaty. In my view, the message of the cave art vocabulary does not in any way appear to be a communication to humans, but rather communication to the earth.

The engraving and painting of the animal images was a petition by artist midwives for the image to come into existence, or be sent, so it could be hunted or harvested. The biological necessity and desire to eat was expressed in the engraved and painted ideational images inserted on the cave surfaces. The many animal images portrayed in parietal art indicate the need for food. While the representation of animals is not unique throughout human existence, in general it is probably true as Collins & Onians (1978) remark, that no other culture has given their food animals such an important status in art (pp. 11, 14-15). The animal images are the expression of the desire and need for food, petitions to the earth by artist midwives to bring forth or give birth to them.

While it could be argued that the animal images are the work of hunters or shamans performing hunting magic, there is no convincing evidence for this assertion. Only three or four percent of parietal art animal images have some sort of missile on or near them (Leroi-Gourhan, 1982, pp. 57, 74; Bahn & Vertut, 1997, p. 172).

Dickson (1990) speculates that the intention for parietal art was that it might have been the result of:

a perceived cyclicality in the passage of time and … the periodicity and fecundity of  women were generalized into universal principles or "grand analogies," that  formed the basis of speculation and thought about nature, humankind, the universe, and reality. This model of social and material reality was embodied and reflected in the great parietal art caves of Franco- Cantabria (p. 215).

I agree there is an emphasis on time. The parietal art images represent a concern for a time in the future when the fecundity of the earth would give birth to and send the petitioned for animals. For Paleolithic humans the interior of the earth was a universal principle that was animistically and anthropomorphically perceived and then analogically conceived to be the female womb of all living and material forms.

Breuil thought that each animal image had an individual and isolated importance (Sieveking, 1997, p. 27). Other researchers have also advocated this view:

the location of many paleolithic paintings in the dark and inaccessible depths of caves, and the fact that such paintings were sometimes executed one on top of the other … strongly suggests that the act of painting them was of greater significance than the paintings themselves … and that in making them artists were participating in acts of creation, or perhaps of begetting, in the earth's womb (Rappaport, 1999, pp. 147, 385).

 These views lend support to the petitionary-midwife model. The act of engraving or painting each individual animal image was a way of assisting the earth to bring forth by artist midwives who animistically and anthropomorphically perceived the cave as being the origin of life.

 Conclusion

The intention for Upper Paleolithic parietal art is that the animal images were engraved and painted as petitions to the earth. The almost complete absence of humans lends support to the petitionary-midwife model. There are few human images because the artists were not petitioning for them. As a result of the innate subconscious perceptual processes of animism, anthropomorphism, and through the conscious rudimentary reasoning of analogy, the earth was perceived and then gynocentrically conceived to be the female origin that brought forth life from the interior of her body. The cave gave access to the greater interior of the earth, while the narrow areas coated with ochre symbolized menstrual blood and the coming into existence of life. The engravings and paintings of animals were made by artist midwives as both petitions and assistance to the earth to bring the images into existence.

Upper Paleolithic parietal art is an interaction with the earth in a meaningful way. The cognitive basis for this behavioral interaction by Paleolithic humans was that the earth was animistically perceived to be a living entity, and that the interior of the earth was perceived anthropomorphically and conceived analogically to be a female form. Evidence to support this view includes the certainty that since Paleolithic humans were foragers they observed the cyclical growth of plants from within the earth, and the young of animals and insects coming from dens. These observations contributed to the animistic perception that the interior of the earth was the origin of life. The enhancing of natural shapes occurring in the cave surfaces that resembled an animal also suggests the innate perceptual process of animism.

The use of red ochre to paint animal images, to coat narrow and oval-shaped areas of the cave, and the pieces of bone and teeth that were placed in the cleft areas of the wall situated near ochre smudges and reliefs, all suggest the perceptual process of anthropomorphism. Since the color red appears infrequently in the environment, this suggests that the primary use of ochre was associated with menstrual blood and life.        

Paleolithic humans could not understand the cave to be a geologic formation. Seeking comprehension of the mysterious presence of the cave, they perceived it anthropomorphically to be the female origin of animal life. Anthropomorphizing the interior of the cave to be a female-like womb that brought forth life suggests an overall gynocentric orientation. The ability for rudimentary reasoning as suggested by imitation in tool-making, of making one tool like another, also contributed to analogically conceiving the cave interior to be similar to the place within the female body that brought forth life

Sustaining life based on the natural environment contributed to the development of a geocentric orientation. The animal images were petitions geocentrically directed to the interior of the earth as the origin of animal life. The parietal artists acted as midwives in petitioning and assisting the earth to give birth to the animals so they could be hunted for food and sustain human life.

References

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Information about this Article
Peer-review ratings (from 2 reviews, where a score of 100 represents the ‘average’ level):
Originality = 175.00, importance = 150.00, overall quality = 175.00
This Article was published on 7th October, 2006 at 01:53:18 and has been viewed 13433 times.

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The full citation for this Article is:
Conklin, E. (2006). Petitionary-Midwife Theory of European Paleolithic Parietal Art. PHILICA.COM Article number 35.


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1 Peer review [reviewer #20188unconfirmed user] added 10th October, 2006 at 00:37:37

Very interesting and brilliant! I’ve not heard of such a theory as this. I enjoyed reading this. :)

Originality: 7, Importance: 7, Overall quality: 7


2 Peer review [reviewer #1942unconfirmed user] added 3rd February, 2009 at 16:22:38

I absolutely ENJOYED reading this.

“The parietal artists acted as midwives in petitioning and assisting the earth to give birth to the animals so they could be hunted for food and sustain human life”.

How neat is this? Although I sat through a 101 lesson on this subject in Dr. Conklin’s class, I never concluded this. I feel “sheepish”. However, I am now enlightened and I’m glad I read this article. Certainly, a great conversation piece.

Brilliant, Dr. Conklin.

Originality: 7, Importance: 5, Overall quality: 7




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