Term Paper: Explore an Archaeological Controversy

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Archaeological Controversy

Archeological controversies are best known as the historical discoveries made by archeologists that stirred debate and argument in the intellectual and academic quarters of the world. Since little is known about a site, sculpture, form of art, and tools that are the object of discovery, the authenticity of these archeological discoveries is contested by other researchers. The process contributes significant knowledge regarding the discovered form of art, tool, or living style. Paleolithic art is also amongst one such archeological controversy that has generated much interest. The arts and culture of Paleolithic era are of interest to archeologists interested in pre-historic time period. The Paleolithic era was one in which stones were the main objects used to carve tools, equipment, and other materials of human use. The paper investigates the social and cultural significance of Paleolithic art. The Paleolithic art was found in two broad forms, the sculptures and engraved pieces of art of the walls and caves. Since men were primarily hunters in that time, the art representation have utilized hunting scenes and themes associated to it as representations. The Paleolithic arts may have played an important role in cognitive development of human. The art form got flourished in late Upper Paleolithic period.The main art forms and artifacts of Paleolithic era will be described along with discussion on their significance to the historians, archeologists, and common man.

Why the controversy

Before moving on to the rationale of stating Paleolithic art as a controversy, the paper will explain the main forms of this art. Portable and stationary forms of Paleolithic art have been often described by the researchers. Figurines, carvings, and decorated/shaped items are included in potable form of Paleolithic art. The stationary form of Paleolithic art is engravings and paintings. These are usually on the walls and caves of prehistoric era.

The archeologists determine the era of art by the style of paintings and carvings found in the caves and other archeological carvings. The major controversy that surrounds the Paleolithic art is the authenticity of artifacts that archeologists claim to belong from that era. Other controversy relates to the discussion that what motives were before the Paleolithic people when generating these artifacts, merely self-expression or some other purpose. The art of Paleolithic era was majorly concerned with hunting and food. The major controversy stems from the 'problem of chronology' (Leroi-Gourhan, 58-70). The large number of wall arts and other smaller sculptures of Paleolithic era were largely discovered in the beginning years of this century. The techniques used to excavate the remnants were largely not precise and today those techniques are contested for their authenticity. To build association between the pieces of art discovered and the stratigraphic dates is also difficult. The stylistics of certain objects being termed as Paleolithic artifacts also do not enable to draw strong conclusions about the date to which these belonged. Further, the non-portable artifacts and their connection to respective Paleolithic culture are also difficult as multiple cultures within total Paleolithic era have existed. The position of Leroi-Gourhanwas also discussed by Pfeiffer (38) in his work 'The emergence of humankind'.There were also many assumptions on which the archeologists based their linkage of artifacts to certain cultures. Same took place in classification of Paleolithic culture and arts where Breuil, a. based his work of classification of Paleolithic artifacts such as paintings on three broad assumptions. Firstly, on finding two superimposed paintings, it was assumed that one that is below the upper one is older. Secondly, Breuil assumed that caves were inhabited for centuries and that many cultural civilizational artifacts can be found from same cave. Thirdly, Breuil as an eminent archeologist assumed that Paleolithic art was for magical purpose and no particular theme or order can be inferred from these artifacts and hence no consistent cultural influence. Principally, this assumption may not sound valid enough in today's advanced era of archeological investigation. Thus, the controversy not only stems from the veracity of excavated items but also the procedures adopted to conduct excavation operations (Leroi-Gourhan, 58).

The significance of art and culture of Paleolithic era

The significance of Paleolithic culture is based on the significance of that civilization itself. Between 30000 and 10000 B.C. The Paleolithic civilization was the earliest to generate artifacts and promote a culture that had many layers. Though related to the age before last continental glaciation, the era is known to have a culture that shaped the later era cultures. Lewis-Williams (201-217) argued that the signs of art of Paleolithic era are difficult to verify since there does not exist an ethnographic approach to directly link the artifacts with the Paleolithic era. The numeric rock art data that archeologists have discovered is not connected with the Paleolithic era using some consistent technique of ethnography. In order to address this gap, Lewis-Williams have adopted a neuropsychological model of Entopticphenomenon to divide the artifacts in three stages of shamanistic rock arts. The author suggested that the Paleolithic art was developed in diverse contexts and for the representation of varying themes belonging to that era. The author also contends the earlier adopted approaches to describing the significance and meaning of Paleolithic art and culture. The earlier researchers and archeologists that used ethnographic analogies to describe that the shrines or traps being excavated were for the spirits imply that the use of artifacts was for magical purposes only. The author also less eagerly dismisses the approach of inductive reasoning used by later archeologists to infer meaning from the arts and cultural artifacts of that era. Since there is considerable disagreement between the approach of expert archeologists to draw meanings and relationship of Paleolithic art that the artifacts have generated much debate on the academic and general quarters of population. The authors have deliberately used the rock-art as the basis of their work to determine the meanings of such art.

The authors have argued that the altered states of consciousness are not just typical of human beings but are significantly present in the animals as well. Such hallucinated images were perceived and viewed by civilizations taking place before Paleolithic era. The Entopticsystem that is present in humans was the reason that enabled the Paleolithic people to develop such images and carvings on the rocks. The upper Paleolithic populations have typically shown this tendency. Though, the authors have tried to rely their study on the Entopticperspective, other researchers have contested the claim as being too simplistic of an explanation of a phenomenon and background that many reasonable grounds to have been called as real.

Halverson, John (63-89) takes a rather more plausible approach in describing the relevance, meaning, and appropriate representation of Paleolithic art and cultural artifacts. The author cites that by placing before us the wrong questions, such as that carvings and artifacts must have some deeper meanings on which they are based, the investigation gets based on wrong premise. The title of the paper 'Art for art's sake in the Paleolithic' suggests that art has an inherent motive of mere expression of one potential and not referring to something that needs further investigation. The author also earnestly dismisses the approach of 'structuralism'. By making wrong assumption and building up wrong hypothesis, the author suggests the meaning or the significance of Paleolithic art and culture may not be well-served. The author categorically hints that despite wide acceptance of a representative and structuralism approach to carvings and other artifacts of Paleolithic era, there are no structured meanings implied or the basis of these artifacts of Paleolithic era. Religious, mythical, or magical meanings are absent from such artifacts and carvings, the author suggests. The author also correlates the images, carvings, and the Paleolithic art as a whole to cognitive development process of human beings. Autotelic or a free expression of a sign has been termed as appropriate explanation of Paleolithic art.

Reference to accidental paintings through finger prints has also been made in the article. Though the article is not based on empirical evidence to base upon its findings, it draws its strength from the inherent gaps and inconsistencies of the structuralism approach. Although Halverson disregards any other perspective of art and artifacts other than mere playtime, the explanation may fit thePaleolithic era but not others time of history where economic, representational, and mythical as well as religious and magical things have been implied through the artifacts, paintings, and cultural materials. The arts ofPaleolithic era, Halverson suggests that were based on involuntary actions of people rather than systematic or structured through pattern. The arts and cultural materials of Paleolithic era are such abundantly claimed and earnestly shown that mere play might not have been the only purpose of their development by Paleolithic people. There are numerous studies that soundly depict the meanings of images, paintings, artifacts, and cultural materials and disregarding plethora of scholarly literature on the basis of Paleolithic era only may not be well based. Since the author also refers to the explanation of children drawing faces by virtue of their cognitive knowledge rather than visual knowledge,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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