Blows My Mind

So, they have uncovered what they believe to be the oldest artistic representation of a human being ever found.  And what do you know?  Thirty-five thousand years ago, our ancestors were running around with my naked body, probably on a rope around their necks.

Now, granted, proto-me does also look a bit like a plucked chicken, but I trust you’ll overlook that.

Dr. J. took a class when we were in grad school in which the professor said that there is speculation that these figures were carved by women, hence the strange perspective, with the big breasts, big bellies, and tiny legs and hands and no heads.  It’s as if you’re looking down at yourself and carving what you can see and what has the most prominence.  It’s weird to think about for me, a woman who sits at a computer all day, because the thing of me I spend the most time looking at are my hands.  Even now, when I’m typing, I can see them wiggling around down there.  If I were carving what I saw when I looked down, it’d be all tits and hands and nothing else.  It’s weird to think about just how sitting up all day how we do changes how we see ourselves.

The NYTimes article also alludes to some speculation about how these figurines may have had some shamanic purpose.  I, at least, have this idea of shamans being primarily men, but that’s not actually true.  When they find remains in Russia, they’re very often women.  And there’s no reason to think our ancestors would have been any different.

I think, just looking, that at the least, they’re good luck charms–“as above, so below” being the guiding principal.  If you think about how hard life was for our grandmothers 35,000 years ago, the idea of a woman who was so obviously well-fed, well-fucked, and able to feed and please others must have been an especially compelling person to want to emulate.

20 thoughts on “Blows My Mind

  1. I love this too!

    First, because she also looks like me. :-)

    Second, because she contradicts all the narrow minded fools who think that every prehistoric person was thin.

    Third, because it really makes me want to print up a t-shirt that reads “CAVEMEN THINK I’M HOT.”

  2. Tomorrow I am totally wearing my Venus of Laussel earrings. She’s another gal like us.

  3. A commenter at Shapely Prose noted that this is the first historical example of a Headless Fattie. :-)

  4. Thirty-five thousand years ago, our ancestors were running around with my naked body…

    Our ancestors had boob freckles?!

  5. I recall from my cultural anthropology studies that most early hunter-gatherer societies were far more egalitarian (gender-wise, as well) than our current highly stratified, patriarchal societies. I’m not nostalgic, mind you, but there’s something to be said for that.

  6. I recall from my cultural anthropology studies that most early hunter-gatherer societies were far more egalitarian (gender-wise, as well) than our current highly stratified, patriarchal societies.

    They’d pretty much have to be. Male domination fundamentally depends on having some mechanism for males to control access to food. Since in hunter-gatherer methods of food supply, the bulk of food comes from gathering, the only way to control a person’s access to food is to restrict their mobility substantially. That’s only viable if you have enough of a surplus to sacrifice the productivity of the restricted individual for the sake of satisfying petty power urges.

  7. I’m not so sure how much of the view of hunter gatherer societies being more egalitarian was wishful thinking on the part of anthropologists. I haven’t done any research on this right now, but what I remember of modern hunter gatherer societies, even the ones that hadn’t yet been exposed very much to western society, was that the women did indeed gather the bulk of the calories in their diet, but society was still male dominated. I’m thinking of the Yanamamo right now, and some of the groups in New Guinea.

  8. But Sam, the Yanamamo are a male dominated society. Surely you’re not arguing otherwise?

  9. O.C., you are focusing on specific examples, none of which I dispute. Your examples don’t address my point: male dominance does not result from a division of labor. Helen’s comment is clear on this.

    Furthermore, the notion that DFH anthropologists are responsible for manufacturing the concept of matriarchal or egalitarian societies is kind of funny. While the right-wing meme of DFHs dominating academia from top to bottom seems to have stamina, I doubt that 19th and early 20th century anthropologists fit that stereotype.

    Anyway, the following item sheds some light on the delicious ambiguity:

  10. Sam, Daily Kos is no expert on cultural anthropology or archaeology.

    Helen suggested that patriarchy depends on male control of the food supply. I said I don’t think it’s that simple. As for division of labor creating patriarchy, you’re putting words in my mouth.

    So, fine. Give us some examples, from trustworthy academic sources, of some egalitarian societies, now or in the past.

  11. One might note that inequality manifests itself along axes other than gender, interacting in ways that both magnify and mitigate each other. Visible stratification isn’t the only symptom, either.

    I think that you’d be hard pressed to find truly egalitarian groups at any point in history, even considering the existence of groups with markedly different gender dynamics.

    And while there’s competing evidence for the degree to which social scientists of various stripes have wistfully imagined utopian groups of noble savages, there’s a lot of work done on the degree to which cultural context affects scholarship. Certainly, Aunt B’s old post on ‘when the women you think you’re helping say ‘no thanks’ ‘ (link not on hand, don’t want to get further distracted from final papers – due tomorrow! – by looking for it) is a pretty recent, simple example: determinations of what is and isn’t good for and about a population can be/have been/will be highly affected by the background of the person viewing it.

    (Okay, okay. I really do have to go back to work, ’cause I’ve got about 45 pages to write. But still! I’ve got scholarly links and everything! It’s stuff I actually worked on this year!)

  12. trustworthy academic sources

    Only those you are inclined to trust? I could find “trustworthy academic sources” who’ll tell me that global warming is a DFH invention, or that negroes are genetically inferior to white people. There are even “trustworthy academic sources” out there willing to craft official legal opinions that torture is okay as long as our side does it.

    But back to the issue: Magniloquence makes an excellent point. There has there never been a completely egalitarian society. I agree with her, and I believe it is more a continuum than a binary situation. The Ohio State Anthropology Dept. would seem to agree with me:

  13. Magniloquence has said, much more eloquently, what I meant. The “wistfully imagined utopias” were exactly my point! Thank you, Magnil.

  14. If I may step back to B.’s post for a moment, I think her thoughts on the discovery are what appealed to me. Our society (here in the U.S., specifically) has been trending a bit toward more gender egalitarianism in the last few decades. That’s why the GOP has leaned so heavily on gender politics (i.e. women’s reproductive freedom and gay rights); they understand the profundity of this evolution and they have been able to amp up and exploit the anxiety over it. (They also rely on racial politics, but that’s another discussion.) The notion that at some point in history or prehistory or even– gasp— in our own era women are roughly equal to men in any society is dangerous to the culture warriors and the institutions that are propped up by the patriarchy. The idea that male dominance is not divinely mandated or biologically hard-wired goes against centuries of cultural reinforcement.

    It isn’t that I’m expecting to find some Amazon utopia past or present, but it’s nice to know that the patriarchal clusterfuck we’re now riding into the abyss is not inevitable. We can do things differently if we choose. There are hints of this possibility alive today, as well as throughout history and prehistory. The fact that their existence is so often reflexively denied doesn’t make them more valid or ‘authentic’, but it does emphasize their importance.

  15. Sam, we’re more in agreement than I think either of us thought at first. But I’m thinking that our hopeful push toward greater equality doesn’t rely for a moment on whether we had it in the past or didn’t. It’s still a worthy goal, no matter how broadly we’ve missed it so far.

    There was no cure for cancer back in the day either. But we keep trying.

  16. Well-put, O.C. Thanks. My concern is the inverse of yours, and the two concerns are complementary. I believe that to justify resistance to our evolution towards greater egalitarianism, there are those (such as some evo-psych proponents and some religious leaders) who will claim that male dominance is biologically or divinely predetermined. I daresay such a view is already the default.

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