When we look at artwork from the past we do it through the lens of our own experiences. It does not matter if you are a child, archaeologist, scientist, author, etc. In my post about Beatrix Potter, I discussed Roland Barthes and Susan Sontag explaining that once art has left the hands of its creator it is “solely in the eye of the beholder”. I can’t think of a better subject that ancient art to prove this. After all, no one in the time period between 30,000 BC and 1000 BC is available to correct me.
Anyone can stand up and state what ancient artifacts mean and why an ancient culture created it. We can’t prove if they are wrong or right. We have a hard enough time proving the date an artifact was produced. There is amazing science including radiocarbon dating and/or optical luminescence dating (OSL) available. It will only work, however, if the carbon or required minerals are present and exposed to light prior to burial. This information is not perfectly accurate, it is, however, more accurate than anything we have had previously. The information, in this case, still only tells us a date. It does not tell us why or what the creator was trying to communicate. We don’t know if they were an important person in their culture, or if they were a random fringe radical on the edge of society.
We revere Picasso, now, but he couldn’t sell his paintings for room and board or a drink most of the time. If his towns culture was judged by the fact his paintings hang in the most prestigious museums world wide, future cultures might believe he was a revered religious elder. This is because his work would be taken out of context. ‘The Venus of Willendorf’ is one of many similar figurines found across archaeological sites in various European countries. What archaeologists work hard to do is tie the figurine to the context of what it is found with. This could be bowls, spearheads, remnants of food or grains, plant spores and textiles. If you have the remnant of a preserved dead creature, animal or human, they can find out even more by what is in the body cavities. A lot of time is spent on analysis of scientific data by these intelligent individuals. We still don’t have definitive proof of what the Venus of Willendorf meant to the person who created it or carried it, however, what we have is theory.
I have a love hate relationship with the show ‘Ancient Aliens’ on H2. They comb through ancient artifacts/sites to give us alternate theory, ancient alien theory, regarding their meaning. I love seeing the places, figurines, etc. Many I had never heard of before. They provide a mainstream theory about an item and then drastically alter course. “But, could it be, there is another explanation? Some Ancient Alien theorists believe….,” and “Could it be we were visited by Ancient Alien Astronauts?” and “Clearly, this is the work of Ancient Aliens!” Could we have been visited by Ancient Aliens? Sure. Is it likely? I’m not so sure. It’s not that I don’t believe in the possibility, but Giorgio Tsoukalos Erich Von Daniken, author of ‘Chariots of the Gods,” etc. have a tendency to ignore context or disregard information that does not support their theories. Many theorists ignore evidence if it does not help their cause. Does that mean they can’t say their theory is correct? No, they have every right to. Their theory or interpretation could be right. Why? No one can REALLY be 100% sure, so, it is open to interpretation.
So let’s have some fun. Below are some examples, it is by no means an exhaustive list of all theories out there, but it shows you a sample of how one piece of art, or the story behind the art, can be interpreted so very differently.
Venus of Willendorf , shown above, found in a Aurignacian loess deposit near Willendorf Austria. It is 110 mm in height and is dated between 30,000 and 25,000 BC
Theory one suggests that it is a “Venus figure” or “Goddess,” used as a symbol of fertility. Apart from being female, the statue has an enlarged stomach and breasts, the pubic area is emphasized, and probably served as a representation of procreation.
Theory two suggests the figurine served as a charm. Its size is small enough to fit in a hand and believe to have been carried by men during their travels/hunts. It was to be a reminder of a mate at home, but also as a charm to bring success. The figurine is faceless and provides anonymity. The figurine’s hair is braided in seven circles, and seven is regarded by some cultures as a magic number to bring good luck.
Theory three is the Venus served as mother goddess, Gaea, or other female deity . This is suggested by the Venus’ obesity. In a hunter gatherer society women did not have opportunity to be obese and indicates that the Venus was the creator and giver of life.
Theory four is that the Venus of Willendorf is a figurine made by early man in exact replica of a being that came to earth. The theory states that man did not have a notion of Gods and painted/created only images of what they saw in daily life . Support of it being a reproduction of an alien is that the figurine is faceless and lacks feet. What could be representation of hair on top of the Venus’ head is believed to be evidence of alien features. “Could it be a goddess? No! clearly this is the representation of an ancient alien!”
Cave Toquepala, Lima Peru. Estimated age of the paintings at the site have been radiocarbon-dated to 7,650 B.C. but controversially could date back as far as 9500 BC
Theory one is this cave painting depicts human figures thought to be holding knives and spears on top of a cliff and camelid animals falling off it. The largest human figure is believed to have blood dripping off a blade. People in this area and time practiced a form of hunting where humans would surround animals, herd them into running off of a cliff, into a trap, or dangerous area where a large animal could be injured making it easier prey.
Theory two is there is a ladder an alien is climbing down out of the sky with an assortment of unfamiliar creatures. One anthropomorphic figure is much larger in size compared to the other humanoid forms suggesting it is otherworldly . This figure is holding a sword/spear that appears to be emanating a form of energy. There are also creatures drawn in a darker pixellated style that look like insects, but they have four legs unlike a beetle or spider. They are drawn the same size as recognizable large animals, and larger than the human figures. “Could it be a scene of a group of men hunting? What about the giant insect like creatures? Ancient man didn’t draw things they didn’t see in daily life. This is something they saw! This shows a giant figure. Ancient people didn’t know how to draw perspective. Obviously, they were visited by Ancient Aliens!”
In Sego Canyon, Utah, there is rock art in the Barrier Canyon Style (4,000 B.C. – 2000 B.C.) It is known for large forms that appear to be human. The figures depicted have hollow eyes, an absence of arms and legs. Some anthropomorphs have bug-eyes, antennae, earrings, snakes in hand, and leg-less torsos.
A cave painting in Horseshoe Point, Utah
Theory one is that the “ghost-like” images, represent shamanistic art associated with ritual activities of the Archaic people. The figures appear to float on the rock face . Dolls and small carvings found in nearby Cowboy Cave have similarities to the paintings with three horizontal lines down the chest, but also to dolls found in the area at a later date. Katsina dolls are representations of gods. Other research shows major climactic change occurring 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. Living conditions became harsh due to reduced game and foods that could be gathered. Speculation states that the Archaic people turned to religious/shamanistic activities drawing of mystical figures. The largest figure in painting two appears to have characteristics associated with a buffalo coat and headdress used in Shaman ceremony.
Theory two is the cave paintings are of aliens. They show unearthly beings with exaggerated eyes, large heads, and a size larger than humans. The drawings are interpreted as the star people, beings that came from the heavens to create people, and then returned to whence they came. There are creation stories in the region that support this. Similar stories appear in civilizations from China, Sumeria and North and South America. In the first cave painting, the star people are shown coming to earth with a Serpent, and rising back up to the stars. “Are these Star People gods? No! Clearly, these were Ancient Alien Astronauts!”
Wandjina Images (Aboriginal Rain God or Cloud Spirits who control lightning and rain from their images) in Aboriginal Cave Paintings in the Bradshaw Cave in Kimberly, Australia (2000 BC)
Theory one is Wandjina art is associated directly with the indigenous myths, and traditions of the area. It is a living art form, still created today, representing ancestral beings originating in the sea and the sky. Wandjina images have halo-like headdresses, faces with large round eyes, surrounded by eyelashes, set either side of an oval nose. These ancestors control the weather. The images are believed to be capable of calling storms and rain.
Theory two is Wandjina’s are alien beings that traveled to earth. The theory points to hollowed out eyes and enlarged heads to be not only alien but consistent with a type of alien called the “Grays.” Stories of Grays have been described in multiple cultures. The Wandjina is known to have a halo or circle around the head that is considered a helmet for a space suit similar to what humans use for space travel today. “Advanced technology the aliens brought was far beyond anything humans had seen. The people believed they were ancient ancestors with magic to help them. Imagine a space craft came and landed causing air to move and emit electrical charges. What would they think? They would think they could control the weather and the heavens but when you look at the paintings you see evidence of spacecraft. You’re not looking at gods! You are looking at the Grays!”
Prehistoric petroglyphs from Val Camonica, Italy created between 4000-1000BC 2. ‘Cremo Boulder 3″ Crowned One interpreted as a solar god
Theory one is that the Cammunic people created the petroglyphs. Subject matter changed based upon the time of creation. Neolithic petroglyphs (4000-3000 BC) were created towards the end of the glaciation period. This is when the first depictions of a religious nature appeared. The human figure became common and detailed scenes of daily life. This period is considered the high point in Cammunic art. In Eneolithic petroglyphs (3000-2000 BC) the quality of the carving improved. They show detailed hunting scenes along with scenes of daily life. After 1000 BC the isolated Cammuni life ends. Petroglyphs show them defending territory. Battle scenes are carved, and due to the headdresses found in the petroglyphs the invaders are speculated to be Roman.
Theory two focuses most notoriously on the first picture shown above. It has two anthropomorphic beings that appear to be floating. Ancient Alien theorists point to the bubble surrounding the heads drawing attention to how similar it looks to a current day space suit helmet. These theorists build on belief that ancient peoples drew solely what they saw in daily life, and states the scene shows two Ancient Aliens visiting the Cammunic peoples.
I’m going to provide context this time. Above are three other pictures from the Val Camonica petroglyphs.
The 2nd petroglyph is from the Cremo Boulder #3 and is named ‘Crowned One.’ It is interpreted as a solar god because there is an anthropomorphic form at the top of the boulder with a circle surrounding the figure’s head with lines or rays extending from it . Below the figure are several smaller anthropomorphic beings, and below them are reindeer with antlers. The interpretation is that the crowned figure is a god blessing the people and animals. A second theory is that the petroglyph is telling a story of a successful hunt where the crowned one is an important leader, wearing a helmet, and sending his troops out to kill the reindeer.
The third picture depicts a hunting scene with a figure on a horse throwing a spear at a reindeer. This is clear and I could find no alternate theories for it. The fourth picture shows a figure running. He has something on his head that looks like hair or a helmet. This picture is part of a larger battle scene between many figures with similar headgear. The date of the petroglyph is closer to 1000 BC, but the helmet resembles to helmet/halo in picture one. Once the three petroglyphs provide context for the first I am inclined to believe picture 1 is a scene of two hunters holding bow and arrows. That, however, is my theory and at the end of the day is only one interpretation. It is not more valid than the Alien Astronaut theory. I can not prove it. I can attempt to persuade you with multiple images and items found in the same area creating a more detailed and interesting story, but I can’t prove it. Giorgio Tsoukalos’s ancient alien astronauts could be right, my ancient warriors with bows and arrows could be right, the painting could just about anything. Feel free to tell me your own story, excuse me, interpretation or theory if you prefer, about the figures in picture one.