Come into my home and see my paintings and etchings too

The British Museum, Great Court

The British Museum, Great Court (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh, did I mention that my home is a cave? Oh yes, and that these paintings, etchings and reliefs are hidden well inside so that you will have to climb across some rocks, through a tunnel or two and it is very dark?

Well yes, these aren’t really my paintings and etchings but they do exist and are as old as 36000 years.  And I did once see some in a very dark area in France – now covered up as they were being damaged by us all breathing on them – so you’d better not come into my home after all!

We recently went to a lecture in the British Museum by an expert who gave us some fascinating facts and illustrations of these painted caves.

Some are 36000 years old as I mentioned but some are only (!) 13000 years old but retain many similarities whatever age they are. Interestingly what they painted were not – most often – the animals they hunted as you might have expected, but rather animals that had some significance for them – and also humans – in particular fertility goddesses. So it is likely that these paintings have religious significance and were not intended for daily viewing or even for viewing by many people – just a selected few who had brave the dark and twisty passages to get to them.

There is speculation that because the paintings bear such similarity across the areas and times that it was a skill that was passed around – or that the people who could undertake this work also went from place to place. So maybe there were apprenticeships or travelling artists.

The British Museum is a wonderful resource for us as they have such show-stopping exhibitions. Alongside this lecture was an exhibition of ancient pieces of art from this era. There were wooden carvings and painted pottery and sculptures of course. Some bone carvings also and some were extremely intricate and full of passion and life. The carvings and paintings of horses or ponies in movement were amazing and of course, there were plenty of the fertile woman with large hips and breasts on show too. Look for instance at this wonderful carving of swimming reindeer http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/a_history_of_the_world/objects.aspx#4

And by the way, I have a stone knife on my desk at work I use as paperweight. I picked it up in the Mediterranean when I was walking along an old path on an island. So this island must have been inhabited for a very long time indeed. It was just lying there on the path-side, perhaps where it had been dropped or lost and just stayed there looking like any old stone until you looked more closely….

It looks just like this Olduvai hand axe http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/a_history_of_the_world/objects.aspx#3.

Olduvai handaxe, Lower Palaeolithic, about 1.2...

Olduvai handaxe, Lower Palaeolithic, about 1.2 million years old, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just recently, the Pompeii exhibition has been credited with bringing tourists in large numbers to London – just to go and see it and it was certainly extremely well attended!

We went and loved it…. Here the home was guarded by a dog. The famous plaster cast of the dog that died at its post that was to be seen in all papers. Such an amazing reminder of the tragedy and how it struck so suddenly – or at least it wasn’t so much that it was sudden, as that the inhabitants of the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum lived for so long under their volcanoes that they ignored the warning signs…

English: Wall painting from Pompeii brothel

English: Wall painting from Pompeii brothel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The latest blockbuster exhibition at the British Museum – and one of the reasons we have a membership there – is all the gold from Colombia! They have put together an awful lot of gold artefacts from Colombia and combined them with their own exhibits – many of which were hiding in their basements and told a great story of life and culture and religion across 5 tribes/cultures in the Colombian area from pre-history until the Spanish invasion.

It is worth noting however, that the Spanish were to the first westerners to trade/visit this area as a couple of hundred (at least) years before the various pirates and un-official traders were busy even into the mountainous areas trading wine for gold ornaments etc. the locals only valued the gold for its shininess and its ability to reflect the sunshine and thus the light of the gods – the sun god in particular. Thus gold was used for the religious ceremonies, to denote the leaders and important people and in religious ceremonies including burial gifts. The kings wore gold helmets in war – not useful for protection. But you could certainly see where they were and the sun reflecting on their helmets indicated the god was with them..

We went with some Colombian friends who were quite amazed at what was displayed as much of it they had not seen before, not even in the gold museum in Bogotá. And of course, it was wonderfully displayed and curated – not to mention the large numbers of guards standing around – and often just chatting – as they protected these great treasures! The only thing missing was the raft of the kings which likely was not allowed out of the country.

Many Colombians have gold items dating from this pre-Spanish period in their possession as they were dug up during farming – just like buried treasure. Originally they ‘owned’ it and it could be bought and sold but in the last few years the Colombian Government has made it a law that all such ancient artefacts are treasure trove and belong to the country. The people who already held such trove had to declare it and they are now considered its guardians and can no longer trade it or sell it or… but they can wear it! Imagine what it must be like to wear such treasure in terms of earrings or necklaces.

Muisca raft, representation of the initiation ...

Muisca raft, representation of the initiation of the new Zipa in the lake of Guatavita, possible source of the legend of El Dorado. It was found in a cave in Pasca, Colombia in 1856, together with many other gold objects. It is 19.5 cm long, 10.1 cm wide and 10.2 cm high. Dated between 1200 and 1500 BC. It is made of an alloy of gold (80%), silver and copper, by using the lost wax method. The cacique in the center is surrounded by attendants and oarsmen. Colombia Official Tourism Portal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The next great exhibition will be about the Vikings and I’m looking forward to seeing that  – just as long as they don’t display a blood eagle!

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