Tuesday, 16 February 2010

theory springs leak - bookfutures basketcase

I sent a version of my blog post about 7,000 year old pots and bookflip to the Read 2.0 list and had some interesting responses, including this very detailed rebuttal of my theory by Duncan Caldwell via Dan Burstein. So that's the theory of this blogger dashed. O well.

"The suggestion that both page flips on screen pages and grass patterns on 7,000 year old Jomon pots are hold-overs from previous paradigms is provocative - but holds about as much water as most baskets. First, because a key date is bogus. The incipient Jomon began around 12,500 years ago while the oldest shards, which may have come from pots, date to around 2,200 years before that - in either case, not to 17,000 BP (Before Present). Secondly, because pottery motifs that resemble weaving and wicker-work - on corded and incised ware, for example - were not necessarily the earliest in the various geographic areas where pottery was invented independently. Third, because clay lends itself to decoration by both inadvertent and deliberate stamping, especially by mats, which pots are often laid on before firing. The inadvertent stamps left by mats led naturally to the idea of using the same patterns over whole pots.

Weave patterns would NOT have been a carry-over in that case, but would have been inspired, instead, by the nature of the material and manufacturing process.

Early pots were also sometimes coiled within basket molds, leading naturally to a basket-like "decoration", without it being a vestigial backward reference. In fact, such pots were themselves an outgrowth, in all probability, of baskets that had been lined with clay to make them impermeable.

Thus, the first pots were not simply substitutes for baskets, but their direct descendants. The blogger could have used this observation, if he had known it, to reinforce his point - although he would have had to admit that pottery didn't so much replace baskets as gut and skin bladders - those flexible non-breakable recipients preferred by nomads to this day.

Furthermore, pots have been stamped by all kinds of other patterns as well, ranging from block-stamps, which are artificial, to shells. If we were to use the same kind of logic used by the blogger, we'd have to say that shell-stamped pots harked back to shell recipients used by Paleolithic man - a far-fetched notion if there ever was one.

Finally, even the smaller differences of two to four thousand years, instead of the blogger's 10,000, allows enough time for extensive stylistic evolution. This is particularly true of pottery styles in the Jomon culture, where pots were often given fantastically whirled coral-like rims starting around 7,000 BP.

Looping back to the invention of ceramics during the Pavlovian aspect of the Gravettian, over 25,000 years ago, when clay was first fired, but only to make figurines - not pots - it is interesting to note that the figurines were laid on mats and cloth before firing. This left impressions that were so clear that Heather Pringle (1997) proved that basketwork was over ten thousand years older than previously known. Olga Soffer used the same kind of impressions to prove that Gravettians made cloth with at least 13 different types of knots on portable looms (1997 & 2000) - pushing weaving back too.

In my latest publication, "Supernatural Pregnancies: Common features and new ideas concerning Upper Paleolithic feminine imagery"*, I argued that these precocious inventions influenced northern Gravettian art, including the patterns found on the two Schematic Venuses of Predmosti and figurines from Mezin. So in a sense, Dan, the blog you forwarded to me is right: an invention can certainly have aesthetic and residual effects upon other activities - from art to the screen flips replacing the turning page . I'm just not sure that Middle Jomon pottery motifs are the best example of the phenomenon.

* "Supernatural Pregnancies: Common Features and New Ideas concerning Upper Paleolithic Feminine Imagery" by Duncan Caldwell. Arts & Cultures. 2010. Barbier-Mueller Museums, Geneva & Barcelona. pp. 52-75. A summary of the article's basic idea, which can be called the “Prey-mother Hypothesis” for reading Paleolithic "venuses", is outlined at: http://www.duncancaldwell.com/Site/Paleolithic_Feminine_Imagery.html

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