The Prehistoric Aboriginal cave art of the Grampians, Australia
(Photos taken by me)
Here’s the write up of my trip to the Grampian Mountains in Victoria, Australia. I wrote it earlier this year, but as it was posted to my recently deleted personal blog, I thought i’d re-upload here seeing as it does primarily focus on the Prehistoric cave art there.
19th Jan, 2013
“The Grampians” is a national park, about 235 kilometres west of Melbourne, which features some of the richest and oldest indigenous rock art in Australia and the world, as well as huge sandstone mountain ranges. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Australian state of Victoria, I think you’d be astounded how quickly (and dramatically) the environment changes. Driving from the huge, beautiful city of Melbourne (one of my personal favourite cities in the world), to the outback-like conditions of the Grampians and neighbouring areas, you would hardly believe that you were in the same country, let alone only a few hours west. In this account, I will be detailing my experience of travelling through the Grampians, information about the ancient art itself, and my personal tips/ suggestions for what to see there -it was certainly a very eventful experience indeed!
The Tomb of Daniel, what is thought to be the traditional burial place of the biblical prophet Daniel. Though various locations have been named for the site, this tomb in Susa, Iran is the most widely accepted.
Though the Book of Daniel never specifies the location in which he died, it does mention that Daniel lived in Babylon and may have visited the place of Susa, Iran. It was first mentioned to be the burial place of Daniel by Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Asia between 1160 and 1163.
Muslim traditions agree in stating that Daniel was buried at Susa, and a similar tradition was current among the Syriac writers. 9th century Persian historian Al-Baladhuri states that when the conqueror Abu Musa al-Ash’ari came to Susa in 638, he found the coffin of Daniel which had been brought from Babylon in the hope of bringing rain in a period of bring draught. This matter was referred to the calif Umar, who ordered the coffin to be buried, which was done so by sinking it to the bottom of a nearby stream.
A similar account is given by 10th century Arab chronicler Ibn Hawqal who writes:
“In the city of Susa there is a river and I have heard that in the time of Abu Mousa Al Ashoari a coffin was found there; it is said to contain the bones of Daniel the Prophet. The people held it in great veneration and in times of distress, famine or droughts brought it out and prayed for rain. Abu Mousa Al Ashoari ordered that the coffin be encased with three coverings and submerged it in the river so that it could not be viewed. The grave can be seen by anyone who dives to the bottom of the water”.
William Ouseley in Walpole’s Memoirs of the East described the Tomb of Daniel in Susa as being situated in:
“a most beautiful spot, washed by a clear running stream and shaded by planes and other trees of ample foliage. The building is of Mahomedan date and is inhabited by a solitary Dervish, who shows the spot where the prophet is buried beneath, a small and simple square brick mausoleum, said to be (without probability) coeval with his death. It has, however, neither date nor inscription to prove the truth or falsehood of the Dervish’s assertion. The small river running at the foot of this building, which is called the Bellerau, it has been said flows immediately over the prophets Tomb, and from the transparency of the water, his coffin was to be seen at the bottom; but the Dervish and the natives whom I questioned remembered no tradition corroborating such a fact; on the contrary; it has at all times been customary with the people of the country to resort hither on certain days of the months, when they offer up their prayers at the tomb I have mentioned, in supplication to the prophet’s shade.”
The photograph shows the cone-like shaped roof of the tomb. This short youtube video summarizes well the appearance of the tomb, inside and out.
Photo courtesy & taken by ninara
The Bimaran Reliquary. From stupa 2 at Bimaran, Gandhara (in modern Afghanistan), 1st century AD.
The Bimaran Reliquary is a small gold reliquary for Buddhist relics, and shows one of the earliest depictions of Buddha from the north-west region of Gandhara. The inscription stated that the reliquary contained some of the actual ones of the Buddha (the bones, however, are missing). Instead, the relic was deposited with beads of precious stones, small burnt pearls, and four coins.
Segment from the British Museum artifact statement:
The arcading round the side consists of eight pointed arches, known as caitya arches, that rest on pilasters. The compartments are divided principally into two sets of three niches. Each has a Buddha in the centre flanked by two similar deities in profile who face the Buddha.
The remaining two compartments show a figure frontally with his hands held together in a prayerful gesture of reverence, anjali-mudra. In the spandrels between the arches are eagles with outspread wings and heads turned so that they face each other. The entire frieze is sandwiched between registers of garnets that alternate with a four-lobed floral motif.
The Bimaran casket was kept in a steatite box, with the inscriptions stating that it contained some relics of the Buddha. The inscriptions on the box read:
From the main body of the container:
“Shivaraksita mumjavamdaputrasa danamuhe niyadide bhagavata sharirehi sarvabudhana puyae”
“Sacred gift of Shivaraksita, son of Munjavamda; presented for Lord’s relics, in honour of all Buddhas”
And from the lid of the container:
“Shivaraksita mumjavamdaputrasa danamuhe bhagavata sharirehi”
“Gift of Shivaraksita, son of Munjavamda; presented for Lord’s relics”
This reliquary is a crucial object for the history of Buddhism, the development of the Buddha image on Buddhist art, and the best preserved example of early Indian goldsmithing.
The ancient golden Helmet of Coţofeneşti, is a Geto-Dacian helmet dating from the first half of the 4th century BC. The helmet was uncovered by chance by a child on the territory of the village of Poiana Coţofeneşti (now Poiana Vărbilău), Romania.
This is an exceptionally well preserved helmet, missing only the part of its skull cap. It is made of pure gold, almost a kilogram in weight, and displays the “autochthonous character” of this artwork. The helmet is decorated with two large apotropaic eyes, intended to ward off the evil eye and magical spell. It is believed to have once belonged to an unknown local Geto-Dacian local aristocratic noble or a king from around 400 BC.
One theory suggests that this item was the sacred helmet of Zalmoxis, the living god-prophet of the Dacians. It has, however, never been proven.
The extensive decorations depict an illustration, (on either cheek-piece), of a ritual enactment, as well as depictions of a range of mythical creations.
The cheek-pieces of the Poiana-Coţofeneşti helmet show a ram being sacrificed by a man who kneels on its body and is about to cut its throat with a short knife. The iconography on the right side of the helmet is of a great interest, and has been interpreted in light of the tauroctony scene from the Mithraic Mysteries. Environment and affluence might well account for a change to a larger beast in the species offered and a similar interpretation of a bull-slaying episode. This sacrifice of the ram might have been performed by the “king-priest-god”
The pair of Voracious Beasts on the Coţofeneşti neck-guard occupy a lower register along with a similar creature deprived of a victim’s leg. This motif of the “Voracious Beast” is found earlier in Assyrian art, and was popular among the Etruscans. Phoenicia was probably the intermediary for its transferral to Italy and around the Adriatic, but Voracious Beast must also have traveled through Asia Minor to appear in a North Thracian idiom not only on the Coţofeneşti neck-guard but also in high relief on the base of the Aghighiol beakers (Aghighiol is a village near the Danube Delta in eastern Romania).
The upper register displays a row of three seated or squatting winged creatures, rather monkey-like with human faces, long forearms, and long tails. These, however, are surely direct, if run-down, descendants of the sphinxes on a gold beaker from Amlash.
The decorations such as rosette, strips, triangles, spiral and others are specific Geto-Dacian art motifs. The scene of sacrifice the ram is an oriental Iranian theme that entered in the Greek art and from there in the ‘barbarian’ art. Therefore, the helmet seems to have been realized in a Greek workshop. But, in the same time the awkward technique of execution that contrasts with the perfect technique of a Greek craftsman points out to an autochthonous one. (x)
The Rosetta Stone, Egypt, Ptolemaic Period, 196 BC.
One of the most influential and famous ancient artifacts discovered, the Rosetta Stone is an ancient Egyptian granodiorite stele inscribed with a decree issued at Memphis in 196 BC on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The inscription has three languages on it (Greek, demotic and hieroglyphs), each saying the same thing. Because of the translations, it provided great insight into the mystery of Egyptian hieroglyphs.
The first hieroglyphs were deciphered through distinguishing the name ‘Ptolemy’ in all three scripts.
A valuable key to the decipherment of hieroglyphs, the inscription on the Rosetta Stone is a decree passed by a council of priests. It is one of a series that affirm the royal cult of the 13-year-old Ptolemy V on the first anniversary of his coronation.
Artifact statement from the British Museum:
In previous years the family of the Ptolemies had lost control of certain parts of the country. It had taken their armies some time to put down opposition in the Delta, and parts of southern Upper Egypt, particularly Thebes, were not yet back under the government’s control.
Before the Ptolemaic era (that is before about 332 BC), decrees in hieroglyphs such as this were usually set up by the king. It shows how much things had changed from Pharaonic times that the priests, the only people who had kept the knowledge of writing hieroglyphs, were now issuing such decrees. The list of good deeds done by the king for the temples hints at the way in which the support of the priests was ensured.
The decree is inscribed on the stone three times, in hieroglyphic (suitable for a priestly decree), demotic (the native script used for daily purposes), and Greek (the language of the administration). The importance of this to Egyptology is immense.
Soon after the end of the fourth century AD, when hieroglyphs had gone out of use, the knowledge of how to read and write them disappeared. In the early years of the nineteenth century, some 1400 years later, scholars were able to use the Greek inscription on this stone as the key to decipher them.
Thomas Young, an English physicist, was the first to show that some of the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone wrote the sounds of a royal name, that of Ptolemy. The French scholar Jean-François Champollion then realized that hieroglyphs recorded the sound of the Egyptian language and laid the foundations of our knowledge of ancient Egyptian language and culture.
Soldiers in Napoleon’s army discovered the Rosetta Stone in 1799 while digging the foundations of an addition to a fort near the town of el-Rashid (Rosetta). On Napoleon’s defeat, the stone became the property of the British under the terms of the Treaty of Alexandria (1801) along with other antiquities that the French had found.
The Stonehenge, believed to be built between 3000 BC to 2000 BC, is a prehistoric monument in the English county of Wiltshire.
Stonehenge is made of the remains of a ring of standing stones, and is one of the most famous sites in the world. Showing such large degrees of sophistication of architectural design for a prehistoric megalithic monument, the Stonehenge is too a highly significant complex, which offers us great insight into the era in which it was built, namely the funerary and ceremonial practices in Britain in the Neolithic and Bronze Age.
Stonehenge, Avebury and their associated sites represent a masterpiece of human creative genius of the Neolithic age.
The site of Stonehenge and Avebury is the best-known ensemble circular megalithic characteristic of the Neolithic civilization in Britain. A number of satellite sites make it possible to better understand the more famous sites by situating them in a broader context.
Stonehenge, which was built in several distinct phases from 3100 to 1100 BC, is one of the most impressive megalithic monuments in the world on account of the sheer size of the menhirs, and especially the perfection of the plan, which is based upon a series of concentric circles, and also because of its height: from the third phase of construction on, large lintels were placed upon the vertical blocks, thereby creating a type of bonded entablature. For the constructions two different materials were used: irregular sandstone blocks known as sarsens, quarried in a plain near Salisbury and bluestones quarried about 200 km away in Pembroke County, Wales. An avenue with a bend in it leads to and away from the exterior circle.
Although the ritual function of the monument is not known in detail, the cosmic references of its structure appear to be essential. The old theory that the site was a sanctuary for worship of the Sun, although not the subject of unanimous agreement among prehistorians, is nevertheless illustrated by the yearly Midsummer Day ceremony during which there is a folkloric procession of bards and druids at Stonehenge.
Avebury (about 30 km to the north), although not so well known as Stonehenge, is nevertheless Europe’s largest circular megalithic ensemble. Its exterior circle comprises some 100 menhirs. In all, 180 standing stones were put into place before the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC, as demonstrated by abundant ceramic samples found on the site. There are four avenues (of which only the southern one, West Kennet Avenue, is still lined with megaliths) leading to the four cardinal points of the ‘sanctuary’.
Not far from Avebury, among a several satellite sites, are to be found Silbury Hill, where Europe’s largest known barrow of prehistoric times is located, as well as Windmill Hill, West Kennet Long Barrow, and Overton Hill.
Photo courtesy Angeles Mosquera
The ‘Queen of the Night’ Relief, also known as the Burney Relief.
Old Babylonian, 1800-1750 BC. Courtesy & currently located at the British Museum, London.
The Queen of the Night, renamed by the British Museum after their purchase of the artifact in 2003, this relief is one of the most recognizable ancient Mesopotamian artworks discovered to date. It originates from Southern Iraq, though the exact site in which it was found is unknown, as the relief was not archaeologically excavated.
In addition to the relief’s distinctive iconography, the high relief and large size suggests that it was used as a cult relied, which makes it a very rare survival from the period. Though the authenticity of this object has been questioned from its first appearance in the 1930s, over the later decades, the opinion of authenticity has generally moved in its favor.
Artifact statement from the British Museum:
This large plaque is made of baked straw-tempered clay, modelled in high relief. The figure of the curvaceous naked woman was originally painted red. She wears the horned headdress characteristic of a Mesopotamian deity and holds a rod and ring of justice, symbols of her divinity. Her long multi-coloured wings hang downwards, indicating that she is a goddess of the Underworld. Her legs end in the talons of a bird of prey, similar to those of the two owls that flank her. The background was originally painted black, suggesting that she was associated with the night. She stands on the backs of two lions, and a scale pattern indicates mountains.
The figure could be an aspect of the goddess Ishtar, Mesopotamian goddess of sexual love and war, or Ishtar’s sister and rival, the goddess Ereshkigal who ruled over the Underworld, or the demoness Lilitu, known in the Bible as Lilith. The plaque probably stood in a shrine.
The same goddess appears on small, crude, mould-made plaques from Babylonia from about 1850 to 1750 BC. Thermoluminescence tests confirm that the ‘Queen of the Night’ relief was made between 1765 and 45 BC.
The Codex Zouche-Nuttall, pre-Columbian piece of Mixtec writing, currently located at the British Museum, London. Late Postclassic period, from Mexico.
It is one of three codices that record the genealogies, alliances and conquests of several 11th- and 12th-century rulers of a small Mixtec city-state in highland Oaxaca, the Tilantongo kingdom, especially under the leadership of the warrior Lord Eight Deer Jaguar Claw (who died early twelfth century at the age of fifty-two).
Artifact statement from the the British Museum:
This is one of a small number of known Mexican codices (screenfold manuscript books) dating to pre-Hispanic times. It is made of deer skin and comprises 47 leaves. The Codex contains two narratives: one side of the document relates the history of important centres in the Mixtec region, while the other, starting at the opposite end, records the genealogy, marriages and political and military feats of the Mixtec ruler, Eight Deer Jaguar-Claw. This ruler is depicted at top centre, next to his calendric name (8 circles and a deer’s head).
Very few Mesoamerican pictorial documents have survived destruction and it is not clear how the Codex Zouche-Nuttall reached Europe. In 1859 it turned up in a Dominican monastery in Florence. Years later, Sir Robert Curzon, 14th Baron Zouche (1810-73), loaned it to The British Museum. His books and manuscripts were inherited by his sister, who donated the Codex to the Museum in 1917. The Codex was first published by Zelia Nuttall in 1902.
Artist spotlight: Jōchō Busshi (定朝), Japanese sculptor of the Heian period, died 1057 AD.
He popularized the yosegi technique of sculpting a single figure out of many pieces of wood, and he redefined the canon used to create Buddhist imagery. His style spread across Japan and defined Japanese sculpture for the next 150 years. Today, art historians cite Jōchō as “the first of a new kind of master sculptor” and “one of the most innovative artists Japan has ever produced”.
The work shown above, Amida Nyorai, by Jōchō, measures 295cm high, dates to 1053, is made of wood covered in gold leaf, and is currently located at the Phoenix Hall (Byōdō-in), a Buddhist temple in the city of Uji in Kyoto Prefecture, Japan.
Amida Nyorai is unfortunately the only authentic example of Jōchō’s work still extant. The expression of the image, which is tender and merciful, differs from that of older statues in that the eyes are directed down toward the worshiper, establishing a direct and intimate psychological relationship between him and the Buddha.
Photo taken by Kosigrim
The Nazca Lines, a series of ancient geoglyphs located in the Nazca Desert in southern Peru, 400-650 AD.
The lines are shallow designs made in the ground by removing the reddish pebbles and uncovering the whitish/grayish ground beneath. Hundreds are simple lines or geometric shapes; more than seventy are zoomorphic designs of animals such as birds, fish, llamas, jaguar, monkey, or human figures. Other designs include phytomorphic shapes such as trees and flowers.
The largest figures are over 200 metres across. Scholars differ in interpreting the purpose of the designs, but in general they ascribe religious significance to them. Other theories have been summarized as follows:
“The geometric ones could indicate the flow of water or be connected to rituals to summon water. The spiders, birds, and plants could be fertility symbols. Other possible explanations include: irrigation schemes or giant astronomical calendars.”
Due to the dry, windless, and stable climate of the plateau and its isolation, for the most part the lines have been preserved. Extremely rare changes in weather may temporarily alter the general designs. As of recent years, the lines have been deteriorating due to an influx of squatters inhabiting the lands.
The history and meaning of the Ancient Eygptian Ankh- a symbol used very commonly in Egyptian art.
The ankh, also known as key of life, was the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic character that read “eternal life”. Egyptian gods are often portrayed carrying it by its loop, or bearing one in each hand, arms crossed over their chest.
The ankh appears frequently in Egyptian tomb paintings and other art, often at the fingertips of a god or goddess in images that represent the deities of the afterlife conferring the gift of life on the dead person’s mummy; this is thought to symbolize the act of conception.
The origin of the symbol remains a mystery to Egyptologists, and no single hypothesis has been widely accepted.
The relief shown is from the West Bank of the Nile near the Valley of the Kings, Hatchepsut temple.
The Ancient Roman Pantheon (meaning “to every god”), is the most preserved and influential building of ancient Rome, commissioned by Marcus Agrippa as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome, and rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in about 126 AD.
Still seen today as one of the largest architectural triumphs in history, the Romans, using classical Greek orders, created the world’s largest dome made of unreinforced solid concrete, a technique so extremely difficult to carry out, that is it rarely attempted in modern day architecture. The centre piece was the key to the structure, evenly distributing the enormous weight throughout the rest of the arch.
The light created by the centre piece would progress around the temple through the day, shining on each one of the statues of the gods in the temple at a certain time every day.