I Jornadas Internacionais de Promoção do Turismo Cientifico e do Património do Vale do Côa
Mêda (P), Abril 20-24, 2002
Section II : Iconography & Symbolism in the Prehistoric & Protohistoric Cultures

Identificações R & D

Da imagem de nós próprios à assinatura

A identificação escrita, a reconhecida representação gráfica do individual sapiens sapiens,
é o resultado de um longo processo de ... „
R & D".
Surpreendentemente, quer a representação figurativa como a icónica têm sido usadas desde o nascimento das artes gráficas.
Mas a aceitação de "nomes pessoais" tinha que esperar pela invenção da escrita fonética.
Sugerimos que uma vez que alguém ousa representar uma coisa por outra coisa, então,
a principal barreira mental para representar fonemas por signos fica levantada.
O relevante processo genérico envolvido é a redução de signos gráficos em "elementos de repetição" pré-fabricados,
ou grafemas, prontos a serem reunidos de vários modos.
A nossa demonstração será focada em duas letras com caracteres antropomórficos: o "
R & D", ou seja "Rosto e Dedos".

ID's  R & D :
from the image of ourself to signature

A psychologist from Aberdeen, Jan Deregowski has been the first Rock Art researcher to acknowledge that the perceptual aspect of the task of depiction is a process of  the eye-brain system,  therefore a process occurring in, what is suited to call, a normal state of consciousness. DEREGOWSKI has introduced the concept of "typical contour", i.e: one selects the most useful elements for the recognition of the model; each element being represented under its most characteristic or unusual angle. Open-Air Rock Art in the Guadiana and the Douro basins offers numerous illustrations of Palaeolithic "typical contour".
e.g.:  the finely carved Toro of Cheles (Spain):

Toro de Cheles/Guadiana/photo Dubal

The typical contour of the horns being not coplanar with the dominant typical contour of the bull gives rise to a twisted drawing.
Orthogonal view angles give rise to an even more dramatic effect such as in the engraved bovid of Canada do Inferno (Portugal).

canada do inferno/ photo Dubal

In those early days, in the absence of a sufficient language for a satisfactory oral expression,
sapiens sapiens might have found in Rock Art a stimulating activity to "format" his brain.
In order to "express his magical vision of the world", sapiens sapiens had little choice other than to excel in Rock Art.
By the end of Neolithic era, such a privilege role of a particular mode of expression will no longer hold :
orality became more competitive, and a new competitor to Rock Art emerged: ceramic.
Examples of Palaeolithic typical contour of human beings are not so common as those of animals. Fortunately, photographic illustrations of two of them, recently found in the Cave of Cussac, in France, were part of a press release of the Centre National de la Préhistoire.

social role prior to individuality /photo: CNP
A.Nurturing sapiens
archetype VIP / photo: CNP
B.The First Lady


The mouth

As shown in Fig. A & B, only a few strokes, engraved 30'000 years ago in Cussac, suffice to characterize females. Noteworthy, those Gravettian images of sapiens sapiens are faceless and mute. Why ? It might be that the social acceptance of the individual identity is a recent event, maybe bound to the invention of phonetic writing. In Roman times, we know that only the gent name was attributed to women. Even today, the mimetic anonymity of the social role often supersedes individual names, e.g.: numerous grown-up children are naming their parents Mom & Dad. In other words, what is depicted in Cussac might be only a social function: NOT individual women, but the ideal nurturing mother.

After those figurative representations of human female, let us turn to her iconic representations. One of the very first icons has been the pubic triangle. It is in the Chauvet cave, in the French department of Ardèche, that the team of Jean Clottes has found a fine example of this early iconic female representation. Fig. C shows a rough engraving of the pure iconic sign. Standing alone, this icon evokes, without ambiguities, sapiens sapiens of female gender.
15'000 years later, during the Magdalenian period,  appeared as shown in Fig. D, one of the most delicately sculptured pubic triangle, on the Frise Bourdois at Angles-sur-Anglin / F.

With a further jump, by  8'000 years, into the Chalcolithic Era, Rock Art does appear more skeletal compared with the sensual images of the Magdalenian Era. The engraved piece of marble (3 cm long) shown in Fig. E has been found in Portugal. Another Chalcolithic example is the mouthless idol on the stele found in Miandassa" in Italy, see Fig. F. Among the attributes of this idol, Dario Seglie has pointed out the pubic triangle and the three cupmarks depicting the nipples and umbilicus. This idol has several similarities with statue-menhirs, except that here the pubic triangle is still depicted.

By the end of the Neolithic Era, selected graphical signs appeared as reduced into prefabricated "repeat-elements" or graphemes, ready to be assembled in various ways. In the "radiography-like" pictures of insect women, in Helanshan, see Fig. G & H, the pubic triangle icon is used as a dominant attribute of this composed figure.

Later, the pubic triangle icon has been taken over in Sumer in order to become the cuneiform ideogram for "woman" or "female", not carved with a graver, but imprinted into a tablet of soft clay with the wedge of a Reed stylus. As shown in Fig. I, the Acadian word-sign "woman" was developed from a straight line approximation and rotation over 90 degrees from the pubic triangle.  In Fig. J, the cuneiform grapheme (the wedge) is substituted to each of the four strokes of the pubic triangle icon.

Votive stelae of Carthage are providing most perfect examples of the in-formatical mutation, where a graphical sign is reduced to a grapheme ready to be assembled in various ways in order to represent another object than the  original one.  Fig. K shows a mouthless face built-up with two graphemes: for the nose, the triangular sign of the Goddess Tanit and, for the eyes, twice the sign of the couple moon-sun. If the Acadians have used the triangular icon for their ideogram "female", the satellite picture of the Nile's Delta, see Fig. L, reminds us that, the symbolic meaning of mouth has even been extended to rivers, as testified in various languages, e.g.: one speaks of  les bouches du Rhône, in France, of Swakopmund, in (the former German colony of) Namibia, or of  a desembocadura do Tejo, in Portugal. Should one dare to conjecture that the consonantal skeleton "dlt"  had its origin in an ancient language with the meaning of "mouth" ? What is sure is that the anthropomorphic triangular icon might be considered as the graphical prototype of the Latin letter D, and that it lost its original meaning of mouth to get the phonetic value attributed to the hand.  Let us now turn our attention to the avatars of the hand-icon.

iconic representation / photo: Yanik LeGuillou
C. Iconic sapiens
pubic triangle
D. Magdalenian
engraved marble
E. Chalcolithic icon
cesmap idol/photo R. Bosio
F. Miandassa idol
Helanshan "radiography"
G. Radiographic
tactigraphy of a theriantrope
grapheme for female
I. Rotating pubic triangle
woman in writing
J. Female in cuneiform
sacred pubic triangle / tactigraphy
K. Goddess Tanit
as grapheme
Nile's delta from space
L. Nile's  mouth
positive hand / photo: N. Ajoulot
M. Stamped hands
negative hand / photo: N. Ajoulot
N. Stenciled hand

The hand

At the Chauvet cave, see Fig. M, in those early examples of "positive" hand-prints, the coloured "right" hand has been used as a stamp against the wall.  The "page setting" of those hands reflects a prototype organisation of the mental thought. The meaning of this ludo-pictorial message might be "I imprint the traces of my hand, therefore I do exist", after all, the technique of digital print is still used nowadays as a kind of signature.
Not much later than the invention of this printing process appeared another one: the blow printing with stencils. The example shown in Fig. N, is from the Chauvet cave. This reproduction method allows the printing of the so-called "negative" hands. The graphical perfection of hand-icons produced with this method is such that one might guess that it has inhibited the development of the figurative representation of hands in painting.

A recurrent example of the perenniality of the stencil printing process could be the tag shown in Fig. O on a wall near the Castello San Jorge in Lisboa. This left-hand-grapheme seems to be used here as a kind of "quality label".
On another wall, near the Polytechnic Institute of Lisboa, see Fig. P, the sole addition of the tag Palavras brings, in our opinion, a tone of sharp scepticism toward the idyllic charm of the first tag.
The difficulty to interpret correctly this icon of today sheds of course a gloomy light on our abilities to interpret icons produced 30'000 years ago.

In Chalcolithic age, appeared statues-menhir with intriguing representations of the hand.  On the one found in Saint-Sernin, in France, a grapheme made of parallel "digital" strokes represents the scarifications of the face, see Fig. Q. This face has no mouth. Remarkable is the secondary face on this monument, see Fig. R.  It is sketched by the breasts, the Y-shaped pendant (an attribute which might be considered as a substitute to the pubic triangle icon ?), and the hand whose fingers strangely remind the scarification grapheme of the head face. This replica of the face is as mute as the original. This absence of mouth on early statue menhirs seems to testify that orality, or should one say "the verb", has not been sacralized until Bronze Age. Maybe the spoken language was still too crude to be represented, and the message remained a "short memo" of the mute transactions between human and goddesses. By the way, one should notice the typical contour of the feet in Fig. Q. They are drawn as a straight extension of the open legs.

Such a typical contour calls for one of the favourite examples of Jan Deregowski. Fig. S shows Saint Mark and his acolytes on a 17th century Ethiopian manuscript. Fig.T shows a blow-up of the iconic feet of Saint Mark. Those feet are depicted here in an even more twisted way than the ones depicted onto the statue-menhirs.

The technique of engraving for figurative representation of the hand was not popular before the Neolithic era. In Helanshan, in Northern China, it is the left hand which has been used as a model, see Fig. U. The details of the fingers of the hand disappear in hieroglyphic engravings, see Fig V while in Carthage, see Fig. W, the iconic hand demonstrates how effective is the interchange of graphemes. Once one dares to represent something by something else, the main mental barrier to represent phonemes by signs is lifted. After the mastering of the representation of an object by another one, selected "graphemes" have been substituted to spoken sounds.

In Pharaonic Egypt, the commercial transactions have led to code the oral, i.e.: to code the names of the trade partners (men or gods). While both figurative & iconic representations have been used in parallel since Palaeolithic ages, both pictograms & phonograms have been used in parallel in ancient Egypt.
A well proven process for the formation of some alphabetic signs is the so-called acrophonic principle:  one substitutes to the complete name of an object its first "letter". The phoneme is born out of the grapheme. As discovered in royal cartouches by Champollion, the grapheme  lion, lou in Egyptian, has been used to represent the phonetic value "
L". In a same way, the hieroglyph depicting a mouth (or face), "rosh" in Semitic, „rosto" in Portuguese, took the phonetic value "R". The hieroglyph depicting a "hand", say "det" in semitic, took, according to the acrophonic principle, the phonetic value "D", though, as we have seen, the graphical sign had originally another meaning. The zoomorphic letter L and the anthropomorphic letters R & D appear in the royal cartouches of Alexander the Great, see Fig. X, and of  Queen Cleopatra "Qliopadra", see Fig. Y. While one says Alexander, one says Cleopatra, because the "d" slipped toward "t" at the Ptolemaic times.

The social acceptance toward individuals to have their own proper name, has first been granted to the most powerful persons, and probably, those proto-individuals were also habilitated to have their own feelings and their own dreams. In fact, their dreams are the first relevant testimonies we have of how the language structures our way of thinking. In the case of Alexander, Plutarch reported the following poliorcetical dream : In 332 BCE, after having besieged Tyre for seven months, ALEXANDER the Great decided one day to raise the siege. He believed he had lost all chances. Nevertheless, during the following night he dreamt he chase a "satyr" around a fountain. The next morning his counsellor explained to him: "sa", in Greek it means "to you", and "tyr", means. "Tyre will be yours". Indeed, after having dared to dream his victory, he came into Tyre without resistance from the besieged people who, after seven months, could endure no longer. The choice of the symbols is of course depending of the structure of the language, e.g.: Chinese, a language where the written form prevails over the spoken one, will induce dreams "unthinkable" in another language.

In short, sapiens sapiens had to wait for the emergence of trade & writing to have his first chance to develop an individuality in the modern sense of the word, with an ID, not yet an ID-card of course, but a proper name. Before this, only social roles were relevant, and the spoken language was probably too crude to allow the invention of narratives involving supernatural persons, too crude to allow myths.

Léo DUBAL virtual laboratory for archaeometry / dubal (at) archaeomety.org

R&D Rostro y Dedos


quality label ? photo Dubal
O. Lisboet tag
scepticism vs idyllic charm, photo Dubal
P. Composition
mute menhir-statue, photo Dubal
Q: Mute face

grapheme for face, photo Dubal
R.Secondary face?
17th century icon
S. Ethiopian icon

Deregowski's selected feet
T. Typical contour
Helanshan signature, photo Dubal
U. Engraved hand
birth of phonemes R & D /photo: L. Dubal

V. Egyptian hieroglyphs

Punic votive stela/Tactigraphy L. Dubal
W. Punic composition with graphemes
Cartouche of Alexander the Great
X. Alexander's cartouche
Cartouche of Cleopatra
Y. Cleopatra's cartouche

11/04/08 11:32