Prehistoric rock art maps cosmological belief

Jun 19, 2013
This art features a bird holding ceremonial maces and a ceremonial monolithic axe transforming into a human face. Credit: Jan Simek, Alan Cressler, Nicholas Herrmann and Sarah Sherwood/Antiquity Publications Ltd.

It is likely some of the most widespread and oldest art in the United States. Pieces of rock art dot the Appalachian Mountains, and research by University of Tennessee, Knoxville, anthropology professor Jan Simek finds each engraving or drawing is strategically placed to reveal a cosmological puzzle.

Recently, the discoveries of prehistoric have become more common. With these discoveries comes a single giant one—all these drawing and engravings map the prehistoric peoples' cosmological world.

The research led by Simek, president emeritus of the UT system and a distinguished professor of science, is published in this month's edition of the journal Antiquity. The paper is co-authored by Nick Herrmann of Mississippi State University, Alan Cressler of the U.S. Geological Survey and Sarah Sherwood of The University of the South.

The researchers proposed that rock art changed the to reflect a three-dimensional universe central to the religion of the prehistoric Mississippian period.

"Our findings provide a window into what Native American societies were like beginning more than 6,000 years ago," said Simek. "They tell us that the prehistoric peoples in the Cumberland Plateau, a section of the , used the rather distinctive upland environment to map their conceptual universe onto the natural world in which they lived."

Simek and his team analyzed 44 open- air art sites where the art is exposed to light and 50 cave art sites in the Cumberland Plateau using nondestructive, high-tech tools, such as a high-resolution . Through analysis of the depictions, colors, and spatial organization, they found that the sites mimic the Southeastern native people's cosmological principles.

"The cosmological divisions of the universe were mapped onto the physical landscape using the relief of the Cumberland Plateau as a topographic canvas," said Simek.

The "upper world" included celestial bodies and weather forces personified in mythic characters that exerted influences on the human situation. Mostly open-air art sites located in high elevations touched by the sun and stars feature these images. Many of the images are drawn in the color red, which was associated with life.

The "middle world" represented the natural world. A mixture of open air and cave art sites hug the middle of the plateau and feature images of people, plants and animals of mostly secular character.

The "lower world" was characterized by darkness and danger, and was associated with death, transformation and renewal. The art sites, predominantly found in caves, feature otherworldly characters, supernatural serpents and dogs that accompanied dead humans on the path of souls. The inclusion of creatures such as birds and fish that could cross the three layers represents the belief that the boundaries were permeable. Many of these images are depicted in the color black, which was associated with death.

"This layered universe was a stage for a variety of actors that included heroes, monsters and creatures that could cross between the levels," Simek said.

Interestingly, weapons are rarely featured in any of the art sites.

Simek said the scale of the rendering is most impressive, noting the Cumberland Plateau was a sacred setting, spanning hundreds of miles, in which individual sites were only parts of a greater conceptual whole.

Explore further: Violent aftermath for the warriors at Alken Enge

More information: antiquity.ac.uk/ant/087/ant0870430.htm

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TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (12) Jun 19, 2013
This only indicates that the god meme has been around for a very long time. Like jupiters great red storm, we can expect it to die out sooner or later, one way or the other.

Stories told by old men only trying to justify their next free meal. Like art or philosophy or politics.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (10) Jun 19, 2013
The dodecahedron used as the symbol fifth element, aether or Universe brings the resemblance of structure of dark matter and heteorotic nested condensation of dense particle systems, like the planetary systems described with Tite-Body law.

dedecahedron model of solar system

In connection to newly revealed rectangular shape of Milky Way galaxy the following question arises: wasn't the swastika used as a "wheel of suns", i.e. cosmic symbol in eastern countries or with North America Indians? It would point to cosmological origin of symbols of sacred geometry.
HannesAlfven
1.6 / 5 (13) Jun 19, 2013
Re: "This only indicates that the god meme has been around for a very long time. Like jupiters great red storm, we can expect it to die out sooner or later, one way or the other."

This is a very hermeneutic response, insofar as you are re-interpreting the perspective of ancient peoples' through the more modern lens of the contrast between science and religion.

We can see from epigenetics that when a rat's mother refuses to touch the baby rats, that the behavior becomes encoded within the genetics. Many of the archetypes we see observed discussed by numerous mythological traditions appear to pertain specifically to angry gods. There is a very legitimate question to be raised with respect to why we even have a tradition of fearing apocalypses and global catastrophes. Have prior global catastrophes been encoded into our genes?

Anthony Peratt has published a number of papers on these petroglyphs which correlate them with high-intensity plasma discharges. And this raises many q's ...
Protoplasmix
1 / 5 (5) Jun 19, 2013
This only indicates that the god meme has been the around for a very long time.

Indeed, it exceeds the bounds of time and space.
Like jupiters great red storm, we can expect it to die out sooner or later, one way or the other

The elements of truth, itself an element of the 'meme', don't change. In "1+1=2" the symbols and their order are an invention but the essence of the expression can be dropped into a black hole or plunged into a multiverse of different physical constants and it will remain the same. It's worthwhile noting that such abstraction is not limited by physicality like the speed of light, and I think that's one of the main reasons quantum computers take less time to produce the resolution or result.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.7 / 5 (11) Jun 19, 2013
This is a very hermeneutic response, insofar as you are re-interpreting the perspective of ancient peoples' through the more modern lens of the contrast between science and religion
Superstition is superstition. Bullshit is bullshit. How many times have you heard THAT before eh?

For instance
The elements of truth, itself an element of the 'meme', don't change. In "1+1=2" the symbols and their order are an invention but the essence of the expression can be dropped into a black hole or plunged into a multiverse of different physical constants and it will remain the same. It's worthwhile noting that such abstraction is not limited by physicality like the speed of light
Protoplasmix
1.6 / 5 (7) Jun 19, 2013
Ghost, there's nothing superstitious or false about things like maths and fundamental principles like symmetry, conservation, equivalence and others. A die has only six sides while truth, it is said, has many sides. And you may want to check on the definition of philosophy...
HannesAlfven
1.7 / 5 (11) Jun 19, 2013
Re: "Superstition is superstition. Bullshit is bullshit."

It's interesting that you imagine that you know a subject from simply labeling it with a couple of words, which on the face of it, actually seem designed to invite ignorance in those listening to you. What it means to be human is -- like it or not -- tied to our cognitive origins. This intellect that you use to critique your own ancestors actually came from those very people and their experiences. And whether or not you want to accept it, we now know from epigenetics that those peoples' lives can still be exerting some influence upon your own thought. In fact, the more you resist knowing about those people and their lives, the more likely that it perhaps IS influencing you. If you authentically wish to break free from their influence, one would imagine that you would welcome further investigation and perspectives to explain the origins of the petroglyphs and the mythological archetypes.
animah
3 / 5 (2) Jun 19, 2013
Ghost, I would suggest projecting modern concepts onto ancient beliefs is of very limited utility, as is the opposite i.e. projecting ancient beliefs onto the modern world (ala xian and muslim fundies etc).

Proto, I'm really sorry but you're posting nonsense, and it's not a matter of opinion but basic math: 1+1=2 is NOT some sort of constant. Not only can the expression NOT be plunged into a black hole, it can't even be accelerated at any speed since Isaac Newton passed away. Hint: in E=MC2, C tends towards 1. What happens when C changes?
cantdrive85
1.9 / 5 (13) Jun 20, 2013
This article in 'Archaeology' explains how Dr. Peratt has found an indisputable correlation between rock art and what would have been an intense "auroral storm" that occurred in prehistory.
http://www.plasma...2008.pdf

And here is Dr. Peratt's paper.

http://www.plasma...3clr.pdf

That's quite the myopic viewpoint blotto, I would agree that YOUR ancestors are as stupid as you think they are.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (8) Jun 20, 2013
Lets take a moment and deconstruct this crap:
simply labeling it with a couple of words, which on the face of it, actually seem designed to invite ignorance in those listening to you
I was commenting on a story about

"celestial bodies and weather forces personified in mythic character...darkness and danger, and was associated with death, transformation and renewal. The art sites, predominantly found in caves, feature otherworldly characters, supernatural serpents and dogs that accompanied dead humans on the path of souls...birds and fish that could cross the three layers"

-So what exactly do the path of souls, supernatural serpents, monsters, and animals flying around in the metaphysical, haveanything to do with understanding

"the natural world... people, plants and animals of mostly secular character."

-? Just when did people begin substituting fairy tales for reality? And why do you think this is noble or admirable just because it is prehistoric?
cont>
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (8) Jun 20, 2013
What it means to be human is -- like it or not -- tied to our cognitive origins
-And you misuse big words, a common mistake of pretentious people.

Cognition
1.The mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.
2.A result of this; a perception, sensation, or intuition.

The scientific method is natural and innate to any species. Our cognition enables us to interact successfully with our environment. Superstition subverts this process. It is anathema to survival. It reduces the ability of individuals to think for themselves and survive independent of authority.

You recognize the dangers that superstition poses to science and freedom today. Here we have evidence of its origins. Instead of perhaps learning about the meme started, you want to call it science and excuse it.

It is not evidence of trying to understand nature, but of reducing the independence of people to make them subservient to priests and rulers.
cont>
HannesAlfven
1.7 / 5 (11) Jun 20, 2013
Re: "So what exactly do the path of souls, supernatural serpents, monsters, and animals flying around in the metaphysical, haveanything to do with understanding ... "the natural world... people, plants and animals of mostly secular character.""

It's actually a completely legitimate question, given that what we see today is completely stable. But, you also surely know what a transient event is. And you have also likely read articles by NASA suggesting that being hit by an X-class flare would be devastating. But, what would it really be like to be slammed by a direct hit of a huge cloud of charged particles? Actually, we know very little about this.

What you've unfortunately done is internalized the uniformitarian worldview into your beliefs about what the future holds. And yet, you can also plainly see that prior cultures did the exact opposite by making calendars that were oftentimes designed to predict some distant future event.

Ask yourself: Why did they do that?
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (9) Jun 20, 2013
This art is one more example of the early use of deception in controlling people and maintaining power. It is in no way an indication of trying to understand anything. For instance it suspends cognition when describing animals and people which can live and die and live again.

This has nothing to do with experience and everything to do with giving people what they want more than anything else in the world - the ability for themselves and their loved ones to escape death.
rock art and what would have been an intense "auroral storm" that occurred in prehistory
?? Priests and shamans have been predicting eclipses to wow the rubes for millenia. So what? They understood astronomy but never had the intention of giving this knowledge to the people. They gave them astrology instead, which was far more suited to earning a living.
HannesAlfven
1.7 / 5 (11) Jun 20, 2013
Re: "The scientific method is natural and innate to any species."

This is actually a topic in philosophy of science, and you will find that it's actually rather debatable. It's not something we should all just accept. After all, if science came naturally, then there'd be no need for a "scientific attitude" of open-mindedness to new ideas to protect the inferential step from psychological and sociological forces. But, go into any forum online, and you'll see a natural aversion to new ideas, and even a failure to judge those ideas on the basis of their claims. This is not science. It's people trying to make snap judgments without doing the work of a scientist. They're taking shortcuts.

Re: "Superstition subverts this process. It is anathema to survival."

That depends upon the origin of superstition actually -- something which you seem to be refusing to investigate. Why did so many cultures make sacrifices to the gods, for instance? We should try to know where this came from.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (9) Jun 20, 2013
It's actually a completely legitimate question, given that what we see today is completely stable
Superstition today is completely stable? Are you having trouble expressing yourself alvin?
But, you also surely know what a transient event is
Are souls and supernatural serpents transient events?
And you have also likely read articles by NASA suggesting that being hit by an X-class flare would be devastating
And what does this have to do with 'birds and fish that could cross the three layers'?
But, what would it really be like to be slammed by a direct hit of a huge cloud of charged particles? Actually, we know very little about this
-And superstition is wholly incapable of informing us on these issues, is it?
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.5 / 5 (10) Jun 20, 2013
It's actually a completely legitimate question
Its an illegitimate question invented millenia ago by scheisters and con men and lame cave wall artistes. It has been however wildly successful hasnt it? We are suffering the ruinous consequences today. Religion continues to insist that they can explain the world far better than scientists, and continue to force the issue in our courts and classrooms.
This is actually a topic in philosophy of science
Uh huh. Philos are for all intents and purposes religionists. Just ask any scientist. Ask hawking and dawkins and feinman and krauss et al.
and you will find that it's actually rather debatable. It's not something we should all just accept
Natural selection depends upon the successful interaction with the environment. Animals that would stop to pray while being pursued by predators would lose their reproductive rights. This is true with martyrs as well.
HannesAlfven
1.7 / 5 (11) Jun 20, 2013
Re: "This has nothing to do with experience and everything to do with giving people what they want more than anything else in the world - the ability for themselves and their loved ones to escape death."

Again, you're claiming that you know why these people drew these images, based upon your own modern experiences, while simultaneously dissuading others who are aware of the mistake you're making from asking deeper questions about the content of these messages. It's a weaker case than you think.

One big problem with this approach is that it assumes that the world was exactly the same when they drew those pictures. It's not your fault for making this mistake; you've simply inherited it from all of the popular science articles you've read that suggest it.

But, can I suggest that this is incredibly simplistic and even unscientific? Science is supposed to stick to testable claims, and the assumption that the world never undergoes dramatic transient events is an untestable assumption.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (9) Jun 20, 2013
Again, you're claiming that you know why these people drew these images
No, I am claiming that

"celestial bodies and weather forces personified in mythic character...darkness and danger, and was associated with death, transformation and renewal. The art sites, predominantly found in caves, feature otherworldly characters, supernatural serpents and dogs that accompanied dead humans on the path of souls...birds and fish that could cross the three layers"

-have nothing to do with understanding the physical world. Do they?
based upon your own modern experiences
These things are no more real today than they were then. Religion is however very real. These notions are religious, not scientific, as they are not REAL.
One big problem with this approach is that it assumes that the world was exactly the same when they drew those pictures
Ahaahaaa so you think that flying serpents and souls were real back then? This explains a lot.
HannesAlfven
1.7 / 5 (11) Jun 20, 2013
Re: "Are souls and supernatural serpents transient events?"

This is the first good question you've asked, actually. The soul and serpent archetypes can indeed be argued to have a transient event origin, based upon what we know of cosmic and laboratory plasmas. In fact, I believe that this is the case which Rens van der Sluijs has meticulously put together in his new publications on the archetypes. Please read about it before criticizing it.

Re: "Religion continues to insist that they can explain the world far better than scientists, and continue to force the issue in our courts and classrooms."

By the way, petroglyphs were drawn prior to the religions which you are largely familiar with. Many probably even predate mythology itself.

You seem to have decided that religion is the boogeyman, and this seems to be obscuring the fact that the petroglyphs pertain to a period of time which more-or-less predates religion. These are not minor details.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (9) Jun 20, 2013
But, can I suggest that this is incredibly simplistic and even unscientific?
No, I would suggest that flying snakes and boogy monsters is incredibly simplistic.
Science is supposed to stick to testable claims
-So how are flying snakes and boogy monsters in any way testable? And why are you claiming that cave art which depicts these things is in any way scientific??
and the assumption that the world never undergoes dramatic transient events is an untestable assumption
Right. This is the same logic that religionists use to defend the flood. Science tells us that it never happened. Unequivocally.
By the way, petroglyphs were drawn prior to the religions which you are largely familiar with. Many probably even predate mythology itself
So what makes you think they are not of the same ilk? By the by, the netherworld IS mythology. The soul IS mythology. Supernatural serpents ARE mythology.

Prehistoric shamans never saw these things and yet claimed they were real.
HannesAlfven
1.7 / 5 (11) Jun 20, 2013
Re: "have nothing to do with understanding the physical world. Do they?"

But, by physical world, you actually mean "current physical world".

Re: "These notions are religious, not scientific, as they are not REAL."

You're confusing people. How can petroglyphs be "religious" if they predate religion? Your argument is a non-sequiter.

There are very significant differences between religion and mythology. In a general sense, religions generally originate from mythology. We can see that this is why they share many features. But, the bigger, more important question is:

Why do the mythological archetypes, from all sides of the globe, share so many features? This was a very, very long time ago -- on the order of 5,000 - 10,000 years ago. How is it that numerous cultures even knew what a dragon was? Did they build ships? Or, did they see something in the sky?

Rather than just assuming that we know, we should investigate, as a scientist would.
HannesAlfven
1.7 / 5 (11) Jun 20, 2013
Re: "This is the same logic that religionists use to defend the flood. Science tells us that it never happened."

Again, you seem to not realize that the stories of a global flood predate religion. You shouldn't be talking about things for which you lack the basic timeline for. This is a waste of time.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.4 / 5 (11) Jun 20, 2013
There are very significant differences between religion and mythology
NO theres NOT. Jesus is as unreal as paul bunyan.
Rather than just assuming that we know, we should investigate, as a scientist would
We have. There are no leprechauns or garden fairies or earth mothers or lost solomonic kingdoms buried in the sand. There WAS no flood.

If you had any respect for science at all you could acknowledge these things and stop spewing crap.
Again, you seem to not realize that the stories of a global flood predate religion
NO they come from earlier RELIGIONS.
cantdrive85
1.8 / 5 (10) Jun 20, 2013
If these people witnessed a spectacular "auroral storm" or some fantastic celestial event, how would they go about describing such an event? If it were something that has never observed before or since, could it not be described as supernatural to these people? Let's take "supernatural serpents" as an example. One prehistoric archetype found worldwide is the "Ouroborus", a serpent that is "eating it's own tail" so to speak. It is a archetype that is significant to many religions and mythologies worldwide. What was the origin of this archtype?
http://en.wikiped...uroboros
If the Earth encountered what HA has suggested could that help explain this serpent? Well yes, take a look at this image of polar storms on Saturn.
http://cdn.physor...eget.jpg

You can clearly see that Ouroborus form surrounding the central hurricane. Here is a physical entity that embodies a prehistoric archetype, one that may appear supernatural.

HannesAlfven
1.7 / 5 (11) Jun 20, 2013
You seem to be unaware that people have been meticulously studying mythology for at least a century now. There are enigmas with the mythological archetypes, and they demand explanation. There are many very serious works on this subject to choose from. But, the problem is that people like yourself decide to not learn about the discipline, and then create a lot of noise that turns people off to the subject.

When you have a former advisor to the Department of Energy and a peer reviewer for IEEE's Transactions on Plasma Science (Anthony Peratt) studying many dozens of enigmatic similarities between plasma instabilities and ancient rock art, it's time for people to pay attention. This is very serious business. There is a risk that these drawings represent transient events.

Your discussion of religion is completely irrelevant to the petroglyphs. Religion came after these drawings were made.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.1 / 5 (11) Jun 20, 2013
If these people witnessed a spectacular "auroral storm" or some fantastic celestial event, how would they go about describing such an event? If it were something that has never observed before or since, could it not be described as supernatural to these people? Let's take "supernatural serpents" as an example
This is not true. They would describe what their senses would tell them; ie bright lights, heat, noise, pressure.

But in the throes of the religion meme they might substitute the phony images of snakes and flying harpies that their priests had implanted in their imaginations. And so they would lose any chance of understanding, while their priests would win another free meal.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.9 / 5 (9) Jun 20, 2013
Your discussion of religion is completely irrelevant to the petroglyphs. Religion came after these drawings were made
Not according to the scientists who wrote the paper you dimwit.

"Sacred landscapes of the south-eastern USA: prehistoric rock and cave art in Tennessee"

"Sacred
1: dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity
2: worthy of religious veneration : holy"
cantdrive85
1.7 / 5 (12) Jun 20, 2013
This is not true. They would describe what their senses would tell them; ie bright lights, heat, noise, pressure.
But in the throes of the religion meme they might substitute the phony images of snakes and flying harpies that their priests had implanted in their imaginations. And so they would lose any chance of understanding, while their priests would win another free meal.

Once again, your timelines are skewed. Priests came AFTER these events, AS A RESPONSE TO THESE FANTASTIC EVENTS witnessed by humans trying to relate to their experience. These could have been very destructive events, as recorded in ancient texts, and these actions by the "gods" is what instilled the "fear of god" by the prehistoric peoples.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.2 / 5 (10) Jun 20, 2013
This is not true. They would describe what their senses would tell them; ie bright lights, heat, noise, pressure.
But in the throes of the religion meme they might substitute the phony images of snakes and flying harpies that their priests had implanted in their imaginations. And so they would lose any chance of understanding, while their priests would win another free meal.

Once again, your timelines are skewed. Priests came AFTER these events
"While first emerging in Ancient Egypt, the Ouroboros has been important in religious and mythological symbolism"

-And you dont know what a priest is.

2. a minister of any religion.
3. one whose office it is to perform religious rites...

-I am getting a little weary of educating you morons.
cantdrive85
2 / 5 (12) Jun 20, 2013
This is not true. They would describe what their senses would tell them; ie bright lights, heat, noise, pressure.


They did, you choose to ignore this by saying these people are stupid and we should disregard everything they tried to communicate to us because this is the "scientific" thing to do.
Protoplasmix
1.7 / 5 (6) Jun 20, 2013
Proto, I'm really sorry but you're posting nonsense, and it's not a matter of opinion but basic math: 1+1=2 is NOT some sort of constant.

Yet the laws of physics are observed to be everywhere the same. While it's true that you can derive a different value for pi by projecting a circle onto a curved surface, or have the interior angles of a triangle add up to a value greater than 180° by doing the same thing, you can only discern that with proper application of the maths. If I asserted maths as being nonlocal, would that be nonsensic
Protoplasmix
1.7 / 5 (6) Jun 20, 2013
nonsensic > nonsensical?
Not only can the expression NOT be plunged into a black hole, it can't even be accelerated at any speed since Isaac Newton passed away. Hint: in E=MC2, C tends towards 1. What happens when C changes?

I may not be doing the best job at conveying the point but that question makes it by showing that nothing physical has any effect. Uh, sqrt(1-v^2/c^2) tends toward zero and if c changes then atoms wouldn't be able to form?
Protoplasmix
1.8 / 5 (5) Jun 20, 2013
In GR it's said that matter curves spacetime and the curved spacetime tells the matter which way to move. QM has the terms of wavefunctions where energy changes the terms and the wavefunction (maths with real and imaginary parts) constrains the result.
- - -
The 'topographic canvas' of ancient art looks to me like it may (also) have been a school of sorts. Nice to be able to send a message to people 6000 years in the future using just rocks.
NikFromNYC
1.8 / 5 (5) Jun 21, 2013
You guys don't exist on the Upper West Side, damn it. These replies are deeply awesome.