Now that it is starting to look like we might have some spring weather, Mark and I took the car out for a drive to London to see that ice age art exhibition at the British Museum.
I always enjoy these trips because it gives us a more focused chance to do something constructive and purposeful together, and to talk. Given that the ice age touches on paleoanthropology, Mark could indulge his scientific bent by reading about archaic humans before we went.
Like, he has been reading about the fossils found in 2010 in Chad in Africa which may be the first Hominin fossil. Hominini is the groups of species that make up the group of Homo and others after the split from the Panini group. The Panini group holds the species that make up Chimpanzees and Bonobos, and so on.
The fossils Mark has been reading about are the Sahelanthropus, one of the earliest species of hominini. It appeared right after the split between the Homininis and the Paninis.
Those weren’t the ones that made these figurines and sculptures we saw at the British museum though. Those artists were like us, modern humans, except from forty thousand years ago or so.
As always I feel humbled by the size of the British Museum. It is freaking huge, and you could probably wander in there for days and not see all of the things.
Of the things we saw, they were all fascinating. You couldn’t help trying to imagine the intent of the artists that made them, only to realise that doing so is quite pointless because it is at the beginning of the arc of human culture. When culture can be made unrecognisable over mere centuries – consider our urban culture to that of the mid 19th century agrarian culture – then it is the height of folly to try to imagine what changes forty thousand years bring.
Symbols that would have been so self-evident to the creators of these works that they needn’t be mentioned have been clouded and lost. Therefore, imagining what they tried to say becomes a futile exercise. What remains is to marvel at the basic human traits exhibited in the art. Like, the twenty-six thousand years old ivory portrait of a woman, complete with facial deformities and all. You can relate them to Roman sculptures that did the same thing, in contrast to the idealized forms of Greek art. Then you can sagely nod, and think ‘Nothing new under the sun, eh?’.
I really enjoyed this exhibition, and we’re going to come back in a few days to look at another. This time we’ll move in time and space from the frozen tundra of the ice age to the bustling age of the Roman Empire. They have an exhibition about Pompeii and Herculaneum there as well. However, doing two exhibitions in one day is too much, so we’ll have to go back for the other one.