ALEXANDER MARSHACK — THE ROOTS OF CIVILIZATION — REVISED AND AUGMENTED EDITION — 1991 — A REVIEW
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
Nombre de pages de l’édition imprimée : 80 pages ; Éditions La Dondaine : 8 janvier 2020 ; Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l. ; Langue : Anglais ; ASIN : B083P5XT6R ; Synthèse vocale : Activée ; Word Wise : Activé ; Lecteur d’écran : Pris en charge ; Composition améliorée : Activé .
Alexander Marshack’s book was first written in 1968 and published soon after. The present edition I have explored was entirely re-edited and upgraded by the author in 1991. The research, and the fieldwork, for this book, were done essentially after the Second World War at a time when new techniques and technology were emerging in archaeological research. Marshack assumed what was available and used that the best he could, and as such was able to bring Ice Age archaeology to a new level of understanding. But we must not measure what he wrote and published with the criteria and parameters we can use today in this field where technology and actual research have been speeding up so fast over the last ten or twenty years that have brought up more than the previous seventy years. Yet we have to assess Marshack’s work within the context of today’s knowledge showing not what he missed, but what he could not know, hence centering our evaluation on what he was able to do and he could have done with what he had at his disposal.
What appears clearly today in the field of Paleolithic archaeology is that we need to develop two levels of analysis that were systematically missing before. The first one is linguistic. All these paleolithic paintings, engravings, and sculptures were associated with some language, to be described, to be designated and to be used in what probably was serious rituals. That language was in Europe a set of Turkic dialects that have been saved today by becoming Basque.
But the next development needed today is to understand the social, and cultural position of women in this society only guided by the need to survive and the need to expand. Women were the key and center of this urgency. That’s what Alexander Marshack saw and was not able to exploit, explore, understand. And that’s what this book is all about.
Chapter EIGHT: Conclusion
I will only give a few points of further interest.
1- Homo Sapiens emerged in Black Africa 300,000 years ago from Homo Ergaster that had evolved there, from Homo Erectus that had migrated to the whole of Asia and Europe after migrating to Northern Africa. Homo Erectus evolved to Homo Heidelbergensis in Europe and then this first descendant evolved into Homo Neanderthalensis. We know a lot less about the Denisovans who evolved from Homo Erectus in Central Asia.
2- Homo Sapiens migrated out of Black Africa in three successive migrations that corresponded to the phylogenic evolution of language in Black Africa, each migration corresponding to the completion of the first articulation, then the second and finally the third. These three migrations produced three vast language families that still exist: Semitic, isolating and agglutinative/synthetic-analytical languages
3- Homo Sapiens came into existence when he came out of the forest and had to become a fast-long-distance bipedal runner to hunt and survive in the savanna. This caused the selection of mutations that enabled this emergence, and these mutations provided Homo Sapiens with a respiratory, articulatory and coordinating physiology that made him capable of developing articulated language starting with the rotation of vowels and consonants.
4- This evolution requires a high level of long childcare that required women to take over this responsibility that was crucial for the survival of the species and human communities, and that gave these women a spiritual responsibility too that made them the artists in the caves and outside, those responsible for various rituals, particularly the rituals that supported the Triple Womanhood of impregnation-pregnancy-delivery, and both birth and death.
5- The capital role of childbearing for both the survival and the expansion of the species, and the very narrow window of fertility of women in their menstrual cycles required the communities to observe this cycle and then to ritualized the impregnation of women, probably under the ritual management of some women elite, to guarantee these pregnancies to happen every 16–19 months but also with the necessary interbreeding to avoid any inbreeding, interbreeding with other Homo Sapiens groups, but also with the Neanderthals as long as they were around, or the Denisovans in Asia.
6- This gave rise to not one single goddess but to the Triple Goddess, at times partly or dominantly masculinized after the development of agriculture that shifted these societies from communities with hunting territories to communities attached to the land and with some authority managing the work of everyone and the tilling of the soil. This Triple Goddess should be studied in detail, but some elements of ternary structure can be found in some notations and representations in this book, or beyond.
7- The book contains the proof that the Magdalenians were starting to develop some real writing system with the case of the “P” sign attached to the Basque horse known in Basque a Pottoka. But the numerous notations studied by Marshack may be connected to the Lunar cycle though the only use of this cycle that would be the prediction of eclipses is absent from such readings. They may also correspond to the observation of menstrual cycles, and particularly the follow-up notations of the impregnation and the first months of the pregnancy to make sure it was going to be successful till delivery. This reading is essential to make sure the impregnation is successful and to make sure the first months of the pregnancy are carefully looked after to avoid miscarriages.
8- Altogether this book was important in its time to counterbalance the excessive sexualization and eroticization of Paleolithic societies by Leroi Gourhan for example, but it did not follow the example of Lévi-Strauss he quotes to study the language of these communities. It is difficult to do that when language is purely oral, and we have no trace of it. I believe we could have a lot more traces if we looked for it precisely. The case of the sign ”P” is typical of such possibilities. It is finally interesting to understand the tremendous burden that has to be pushed aside in this field of research and that always intervenes in the name of what we know as if no new knowledge was possible. Things are changing very fast today, but we still have many obstacles on the road to a real understanding of the emergence of Homo Sapiens.