Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?

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I ran across a story about some mesolithic deer masks now on display in England. Pictured above. Found at the Star Carr site in England, dating to around 11,000 years ago. The mesolithic means they were no longer stone age hunters hunting big game, but had started to settle down and utilize a wider variety of food sources. So villages, houses, fishing nets, textiles and pottery even, but no agriculture. That’s the neolithic, which started about 5,000 years ago in Europe. These were very much modern humans though, just as smart as anyone today. And they had language, but no written language.

And while their scientific understanding of the world would be lacking, they would have had remarkable knowledge about the various plants and animals in the natural world around them. What was edible, how to prepare it, medicinal herbs, the seasons … to a depth and detail that would be breathtaking to one of us, raised cocooned from the natural world. I’m not trying to make a noble savage case, just trying to point out they were different from us, but not primitive in any meaningful lifestyle way. If a hundred of us and a hundred of them had to contest naked for possession of an island, they’d be feasting on the last of us in no time.

So yes, the deer skull masks, they were what got me here. They were found at Star Carr, a remarkably preserved mesolithic site in England. Usually from 11,000 years ago all we have are stones and bones, often only stones. At Star Carr we have tons of those, plus all sorts of wood artifacts preserved too. So it’s a wonderful snapshot of life in the mesolithic. However, since they left to written records, there are some big gaps in our knowledge. While we have a pretty good idea what the useful objects we find are for, what non useful objects were for is still a mystery.

And this is where we get back to the deer skull masks. What the heck were they used for? No one as yet has come up with a practical use for them. One suggested they might have been used (with hide still on them I suppose) for camouflage when hunting deer. There has not been a chorus of approval from other archeologists, who question just how stupid a deer would have to be to be fooled by a human in a deer mask. It’s reaching in other words. No, the mainstream view is that they were ritual objects, masks to wear during some sort of religious or spiritual purpose.

I guess. There’s certainly plenty of evidence that modern hunter-gatherers use ritual objects. On the other hand I wonder if the modern puritan streak in our culture colours people’s perception. By that I mean the idea that life is full of practical stuff, and what isn’t practical is religious. Humans now spend all sorts of energy doing impractical things. Even modern hunter/gatherers only spend about 20 hours a week on essential stuff like procuring food and shelter. (Wait, only 20 hours a week, why the hell did we invent civilization with 40 plus hour work weeks? Good question.)  1,000 years from archaeologists are going to find we spend enormous amounts of time and money building football stadiums. Will they think our stadiums are cathedrals? Few today would consider football a religious activity, with the exception of New York Jets fans.

So I dunno, I think there’s lots of non-utile possibilities for a deer mask. Games, sports, plays, telling stories to kids, stand up comedy sketches, anything. The possibilities are as endless as the human imagination. Granted half the reason I wrote this post is I think the masks are cool looking. Hell, that might have been the only reason they were made. And as well just how amazing it is that modern science is able to uncover how our ancestors lived. For more Star Carr pictures and information, this link is pretty good.

Coming soon, slaves and Roman fathers. Hope everyone is having a good week. I’m getting over Dick’s death. At least he left his mark. It’s right there on the highway, a big burned spot I will be driving over for years.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: One of the deer masks found at Star Carr. Credit: Unknown, used without permission. I found it on a number of sites with no attribution, and Pixabay. So I’m guessing it’s public domain under US copyright law.)

Written by unitedcats

November 20, 2019 at 6:19 am

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