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Prehistoric Art - Cosmoloy

Did our Prehistoric Ancestors Hold Advanced Cosmological Knowledge?

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New research published in the journal Antiquity suggests that prehistoric humans had advanced cosmological knowledge which is reflected in their rock art scattered around the Appalachian Mountains in eastern North America.

Anthropology Professor Jan Simek of the University of Tennessee made the discovery while examining the engravings and drawings found in open-air sites and in caves throughout the Appalachian Mountains, which was first inhabited by Native American hunter-gatherers over 16,000 years ago.

Using a high-resolution laser scanner, researchers found that the depictions, colours and spacial organisation match the native people’s cosmological world. The prehistoric people appear to have used rock art to reflect a three-dimensional universe which was central to their religion of the prehistoric Mississippian period.

"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 cosmological principles of our ancient ancestors appear to involve an upper world, characterized by celestial bodies personified in mythic characters and featuring sun and star depictions; a middle world, representing nature such as people, plants and animals; and a lower world, characterized by darkness and danger and reflected in images of death, transformation and renewal. 

Interestingly, the three levels appear to be reflected in the locations in which they are found with upper world imagery located in open-air sites at high elevations, middle world imagery found in a mixture of open air and cave sites close to the middle of the plateau, and lower world imagery found in the depths of caves.

"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.

The findings provide an insight into the complex Native American societies more than 6,000 years ago and suggest that our prehistoric ancestors were more advanced that initially believed.

By April Holloway

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