Thursday, June 30, 2011

Some Really Weird Bronze Age Petroglyphs

At a place called Kangjiashimenji in western China, where the Tien Shan Mountains meet the Taklimakan Desert of the Tarim Basin, somebody carved a large scene onto the rocks. It probably dates to the Bronze Age, when the basin was wetter and more fertile.

The figures range in size from 10 cm to 2.5 m (8 feet), and there are dozens. The whole tableau measures about 6.5 by 16 meters (22 x 51 feet). But what are they doing?

In this detailed analysis, Jeannine Davis-Kimball argues that this is the depiction of a procession and ritual involving a great deal of sex, and therefore devoted to fertility.

Davis-Kimball thinks the figure on the left is a shaman wearing a monkey mask. There are certainly lots of sexual images here. Davis-Kimball also thinks she can divide the figures into male and female body types, and that since some of the female bodies have phalluses, those are bisexual figures. The monkey shaman, she says, is one of these bisexual figures.

But what's with all the severed heads? Or the dogs and the tigers? The bows and arrows?

This is the sort of thing that fascinates me about the Bronze Age, a world that lies just beyond anything we can really see and understand.

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