Cultural Studies I Introduction to Culture and its Emergence
Definition of a culture: ‘A culture is a way of thinking and living established by a group of people and transmitted from one generation to the next. It is, in other words, the basis of communal life’. (page 5) QUESTIONS: • What are some assumptions in this definition of culture? • What types or modes of culture does this definition exclude?
‘A civilization is a social, economic, and political entity distinguished by the ability to express itself through images and written languages’. (Page 1, intro to Book One) QUESTION: By this definition of civilization, can you think of any cultures or groups of people who are excluded?
‘We generally judge a culture’s relative success by the quality of the science and art that it creates’. (page 1) QUESTIONS: • What is problematic about this statement? • Who judges the quality of science and art? • What other ways in which a culture or civilization can be considered successful?
Neanderthals and humans mated! http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/07/science/07neanderthal.html New York Times article
Paleolithic Period • Corresponds to Ice Age • People moved south to avoid ice, around Mediterranean, back to Africa, to southern regions of Asia • People were nomadic and followed herds • What we know about this period comes from caves and stone figurines
The images on the walls of the Chauvet Cave in southern France are paintings from 30,000 BCE. They show evidence of many lions in the region, as well as an artist who was adept at observing them.
Woman, Formerly known as the Venus of Willendorf 25,000 BCE (more or less the same era as the Chauvet Caves)
Set of 4 pc cast copy of early Paleolithic art – Magdalene (15,000 – 20,000 years BC). Sculpture of a jumping horse, from AbriMontastruc France, sculpture of a bison with his head turned, perfect representation of movement, La Madeleine, France, sculpture of stylized mammoth, Bruniquel, France, drilled antler, decorated with etching of a bear; the Pekárna Cave in Moravia.
Neolithic Period • Increase in populations • People settle – agriculture emerges • Period in which ‘civilizations’ emerged • Humans now depicted in cave paintings • More people with more time on their hands • Beginnings are architecture (cromlech)
China gave the world porcelain. And now it appears that the country also gave us our first pottery. A team of Israeli, Chinese, and American scholars says it has found ceramic remains in a cave in China's Hunan province that are from 15,400 to 18,300 years old. That's at least 1000 years earlier than other pottery fragments from the same region, which were previously thought to be the oldest in the world.
Big questions people throughout the ages ask: • How did we come to be? • Where do we come from? • Why are we different from other people? • What happens when we die? • Why do terrible things happen? (droughts, famine, sickness, weather events, etc) • What can we do to protect ourselves from terrible things? *These are some of the common questions that motivate many cultural artifacts
Other questions to keep in mind when examining cultural artifacts: • What is the artist trying to communicate? • Who / what is the piece for? What / who is the intended audience? • What it the intended function? (gods? Spirits? Humans to communicate to the gods? Sacrifice? To communicate something? etc) • How does art / performance / architecture / etc reflect the hopes, dreams, fears and beliefs of those who created them? • What similarities are there across cultures?
Continued from last class…(Culture and its Emergence, Week 1) Neolithic Architecture: Megaliths • Are found all around the world • Don’t use mortar • Often use posts and lintel construction, sometimes just posts • The word ‘megalith’ comes from ancient Greek (megas = great, lithos = stone) • Are the most basic form of architecture • Most megaliths were built during the Neolithic era, although some came later in some places
Why build megaliths? • Often connected to celestial / astronomical events or even fertility – scholars disagree about their significance. • Designed to be permanent structures, while domestic architecture (houses) were not (they were usually made of wood, mud, etc). • Tribute to the leader who was strong and powerful enough to organize people to create such a monumental object.
Other Neolithic objects and performances Anasazi and Zuni Pueblo people (North America) are often considered more recent examples of Neolithic cultures. Why?
Other Neolithic objects and performances Anasazi and Zuni Pueblo people (North America) are often considered more recent examples of Neolithic cultures. Why? • There are many similarities between them and other Neolithic cultures in other parts of the world (good at making pottery, used elaborate and abstract geometric patterns to decorate pottery, left similar cultural artifacts, similar belief systems) • Have similar emergence tales, or creation myths – oral traditions • Dances had a purpose: to bring rain, assure successful crops, encourage fertility, etc • Believed that forces of nature are inhabited by living spirits (animism) • Applied human traits to nature (anthropomorphism) • Believed that humans can communicate with the spirits of nature • The gods might do favors for sacrificial offerings or prayer
Mound builders • Also considered Neolithic, built by hunter-gatherers • Built between 1800-500 BCE • Native North Americans built huge ceremonial centers of massive embankments and ceremonial mounds • People in what is now Louisiana began to build mounds 1000 years before the pyramids in Egypt were built • Sophisticated civilizations that traded widely, as evidenced by excavated graves: copper from Great Lakes, decorative shell from Gulf Coast, alligator and shark teeth from Florida, mica from Appalachian Mountains, obsidian from Yellowstone Park, grizzly bear teeth from Rocky Mountains
The ancient city of Cahokia (in the Mississippi Valley, in what is now Illinois)
The Mississippi Valley once had 4 million inhabitants! Cahokia was the largest city ever constructed in North and South America until 1800
Cahokia’s great mound required the moving of 22 million cubic feet of earth and 300 years to construct. 120 mounds, 400 platforms
Critical thinking questions • How does a civilization differ from a culture? • What features of the cave paintings at Chauvet have altered the way we have traditionally thought about the development of art? • How does Neolithic culture differ from Paleolithic culture, and what are the primary characteristics of each?