`Archaeoonist Man'. (Special Section)

By Tidy, Bill | Antiquity, December 2002 | Go to article overview

`Archaeoonist Man'. (Special Section)


Tidy, Bill, Antiquity


I assume that everyone is agreed that the earliest forms of human communication were by grunts and gesticulation and, in amicable circumstances, these methods must have been reasonably adequate. If, however, the fellow conversationalists were hostile and within club- and rock-throwing range, chances are that the meeting would end in injury, humiliating flight or both.

I'm not qualified to carbon-date the arrive of Homo Prudentis but let's guess at 250,000 years ago when the first man to appreciate the power and safety of the long-range insult appeared on the scene. This genius, almost certainly nursing a fractured skull, reasoned in a flash of pain that scratching an image on a flat surface and retiring out of rock shot was by far the safest way to insult an enemy who was bowlegged and ugly even by Neanderthal standards. Artistically, once the adrenalin had settled, it was a logical progression in his spare time to move on to more mundane subjects. Gazelles, bison and cave bears were fun, but if necessity is the mother of invention I believe that `Rocktoons' pre-dated speech and all other forms of art, for logic tells us that a sore thumb and forefinger from scraping a flint on a cave wall is infinitely preferable to a blinding headache.

Half of any professional body is made up of critics and archaeology is packed more than most callings with people who delight in exploding crackpot theories. They will pounce on me and ask why, if so many of these Mr Bean-like caricatures were on show in every cave chain in the world, none have been found? The obvious answer to this query is another question! If you are an ugly, bow-legged archaeologist and you came across a group of colleagues clustered around a vulgar drawing and tittering at its unmistakable, unflattering resemblance to you, what would you do? Destroy it, of course, but here's the fiendish ingenuity of the long-range insult! You cannot fire back a reprisal picture because a the identity of the perpetrator is unknown and b even if you do recognize it as Professor Challenger's handiwork, you can't draw! Q.E.D.! How sad that one of mankind's major steps in contumely was successful because of its absence!

The theory is only revealed to the world because I feel an affinity with Homo Prudentis. My ability to draw is innate, a millimetre away from the Savant Syndrome, and there are millions like me. Inborn talent must come from a time when Man had nothing but instincts to lean on and it's comforting to know in the computer age that unconscious impulses from the brain can beat a machine which must work within logical parameters. Even when serendipity is introduced into software, it still lacks the eccentricity of a creative mind, so drawing to amuse still looks reasonably safe.

This is all a roundabout way of introducing my interest in archaeology, which is Hollywood-inspired. I wonder how many people were first hooked by the epics of de Mille and then by mummies? Pots, mosaics and pyramids were OK, but the High Priest brought back to life by a modern follower of the Old Religion had me by the throat! Never mind if his tongue had been ripped out for daring to buss Pharaoh's daughter. Who needs a tongue if the only reason to revive him was so that he could tear to pieces the archaeologist who had violated his tomb? It was that delicious threat and the exquisite wall painting concealing deadly spear traps, patiently waiting for the poor devil who stepped on the wrong floor stone, that did the trick for me. `To him who disturbs the sleep of the Pharaoh, let death come on swift and silent wings' was probably written by a Hungarian movie director, but to me, who remembered hearing a trumpet from Tutankhamen's tomb played on the BBC Home Service in the 1940s, it was a little perplexing. If Hollywood archaeologists had such an exciting and dangerous time, why was it that the public perception of British archaeology was one of desiccated academics with private means, sometimes titled, and never given to going down to the pub or Chelsea football ground? …

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