Continued

Socio-territorial implications

Ethnographic analysis shows clearly that these constructions also have semantic functions in the social and the territorial sense. Different villages display different forms over a wide spectrum of practices. In many cases, the basic types are different; in other cases, similar basic forms are differentiated in primary or secondary details. Thus, in a spatial sense each sign represents a certain territorial unit, a settlement and the land it owns (Fig. 23). Moreover, each sign represents a ritual association -e. g., young/elderly men's associations (Fig. 24) - and, according to the following formula, those who make and handle a sign 'own' it and, conversely, in the local landscape the sign represents those who made it and their settlement district.


Fig. 23 ; Fig. 24

It is important to know that, on the basis of the socio-territorial semantic function, very complex histories of settlement relations (genetic relations, associations, dominance and dependence, associations after struggles. etc.) are depicted (Fig. 25). In this sense, the rites can be 'read' as a kind of history of the settlement.


Fig. 25

In another sense too, they are the archives of the local village history. This can be explained with the following schemes. The first settler made the first sign in a region which was not yet inhabited. In the traditional legal codex this meant that he founded his own village (Fig. 26). The borders of the village territory were implied in nuce, in the central marker: a non-defined upper part, wild, natural, inaccessible to humans, inhabited by spirits; and a lower part, well-defined, the production area, to be covered by rice fields (Fig. 27). The farmer builds his house, and has children who, as his descendants, settle near his house to form the first part of his village. The founder, as the primary landowner (and the continuity of his house), has power over his descendants and, later, over peasants (see Fig. 26). The ritual renewal of the perishable sign in the center keeps this system intact over time (and documents social hierarchy), in particular the power of the founder's house - often with the present representative male being the priest of the renewal rite who explicitly 'owns' the symbol and the corresponding deity (traditional Japanese: kami-nushi, priest = 'owner of the deity') (Fig. 28).


Fig. 26 ; Fig. 27 ; Fig. 28

If we assume that the cyclical renewal of the ephemeral system of demarcation is the primary content of rites of this type, then not only does this approach cast a new light on so-called primitive religion, but it also suggests that such object traditions linked to territoriality could be deeply rooted in prehistoric time.

The village layout is also related to the structural principle of the markers (Fig. 29). This suggests that the signs in fact served as Gestalt-models, as ideals of 'harmony of opposites' of the spatial environment as set out at the foundation act. The demarcation site is located in the border zone between hilly woods and flat land, and implies an inaccessible region beyond the markers, the realm of the woods and the spiritual world, thus delineating the human domain of the rice paddies and the settlement.


Fig. 29

Access to the demarcation site follows a characteristic pattern which we call 'access and place scheme' (Fig. 30). This term is used similarly in Dagobert Frey's ( 1947) study on Afro-Eurasian sacred architecture. It implies the polar relationship between the static demarcation of a place and its dynamic access domain. Both form a polar unity, emphasized by static monuments and connecting paths, walls and gates. An elementary type with one polar pair of domains can be distinguished from a more complex type which shows 'embedded' extensions on the lower side, all focused on the same basic marker.


Fig. 30a, b

Thus, the tradition of signs constructed cyclically in stereotyped form defines the territorial conditions and the social structure of the settlement. Spatially, the place and access markers determine the layout of the village. Note that we have an evidently primordial demarcation system which is set not at the outer limits of a demarcated surface, but in close relation to human paths, in the center of its categorially and polarly implied and correlated domains. The cyclic renewal of the demarcation system structures time, including ecstatic phases of festivity (renewal) and orderly normal times.

The cyclic time perception of non-historical societies has been widely noted, but the explanations remained vague, relating to the changes of nature. The material conditions of semantic architecture imply functional relations: the perishable material is replaced according to the annual cycle of the corresponding plants (e.g., reed). In the case of signs of the primary rooted type, the newly grown materials, which penetrate and hide the former artefact, directly suggest cyclic reproduction.

The cyclic destruction of the signs, which are representative of the traditional order of the settlement, results in the annihilation of these rules: people adapt to this unusual condition by ritual nakedness, drunkenness, chaotic noise in the dark of night, etc. In a striking metaphor, human social behavior imitates the ritual conditions related to the status of the signs. Correct placement of the tectonic form means social norm; its displacement, destruction, or nonexistence means social anomy, or, literally, ecstasy. This recalls many 'irrational' types of behavior well known to ethnology or folklore and the history of religions, Eliade described similarly structured rites from a metaphysically deductive view-point as the 'eternal return of the origins'. In our inductive conceptualization, territorial claims manifested semantically at the foundation of the settlement are reenacted through the cyclic reproduction of the signs, year after year. Since the signs and the renewal rites represent the village archive in a historical and political sense, there is a vital interest in keeping the rites alive, an argument which seems more convincing than a mere 'belief' in the 'eternal return of the mythical origins'.

Rock art and the prehisoricity of semantic architecture

The results of an ethnographic analysis of particular type of ritual related to 'semantic architecture' show a complex of relations between construction and form, symbollic implications, semantic functions in regard to social structure, territory, and time. At all levels we have pointed to the fact that this system bears witness to very elementary traits of human constructive behavior, close in all its aspects to purely environmental conditions and, at the same time, closely related to ideological structures. These considerations-and a great wealth of other material-lead us to globalize the results and formulate a general hypothesis regarding semantic architecture.

Given a relatively well developed human constructive capacity to use the hand as a tool, and environmentally omnipresent fibrous materials as structural elements and means of stabilization, the existence and development of semantic architecture would have to be assume for a wide spectrum of cultures of early hunters and gatherers. Such primitively constructed territorial marking evidently gained great importance with the neolithic revolution-that is to say, with the first formation of permanent settlements. At the level of prehistoric implications of this basic hypothesis, many secondary working hypotheses could be derived. Petroglyphs and pictographs could become a very important testing ground for such hypothetical approaches. The following examples relate essentially to technology and form, and to the spatial organization of settlements.

It is possible to question the uncritical identification of rock art designs as natural or instrumental forms, designated as human beings, or as terio-, zoo-, topo-, cosmo-, and technomorphous entities. What we readily take to be a tree, a bird, a mountain, could represent an artefact, an artificially constructed human being, tree, bird, or mountain, a handmade sun, a ritually built boat that has never seen water, a spear that has never killed, but which represents a designatory sign used at the foundation of a settlement. [8] Snakes in particular need to be reexamined carefully. Found over wide areas, they need not necessarily represent a natural snake, but may depict part of a tectonic symbolic object which it holds together in the technical sense. [9] In isolated form, it might imply a harmonious or disharmonious separation between two opposed domains. [10] Forms easily identified as natural or instrumental should be reconsidered from the standpoint of semantic architecture (Figs. 31,32). This assumption would be particularly important if the forms were geometrically 'stylized' (see below) or outstanding in size. Faces or sub-faces must also be questioned as to whether they represent scenes of a ritual demarcation system.


Fig. 31 ; Fig. 32ab ; c,d ; e, f, g ; h

Characteristic for such a scenery is the distinction between statically treated zones, possibly showing tectonic signs and symbols, and dynamic zones, showing predominantly horizontal or explicitly mobile structures, and dynamically treated figures in the course of processions, dances, etc. But even if we manage to identify certain figures in the above sense, this does not mean that their forms correspond to the function or meaning we would attribute to them through formal identification. Function or meaning of each form must be sought in the context of the whole design or in the spatial conditions of the whole site or sub-site.

As to the style, the technique of binding fibrous materials into a spatial form may provide particular indicators which can be used in the analysis of petroglyphs (Fig. 33). In general, style would have to be considered as the degree to which bio- (including anthropo-), techno-, topo-, and cosmomorphous figures are constrained by their constructive origin with regard to the technological conditions of their formation (e.g., the so called 'hour-glass form'). Particularly if paired with the above indicators, geometry in petroglyphic form would have to be examined from a tectonic point of view.


Fig. 33

Geometric shapes would have to be considered as a primary, 'primitive' pre-naturalistic code. If the indicators tend in this direction, we might in general gain a very plausible anthropological explanation as to why very ancient human iconic expressions show a strong trend toward geometrization. As mentioned earlier, geometric qualities could characterize 'primitivity', but not in an abstract imaginary sense. Geometry came in by means of discoveries made while handling a particular and very important object of material culture: the territorial sign, an archive of local land-politics. At the same time, it embodied an ideology: it was a symbol of a harmonious view of the local world and, as such, it was a cognitive model. In visual dialogue with these primitively built territorial markers and the local environment, prehistoric man perceptually conquered his natural environment. From this vantage point, remarkable differences in the size of figures within a surface or sub-surface would not necessarily have to be attributed to the imagination of the painter.

It is a remarkable trait of many petroglyphs that, in composing the picture, the 'designer' seems to act relatively freely with respect to the (relative) size of the objects represented. But, if the implied reality is constructed and artificial, size might correspond to the actual size differences in the artefactual domain of semantic architecture. Size difference of similar forms might indicate a hierarchical relation among the entities represented by the signs (e.g., settlements).


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