Animals have lengthy performed an necessary symbolic position in human societies. They characteristic prominently in myths and folklore all through the world. In some circumstances animals are used metaphorically: they specific clan id and are used as an instance ideas of management, therapeutic and safety.
In a newly printed research, students in South Africa and the UK – myself amongst them – have found a potential hyperlink between the animal bones folks used to make instruments, like arrowheads, and the symbolic significance that individuals connected to these animals previously.
The research centered on what’s in the present day the Tugela River catchment space of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. Right here, about 1,200 years in the past, immigrant Nguni farmers got here into contact with Bushman hunter-gatherers. Ethno-historical information present that animals performed an necessary position in each cultural teams as symbols and metaphors to precise concepts. Early interactions between these two teams, as occurred in our research space, resulted within the dynamic trade and assimilation of concepts and symbols.
We needed to know whether or not the symbolic significance of sure animals translated into the technological area at the moment and place. That’s, whether or not folks have been deciding on the bones of particular animals and never others to make use of as uncooked materials for his or her instruments. And, if that’s the case, we needed to know which animals they have been deciding on.
In a number of different elements of the world, corresponding to Canada and Russia, folks used the bones of animals that have been necessary inside their respective cultures to make instruments. Nothing like this has been documented in southern Africa and we needed to search out out whether or not this was as a result of this follow was not adopted within the area or whether or not it was merely undocumented.
To seek out out, we used a technique often known as ZooMS. This analyses the collagen proteins present in animal bones. Collagen proteins are distinctive to totally different teams of animals. So, we may “fingerprint” samples from trendy animals after which recognise them in archaeological samples of unknown origin.
The research discovered that there was selective focusing on of animals for instrument manufacture at some websites, with a narrowing of the vary of chosen species after about AD 1,000. Sure teams of antelopes seem to have been intentionally prevented. This implies bones weren’t used simply because they occurred to be accessible. We hypothesise that particular animal behaviours, corresponding to that of the rhebok, have been appropriated by folks to function metaphors by way of which to know human society. And we imagine this symbolism was expressed by way of folks’s instruments as a method of harnessing the “energy” of the animal.
The Bushmen (or San) believed that animals such because the eland, rhebok and hartebeest possessed supernatural powers. These could possibly be harnessed by shamans throughout sure ceremonies to result in rain or affect the motion of sport. In some circumstances, objects of clothes constructed from these animals can be worn throughout therapeutic and rain-making ceremonies.
Animals have been additionally incessantly depicted in San rock artwork. A transparent emphasis was positioned on these species believed to be notably highly effective, corresponding to eland, rhebok and roan.
Among the many Nguni, spirits of the ancestors have been generally ascribed the behavioural traits of sure wild animals, amongst them elephants, rhinoceros, lions and baboons.
Forty-three species are recognized to have been divinatory animals among the many Nguni: a few of these species’ bones repeatedly shaped a part of diviners’ kits as a result of they have been believed to confer these animals’ “powers” to the diviners.
The archaeology of KwaZulu-Natal
The Tugela River catchment space was first occupied by hunter-gatherers from about 7,000 years in the past. As soon as farming communities started settling the realm within the fifth century AD, hunter-gatherers began transferring out of the mountainous areas to dwell nearer the farmer settlements. There, they benefited from commerce in pottery and agricultural produce in trade for wild animal skins and companies rendered.
When farmers and hunter-gatherers got here into contact, they adopted elements of one another’s materials tradition as properly sure phrases and ideas linked to divinatory animals. The Nguni regarded the Bushmen as non secular mediators, in a position to intercede with the supernatural world to result in rain and different boons.
Even the caves the Bushmen occupied have been seen by the Nguni as locations of energy. Alternatively, the brand new home animals launched by the Nguni farmers have been rapidly assimilated into hunter-gatherer cosmology. They changed eland and different antelopes as a favoured rock artwork motif.
Know-how for solutions
We extracted small quantities of collagen from 84 bone arrowheads excavated from 11 archaeological websites spanning a 6,000-year interval within the Tugela River catchment area. We then recognized the taxonomic tribe of animal represented within the bone arrowheads.
Antelope species belonging to the Alcelaphini tribe (together with hartebeest, wildebeest and bontebok) have been essentially the most abundantly represented supply of bone arrowheads. Sure species of antelopes, together with impala, gazelle, springbok and duiker, weren’t represented in any of the bone arrowheads. That is although these species are abundantly represented within the unmodified meals waste on the websites: they account for 66% of the meat consumed.
We additionally discovered that at some websites bone factors have been constructed from animals – together with giraffe and buffalo – that weren’t represented in any respect within the unmodified fauna meals waste.
This implies deliberate focusing on and avoidance of sure species. We expect these animals that have been intentionally focused to make instruments characterize animals that individuals thought of culturally or symbolically necessary. Our findings additionally recommend that the vary of species focused by hunter-gatherers to make their instruments narrowed after farmers moved into the realm.
We dominated out mechanical properties (that the bones used for instrument manufacture have been mechanically the perfect suited to their position as arrowheads) and commerce as the explanations for the sample of uncooked materials choice we recognized.
Symbolic significance emerged because the almost certainly cause for sure animal bones being utilized in instruments to the exclusion of different, available animals. For example rhebok, hartebeest and eland have been all properly represented in our pattern; every is a symbolically necessary animal in 19th century Bushman folklore. These animals have been related to rain, and the ability to affect sport throughout a hunt. So, it’s potential their bones can be utilized in searching instruments, to imbue the instruments with powers to assist within the hunt.
Future analysis will purpose to check our speculation by analysing bigger numbers of bone instruments from the area.