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ANTHROPOLOGY-MATTERS  September 2018

ANTHROPOLOGY-MATTERS September 2018

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Subject:

THE AGES OF MEMORY

From:

Atelier Etno <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Atelier Etno <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 13 Sep 2018 13:20:51 +0300

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text/plain

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A forthcoming issue of EXPRESSION journal

Dear colleague and friend,
    How old is our memory? The traditional stories of the inhabitants
of a small Pacific island, the genealogic tales of an African
chieftain, the cult of ancestors in a mountain village of the Andes,
the myth of origin of Eskimo fishermen in the Arctic, are all chapters
of the common heritage that makes up the identity of the human
species, that gives us the dimension of being what we are. We must be
aware of the dimension of our memory: our individual memory is part of
the ethnic (or national) memories of groups that, combined together,
constitute the memory of our Species. The individual memory of each
one of us, together with the collective memory of linguistic and
ethnic groups, of nations and countries, make up the memory of
Humankind: it is our common legacy, the core of culture. What would
humanity be without such memory?
    Memory has different ages, as expressed by an Aboriginal elder of
Arnhem Land, and all the ages of the past make the present (Guardare
l’invisibile, Atelier, 2018): “What white-men call myths are memories
of the Dreamtime”.
    The mythologies of at least three continents tells the story of an
Ice Age or of a Universal Flood which, likely, are the elaboration of
memories of natural events that took place some twelve to fourteen
thousand years ago. Myths about the ancestor that discovered how to
light a fire are found in four continents and are likely to go back
thousands of years. Myths about a great migration, ended by the
settling down of the people in their “promise land”, are present in at
least three continents and often belong to the mythologies of
populations that have been in their land for ages. Bantu mythology, in
southern Africa, includes the migration of ancestors, which took place
some 2,000 years ago. The biblical mythology includes an exodus from
Egypt to the land of Canaan, which may have taken place well over
3,000 years ago. The memory of these ancient episodes was transmitted
orally for centuries, before being put into writing.
    In a rock art site in Australia there is the figure of a totemic
animal, in front of which several deep cups for offerings are carved
in the rock. The animal figure consists of several painted lines
completing the natural shapes of the rock surface. It is the image of
an elephant, an animal that never existed in Australia. The painted
lines have several coats of paint and repaint; the oldest may be over
40,000 years old. The cave is still considered to be a holy site and
the image was still worshipped in the 1970s. This animal figure is the
memory of something seen elsewhere, in another continent, before its
makers’ arrival in Arnhem Land. When did an Aboriginal ancestor see an
elephant for the last time? The memory may go back thousands of years.
     Historical memory is magnified and synthesized, thus turning into
myths. And myths become part of the oral tradition, transmitted from
generation to generation. Our individual memory follows similar
processes, eliminating parts, magnifying others and idealizing certain
aspects. Memory is accompanied by other mental operations, which
reshape it.
    Figurative art, both objects of mobile art and rock art, are the
graphic records of memory, metamorphosed into visual concepts, attuned
to senses and feelings. Pleasure and displeasure, joy and pain, grace
and disgrace, are giving shape to memory. The graphic results, formed
by memory plus other ingredients, are the testimony of processes
happening in the human mind. When prehistoric art is decoded, it
becomes an immense and invaluable source in itself. But an additional
step may be made, by attempting to use the effect, the document or
depiction we dispose of, in order to reconstruct the cause of its
creation: what did actually happen, which were the reasons that
brought to the document that reached us, and what story does it tell?
   Our memory is as old as the first graphic marks.
   The graphic heritage left behind by the hands and minds of peoples
in five continents in the last 50,000 years is the unique and precious
archive of the conceptual adventures of Humankind. It is the coffer of
the yet unwritten history of what is still considered “Prehistory”.
Each small story, each detail of an event, myth or concern, emerging
from the decoding of a portion of this immense archive, is a step
toward making History out of Prehistory. It is a chapter added to the
recovering of the past. And recovering the past leads to the
understanding of the present: to understand who we are.
    We are the effect of what we were. We are the effect of our
memory. Recovering details of the memory recorded in these ancient
archives, that had been disremembered for ages, is the role of culture
and also marks its progress. The future is built on the past. Scholars
and students can make exceptional contributions to the building up of
a still non-existent world history: covering all the periods of the
human adventure since the earliest examples of figurative art. When
there is figurative art, there is history: history is there, hidden in
the graphic messages of the past, waiting to be decoded. And it has to
be decoded.
     A fundamental role of the scholar in human sciences is to offer
new chapters of the past to culture. Each new acquisition is a step
forward.
    Friends and colleagues are cordially invited to elaborate specific
or general pertinent topics and submit their papers to a forthcoming
issue of EXPRESSION about: ‘THE AGES OF MEMORY, THE MEMORY OF AGES’.
    Articles accepted by reviewers are published in the quarterly
journal in the appropriate thematic context. For submission to the
December issue the deadline is November 10. ‘How to conceive your
paper’ is specified in a previous issue of EXPRESSION, which may be
requested for free: [log in to unmask]
    Potentially, each student in prehistoric and tribal art, or in
mythology, religion, psychology, linguistics, philosophy, ethnology,
anthropology, archaeology, may have something to say on this topic. We
are looking forward to hearing from you.
    Cordial regards and best wishes,
      Emmanuel Anati
  (President, Atelier Center for Conceptual Anthropology)

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