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As discoveries by Robert Bednarik, Alexander Marshack, the Archaeologische Berichten group in the Netherlands, other archaeologists, and my own research suggest, there appears to be four eras in the evolution of the human capacity for spiritual-artistic representation over the last two million years. Each of the four eras appears to have evolved its own unique forms of palaeoart, symbol systems, and sign systems. We are beginning to identify and decode these symbols systems and ascertain their social and psychological functions and selective advantage for human evolution. Very briefly they may be summarized thus:
Oldowan (circa 2.6 to 1.4 million years ago)
- Homo rudolfensis/Homo habilis createx first metaphor and sense of self-becoming, the metaphor of core essence as source of sustenance, represented by cores and by rhomboids fashioned on cores. Spheroids (hammerstones) and anvils and exotic collectibles such as crystals and shells also played a role in this symbol system. Worked stones suggestive of baboon heads also might have been part of the system.
- Homo erectus innovated first intentional sculptures in stone, including the metaphoric and symbolic meanings of the handaxe, and sculptures of a female birthgiver ("goddess"), human head/profile, and animals of hunt and ritual. Ochre to symbolize creative power. Handaxe combined with the symbol of the birthgiver and/or ochre yields a symbol of the passageway between worlds, and the process of passage itself, the creative process, and the Way. Incipient shamanic rebirthing practices. Evolutionary advantage of handaxe includes probable function to facilitate cooperation and alliance and to reduce conspecific competition and conflict.
Also, first marking or glyphic signs appear possibly as early as 600,000 years ago. These appear to have constituted the first protolanguage.
- Homo sapiens archaicus invented ritual art of stone circles, geoglyphs, and landscape art. The Middle Paleolithic saw the blossoming and flourishing of sculptures representing combinations of EP symbolic themes. Typical is a triangular female sculpture combined with animals and human head/profile. Such sculptures most likely represent various mothers-of-animals and shamanic-psychological tutelary and healing spirits.
- Finally, drawing on all that went before, Upper Paleolithic Homo sapiens sapiens invented paintings and engravings of stereotypical animals, which appear to belong to animal quaternions that encode totemic-like social organizations and multileveled knowledges. They represented a system of 'Blood Relations' (C. Knight). Sculptures and paintings appear to represent shamanic trance postures and female and male psychospiritual transformation processes. They also created a geometric gesture-sign protolanguage to articulate these transformation processes and the life-force in all living things. The so-called "creative explosion" of rock art on all continents during this period was actually a renaissance long in preparation.