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Stratum plus. 2005-2009. №1

Alfredo Prieto, Rodrigo A. Cárdenas (Punta Arenas, Chile)

An Ivory Plate from Mal’ta: Palaeolithic Technological Blueprint

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Pages: 334-336

Understanding the nature of portable art produced by anatomically modern humans is critical for comprehending the emergence of conscious symbolic storage devices and modern cognitive abilities. Interpretation of portable art, however, is an area subject to intense debate, often dominated by interpretations that emphasize the abstract-ideational dimensions of the depictions, their possible relation to altered states of consciousness, or that interprets them as evidence of complex notation-numerical systems. One of the most famous Siberian Upper Palaeolithic sites for its rich and complex portable art is Mal’ta. One of Mal’ta’s most intriguing pieces of art is an ivory plate engraved with spiral designs that have puzzled specialists since its discovery in 1929. The engravings have been proposed to represent genealogical information, to be a cosmological shamanistic object, a calendar-astronomic device, and a stylized map. Here we propose that the spiral designs are the earliest record of a schematic representation of a widely documented technique for producing cordage from hides. Our interpretation of this piece emphasizes the importance of considering technological sources for interpreting abstract representations depicted in portable art.


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