Interpreting the Prehistoric Visual Sources for Dance. MUSIC IN ART : International Journal for Music Iconography, XL (2015). Abstract

by | Jun 28, 2018 | Senza categoria | 0 comments

The most ancient pieces of evidence about dance belong to an extensive corpus of images produced by our ancestors on a variety of objects (shelters, cave walls, rock outcrops, items made in baked clay and metal, pottery), with most diversified techniques (carving, painting, graffito, pecking), and going back to at leastthe late Paleolithic age. Since 1959, the year when French ethnologist Maurice Louis published in “Les rigines préhistoriques de la danse” (Cahiers ligures de préhistoire et d’archéologie  IX, 1959, 3-37). the earliest research about a limited group of dance scenes, the study of prehistoricvisual sources has made a great progress.
Cinga da davlet

 Cinga River  (Asian Russia), Buryat Culture, indeterminate age (from Davlet). The scene is composed of six schematic anthropomorphs with three-pointed headgear, aligned with the arms facing downwards. Their dance it’s part of a context that has necessarily take into account the human figure (without a headgear) lying horizontally in front of them and the symbolic elements above them. At the two ends of the scene two trees are recognizable. In the upper part are represented a line, some points and two concentric circles, one of which is divided into four parts by a cross. These are probably astral or lunar motifs (the spider’s web) that can be traced back to the shamanic world. In the ritual act represented, a funeral ceremony or an initiatory ritual that expects the death and rebirth of the initiate, the symbolic action of the dancers joins the magical power of the  represented symbols. 

1. In the course of over fifty years of research, post-Paleolithic rockpaintings and carvings, found mostly in the sites distributed in the Alpine area (Valcamonica, Valtellina,Valais, Valle d’Aosta, Mt. Bego), have been subjected to a methodical and comparative analysis.The in-depth studies on some types of representations—such as the tools used in daily activities(ploughs, wagons, weapons, huts), the animal figures, or the symbolic concepts (cupmarks, labyrinths, solarsymbols, shovels, geometrical figures, topographic “maps”)—have outlined interpretative hypotheses ofgreat interest. On the contrary, in spite of the elaboration of an effective interdisciplinary method, the studyof the gesture and dance has not advanced in the same way. It is sufficient to leaf through some recent ma-nual of the dance history to notice that the space devoted to manifestations of the art of dancing in pre/proto-historic Europe is limited to only a few lines of text and some images. The reason for such a situation —cer-tainly not attributable to lack of data—has to do with issues of research logic. First of all, the analysis of theoldest documents concerning dance requires a competence in study of images rather than in the art of dancing. At least initially, the analytical method of dance representations and representations from prehistoric period do coincide. It is also indispensable to put aside the aesthetic issue: prehistoric depictions are not a product of the mentality searching for beauty and harmony as images have been codified in the Western culture. Nor does it suffice to explain, as many studies of history of ancient art have done, that the decoration of whole surfaces on an object came from the need to fill all its available space with images (horror vacui). Finally, a difficulty concerning the approach to the topic of prehistoric dance is, on the one hand, the issue of the meaning in represented gestures and dance; on the other, once a theory of prehistoric dance is drawn up, a question arises regarding the cognitive value and the level of “scientific nature” attributable to the scholarly interpretations.
2. If we consider the role of dance in the archaic world, we also discover the need to underline two essential elements: the social function and the magic-symbolic function, which we could define as “cosmic interaction”.
3. An extremely relevant event occurs at the very moment when a community member joins others in dancing: as the rhythmical movement prevails and each dancer refines the coordination of his/her movements with those of the partners, the perception of the self is gradually reduced to the point that each participant feels a transformation of his/her own individuality into the role of “cogwheel” within a perfect human mechanism of dancing ensemble. This process, induced by the rhythmical element is accompanied also at the most elementary level by the intense feeling of harmony, which comes to exist among all dancers.

La Danza delle Origini

Versione cartacea

di Gaudenzio Ragazzi


C’era una volta il Torchio

Versione digitale

di Gaudenzio Ragazzi


L’ Albero del Tempo

Versione digitale

di Gaudenzio Ragazzi



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