06 September, 2012

All About Homos

presented by
Mystic Metals Body Jewelry

All About Homos

I'm in a game and I'm way behind. But it's still fun. My cousin Dave and I are a part of a challenge to watch 365 movies in 365 days. It started on September first, and by September 2013, we all will have had to watch 365 movies. So we can double or triple up on some days. But today is the sixth, and I've watched three movies. They've all been great, but I need to do some sprinting, which is unfortunate because I'm in a wheelchair. So if there are any weird or obscure movies you think I've not seen, let me know and I'll add them to my list. So far, it's been a lot of fun. Wee! and Woo! and such other fun noises.

My beautiful and wonderful girlfriend and I have an affinity towards watching documentary movies. On all kinds of topics. Well, to be fair, it's mostly baseball and monkeys because baseball is the greatest thing in my life (next to you, kitten muffin cutie face!) and she studied primates in college toward her degree in anthropology. (A double major in anthro and theatre. Never forget the double major.) In this week, we watched a great film about #14, Pete Rose and his quest to surpass the greatest hitter, and arguably the greatest player, in baseball history, Tyrus Raymond Cobb. We also watched a Nova PBS three part documentary about the relationships among primates and the evolution of homo sapiens as derived from the great apes and later homo Erectus and Neanderthals. That doesn't count to the movie challenge, though. Boo. Anyway, watching the evolution documentary was fascinating; and yes, I'm a catholic and I concurrently believe in creationism and evolution, so don't break my balls about it. Learning about how new a species homo sapien is sheds some interesting light on where we are now and how quickly we got here. This isn't about evolution of humanity, though. This is about mummy tattoos.

Another Pulitzer winning segue. The documentary talked very briefly about the point at which humans began to develop a sense of spirituality and ownership of things. They showed an awesome reenactment (how do I get an acting job like that?) of a bunch of Neanderthals throwing a dead guy into a pit and with him, sending his tools down there with him too. This lead to an idea of cave painting in memoriam, and development of a sense of otherworldly control over the actions and thoughts of the people. Pretty sizable cognition for Barney Rubble. They showed cave painting and theorized that face painting became a part of their small but budding culture. Jewelry made of shells and twine were shared, and therein the supposition of a sense of self beauty. (Took me long enough to get to the point.)

These anthropologists keep digging up dead bastards with modifications. And that's very awesome. We know about Oetzi, the iceman with his simple tattoos which reflect acupuncture points marked on his body long before acupuncture was released into the world. He also had primitive piercings in his flesh, and tools on his person to do the mods. Now I've recently read about the Ukok Princess, the Pazyryk mummy from Siberia. Even though she was found in 1993, I've only recently learned about her. I'm slow and dumb. The Ukok Princess was buried about 2500 years ago which makes her about a thousand years younger than Oetzi, and her tattoo mods definitely reflect an experience and technique matured in the art form. Her mods are gorgeous. Intricate and accurately scaled art reflecting a deer with fanciful antlers and a griffon's beak on her shoulder. Another deer appears on her wrist, also with antlers in an ornate fashion. One of the men Ukok was buried with also had a tattoo of a deer with magical antlers. The mods are suspected to be made through the ink rubbing technique where the skin is cut and dyes made from soot, ash, and animal fat are rubbed into the scarred lines creating the image in the skin.

This speaks to a world of information about which I am way too stupid to postulate. I'm no anthropologist or mummy study doctor man guy. I'm barely literate. But it doesn't take an -ologist to see the spirituality involved in Ukok's modifications. The praising of whatever God or gods she and her people may have worshipped during her days 2500 years ago. Or maybe they all just like weird deer creatures with griffon beaks. At any rate, we see an interesting maturation and combination of beauty, utility, and worship. Though Oetzi's mods seemed purely utilitarian, Ukok's seem to have been used to share her beliefs and to beautify her body in homage to the God or gods she worshipped. What better way than to modify the body that the God or gods provided? It's a beautiful speculative story, isn't it? And isn't it a story that is still being told today by each one of us who modifies?

Fascinating stuff, I think. We have Neanderthals and homo Erectus painting faces, sharing ideas through non-permanent art (yeah, I know; the cave drawings survived thousands of years which is kind of permanent, get off my ass), we have the homo sapien Oetzi using modification of the skin thousands of years later, and then another thousand years later, we have Ukok in an awkward way seemingly combining the motivations of each into true body art in its purest and earliest form. Talk about clear cultural anthropology. Which is something I do a lot of with my beautiful and wonderful girlfriend. Because we're awesome. One of the overly excitable nerd scientist types in the Nova documentary whose name I can't remember made an interesting connection, which is his job I suppose. He said writing on caves and painting faces was the first way for any homo species to store information outside of their brains. Thoroughly dense in its simplicity, but wildly interesting. Neanderthals and homo Erectus, and the even earlier homo habilis, were sowing the seeds of communication through art and beautification of self through art, jewelry and tattoo. I'm pretty sure there are no Neanderthals, erectus, or habilis discovered with intact flesh, so we are unlikely to ever know if tattoo art dates even further back, but the jewelry found among the skeletal remains of the Neanderthals speaks volumes to the idea that they had a sense of self beauty, identity, and aesthetic communication through the manipulation, however simply, of self.

That's wild. Simply incredible stuff. We all know that what we consider modern tattoo modification has ancient roots, but who was ever to believe that the roots of it were 3500 years back in Oetzi and 2500 years back in the Ukok Princess? This is the part where we mock naysayers (no not horses) who call mod a fad. Let's get that out of the way. OK, done. But there's something else here that is more important. There is the idea that beauty is not a manufactured ideal by an editor of a magazine, the creator of a boy band, or the producer of a film. Do I have to qualify that by saying Neanderthals had none of those things? I hope not, otherwise you cats and kittens are dumber than I thought. No, the idea of beauty and self worth as personified by the adornment of the body with outside accruements was not invented by media, nor is it perpetuated by the media's often inflammatory opinions toward our beautiful culture of modification. We are not told what beauty is or that beauty exists. We know it in our DNA and have been given that knowing from thousands of years of knowing from our intra species kin. Sure, these ancient cats and kittens had fire, but they didn't have Cosmopolitan magazine diluting their sense of beauty with what ought to be. They rather celebrated what is (or was), and expressed that through art, proudly and with honor. So if a beast with a smaller brain (and yes, I know in cubic centimeters the brain of a Neanderthal was bigger, but their capacity for cognition was less developed; get off my ass) can rationalize, understand, celebrate, and enjoy his own beauty through modification or otherwise, it seems foolish that we homo sapiens, the most highly developed beast the planet has ever seen, can often have such a difficult time with it. Something to think about, my fellow homo sapiens. Stay beautiful, kids.

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