Sunday, August 29, 2010

Weird Archaeology 101 - Dinosaurs and Cosmic Monsters in Prehistoric (and not so Prehistoric) American Art

I touched on this topic in the first Weird Archaeology 101 post, but lets go more in depth today. At the bottom of this post you will find video of a Creationist presentation on evidence for human interaction with dinosaurs in artwork from the late prehistoric Southwestern United States, several periods and cultures in the prehistoric Andes, and post-Roman Israel. But before the videos, some discussion on why dinosaurs are so important to Creationists.

Until recently, I think most mainstream scientists were not aware of the importance of cryptozoology and the idea of surviving dinosaurs to Creationists. Some people might joke that Creationists "believe the Flintstones was a documentary," but the ironic truth is that this is quite accurate. Just as moviemakers have known for 85 years Creationists have realized that dinosaurs, and especially dinosaurs interacting with humans, is an extremely appealing idea. This has been foregrounded in the various Creationist museums, but has been knocking around evangelical Christianity for some time.

What may escape some more secular observers is that the interest in dinosaurs is not just an attempt to support Young Earth Creationism (based on a divine Creation several thousand years ago), but also to incorporate specific bible elements, namely Leviathan and Behemoth. Leviathan is a sea monster and Behemoth a land monster in the Hebrew Bible and other Jewish religious literature. Both of them will be killed and served as a feast for the righteous when the Messiah arrives. In fact, sea and other monsters are an overlooked element of the Hebrew Bible, with some controversial suggestions that they existed at the time of Creation. Both of these characters have been equated by Creationists with dinosaurs, and this underlies their interest, as well as the Young Earth timetable.

Furthermore, Leviathan and Behemoth are echoed in the Beasts of the sea and of the land in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. Drawing inspiration from these apocalyptic monsters, Poet Laureate of the Victorian British Empire Alfred, Lord Tennyson composed "The Kraken," in 1830. He combines the Scandinavian legend of a tentacled sea beast with the biblical Leviathan to write of a monster that will come to the surface and die at the end of the world.

Which brings us to Cthulhu. As part of a project I'm working on, I recently "interpreted" the iconography of a Moche golden mask as being a representation of horror author H. P. Lovecraft's dead but living alien god Cthulhu, a millions of years ancient monstrosity that rests in a sunken city at the bottom of the Pacific until the stars become right, and on an unknowable and immense cosmic cycle it will arise and bring about the end of human civilization. The thought processes of this entity are obscured by the water above it, but from time to time geological processes raise it close or above the surface, and sensitive humans receive the creature's thoughts and form religions in honor of it (if you have two minutes, you can get the whole story here). In my little exercise, I assembled evidence of a looted Moche mask (probably from the site of La Mina), Moche painted iconography of anthropomorphized fish, the results of an oceanographic survey, and anomalous sounds recorded by underwater microphones all to point to the inescapable conclusion that there really is a dead alien god slumbering off the coast of Chile.

I don't actually believe that Cthulhu dreams in his house in R'lyeh. But look how easy it is to start taking disparate bits of information and shuffling them together to support something utterly absurd. And unlike the videos below, all of my evidence is at least real if misinterpreted, I don't have Ica stones in my argument. And I certainly don't have quite real khipu and pottery (though when you watch the videos, take note of the one pot with the applique "dinosaur," particularly the difference in texture and apperance of its neck with the rest of the vessel) being flung about during an argument that the Moche and Nazca people were fleeing for their lives from abundant living dinosaurs. I winced when these materials were presented.

If you want to know more about Leviathan and Behemoth, I would recommend Religion and Its Monsters by Timothy Beal.

The texts of the Bible, Tennyson's "The Kraken" and Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu" are all available online.

Here are the videos (3 parts), part of a series by the director of a Creationist museum.

No comments: