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HomeArchaeologyEnigmatic Copper Age Owl Plaques Were Made by Children, Study Claims

Enigmatic Copper Age Owl Plaques Were Made by Children, Study Claims


Decades of excavations in historic burial pits within the Iberian Peninsula (modern-day Spain and Portugal) have unearthed greater than 4,000 palm-sized slate owl plaques engraved with geometric pictures of owls. It has lengthy been believed that these 5,000-year-old objects had been created for spiritual or ceremonial rituals, presumably by an owl-worshipping tradition . But in a exceptional twist, a workforce of Spanish scientists have now concluded these iconic amulets had been really made by kids as craft initiatives.

“Contrary to previous interpretations ascribing a highly ritualistic and deep significance to these objects, we suggest that the commonness of the material used and their basic and fast manufacture point to their crafting and use by young members of the community, possibly as dolls, toys, drawings or amulets,” the Spanish scientists wrote in a brand new article showing in Scientific Reports .

While they haven’t dominated out the extra use of those historic owl plaques as votive choices inside burials, it is a most unusual speculation. Even as we speak, little is thought in regards to the contributions of kids to the cultures of historic peoples. It is at all times assumed that prehistoric objects recovered throughout archaeological excavations had been crafted by adults. This in flip might imply that the aim of those artifacts might have been misunderstood.

Selection of owl plaques from the Iberian Peninsula. (Juan J. Negro et. al. / CC BY 4.0)

Selection of owl plaques from the Iberian Peninsula. (Juan J. Negro et. al. / CC BY 4.0 )

Fun Times and Owl Plaques in Prehistoric Art Class

The owl plaques in query had been first present in excavations that came about in Portugal within the nineteenth century. Many subsequent digs in Portugal and Spain have produced extra samples of those mysterious engraved objects, which have been dated to a slender interval between 5,500 to 4,750 years earlier than the current) within the Chalcolithic or Copper Age .

Discovered inside communal megalithic graves, regardless of their preliminary objective, the owl plaques had been later thought-about acceptable to be used as burial objects. Over 4,000 of those hand-sized objects have been recovered, all of which featured owl imagery.

The owls on the plaques should not actual recreations of the particular animal, however stylized geometric variations that characteristic two massive circles for eyes, squares or trapezoids for the heads. The owl plaques additionally characteristic interlocking triangles to symbolize the feathers overlaying the physique. The engravings are fully recognizable as owls, capturing the distinctive options of an animal that was honored for its knowledge and perceived god- or goddess-like attributes by many historic cultures.

Notably, many of the owl plaques have one or two holes drilled into them on the prime. This suggests they could have been meant to be worn on strings as amulets. While most had been created from slate, a sedimentary rock frequent to the Iberian area, a number of the owl engravings had been carved into items of sandstone or animal bones.

Drawings of owls by children aged 6 - 9 years. (Juan J. Negro / CC BY 4.0)

Drawings of owls by kids aged 6 – 9 years. (Juan J. Negro / CC BY 4.0 )

Comparing Ancient Owl Plaques to Modern-Day Children’s Artwork

For the needs of this new research into the plaques’ origins, the workforce of Spanish scientists, led by evolutionary biologist Juan Negro from the state-funded Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), carried out an in depth examination of roughly 100 owl plaques taken from varied museum collections. They wished to get a greater concept of what precisely the engravings on the plaques appeared like, so they might examine the pictures to dozens of recent pictures of owls drawn by kids, ranging in age from 13 years previous or youthful.

While making this comparability, the scientists had been struck by how related the traditional and trendy owl pictures seemed to be. Just because the plaques confirmed extra particulars in some instances and fewer particulars in others, the scientists famous that trendy kids tended to create extra correct representations as they bought older and have become extra expert at artwork.

The use of geometric shapes to recreate owl options was evident in each historic and trendy representations, suggesting that kids each then as now had been fascinated about shapes and favored to painting animals on this approach.

The scientists rigorously examined the small holes drilled into the highest of the plaques, and they’re now providing an alternate rationalization for his or her use. They conclude that the form of the holes wouldn’t have made it straightforward to cross cords by them, and so they be aware that the holes lack the kind of put on marks that may have been discovered if cords for hanging had been used.

Negro and his colleagues consider the holes had been really designed in order that actual owl feathers might be caught into them, to recreate the tufts of feathers which can be discovered on the heads of a number of owl species identified to be frequent to the Iberian area.

By piecing collectively all this info, the scientists proposed that the owl plaques weren’t the creations of artisans. Instead they concluded that they had been made by youngsters who had been both taking part in round on their very own or had been assigned to make these objects by the prehistoric equal of artwork lecturers.

Two fledglings of the species known as Little Owl (Athene noctua). This common species may have been the model of some engraved slate owl plaques of the Copper Age. (Juan J. Negro / CC BY 4.0)

Two fledglings of the species often called Little Owl (Athene noctua). This frequent species might have been the mannequin of some engraved slate owl plaques of the Copper Age. (Juan J. Negro / CC BY 4.0 )

Have Archaeologists Underestimated the Cultural Contributions of Children?

It stays to be seen if the conclusions of the Spanish workforce are accepted by archaeologists and anthropologists who specialize within the research of Copper Age European tradition. A 100-percent consensus appears unlikely, given the distant age of the objects and the lack of expertise in regards to the tradition that created them.

Since the mysterious owl plaques had been first found greater than a century in the past, many alternative theories have been supplied to elucidate their origin. Some archaeologists instructed they had been a type of ornamental jewellery modeled after related jewellery items manufactured in historic predynastic Egypt . Others stated they had been most certainly recreations of a goddess that was related to owls, and due to this fact would have been made to honor that goddess.

Some interpretations have concluded that they had been spiritual and symbolic pictures portraying an animal that was thought-about sacred in itself, irrespective of any god or goddess. A closing concept acknowledged they had been representations of the lifeless, made to seem like owls as a result of that specific animal was linked one way or the other to the afterlife within the perception system of the creators.

Even if the brand new speculation is appropriate, it doesn’t mandatory battle with the concept the owl imagery had a deeper which means. If the tradition the youngsters got here from worshipped owls or related them with a god or goddess, the youngsters would have been uncovered to owl imagery very often and will have been attempting to recreate what they noticed throughout them of their creative owl plaques.

The thriller of who made the owl plaques and why might by no means be definitively solved. But in the event that they had been the truth is made by kids, it raises an attention-grabbing query: what number of different objects discovered at archaeological websites all over the world had been really made by kids as a substitute of adults? It can be attention-grabbing to see if the analysis mission undertaken by Juan Negro and his colleagues in Spain is emulated elsewhere, particularly by archaeologists looking for new methods to interpret previous discoveries.

Top picture: Composite picture depicting the similitude between a duplicate of the Valencian slate owl plaque with inserted feathers (on the left) and the long-eared owl species which can have impressed quite a few engraved owl plaques (on the proper). Source: Juan J. Negro / CC BY 4.0

By Nathan Falde



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