McDermott - Self-Representation in Upper Paleolithic Female Figurines

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The evidence supporting the autogenous hypothesis is striking, but further examination of this hitherto ignored category of information is required to establish its ultimate validity and scope. The basic experimental question remains simple. Is the physical point of view represented in PKG-style female figurines that of self or others? Here at least is a hypothesis which can be tested, although certain evidence should be treated cautiously. Camera lenses, for example, have properties not found in the human eye (and vice versa), and direct comparisons between the original artifacts (or their casts) and one's own anatomy is the ideal procedure. (Caution is urged to avoid injury to joints and muscles unaccustomed to such maneuvers.) I predict that, when others have viewed the better-preserved and "finished" PKGstyle pieces from the point of view that only women have of their own bodies, they will see, as I have, a realism in representation which sometimes approaches scientific exactitude. This isomorphic relationship with nature is best seen when the masses of both prehistoric images and contemporary women are viewed from comparably circumscribed "oblique" angles of "self"-regard. I perceive the strongest realism when the pieces are held relatively close to the eyes so that the autoscopic projection of one's own body is wholly or in part replaced by that represented by the figurine. This "masking" or "replacement" possibility affords a point of departure for future studies. 

From a self-viewing perspective, PKG-style figurines represent normally proportioned women of average weight at different stages in their biological lives. They constitute a form of self-portrait executed millennia before the invention of mirrors. What has been seen as evidence of obesity or adiposity is actually the foreshortening effect of self-inspection (McDermott 1988). Thus, the autogenous hypothesis is in basic agreement with the life-cycle realism perceived in this class of artifacts (e.g., Duhard 1993a, b; Rice 1981) but requires viewers to rotate their point of view approximately 90°. When properly viewed, stylistic or structural regularities such as the generalized atrophy of the upper and lower body of the "lozenge composition" emerge as the function of a common creative process determined by the fixed position of the eyes. It is possible that the multiple vistas required by self-viewing are preserved in the different stages of unfinished pieces as well as in the boundaries defining other categories of partial human figures encountered in the Upper Paleolithic. Stylistic variability observed in figurines within and between PKG-style sites and regions, in contrast, would be the logical consequence not only of women's ages and reproductive histories but of the probable morphological diversity distinguishing individuals and groups, the phase of pregnancy represented, and variations in self-inspection routines (e.g., the over-the-shoulder view) within the autogenous paradigm. 

If the attributes of PKG-style images realistically correspond with the point of view employed by their creators, then the apparent exaggeration and distortion of certain body parts and the reduction and omission of others cannot be assumed the result of either accident or arbitrary choice. The elegance with which an autogenic feminine viewpoint requires these exact attributes stands in dramatic contrast to previous speculations about their motivation. Evidence indicative of one-of-a-kind accidents and arbitrary symbol and ritual will have to be sought elsewhere than in the attributes of the images themselves. At the same time, the representational accuracy of art in later historical periods does not preclude its having had a symbolic function. Yet, if PKG-style images are self-portraits centered on individual reproductive events, the assumption that they represent abstract ideas such as the worship of a prehistoric mother goddess must be reexamined. 

The realism of form and content seen in PKG-style images when properly viewed suggests a materialist hypothesis for why our species first began to make images of the human figure and what function they originally served. As accurate representational images of the female body at different stages of development, they stored and preserved information about biological processes unique to the lives of women. No answer to the absence of male sculptures from the PKG horizon could be more parsimonious than that women first developed human image making as accurate records of physical changes they alone experienced and presumably controlled. 

The needs of health and hygiene, not to mention childbirth, ensure that feminine self-inspection actually occurred during the Upper Paleolithic. Puberty, menses, coitus, conception, pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation are regular events in the female cycle and involve perceptible "time-factored" alterations in bodily function and configuration (Marshack 1991a:282). Accurate obstetrical and gynecological knowledge benefits women today and can be presumed to have done so during the Upper Paleolithic. New observations about the female's procreative role, such as improved techniques of childbirth or a more reliable method for calculating the time of delivery, would have had the practical improvement of women's lives to advertise its spread. That women gained increased control over their reproductive destinies during the Upper Paleolithic is suggested by the decline in representations of pregnancy (Duhard 1993a:88) seen between Gravettian (68%)  and Magdalenian images (36%). It seems highly possible that the emergence and propagation of PKG-style images east and west across Europe occurred because they played a didactic role in the conscious mastery of the material conditions unique to women's reproductive lives. 

A feminine motivation and function for PKG-style images raises the logical possibility that the dispersal or diffusion mechanisms responsible for their spread likewise reflect the perspective of women. Furthermore, if PKG-style images of the human figure were created and disseminated by women, it is also possible that PKG-style and Aurignacian sculptures of animals, which employ similar materials and techniques, were created by women. The evidence of the autogenous hypothesis thus raises the possibility that women led in representational image making during the early and middle Upper Paleolithic and should probably be credited with introducing this important cultural activity. 

Finally, the autogenous hypothesis raises questions of individual and collective development whose theoretical significance needs to be mentioned (see McCoid and McDermott n.d.). If self was the armature upon which the first image of humanity was constructed, when and how did images based on the appearance of others supplant those based on self? What changes in cultural life were responsible for this fundamental change in representational focus? Also, since the important role once played by autogenous information in human cultural life appears to have been overlooked, modern philosophical and psychological concepts of individual self-awareness and the internalization of self-image may need revision.l9