Ancient signs, symbols and metaphors: thinking on cognitive dimension of the un-deciphered images found in Sri Lanka
This essay is an attempt to provide an interpretative synthesis of the content of the un-deciphered or mostly ignored registers of painted images reported in Sri Lanka. An attempt has been made to assess them in a cognitive perspective from a theoretical and
communicative viewpoint. Irrespective of their very iconic nature, they were subjected to a structural analysis based on syntactic
principles in linguistics, with the belief that such an approach could facilitate to understand on what those painted images had intended to communicate in their systemic contexts.
Several characteristics; including the very limited number of icons, their repeated occurrence and the similarities of structural organization across the sites, urged one to assume that, those painted image registers (PIR) could have provided certain meanings
to a majority of viewers who were able to respond accordingly. The organization of individual icons into a meaningful composition was a conscious effort which involved a complex cognitive process. It is argued here as the images in our PIR behave either individually or collectively in a similar way as a word performs in the total syntactic structure of a linguistic composition.
Critics may take a stand against the present argument that it is overwhelmingly optimistic and seemingly engulfed in subjective reasoning. It is true that there is no methodical tie evidenced in such an argument that unequivocally relates to the functional-processual archaeologi of 1960s.
The preoccupations of the early stage of processual (Binford & Binford 1968; Clarke 1968). Such a positivistic approach is now being disclaimed in cognitive archaeology and instead seeks new methodological avenues for reasoning. There is a blossoming new philosophical trend that argues for the necessity of having an explanatory model that must be flexible enough to accommodate reconstruction of ancient belief systems, intentions of the people, cultural conventions and ideational dimensions of human life, even though they are unlikely to be normative (vide Nickles 1977). Renfrew has made a rigorous assessment on this issue.
the early functional-processual archaeology did not lead rapidly to many innovative explorations in the cognitive field can hardly be denied. This may have been due in large part to Binfords’s own robustly materialistic position, where any consideration of the ideas in the minds of the ancient actors who formed the archaeological record tended to be dismissed as ‘palaeopsychology’ ………………. Here we are instead concerned further to develop an approach, a cognitiveprocessual approach, which will, so far as possible, use the existing methods of archaeological inquiry to investigate the early use of symbols and the development
of cognitive processes (Renfrew 1995: 4).
Cognitive-processual archaeology is the alternative methodological device that addresses the theoretical and methodological
issues of the so-called ‘palaeopsychology’, and it has been designated as a realistic study archaeology were primarily with subsistence, with the human adaptation to the natural environment, and to some extent with economic factors. It is for that
reason that this may be characterized as a functional-processual archaeology. Explicit consideration of the cognitive aspects were sometimes avoided as bordering upon ‘palaeopsychology’ (Renfrew 1995:9; vide Binford 1987).
of the past which envisioned that the past had really taken place. Renfrew has pointed out that this new epistemological turn
differs from ‘extreme positivist or empiricist position which might restrict our conception of the past exclusively to that which we can empirically learn about it’ (1995:10).
Each person processes a cognitive map of the world he/she experienced. This internalized cognitive map provides a broader framework to himlher to interact with his/her living experiences. It was argued that the selfconsciousness and the self-awareness of a person correspond to this internalization (Renfrew 1987). The systematic consideration of such cognitive maps of the people who lived in the past is the basic element of cognitive archaeology. It is necessary to be systematic and selfcritical in dealing with such a task. Bell (1995) has provided three useful guidelines that will help to maintain the philosophical steadiness of a cognitive archaeological undertaking.
The first emphasizes the importance of restricted involvement of the statements with cognitive ‘thinking’ but not with cognitive ‘thoughts’. The second describes the importance of keeping logical appropriation between the data and the statements. The third highlights the significance of testability. The logical relationship between statements about the cognitive map should have the potential to be at least indirectly subject to testing (1995: 18).
The PIR tradition discussed here is taken as a structured cognitive expression of the prehistoric/Vedda people. I envisioned at least
two levels of structuring of visual images in those iconic registers i.e., deep structures and surface structures (vide Chomsky 1995). The latter comes to the viewer’s eye at first glance as visually combined clusters and it is an essential manifestation to compose, what we may call ‘the visual utterance’ that ultimately becomes the composite meaning. The rules followed to signify the appropriate meanings are shown by the deep structure. Fixing a visual lexicon and implying meanings upon them have an idiosyncratic involvement
called ‘lexical idiosyncrasy’ (Smith 2005), that invariably imposes constraints on the interpretation. But, the way such a visual
lexicon used in a composition reflects the internal patterns of organizing the individual icons (iconic grammar), could be ruled out.
In fact the meanings of large entities are made up of the meaning of smaller ones, like the meaning of a sentence. For example,
the phrase – ‘ 1 do not wish to be a doctor’constructed out of the meanings of words ‘1’+ ‘do’+ ‘not’+ ‘wish’+ ‘to’ + ‘be’+ ‘a’ +
‘doctor’. This is not simply a string of words combined to each other but it is structured to generate the desired meaning.
Adoption of this semantic compositionality to our iconic compositions as a means of visual compositionality, helps decoding their
logical structures and to a certain extent, to make out a possible meaning which is highly circumstantial and hypothetical (see below, ‘dots & water).
It would be more appropriate to classify the content of the PIR in Sri Lanka into two categories according to the form of their expression. A majority of individual registers that could fall into the first category are figurative and depict vivid objects and events. The second category includes icons that are highly abstract and are only confined to lines and linear forms which are sometimes composed in an intricate manner. Mostly the figurative images are painted icons and their existence is geographically limited to the sites scattered in the dry zone areas.
Lines and linear designs are engraved on undressed rock surfaces. Four sites of such images (Dorawakakanda, Hakbelikanda, Urakanda and Kondagala) have engravings, in the wet zone. The engravings in Navgala and Budugala are outliers of the PIR tradition which could be considered as work of a more recent period. Perhaps the oldest among them may be the engraved lines and linear designs. But the lack of archaeological evidence stands as one of the constraints to reach a firm conclusion on this
assumption. All those images under discussion had been executed in order to reach a certain social need within a certain socio-environmental context. A logical analysis may show the purpose of such was neither ritualistic, nor magical nor shamanistic. Selection of individual icons and their internal structuring of organization in the composition have strongly suggested the fact
that there is an explicit communicative aspect embedded within them. Visible regularities existing in the images advocate the fact
that there were commonly accepted norms held at the period of their creation. This has been involved not merely in the process
of image making but also in reading and understanding them. Attempts at interpreting such a work will invariably be a major effort compared to translating them to the present from the past. Such an intellectually challenging task might only be accomplished when one is able to understand the thought processes of the authors within a theoretical frame of reference.
In a broader sense, the contents of our PIR could be considered a semiotic expression of prehistoric/Vedda communities which
carry communicative aspirations of the first order. The term ‘semiotic’ encompasses the sum of several psycho-philosophical and
linguistic connotations. All such expressions could be reduced to a single phenomenon that is- ‘human ability to make symbols’
(Cassirer 1923). As the animal symbolicum, humans produce various symbols and signs as the principle medium of expression that
reflects their inner state that is stimulated by their experience of the surrounding world (Cassirer 1944). The figurative compositions observed during the present survey express varying life experiences of the authors individually and perhaps of the community groups at large.
Each PIR composition stands to represent a certain meaning that is context specific relative to the socio-cultural and environmental nexus of the authors. They had attempted to express something meaningful through the tropes they selected.
All icons they used for this purpose signify what they had intended to communicate. Meanings are only possible when the signification is embedded in the text (Barthes 1967; Derrida 1977; Kristeva 1974). In the process of generating meanings these icons had functioned in a complex manner. This complexity is shown by means of their mode of expression. Analysis of the RPE registers shows a possibility of dividing their mode of expression into several semantic concepts including signs, symbols, metaphors and mirrors.
Contrary to the equation by Aristotle (quoted from Eco 1988) between a ‘sign’ and a ‘symbol’, a subtle disparity of those
notions has been outlined by later writers on the philosophy of symbolism. Firth (1973) proposes signs as a subclass of symbols. A
clear understanding about this discrepancy would be useful to sort the inconsistencies and regularities of existence of the icon
in our RPE registers. According to Peirce (1958:228) a sign is ‘something which stands to somebody for something in some
respect or capacity’. It is a gesture produced with the intention of communicating one’s representation to another being (Eco 1988:
16). The existence of a certain rule enabling the author and the addressee to understand the manifestation is the major characteristic component of a sign. Such rules provide us a required code to read them in our daily lives. A sign has an embedded communicative firmness within the context in which it is produced. This has been fixed through negotiation by the wider community which could be sometimes culture specific. The globalization process witnesses a rapid intensity of reduction of such specificity of signs to a unique singularity. This is shown by the conventional signs frequently appearing in public domains such as airports, highways, shopping complexes etc. all over the world. One of the qualitative characteristics of a sign is that the regularity of its meaning continues or a considerably long period when the conventional treaty that links its expression and content remain unchanged. Some icons have been used in our PIR as such signs (see below; ‘dot for water’).
As Firth argues, symbols do not produce a concrete effect on generating meanings as signs do. Symbols are considered as transparent entities and one finds in them less conventional meanings. For example, mother Theresa is considered a symbol of
kindness and simplicity. Mahatma Gandhi is also honored as a symbol of the same qualities. One could use these two persons
simultaneously as symbols of those qualities. This polysemous nature of a symbol reiterates the vagueness and openness
of its interpretative potentials which is ad infinitum. Hegel (1817) accepts this ambiguity of symbols in his discussion on
Our PIR registers carry a number of iconic presentations that could be considered as symbols in a strict sense. Especially some
of the intricate linear designs found in the Streepura cave in Panama are oneiric symbols of which the meanings are ratio difficilis.
Entoptic patterns- imagery produced involuntarily in the human visual cortex during a certain stage of trance- is a common
experience in the prehistoric rock paintings all over the world (Kluver 1928; Siegel & West 1975; Reichel-Dolmatoff 1978; Devereux
2001). Any attempt at their interpretation will invariably be a daunting task unless the interpreter is capable of reading the entire
composition in which the relevant symbol is a part.
The third variety considered is the metaphors. The concept of metaphor is defined as ‘the transfer of the name of one object to another object through the relation of analogy’ (Lausberg 1960). Metaphorization is considered as one of the principal elements
of semantics (Traugott & Dasher 2005). It is an analogical principle that involves inferring one element of a conceptual structure in
terms of an element of another conceptual structure. It operates’ between domains’ (Sweetser 1990: 19). This phenomenon is
relevant here because the interpretation of some of the tropes appearing in our RPE registers is only possible when taken as
figurative metaphors which do not have a phonetic value at all. For example the ‘human and elephant’ association which is a frequent occurrence in several PIR bearing sites could be considered as a metaphor. At a first-glance it comes to the viewer’s eye as a figure depicting a man riding an elephant (fig. 1). Careful observations show that the legs of the rider are visible underneath the elephant’s belly and it suggests that the man is standing behind the elephant. The figurative association of these two beings is a conceptual allegory. The subject of this metaphor is the ‘man’, and the ‘elephant’ appears as the verb. In most instances of this ‘man & elephant’ metaphor, the human figure is shown with a head-gear. Sometimes he appears as if he is holding a stick. The combination of those iconic attachments to the human figure may suggest that the author has intended to make a clear distinction of the figure he has drawn, from the other human figures which are familiar to the majority. The placement of the crowned human image juxtaposed with a mighty wildcreature (i.e an elephant) passively reflects the power and command of the former. If this argument is valid then the metaphorical utterance of the ‘man & elephant’ composition would be the commanding
position of the human who has overcome the power of the untamed wild beast.
The syntactic structure of this metaphor could be read as ‘the one who is sanctified has a power that overcomes the strength of the elephant, the most disastrous wild beast’.
‘The one who’ (subject) + ‘elephant’ (verb) + ‘is sanctified’ (predicate)
If the prominent elephant figure in the composition is taken as the first order expression then the phrase appears in the passive voice. Then it could be read as ‘the power like the strength of the elephant, the disastrous wild beast, was overcome by someone who was sanctified’. A similar visual compound is found at Umagekanda cave situated in the Ampara District. Two human figures painted there as accompanying an elephant (fig.2). One among them is depicted as holding a halo type structure that goes around his head. It can be argued that this icon of man who is adorned with a head-gear is a similar conceptual representation to that in Lahugala.
It can be argued here that this figurative composition of ‘man and elephant’ is a metaphorization of an emerging social differentiation among the advanced huntergatherers or simple foragers. Probably this human figure may signify an elevated
social rank of a particular person who was perhaps qualified by bravery, masculinity and cleverness above the rest of the community. Clarke and Blake (1994) have used the term’ aggrandizer’ or ‘triple’ A’ personalities to denote such individuals who strive to become dominant over the community through ambitious, enterprising, aggressive and accumulative behavioral characteristics. Such aggrandizers could effectively control access to spatially restricted resource locations or productive opportunities (fishing, laying traps and harvesting edible wild plant resources etc.) (Hayden 1995).
Other than the ‘man and elephant’ folk, in rare instances, the human figure has been depicted as a zoomorphic form (fig.3). It is
quite interesting to note that the man is still carrying the head-gear on his head but his arms and legs are shown as those of a reptile (land monitor). The swollen abdomen of this figure reiterates the intention of the author to insist on the animal character in his/her iconic representation. Existence of the headgear suggests that the being represented in that icon is a sanctified one. This may be a hyper-realistic form of representing a socially elevated being and if so then it is again a metaphor of the socio-economic reality experienced by the person who had drawn it. Such depictions of man-animal hybridizing are a result of incorporating hallucination experiencesii to the creative activities.
The ii Hallucinogen-induced trance states persuade a person to have a sensation of body-image changing. This type of trance in a human brain could be stimulated chemically by Methyllen dioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Safrole, colorless or slightly black oil
extracted from the root-bark or the fruit of the Sassafras tree (F. Lauraceae) is the primary precursor for all manufacture of MDMA. Increase of Serotonin content process of making such creolized images is called hallucinatory metaphosis of perceiving body images (Stone-Miller 1995).
The fourth and the last semiotic denomination of our PIR is the mirror representation. Especially in communications about themselves, people used to duplicate their body or a part of the body on a visible surface as a means of correspondence.
Aboriginal hand-imprints at Laura region of Queensland, Australia (date unknown) (Cole & Watchman 1992), Fate Bell rock
shelter in Seminole Canyon, Texas (600 CE), Gargas cave in France (27000 BP), Cueva de las Manos in Argentina (7300 BCE) and Carnarvon Gorge cave in Queensland, Australia (Bahn 1998) provide some of the good examples for production of mirror
images by the people of indigenous cultures around the world.
Our PIR site index consists of a single location that has imprints of the palms of males and females (fig.4). In a natural rockshelter situated at an elevation of about 30 meters above the surrounding plain at the Magul maha viharaya in the Yala forest reserve are found several pairs of positive (but with inverse symmetry) polychrome hand-prints (for details, see Somadeva 2012).
Mirrors are distinguished from signs, symbols and metaphors due to the rigidity of transmission of its meanings. Eco (1988: 212)
argues that people use mirrors as catoptrics to reflect the ‘self’ or their personal identity. The palm print, whether it is a silhouette
or a positive imprint, is considered a freeze mirror-image. The palm print is frozen because the imprinter no longer remains
with it and the image is to be static forever. The identity of the imprint is idiosyncratic and only signals a presence of a being at the
in the body will also result in the hallucinogen effect in the brain. High content (25-400mg/kg) of Serotonin is naturally contained in Walnuts Uuglans regia). It has a great possibility to predict the consumption of such natural seeds by the hunting and gathering communities and sometimes such cases may cause overwhelmingly stimulated neuro-psychological activities among them.
location at a certain time. The communicative mode of such an imprint is not linguistic but stands to communicate a single solid meaning, which is grammatically a first person singular pronoun (i.e. ‘1’ or ‘me’). The answer to the question ‘who is ‘1’ or ‘me’ is ratio difJicilis. Mirror images function in communication in a manner similar to the modem day personal signatures.
Gaining insights from the nature of the mirror behavior in semiotics, one could make an attempt to look at the palm-imprints in the Mangulmahaviharaya cave.1f we concern ourselves with the morphosyntactics of the individual palm-print that is imprinted on the cave wall, some regularities of registration could be observed. Notable among them is the organization of the prints in pairs. 32 individual prints remain in the total register and 24 of them were organized in 12 pairs (forming 12 male-female couples). Each pair of palm prints has individual representations in two separate colors confined to red and yellow. The analysis of the size and form suggests that each pair was imprinted by a male and a female. The yellow color palmprints are slightly elongated and have a gentle appearance in their total formation, On the contrary the other print in each pairs is invariably robust in its appearance. They are nearly oblong in shape and indeed the masculinity of the fingers is explicit. In most instances yellow prints are placed to the left of the red prints. The purpose of this visual syntax is defined by the internal organization of optical frequency delineated by the use of color spectrum.
Representation of the male-female dichotomy by two separate colors shows not only the common consensus placed upon the usage of colors but also the meaning adapted to those two hues. The color Red is considered by the psychologists as a hue that stands for the qualities of (a) increasing enthusiasm and encouraging action and (b) providing confidence and a sense of protection from fears and anxiety (Birren 1969). Red has more personal associations than any other color. Recognized as a stimulant, red is inherently exciting and the amount of red is directly related to the level of energy perceived. Red draws attention and a keen use of red as an accent can immediately focus interest on a particular element. Genderization of red as a color of femaleness seems akin with its psychological assertions. Females have been archaeologically identified as the principle force of inspiration to motivate sedentism and propagate a hearth centered culture in prehistory (Haaland, 199); for sexual selection, Tanner’ ] 981).
Psychological assertion of the color yellow (male) is associated with optimism, enlightenment and happiness. Shades of golden yellow carry the promise of a positive feature. Yellow will advance from surrounding colors and instill optimism and energy, as well as spark creative thoughts (Birren 1969).
The existence of mono-color palm-imprints (ash) in the same cave wall is an exception. Such variation could be triggered offby two reasons. Practical difficulties of finding any multi- color source during later periods could be the possibility, but it is inconclusive. Another possible explanation is the authors’ attempt to ‘abbreviate’ the polychrome appearance to a monochrome expression in the course of prolonged use of the mirror representations. The red-yellow dichotomy which exemplifies the female-male polarity would have become a convention in its longterm usage. A pair of palm-prints would have been considered as a message of the presence of some male and a female at a certain time at the relevant location. At this stage the significance of mirror itself has eclipsed the importance of internal verification of biological gender (male & female) in the presentation. This ontogeny may facilitate the making of an optical simplification of the intended mirror image while transforming it from a polychromatic to a monochromatic plane.
Bhan has discussed the representation of aboriginal palm-prints in a global scale and commented thus;
‘In the absence of the original markers, we do not know. There are many possible explanations: they could be signatures, property marks, memorials, love magic, a wish to leave a mark in some sacred place, a sign of caring about or being responsible for a site, a record of growth, or a personal marker -’1 was here’. The specific reasons for marking such marks only seem to be remembered for a couple of generations (1998: 115).
It was not intended here to make a generalization on mirror imaging as they are self retrospective at all times. Any alternative interpretation is possible when the ontogeny and the visual morphosyntactics are taken into consideration in analysis.
Intertextuality vs. intericonocity
The notion of intertextuality stands to denote the ascertaining of the meanings of texts by relating to other texts. It can include an author’s borrowing and transformation of a prior text or a reader’s referencing of one text in reading another. The term “intertextuality” has, itself, been borrowed and transformed many times since it was first introduced (vide Kristeva 1980).
This poststructuralist term ‘intertextuality’ is equated in this essay to mean the use of individual icons to achieve meanings which have not solely embedded themselves but are meaningful in the association related to other icons structurally coupled with them. Use of single icons as a textual part of the total visual composition is one of the major semantic characteristics of our RPE registers and this has been denoted by the notion of’ intericonocity ‘,
The recurrence of some icons across the sites observed shows their embedded univocalityiii while suggesting the common consensus they have received to convey an idea or a set of ideas to the wider community. Focusing on the communicative aspect of this visual culture will be an aid to make the analysis on a more pragmatic basis.
Every single icon or an image appearing in our PIR stands as a part of a composition with several other icons or images in order to create the desired meaning.
Several examples iii Having only one meaning; unambiguous.that substantiate this argument could be cited .. This intericonocity nurtures the entire visual composition to strengthen its intended communicative goals.
Making images and icons is the method by which the authors had organized their own experiences into a system of contents conveying a system of expression. Such expression is the activity by which experience is not merely coordinated but also communicated. In this sense, it is argued here that our PIR are visual texts rather than individual imageries. Images function within them as signifiers or expression figurae and the message to be communicated by them (the total composition) and stand as the signified or content figurae (vide. Freud 1953). The icons themselves are typographical but do not carry any phonetic affiliation in their usage.
The problematic issue that one must necessarily confront when dealing with figurative texts is the reconstruction of the connectivity between the signifiers and the signified. Frege (1977) has pointed out the usability of syntactic structures (morphosyntactics)iv of the iconic arrangements to resolve such practical dilemmas. The syntax need not be essentially linguistic. It could be of another mental system which maintains relations between the language faculty and a system constitute an even broader notion of syntax (Chomsky 2002). Morphosyntactics of a given composition could be a natural consequence or a logical consequence. Lacan (1953) speaks of the symbolic order (s-code) or hierarchical arrangement of the individual icons within a wider composition that forms the syntactic structure.
I used the concept of morphosyntactics to decode the visual text observed in the Doravakakanda cave. The engraved surface at this location is fairly extensive in comparison with the engraved surface observed at other sites (jig. 5). It appears that it is not the work iv The set of rules that govern linguistic units whose properties are definable by both morphological and syntactic criteria.
of a single period but one maintained for over several centuries. The engravings had been carved on a flat vertical rock surface up to a height about 3.5 meters from the existing floor level.
The icons engraved on the uppermost level are two circles. Those were distinguished from each other by one being adorned with several criss-cross lines (they were badly effaced) in the interior which is similar to an asterisk. This fact suggests that those two circles are different from each other. All other icons that were placed below are mostly of animals, linear designs and a single human figure. The structural ordering ofthe icons in this composition could be read on three conceptual levels. Levell may distinguish the terrestrial-celestial dichotomy which one experiences in the natural environment. Two circles engraved on the top could represent the Sun and the Moon which are the most familiar entities of everyday life and the most appropriate symbols that could be used to denote the sense of the ‘untouchable celestial space’. The presence of two circles for the Sun and the Moon is entirely a typographical manifestation. Here the circles stand as signifier and they may signify the idea of the observable upper limit of the landscape experienced.
When elaborating on the space experienced by the people in illiterate societies the concern . is with the organization of fixed resources and they presuppose the existence of a network of. recognizable boundaries. Such an extensive view of the landscape is by no means universal (vide Bradley 1995). Tuan has commented upon this issue;
……………….. The recognition and differentiation of landscapes does not seem to be an old or common human trait. Among pre- and nonliterate peoples, awareness of nature generally takes other forms. Nature is recognized, on the one hand, in local objects- individual animals, plants and rocky prominences. On the other hand, it is perceived as generalized phenomena, as sky, moon, earth, water, light and darkness (1967: 7-8)
On level 2, the signifiers are different land animals which may imply the territoriality
on the terrestrial plane. The set of selected animals as that shown on the wall is the metaphoric representation of the terrestrial space they know rather than they see. All the animals selected for engraving were the creatures that interacted with the huntergatherers, in their real life in one way or another, whether they were prehistoric of historic. Interpretation oflevel3 is associated with the reading of the human figure within the explanatory framework of levels 1 and 2. This human figure contributes to the total composition a function similar to an adjective in the grammatical usage. The single idea of ‘interactive terrestrial landscape’ that was depicted by different exploitable animals has been further described by adding the human figure to it while emphasizing that it is a ‘terrestrial landscape that interacted with humans’. The role of the human figure is that it humanized or encultured the natural terrestrial landscape that the authors had perceived and it reiterates the intention of making the iconic register at the site.
‘Dots for water’ :
a pictorial metaphor To highlight the ‘intericonicity’ in our PIR , a bold example could be cited from one of the sites. The icon of a reptile on the painted surface in the Lahugala cave (jig.6) is not meaningful if one does not notice the dotted lines around the creature. Again the dotted lines will not be meaningful if one would fails to discern the circles filled with dots that are placed in close proximity to the creature. In the painting at Alu Gaige, there is a depiction of three dotted lines drawn parallel to each other in a form of a meandering flow (jig. 7 ). In this case the dotted lines may represent a river or else a small stream. The validity of this proposition, the conceptual equation of ‘dot = water’, is further strengthened by the equation of dots with water in several other sites. The dots marked around the icon of the reptile in Lahugala may suggest that it is a creature that lives in water or is associated with water (most probably a crocodilev ). Again the encircled patch that has been filled in the same ash color as the
v De Silva et al have made a misleading attempt to identify this creature with the species Calodactylodes illingworthorum (local. Gal huna) (De Silva et al 2004).
dots placed in close proximity to the creature may symbolize a pocket of water naturally retained during the rainy seasons or fed by underground aquifers. It is also worthwhile to take in to consideration the probable thinking process of the author of this visual composition. Instead of filling a circle drawn in a line with single dots to indicate the presence of water, the author has attempted to fill the circle with a single color patch of the same color used to draw the dots. Perhaps he/she would have been of the idea that the sum of the number of small dots is equated to a single large dot. This cognitive formula could be translated as;
d1 + d2 + d3 + d4 + d n …… =D
(in this case the simple letter ‘d’ stands for a single dot and the capital letter ‘D’ for a large dot) Accordingly this intellectual formula together with the composition of the crocodile and the water pool could be verbally translated as; ‘the Crocodile is an aquatic creature that lives in a natural water pool nearby’.
If the hierarchical order of the syntactic structure of this metaphor is concerned, two individual icons in the total composition should be read from left to rightvi. Then the ‘water pool’ comes first and then the icon of the crocodile comes to the second order reading. This syntactic ordering seems an outcome of a logical reasoning of function. From a utilitarian perspective, what is more important for the communities to know is the water pool rather than the crocodile. Then the idea of the water pool in this iconic metaphor would function as the subject and the crocodile stands as the verb. According to this syntactic ordering this ‘water pool and the crocodile’ metaphor should be translated more appropriately as;
vi Most of the figures depicted in our RPE registers were drawn in south facing manner. Right handedness has been considered as a unique characteristic that confine to humans (vide Corballis 1989). This laterality, in particular, …. ‘Iateralized language functioning in the brain and lateralized manual skill are thought to represent derived features of human lineage’. (Umoni 2009: 37 emphasis added.)
‘The water pool situated in the vicinity is a living place of a crocodile, an aquatic creature’.
The communicative significance ofthis statement is explicit. As forest dwellers, whether prehistoric hunter-gatherers or Vedda aborigines had experienced itinerant life style solely associated with the natural landscape. Unprotected locations of their territories and beyond, like the places where the predatory creatures could be hiding; the areas where attacks by wild elephants were possible and also, in a positive sense, the locations offood resources and plentiful water would have to be known and such knowledge had to be communicated for the safety and the well-being of the wider community.
The fact that these forest dwellers were keen to maintain the knowledge about the distribution of the natural water sources existing within their territories does not come as a surprise. An oblong square drawn on the rock surface at Alugalge in the Ampara District has been filled with several single dots (fig. 7). The absence of any other icon in association with this square enclosed by dots may reflect the intention of the author to emphasize the presence of specific water retained location. Some dots indicated outside the square in one comer may signify water seepage from the reservoir which could mean the presence of a slightly marshy area. Such an attempt shows the high resolution observation skills of the author and the ability of detailing what he/she has observed.
It could be seen that the ‘dot for water’ metaphor repeatedly occurs in this rock painting compositions at different locations. One of the notable examples is the circle appearing on the painted surface in the cave at Vettambugala. It has been divided into four quadrants and each has been filled with two dots (fig. 8). This segmentation may reflect the idea of partitioning the entity shown in the icon. The few dots marked at the northwestern comer outside the circle supposedly show the availability of moisture in the slope of the surrounding area, probably due to seepage. Again if it is a water retaining
location the idea of spatial segmentation provokes a new idea of the resource use by the people who are responsible for creating such images. This single image may be a cognitive map depicting the utilization rights of a particular water pool that involves exploitation ofthe aquatic resources such as the freshwater fish and the lotus seeds and tubers, apart from the water, by different groups living in the vicinity. A similar kind of partitioned circle could be found on the rock surface of the cave at Alugalge as well (fig.9).
Another variation of depicting the ‘dot for water’ metaphor is appears in a rather new association. Several human figures shown in Hulannuge portray two dots placed between the body and the two hands. The lower part of each hand is bent inwards and is joined at the hip giving an impression to the viewer that he/she is holding the dot. This gesture of the figures suggests that the person depicted is carrying water with great care.
Seligmanns have also noticed the regular appearance of the dotted circles and squares in different places but arrived at a misleading interpretation. This is in connection with the rock paintings at Pihillegoda galge in Sitala Vanniya (Maha Oya in the Ampara Distric) he states:
…………. We feel confident that no magical import attaches to these pictures, the usual subjects of which are men and women, various animals and the hide vessel maludema (Sin.hangotu) in which honey is collected The maludema is a favorite subject and occurs in a number of rock paintings ( 1911:319). The other variation of this ‘dots and water’ metaphor is the dotted circle which has short lines radiating outwards. The idea of radiation attached to the water retaining device may be interpreted as a cognitive representation of the outward flow of water from the center i.e. the water pool. Seligmanns were confident that such depictions show the handles of the honey collecting devise .
……. The radiating lines which make this drawing appear like the sun’s disc, represent handles made of loops of creepers, while the spots inside indicate honey (ibid)
If realistically these dotted circles and squares represent the devise used by the prehistoric/ Yedda people to collect honey as Seligmanns argued, there had to be a reason for them to continue to repeat the drawing repeatedly.
The main argument I made above is grounded on the assumption that the RPE tradition is a meaningful expression of the pre literate society in the country that broadcast the life experiences of its members which has a collective social significance. I also made an attempt to provide a historical trustworthiness to this visual tradition whilst attempting to placing it within an archaeologically sensible relative time-frame. The emergence of image making practice in Sri Lanka has been discussed as a parallel event to the assumed techno-cultural transformationvii triggered off in the midHolocene. It was a trajectoric development from Mesolithic hunter- gatherer subsistence economy towards a blossoming foraging economy, which has stimulated by a series of climatic oscillations that occurred in the late mid-Holocene. This approach is exclusively opposed to the dominant ideas held in the 20th century academia about the PIR tradition
viii If the future archaeological research will produce more evidence to substantiate such a development of the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, then it will provide a firm empirical base to infer that their changing behavioral pattern under the aegis of the new subsistence economy appeared to be the main functional stimulant of the emergence
vii The evidence unearthed from Haldummulla, Uda Ranchamadama and Ranchamadama is promis- ing to infer a new direction of development of the Me- solithic Hunter-gatherers but still remains inadequate.
viii For instance Deraniyagala states: Yedda (sic.) art is restricted to drawings executed with ash and charcoal mixed in saliva. These were made rather desultorily by women to amuse themselves or while away their time (1992:427). This may be true in an emic sense. Seligmanns have reported their live experience at Konategoda galge while observing the way of making paintings by a Vedda female.
The statement provided by Deraniyagala is based on the ethnographic description made by Seligmanns with reference to what the Vedda woman was told to them. No one has assessed the trustworthiness of the declaration made by that woman.
of fresh cognitive approaches; one being the rock paintings and engravings. This chapters has argued that the probable novel relationship developed was focused to elaborate the interaction held between man and the land and as well as the concern on change of the climatic events such as seasonality. Theoretical underpinning of the argument presented in thi chapter do not intended to isolate either thinking of the preliterate people who made the PIR tradition or the functional aspects they maintained with the land. In a broader perspective, it provides ‘a framework for analysis which is neither a mindless ecology nor a glorification of mind divorced from the land’ (vide Flannery and Marcus 1976:383). Finally I forecast the potentials of further studies on this important visual tradition to open a new vista in understanding partially at least the pre literate linguistics in Sri Lanka.
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