Searching for the Golden Antler Deer
Modern scientific ideas about the origination and development of primeval art, which is one of the most mysterious and complex phenomena in the field of humanities, have been formed mostly due to works of academician A. P. Okladnikov. In his book “The Dawn of Art”, the scientist wrote, “If the primeval art provided a means for a better understanding of environment and the place of humans in this world, it is hardly possible to imagine any ancient human community that would avoid artistic activities”.
Okladnikov ascribed the initiation of drawing activities to the Mousterian Neanderthal culture, which he examined in Middle Asia, in one of the earliest burial places of the Teshik-Tash site where a boy remains were found.
The ancient drawings, ranging from antiquity to modern ethnography, from monumental sculpture to plastic arts, were all presented by him as a highly informative historical source. Thus, the plots of petroglyphs illustrated the everyday life of the ancient people, their manner of hunting, sacred animals, transport, arms, ceremonials and beliefs.
A. P. Okladnikov is a USSR AS academician, prominent archaeologist, historian and ethnographer, pioneer of humanities in Siberia, Director of the Institute of History, Philology, and Philosophy USSR AS (1966—1981)
Highly excited and enchanted we experienced an encounter with primeval painters’ work on Shishkinskie Rocks. We were facing a small but clear and ringing rivulet of Art, which was due to become a mighty full-flow river. We only had to follow the curves of the rivulet farther and farther to meet the coming thousands of years: from the Art of Paleolithic to Neolithic, from Neolithic to the Bronze Age, and then to the Iron Age…*
* A. P. Derevyanko, Searching for the Golden Antler Deer. Moscow, Sovetskaya Rossiya, 1980
Based on a profound semantic analysis, Okladnikov recognized the dominant images of the mythological world view of Siberian aborigines. Among its central figures аre the moose and red deer; its central plot is a giant hunter hunting a golden antler deer. Not only the deer’s fate but also the whole world and its inhabitants depend on the outcome of the hunt. The scientist has proved that one of the most ancient motives of general cosmological views of the northern tribes was the image of the moose, connected with the sun, while the idea of the cosmic hunt goes back to the mythology of Neolithic hunters.
During more than fifty years of his research work, Okladnikov discovered and studied hundreds of sites with petroglyphs varying in age, which are spread over a vast area from Pamir to the Far East, and from Yakutia to the Gobi Altai.
Okladnikov called the group of rock drawings on the Lena River near the village of Shishkino a rock chronicle of the Baikal tribes. However, to read its pages one needs to be talented, erudite, and selfless; in this respect, the scientist was unrivalled. To illustrate the fact, it is worth referring to the memoirs of academician V. I. Molodin, who described the ice road leading to the famous Tourochakskaya inscription, to reach which workers of expeditions had to get through waist-high in snow. At that time, academician Okladnikov was nearly seventy…
The pupils and followers of academician Okladnikov constitute a separate scientific school, which continues the study of the ancient art of Siberia and Central Asia. The productivity of Okladnikov’s research strategy is quite evident today, as well as the fact that the process of art studying is endless and every generation of scientists will search for different approaches to the phenomenon.
D. V. Cheremisin, Candidate of history (Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, SB RAS, NSC)