The 300,000-year-old scalped skull

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  • 02 Jan 2015 at 3:03 pm #6167

    jasonp
    Member

    At the beginning of Blood Meridian there’s this quote:

    “Clark, who led last year’s expedition to the Afar region of northern Ethiopia, and UC Berkeley colleague Tim D. White, also said that a re-examination of a 300,000-year-old fossil skull found in the same region earlier showed evidence of having been scalped.”

    The Yuma Daily Sun
    June 13, 1982

    This is an interesting quote.

    So I guess what McCarthy is saying is that we were a-scalpin each other 300,000 years ago, we were a-scalpin each other a couple hundred years ago, we’re doing it now, and we will continue to.

    And I don’t know if this thought has any significance, but the further back in history I look and see a scalped skull, the less I feel empathetic for that person. It’s almost like you get dull to history. But the evidence of our brutal and violent nature is there. In the countless wars, in the countless scalpings.


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    03 Jan 2015 at 6:10 pm #6170

    Glass
    Member

    I corresponded with Tim D. White via email several years ago and he noted, as I recall, that the Bodo skull is much older than what the scientists originally thought, twice as old as it turns out. I also have copies of the original newspaper article which McCarthy used for the chilling epigraph. Just some trivia for the thread.

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodo_Cranium


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    04 Jan 2015 at 8:37 am #6171

    jasonp
    Member

    Wow, that is cool. Thanks.


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    14 Apr 2015 at 1:24 pm #6907

    puremultiple
    Member

    Does anyone have a link/text/scanned copy of the original article here? Can’t seem to find it anywhere online.


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    14 Apr 2015 at 6:53 pm #6908

    Glass
    Member

    puremultiple: I have photocopies of the original article, which I was able to obtain by corresponding with a librarian at Yuma, Arizona, the original article of course having been published in the Yuma Daily Sun newspaper on June 13, 1982. It’s been awhile since I have scanned anything (don’t know if I even own a working scanner) so I don’t think that’s possible but if you want, I can snail mail you a copy. My email is glassgremlin@gmail.com.


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    22 May 2015 at 4:53 pm #7131

    westonS
    Member

    I think the interesting thing about the quote is the “evidence of having been scalped.” The evidence would be markings, cuts, or chips in the skulls. The scalpers had developed weapons. With these weapons they were taking scalps. I can think of a couple of a reasons why they would take scalps: trophies/totems, or acts of cruelty. Unless there was a market for scalps 600,000 years ago.

    Man is the most clever and intelligent animal. His ascension to center stage on earth has been accompanied with cruelty, technology, and imagination. It’s the whole entanglement of intelligence, meanness, and creative power that is fascinating. Does man’s intelligence unlock new dark corners of cruelty that are unknown to other life forms animals or is the intelligence and the meanness two sides of the same coin?

    Calls to mind the beginning of 2001, when the apes are hapless scavengers afraid of the things that go bump in the night. Until they “discover” tools (jawbones) and start hunting the tapirs and bashing in the heads of other rival bands of apes. They ascend above their meager station in the environment and become the top monkeys, so to say.


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    24 May 2015 at 12:13 pm #7142

    Richard L.
    Member

    Well, there are many takes on this, but here’s mine:

    There are a trinity of epigraphs in the front of BLOOD MERIDIAN representing the Trinity which appears in much of McCarthy’s work, (1) animal man and egocentric/child, (2) material man, whose ego is always divided between his animal and spiritual self; and (3) spiritual or superego man.

    The Jacob Boehme quote is the spiritual quote. The Valery pertains to the middle, material man of the West. And the newspaper quote pertains to animal man.

    This is in keeping with the schema of some of the Modernists who preceded McCarthy, especially Joseph Conrad, Tolstoy, James Joyce, James Jones, Walter Van Tilburg Clark, and several others.

    In his first three published novels, McCarthy featured animal man and the fall of human consciousness into animal man. I’ve no doubt that he kept up with evolutionary theory, at least via the works of such popular science authors as Robert Ardrey, the author of AFRICAN GENESIS, THE TERRITORIAL IMPERATIVE, and THE HUNTING HYPOTHISIS, among others.

    The question posed by scientists such as Loren Eiseley was, how did man develop such a big brain, much, much bigger than he would ever need to dominate all other earth species? The answer given by Robert Ardrey and some others is that evolving man must have competed with other men, and that successful man became a killer in conjunction with his development of greater mental capacity.


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    25 May 2015 at 1:24 pm #7145

    Will
    Member

    Scalping….heck, that could be a funeral ritual or something. Just signs of skin being removed from the skull 600,000 years ago seems like tenuous evidence for saying the poor guy was scalped with a weapon in a homicidal, trophy-taking sorta way.

    Okay, after a little further reading, it seems there are scrape marks all over the thing, even in the orbit, which sounds more like defleshing, rather than a straight up scalping.


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    • This reply was modified 2 years, 8 months ago by  Will.
    • This reply was modified 2 years, 8 months ago by  Will.
    26 May 2015 at 8:20 pm #7148

    westonS
    Member

    So the hunting and hunting weaponry in early man gave rise to the savagery and the killing and selected out the best killers and best toolmakers. I can see that. And the warring between tribes necessitated better, more skilled warriors and war makers which further selected out the most intelligent killers which in turn gave rise to the superior mental capacity of the animal man. I can see that too.

    Richard’s assessment of the epigraphs makes sense regarding the animal, material, and spiritual man. So who or what man is in the epilogue digging holes in the plain and what does McCarthy say about man in the intervening 332 pages between the two? That’s the question that keeps us digging for answers because what we’re really asking is about ourselves.


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    27 May 2015 at 3:15 am #7151

    Richard L.
    Member

    Re: “So who or what man is in the epilogue digging holes in the plain and what does McCarthy say about man in the intervening 332 pages between the two?”

    Again, I can only give you my own take, this after many years of rereads while studying nearly all of the extant critical literature on BLOOD MERIDIAN.

    BLOOD MERIDIAN is an historical novel the way MOBY DICK is an historical novel. It is a parody of the western historical narrative that is actually an anti-romantic western, as is the ascertainable actual history. It is also a heart-of-darkness horror story while being a uniquely spiritual book.

    The Judge, like Moby Dick, is a shape-shifting symbol of illusion and materialism. He is everything and he is nothing. The material world is darkness. The light falls from the sky (or from somewhere outside this vale of tears). Pay attention to the sky configurations of stars, of light falling. Pay attention to some of the fire references, which allude to what Ibsen called the divine spark of the fire.

    The men are animal men, but they have the divine spark within them, alien and exile in this darkness in which they are lost. The Judge is childlike, an enormous infant, egocentric in the extreme. The child becomes the kid who, after showing merciful or altruistic actions against his own material interest, becomes the man. The Judge doesn’t make this judgment. The narrator makes this judgment and I don’t think it was because the kid happened to have a birthday just then.

    Here McCarthy is not concerned with the evolution of animal man the cunning killer becoming a smarter and more cunning killer. McCarthy is interested in the evolution of consciousness, from id-dominated man to ego-dominated man to superego-dominated man, from instinctive impulse to self-centeredness to awareness of our mutual humanity.

    The kid/man does not evolve to become very spiritual in this lifetime; he is still just a man lost in this material vale, wandering around the west where ‘the true geology is fear’ and finally meeting his end in the jakes. Before he dies, the novel shows that he is evolved enough to see that the Judge is nothing. His death is a horror hideously imagined, yet if we go back to the Jacob Boehme epigraph, it tells us that any death is simply death and an end of sorrowing. There is no suffering in death when we go back to where we came from.

    Which leads us to the light in the novel. Consciousness or Emerson’s Oversoul is like the ocean and we are like drops of water that a wave throws up on the beach. We are alien here and under the illusion that we are each separate individual seas rather than connected and all part of the same ocean of consciousness. We are spiritual beings having a physical experience, a kind of test maybe as in the crossing. Death is when we are reabsorbed into the sea.

    Or, as the narrator of BLOOD MERIDIAN says, one fire is all fires:

    “… and they watched the fire which does contain within it something of men themselves inasmuch as they are less without it and are divided from their origins and are exiles. For each fire is all fires, the first fire and the last ever to be.”

    See the SPARK OF THE DIVINE THREAD at this link:

    http://www.cormacmccarthy.com/topic/the-spark-of-the-divine/

    What makes BLOOD MERIDIAN a uniquely spiritual novel is the narrator. Besides using Old Testament rhetoric, the narrator makes judgment calls with the many ‘like some’ similes and metaphors. As some of the critical literature has pointed out, the language and attitude of the narrator is the center stage of the novel. No movie can do the hypnotic prose justice unless Orson Wells can somehow be ressurrected to do the narration.

    For instance, that women call to the kid from the shadows like souls in want cannot be transposed to the screen. There is an implied judgment in McCarthy’s narrative, we need his exact words. The understated implication is that they are souls in want, something that might appear in their eyes were we to see them, yet such turns of phrase should not be ignored.

    The narrator or observer is outside the vale like God or the Oversoul looking on, not interfering but perhaps like a Deist God, lamenting the foolishness of the youth at the tavern, the one time the narrator breaks the fourth wall, so to speak, and seems to address the reader. It is like Plato/Aristotle’s Third Man Argument, which, though no one talks about it, is just like Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, the system outside the system which explains the system.

    The epigraph is a metaphor which shows a man engaged in some future technological project, an engineer or scientist who has found a way to release the sparks from their imprisonment, which is in keeping with Cormac McCarthy’s belief in science as shown by his association with the Santa Fe Institute, their recent studies of order naturally arising from chaos, the ongoing science of consciousness, the new uses of quantum mechanics, and other technological marvels–which may indeed one day free some of us.


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