Owl-like plaques of the Copper Age and the involvement of children



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Negro, Juan José and Blanco, Guillermo and Rodríguez-Rodríguez, Eduardo and Díaz Núñez de Arenas, Víctor M. (2022) Owl-like plaques of the Copper Age and the involvement of children. Scientific reports, 12 (1). ISSN 2045-2322

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Official URL: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-022-23530-0

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In the Copper Age, slate engraved plaques were produced massively in the southwestern corner of the Iberian Peninsula. Researchers have speculated about the function of these palm-sized stone objects for more than a century, although most have favored the idea that they represented goddesses, and served ritual purposes. The plaques are engraved with different designs of varying complexity. In some of them, the ones sporting two large frontal eyes, we clearly see owls modelled after two species present in the area: the little owl ( Athene noctua ), and the long-eared owl ( Asio otus ). These two species, living in semi-open habitats, were possibly the most abundant owls around the human settlements and surrounding cultivated fields of the Chalcolithic period. People must have been aware of the owl presence and possibly interacted with them. Why owls but no other animals have been the models may relate to the fact they are the most anthropomorphic of all animals, with large frontally-placed eyes in their enormous heads. In the iconography, owls are systematically represented, even today, with their two eyes staring at the observer, as opposed to the lateral view used for any other animal. Additionally, slate is one of the commonest surface rocks in southwestern Iberia, and it provides a blank canvas for engraving lines using pointed tools made of flint, quartz or copper. The way slates exfoliate makes easy to craft owl-looking plaques. To silhouette animals other than owls in a recognizable way would request extra carving abilities and specific tools. Plaque manufacture and design were simple and did not demand high skills nor intensive labor as demonstrated in replication experiments. Owl engravings could have been executed by youngsters, as they resemble owls painted today by elementary school students. This also suggests that schematic drawings are universal and timeless. We propose that the owl-like slate plaques are the remains of a set of objects used in both playful activities and in ritual ceremonies. The actual engraving of the plaques may have been part of the game. Owlish slate plaques were often perforated twice at the top. We interpret this as insertion points for actual bird feathers added to the plaques, right at the place where tufts emerge in live owls. The frontier among play and ritual is diffuse in liminal societies and there is no contradiction in playing with animal-like toys and, at some point, using them as offerings as part of community rituals related, for instance, to the colossal megalithic tombs so characteristic of the Copper Age.

Item Type:Article
Uncontrolled Keywords:Edad del cobre, búho
Palabras clave (otros idiomas):Copper age, owl
Subjects:Medical sciences > Psychology > Anthropology
Medical sciences > Biology
Medical sciences > Biology > Birds
Humanities > History > Archaeology
Humanities > History > Prehistory
Humanities > Art history
ID Code:76223
Deposited On:06 Feb 2023 11:24
Last Modified:06 Feb 2023 11:24

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