Early Impacts

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This week, while we watched the near pass of a large asteroid, an unseen meteor slammed into the skies above Russia.  A wonderful coincidence and more than a good enough excuse to spend a few minutes looking skyward, especially for those of us who spend far too much time looking at the earth.

For me, that same day, I had pause for thought while walking a nearby field at dusk.  The field interested me as there were river terrace gravels outcropping in the soil, part of a terrace that has produced a few handaxes in the valley and where my son found a rolled biface five years ago.

That evening the soil wasn’t going to yield any tools but I didn’t find a rough and worn marcasite nodule.  These objects are fairly common in the chalk and, being comprised largely of iron, can easily been found in the ploughsoil. I collected them as a kid, both fresh from the chalk quarries and from fields while looking for old Second World War mortars.

The reason they held such fascination for me as a child was that I had in my head they were meteorites, that they had fallen from the sky.  It struck me that for me they were my first grappling with the theme of this blog, Ceraunia.  My attempt to explain these objects, which stood out from the natural jumbles of chalk and flint as distinctive, misplaced, heavy in the hand and with a surface which looked like cooled viscous metal, was informed by a 6 year old’s knowledge of nature.  It’s very telling to me now that as a child I looked up to the sky for an explanation rather than to the ground below where the answer lay. 

I haven’t really started to talk around this subject here but this confluence of experince and thought seems like a starting point. My interest in Ceraunia comes directly from this thunderbolt moment of human consciousness which I experienced as a kid and can still access now: what sense does Homo make of the object which apparently stands out from ‘nature’? what thought processes does this trigger? and how does it alter human understanding and behavior in evolutionary terms?

It’s my intention in this blog simply to scrap-book relevant examples of human interaction with the environment and explore this theme for myself from a few angles.  

This week it struck me that rocks, when they appear unexpected from a clear sky, still carry a real and sometimes dangerous potency.  I think its very useful to address what significance such objects, from the small fossil or tool to the large erratic boulder, played in our developing, conscious understanding of the world.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Early Impacts

  1. Iain Davidson

    Nice point, but there is a broader one. At what point did our ancestors ask such questions? I would suggest that chimps and gorillas do not show curiosity about the anomalies they might observe, so we can probably argue that the Last Common Ancestor did not. So it is a real question when hominins started to. We might, perhaps, look at the Makapansgat pebble as an early example (though I would doubt and will shortly publish whether they could see it as looking like a sculpture of a hominin face). Or manuports at Olduvai (if that is what they were). And then we are on to fossils etc in the (?Middle) Palaeolithic.

    • Thanks Ian, I’m useing this blog to think out loud and get this kind of thoughtful feedback.

      I’m writing about this subject at the moment too and I’m finding the time depth a real struggle. I’m coming down on the side at looking at the phenomena in modern humans, commenting on what i believe is it’s evolutionary significance and suggesting it as a topic for research looking further back.

      I’m interested with odd objects as they are potentially a useful indicator for what might be going on in a more routine way all the time, we respond to and interact with our own material cultures (objects and structural) all the time in some very interacting ways. But coming across a distinctive object (like a meteorite) brings to bear all of our visual acuity and cognitive analytic on something which is not inherently meaningful within our own extended cultural landscapes.

      Theses examples interest me as I think, in the absence of a scientific explanation, we automatically try to make sense of them as cultural objects in mythic terms precisely because myth is the extension of the social explanations we usefully recourse to unseen phenomena.

      Simply put, consciously and unconsciously reading objects in landscapes as if they are the product of agency has useful outcomes. Where the object lie beyond the finder’s experience of human agency unseen agencies are also invoked. This might be viewed as a glitch or a very potentially useful harnessing of social intelligence to make sense of the world.

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