||The small mammoth-ivory
During an excavation in Siberia near Malta at Lake Baikal a small (13,5 by 8 cm) plate of mammoth-ivory was found. Both sides are decorated with indentures, the centre has got a hole which was probably used for a string, so that the plate could be worn as an amulet.
The different authors reporting on the object were not of the same opinion concerning the age, but shared the interpretation that the symbols on one side showed three (cobra-) snakes. The snake symbol is often linked with death or the passage to the realms of the dead. This interpretion of the snake may be convincing on first sight, but for the time being I would like to disagree on the grounds of two relatively formal arguments.
1) Although snakes are able to roll their bodies very tightly, they are not able to achieve a sharp angle of more than 90° like the objects on the amulet.
2) The snake's tail-end is not open.
In his essay Die fötalen Ursprünge der Geschichte deMause clearly explains what lead him to the opinion, that the prenatal and birth-related experiences usually have a deep traumatic effect on every human being. In this context he gives an impressive description of an object, which has a stronger connection to human life than snakes: the afterbirth, consisting of placenta and umbilical cord. This object can also be represented as a disc-shaped form with a hose-shaped extension with sharp bends and turns leading into an open end. Following deMause' approach, the objects on the ivory-plate have to be interpreted as placenta and umbilical cord. Similar pictures of the afterbirth can be found in many places and various designs, but they are rarely recognised as such.
It is probably a problem of an affective defence in our culture towards the afterbirth. Because if the interpretation of such symbols as serpents is no longer tenable, one frequently falls back upon other naturalistic explanations (fish, tails, entrails) or abstract systems of representation (maps, trigonometrics, astronomical orbits), but rarely upon placenta and umbilical cord. Although the afterbirth is a vital organ, like e.g. the heart or liver, not much attention is paid to it, it will rather be disposed of in a distressed manner. But when in the European societies of the twentieth century a continual perception of this organ is hindered by births behind closed hospital doors and fathers-to-be rather enter a pub than spend comfort during the labour-pains, it is not surprising that some researchers lost this object out of sight. A close look at the afterbirth is not a neglected sideline of obstetrics, but imperative regarding the mother's health. An essential part of the midwifes work is the inspection, whether chorion and placenta have left the uterus completely. Because within a few days, undiscovered parts clinging to the uterus would lead to a blood-poisoning resulting in death. The knowledge about the importance of the complete excretion of the afterbirth is of existential importance to humans of all cultures and I regard the already mentioned circular designs as an advice and demand to control its completeness. Considering this objective, there is not necessarily a need for exact naturalistic descriptions of the afterbirth, which also would be quite difficult to execute with the comparatively simple methods of petroglyphs, but rather for simplifying symbols. A formal resemblance with the portrayed object would be a help towards understanding, but what basically matters here is a fundamental reference towards the abstract concept of "completeness". Circles, spirals and mazes would be suitable according to formal as well as abstract aspects. But however, some historical reflections and a single amulet can not cancel out the persistent and regular misinterpretations, especially since psycho-historics can also offer only theories towards the context its origin.
In contrast to this unique amulet a lot of rock scratchings can be found, where nearly identical serpents appear among other symbols. Groups of pictures with different kind of symbols can be found in the whole world on cave-walls, precipices and boulders. In these surroundings the interpretation I offer for the so-called snakes is substantiated many times: that in the prehistoric art zigzag- or waved lines connected to a circle symbolise umbilical cord and placenta. For these symbols of the afterbirth can often be found in a simply drawn scenic context showing birth. With this interpretation I am in opposition to the valid scientific opinion till now. But I maintain that these designs speak a clear language. Next to many geometric symbols a woman giving birth or bleeding from the abdomen can be identified as the central figure. Presently there is always the emphasises on the spread out legs and between them a line which shows the umbilical cord, leaking amniotic fluids or blood. Here and there a small figure can be seen between or next to the legs, symbolising the new-born. This kind of compositions are no regional exception, but can be found on all continents. I would like to describe three examples in more detail.
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