Animals have been viewed differently by different cultures. This is evident when comparing the wall painting of a deer hunt from the Neolithic period (Gardner, 38) and the reliefs of Ashurbanipal hunting lions and the dying lions from the Assyrian dominated period of the ancient near east (Gardner, 56). The deer hunt scene, painted at Catal Huyuk c. 5750 BC, depicts several humans hunting two large deer and one small deer. The reliefs, sculpted at Nineveh c. 650 BC, consist of King Ashurbanipal sitting in a chariot and shooting several lions with his bow and arrow, and a close-up view of a dying lioness that has been shot three times by arrows but is still trying to move. The deer hunt scene shows that prehistoric people had more respect for animals than the Assyrian people did partly because the Neolithic people felt that magic was needed to help with their hunting. The two works also show that there was a large difference in the technology of these two cultures. In addition the Assyrians would sometimes hunt for sport, while the Neolithic people would hunt only out of necessity for food.
The deer hunt scene shows the animals as being stronger than humans, while the lion hunt scene shows the animals as being weak as compared to King Ashurbanipal. The two adult deer are much larger than any of the humans in the first scene. Humans are usually slightly taller than most deer, but here the deer are drawn about twice as tall as the humans. It also takes several humans with weapons to hunt the deer. In the lion scene, all of the lions have been killed or injured by arrows. The only person in the scene with a bow and arrows is King Ashurbanipal. It is apparent that he has shot all of the lions himself, showing his superior strength over the lions.
In prehistoric times, cave paintings of hunting scenes served magical purposes: By confining them (animals) to the surface of their cave walls, the prehistoric hunters may have believed that they were bringing the animals under their control (Gardner, 28). Also, the humans on the left of the wall painting dont seem to be directly involved in the hunt, as the deer are on the right side. It appears that they are doing some sort of dance, possibly a magical dance to help the hunters. Prehistoric people respected and feared animals so much that they felt that they needed magic to help defeat them. In contrast, the Assyrians have no magical references in their hunting scenes. Simple brute force is used to kill the lions, displaying the power of King Ashurbanipal. The lions have little or no chance of survival in this scene. The humans in their high perch are in no real danger. The depiction of the dying lioness trying to move despite being shot several times appears to show respect for the animal, but it was probably used to show how strong the king was for killing such proud animals (Gardner, 56-57).
The scenes also tell us about the technology available for each culture. The Assyrians had the technology to conquer animals. The use of horses and carriages is a distinct advantage in the hunt. With this advanced technology, animals possess no real threat to the hunters. Without this technology, the prehistoric people had a more difficult time with hunting. Without horses and carriages to sit upon, the humans had no protection against the animals. This technology difference plays a large role in the difference in respect for the animals.
The reason for hunting was also different for each culture. Prehistoric people hunted for food purposes only. The number of people used in the hunt shows this. It is a community effort to provide themselves with food. The use of magic and religion suggests the importance of the hunt whereas the lion hunt scene depicts hunting for sport only. This is evident because it appears that the lions have been pierced with far more arrows than are needed to kill them (Gardner, 56). Had this been a hunt for food, the lions probably would only have been shot enough times just to kill them. The lions were trapped and then put into a gaming pen where the king could hunt them (Gardener, 55). This also shows the cultures dominance over animals.
As humans gained technology, their attitudes towards animals changed. Prehistoric people, with their primitive technology, had reason to be fearful of animals. It took much effort on their part to hunt animals for food. Therefore, they respected them and used religion and magic to help with their hunt. The Assyrians, with their advanced technology, had basically conquered the animal kingdom. They were proud of this, and used art to show their dominance over animals as proof of their general dominance.
Tansey, Richard G. & Kleiner, Fred S. Gardners Art Through the Ages, Tenth Edition. Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1996.
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