"Ancient Figures, Timeless Dancers" Animation Gallery

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North Sardinia
4000 ~ 3800 BCE
Ozieri ceramics

The zigzag, or pyramid, shapes above and below these dancers may suggest water. The women are probably line dancing, though the design does not make clear to us what they are doing. A Greek bas relief of 650 to 480 BCE may help.

The bas relief shows nymphs (guardians of mountains, streams, and trees) line dancing and holding hands just as these women are. The nymphs wear sheer dresses of crinkled fabric similar to fabrics produced in Pakistan and Afghanistan today. In ancient times, crinkled material, stylized in art, could indicate water.

Feasts of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and fertility, were events at which dancing of this kind might occur. Plays and myths evoking awareness of seasonal change were performed in settings where groves of trees came down to the seashore. In Roman times, the Greek goddess, Demeter, was equated with the goddess Ceres, from whose name we get the word "cereal."

Festivals of Demeter continue to the present day. On the Sunday closest to the autumn equinox at Baker Beach in San Francisco a feast of this kind is held in the form of a potluck picnic open to all, sponsored by the Taroteers.

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Harappa, Pakistan
2500 ~ 1500 BCE

This animated image shows a row of dancers, whose long hair streams in the wind. Undulating hair like this may be a reminder of water, as in the traditional creation story from South China, which tells us that the world we know was produced from water squeezed out of the long, wet hair of a goddess.

The pointed noses of the dancers' profiles may indicate bird masks. The hands of the dancers at the right and left may indicate the webbed feet of water birds, since individual fingers do not show, except the thumb.

Ancient cultures used visual images to record the basics of stories we usually record in written words today. Members of traditional cultures exercised their prodigious memories, impressing on them long stories that brought history from one generation to the next, entertained children and adults, instructed the population in practical skills as well as critical thinking, and empowered listeners with an understanding of our connectedness to both the earth and the sky. Cultures with strong oral traditions continue to impart these skills in this way today. The reawakening of the art of storytelling serves part of this same function.

When you look at an image like this after hearing, for example, a story about the wisdom of gulls, hoopoes, or cranes, the story comes back when the image is displayed.

In case it may seem to a reader of these words that Harappa (anciently described as being in India and now part of modern Pakistan) is a long way from China, this note is added.

Thor Heyerdahl's Tigris expedition of the late 1970s showed that a reed ship of the kind that docked at Harappa, could sail from the Persian Gulf east to Pakistan and west to the Red Sea. Heyerdahl's later work in the Maldive Islands off south India showed that a similar reed ship, once it reached Harappa, could sail south to the equator, pick up a current through the Maldives, then sail to the Bay of Bengal and sail to the Andaman Sea, giving access to Bangladesh, Myanmar (Burma), southeast Asia and south China.

The story of the goddess wringing out her hair to create our world is a mythic archetype, available to all cultures in which people have the time to sit peacefully to let eternal wisdom come into their thoughts. Two cultures may pay attention to the same archetype, expressed differently to suit their own metaphors.

At the same time, global travel and inter-cultural influence did not start with the internet, TV, the telephone, or the telegraph. It has been going on for millennia, fueled by the curiosity people have naturally about the environments around us.

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Mycenae, Citadel House
c. 1500 ~ 1400 BCE

This dancer's profile is in the ancient Minoan style. The image, overall, comes from the time of Greek influence in the art of Crete.

The dancer holds grain in each hand, probably indicating a harvest celebration. Her skirt and the two streamers coming out from her waist are reconstructed. The wall panel from which this image comes has been damaged so that we see the dancer's feet, but not her legs. We also see two animal feet at the ends of the streamers, but not how they attached to the body originally. However, we do know from existing artwork that priestesses and priests back to dynastic Egypt, if not earlier, wore the pelts of large cats such as cheetahs and leopards. Probably the feet of the pelt are swinging wide as this dancer moves.

Markings on the pelts of large cats were equated with stars in the night sky, so that both the cats, who are nocturnal, and people wearing the pelts were, in some sense, those who understood the stars.

The image on the dancer's head is a stylized tree or pole. Some poles of this design are shown with birds on the top. Sacred poles and trees had meaning similar to the importance we now give to saving ancient redwoods and rainforests. Poles, decorated with fruits of harvest, are from the same tradition as the freestanding columns in front of Solomon's temple. These poles are still used today in many contexts, including the short columns on which baskets of fruit and flowers are placed for Orthodox Christian celebrations at the Cathedral of the Ascension in Oakland, California.

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Palaikastro, Crete
c. 1400 BCE

This group of three dancers is from a display that was originally a circle with one dancer in the middle. The figure in the middle is dancing with a snake, much as contemporary belly dancers do today. The circle with one in the middle may indicate the sun. An ancient sun symbol still used in both astronomy and astrology is a circle with a dot in the center.

The women's hair is in coils. Many Greek sculptures clearly show coiled hair equating with snakes. A common motif showing the sun's power to move through the sky in Egyptian art is a circle with snakes to the left and right. Ancient wisdom equates the undulating motion of the snake with energy arising at the base of the spine, moving out into our minds.

Any easy way to feel this energy, advocated today by Chinese medicine, is to sit in the sun, wearing your ordinary clothes, with your back to the rays. The warmth you feel radiates from the spine to the entire body, keeping us warm on cold days and making us restful when the weather is hot.

The dancers wear the pelts of large cats over their long skirts. In these painted ceramic figures, designs on the pelts look like tiger stripes.


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