The Early Work of Alexander Marshack
Alexander Marshack was born in April, 1918 in the Bronx. He attended highschool in the borough and received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the City College of New York in 1943. He was rejected for military service that same year owing to severe allergies but served as director of publicity for the Red Cross in the mid-Atlantic area. After the war he continued his life as a journalist, branching out into radio- and later television-production and writing. He was also a skilled photographer and for several years worked for Life magazine. In 1958 he was commissioned to write a book on the International Geophysical Year (IGY).1 A few years later during the summer of 1962, with the Soviet and American space programs well under way, he was asked to write a book with Robert Jastrow, then director of the Goddard Space Flight Center, for NASA. It was to deal with how human beings had come to the point of space exploration, including a projected moon expedition, and the technical problems involved with a lunar landing.
1 Alexander Marshack, The World in Space: The Story of the International Geophysical Year (New York, Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1958).
Details of Marshack’s life can be found in several obituaries and a New Yorker profile. See Paul G. Bahn, “Alexander Marshack: 1918-2004,” Antiquity 79, (2005), 489; The Sunday Times, 22 January, 2005; Jennifer Bayot, “Alexander Marshack, 86, Dead: Studied Stone Age Innovations,” The New York Times, 28 December, 2004; Calvin Tomkins, “A Reporter at Large: Thinking in Time,” The New Yorker, (22 April, 1974) 114-28.
Marshack’s specific task was to provide the historical and scientific context for space exploration. In 1963, he started on a lengthy research program, including hundreds of interviews with scientists and military and civilian experts involved with both the American and the Soviet space programs. For two reasons it turned out to be “an almost impossible task.”2 First, among all the persons he spoke with, “not one person I met knew clearly why we were going into space or how it had come about.” The vast teams of specialists knew only their specialties; no one had thought about the big picture. As Marshack understood his task, however, it was to see why the space program was begun, why it had been a success, and what it all meant. In consequence, after a year of effort, Marshack concluded he could only “report the scene, capture a few of the personalities, explain the science, problems and plans and give some of the fragmented historical record.” That is, the fragmentary nature of the materials meant that a coherent and non-fictional narrative simply could not be written.
His second problem was more interesting. At one point he had to write a few paragraphs on the “apparent beginnings of mathematics, astronomy, and science.” This task proved even more difficult for many of the same reasons: “there were not enough facts.” Looking at the available accounts of the beginnings of mathematics,
2 See his account in The Roots of Civilization: The Cognitive Beginnings of Man’s First Art, Symbol, and Notation, (New York, McGraw Hill, 1972), 10ff.
astronomy and so on, “I was appalled at what seemed the inadequacy of the record.” Marshack described his experience as one of frustration. He knew that something was missing from the historical and prehistorical record, but he didn’t know what and so didn’t know what to look for. When he tried to account for why he thought “something” was missing, he recalled his own experience as a well- travelled journalist, photographer, and author. From reflecting on his own experience, that is, Marshack contextualized the space program within a range of other human activities: from the contemporary lives of persons living in the New Guinea jungle and starving farmers in India, to the much earlier lives of European mammoth-hunters or of persons who “had painted the caves of Ice Age Europe.”
Looking at the archaeological evidence, Marshack drew the obvious conclusion regarding brain size and skeletal morphology. Had his reading been in the area of philosophical anthropology rather than social and paleoanthropology he might have reflected on the relative constancy of human nature. In the event, he gained a heightened sense “of the inadequacy in the traditional image of prehistoric man and his culture.” He also sensed that the traditional accounts of how mathematics and astronomy “suddenly” appeared with the Babylonians or Greeks or Chinese was unlikely.3 Marshack was sufficiently reflective to note that his
3 The problem Marshack had discovered is equivalent to one discussed, in the language of philosophical anthropology and political science, as the differentiation of consciousness. See Cooper, Consciousness and Politics: From Analysis to Meditation in the late Work of Eric Voegelin, (Notre Dame, St. Augustine’s Press, 2016).
uneasiness stemmed precisely from his being an outsider to the established archaeological discourse. None of these achievements –art, agriculture, mathematics, writing, calendars, urbanization, and so on—could have happened suddenly. “They must have come at the end of many thousands of years of prior preparation. How many thousands was the question.” This was an insight that came to him on the basis of his work on the IGY when he discovered that contemporary scientists were preceded by generations of earlier work about which they knew little and often were entirely ignorant. He suspected that he same problem existed in the reality of prehistory and was reflected in the archaeological accounts of it.
When he was writing his book on the IGY, Marshack said he was “struck” by the thought that all of the programs that he had discussed were “time-factored,” including the Geophysical Year itself, which was timed to coincide with an eleven- year cycle of maximum sun-spot activity. We discuss the significance of this concept, time-factoring, toward the end of this section. When he first hit upon the term, Marshack noted that a time-factored process in the natural sciences, was “almost tautological” because “all processes,” whether “simple or complex, sequential or interrelated, finite or infinite, develop or continue and have measurable rates, velocities, durations, periodicities and so on.” Moreover, sciences that study these processes are themselves time-factored because the processes of cognition, research, analysis, interpretation, and so on are also simple or complex, sequential or unrelated, developmental of cumulative. The same is obviously true in the historical sciences as well, with the difference that, in philosophical anthropology, the various historical symbolizations of the historically transcendent, eternal, infinite, and so on also have to be considered.
In the spring of 1962 Marshack visited Ralph Solecki, an archaeologist, in his office at Columbia University, to discuss the problem he was having writing the few paragraphs on the origins of mathematics and astronomy. Solecki had excavated Shanidar cave in Iran, which had successively been inhabited by Neanderthals and Sapiens. Marshack wondered what skills the Sapiens had developed in terms of village-building and agriculture that conditioned the “transition” between the two kinds of humans.
Agriculture, Marshack said, is more intensely time-factored than hunting in that it required continuous awareness and monitoring of the seasons whereas hunting did not. Or, even if seasonal migrations of game were important, they were not as important as, say, was the date of the annual flooding of the Nile for deciding when to begin agricultural planting. Marshack then asked Solecki: where did these enhanced time-factored skills come from? What was the archaeological evidence for them? “Solecki laughed, and said that I was asking questions that archaeologists had not yet dared to ask.” Most archaeologists were concerned with establishing chronology and cataloguing the material record, which at the time was understood as a series of static cross-sections, not a source of time-factored information.
Solecki suggested that Marshack discuss the problem with André Leroi- Gourhan of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, and Marshack wrote him a letter asking whether, in Leroi-Gourhan’s view, any of the cave art was seasonal, periodic, or “time-factored.” The French scholar replied, indicating that, in his view, the imagery did have a seasonal significance and was therefore related somehow to the allegedly “sudden” invention of calendars in the Ancient Near Eastern agricultural empires, but also that there was no hard evidence for it.
In April, 1963 Marshack returned once again to the troublesome paragraph on the beginnings of science in the Ancient Near East. This time he looked at the article he had clipped from Scientific American about a year earlier.4 The author, Jean De Heinzelin, had undertaken a conventional excavation at a previously discovered site at Ishango, in what was then the Belgian Congo. This was a Mesolithic site (ca. 6500KYA) on Lake Edward, near the headwaters of the White Nile. De Heinzelin catalogued the artifacts he uncovered, mostly bone spear and harpoon points and stone tools, and mapped a trade route that diffused the bone
4 Jean De Heinzelin, “Ishango,” Scientific American, 206 (June 1962), 105-116.
pieces across the continent. “The most fascinating and most suggestive of all the artifacts at Ishango is not a harpoon point but a bone tool handle with a small fragment of quartz still fixed in a narrow cavity at its head.” He speculated that it might be an engraving or tattooing implement or possibly used for writing. “Even more interesting, however,” he went on, “are its markings,” which he described and illustrated. “The pattern of these notches leads one to suspect that they represent more than pure decoration.”5
Looking at this article in Scientific American, Marshack reported once again that he had a “feeling” that something was missing. How could one “decode” the scratches, which were made two or three thousand years prior to the earliest calendars or hieroglyphics? “I decided to try a hunch, based on ideas suggested by the book I was writing. In fifteen minutes I had ‘cracked the code’ of the Ishango bone.” That was it, what Husserl would call an “Aha Erlebnis.” In light of several of Marshack’s later remarks, it would be hard to overstate the importance of this sudden insight. The experience was not a bolt out to the clear blue sky but rather was a discovery of what he had been looking for, namely a pre-calendar but yet calendric document, that had been hiding in plain sight in the Ishango bone.
5 De Heinzelin, “Ishango,” 109-10.
A few years later, recounting the sequence of events to Calvin Tomkins for the New Yorker profile, Marshack recalled that he had been working on the problem of the origin of calendars. He had asked the experts, in this case Egyptologists, about the origin of the calendars they had studied. “And every one of them said approximately the same thing: ‘when we find it [a calendar], it is already developed.” The Egyptologists agreed that the origin of calendars must be dated thousands of years prior to the existing calendars, which date from 3 to 4KYA. Marshack concluded: “I seemed to have stumbled on a prehistoric beginning –and nobody else was working on it.... Everybody said that the problem was fascinating and the answers should be there, but nobody had ever tried to find them.” Not surprisingly, “I got excited as all hell.”6
In The Roots of Civilization, published a decade or so after his initial excitement at “cracking the code” of the Ishango bone, Marshack provided a calmer account of what his rather dramatic formulation actually meant. The scratches, he said, were “notational,” a concept that we examine in more detail below. A notation, he remarked by way of summary, was both a record and it was cumulative. Ex hypothesi Marshack thought it was a celestial and probably a lunar
6 Tomkins, “A Reporter at Large,” 117.
record. As he later said to Leon Svirski at Scientific American: “by the nature of the assumptions I had made, I had to test everything against the lunar concept.”7
Marshack’s reasoning about a lunar record expressed in the notations was commonsensical enough: diurnal, lunar, seasonal etc. changes were as constant as birth and death, something of which even Homo erectus might have been aware owing to the endowment of an enlarged brain with specialized structures for visual and kinesthetic coordination, memory, and so on. To take a modern example, the North American aboriginal plains populations counted past years by winters, “each winter being known for some event taking place at the time, instead of being numbered as is our custom.”8 Successive years would be represented on printed charts that served as mnemonic aids.
So far as lunar sequences were concerned, the analyst had to use his or her imagination to see how sequences were observed by the one doing the notation.
One cannot, therefore, “crack the code,” as scientists have cracked the codes of the ancient structured writings of the early civilizations from Egypt, Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, and Crete, or as they cracked the codes of the number and astronomical systems of many of these early civilizations. If one approaches the marks as mnemonic, that is, as a storied notation, it is also impossible to perform analysis, because the references would be not to a periodic, constant pattern but to a random patterning. Fortunately, the engraved bones do indicate a consistent
7 Marshack Papers, Peabody Museum Archives, Harvard University, Series 2005.16.1. Marshack to Svirsky, 1 April, 1964. Subsequent citations to Marshack’s correspondence are to this collection and are given by date.
8 Marshack, Roots, 140. For example, one might speak of the spring of the big flood (not of 2013) or the spring of the big fire (not of 2016) in recent Alberta history grouping by “periods” made sequentially and therefore lunar tests can be made on their patterns.9
And when you actually do count the “days” between, say, full moons, the arithmetic count will vary. “To the maker of such a notation, the 27 and the 33 [marks, notches, scratches etc.] could easily represent ‘two moons.’”10 That is, the month is clearly divided into periods (new moon, first quarter, full moon etc.) but they are not of arithmetically equal periods. This was Marshack’s great insight. He called it a “storied notation,” because the story could be checked for accuracy by examining the notations as a reflection of actual and observed lunar changes.
To return to the initial account, Marshack said he diligently tried to disprove his interpretation. He thought about asking Leroi-Gourhan and Solecki about it but “I did not dare.” He then put aside the nearly complete manuscript on the space program and devoted a year to research, chiefly in the New York Public Library, and to writing up his account of the Ishango bone and comparing scratches on it to similar marks found on European artifacts of the Upper Paleolithic. His publisher turned down Marshack’s first manuscript dealing with the Mesolithic and Paleolithic origins of calendars; on reflection Marshack agreed that is was not yet ready for publication.11 His work, after all, had been based on library research and
9 Marshack, Roots, 142-3.
10 Marshack, Roots, 143.
11 Marshack apparently was also at work on a book, The Making of Man, for the juvenile books series of Basic Books. It was not published either. See Marshack Papers, Marshack to Arthur Rosenthal, 22 June, 1964.
published photographs and drawings by others, not first-hand examination of actual artifacts. Nor had he shown his interpretation to any specialists so he had no clue whether a scientifically formulated version of his argument existed or, if not, whether his commonsensical one was even remotely plausible to the expert community.
In the late spring of 1964, Marshack spoke with Gerald S. Hawkins at the Smithsonian Observatory, Harvard. Hawkins had recently argued that Stonehenge was among other things an observatory insofar as many of the alignments of the stones were astronomical and calendric.12 Hawkins checked Marshack’s arithmetic, performed some statistical analysis, looked at his astronomical argument, “and said yes, I seemed to be correct in methodology and in at least a portion of the findings. Hawkins suggested Marshack discuss the problem with a leading paleohistorian.
Marshack then phoned Hallam L. Movius, Jr., professor of archaeology at Harvard, who was then in France where he was conducting his long-term excavation of the Abri Pataud near Les Eyzies in the Dordogne.13 Marshack
12 See Hawkins, “Stonehenge Decoded,” Nature 200, (26 October, 1963), 306-8; “Stonehenge: A Neolithic Computer,” Nature 202, (27 June, 1964), 1258-61, and the later account by Hawkins and J.B. White, Stonehenge Decoded (Garden City, Doubleday, 1965. See also Marshack Papers, Marshack to Hawkins, 24 June, 1964.
Movius (1907-87) was born in Newton MA into a distinguished New England family (he was a cousin of Leverett Saltsonstall, Massachusetts governor and US Senator). He entered Harvard College in 1926 to play football and graduated in 1937 with a PhD in archaeology. He remained at Harvard and the Peabody Museum, apart from wartime service in the USAAF as an intelligence officer. He conducted field work in the Old World from Europe to Burma and Java. He is responsible for the Movius Line (1948) that distinguished the stone tools technologies of
informed Movius: “I think I have solved some of the notations of the Upper Paleolithic.” To which Movius replied, “there are no ‘notations’ in the Upper Paleolithic.” Marshack tried to explain what he meant by “notation” and asked if he might visit Movius to set out his account in detail. Before leaving for Paris on August 4th, Marshack contacted Philip Abelson, the editor of Science and explained to him in outline his theory and his plan to consult Movius.14 A few days later he was in the Dordogne to explain his method and its results. Movius was initially skeptical but by the end of two days’ discussion he concluded that Marshack may have achieved a “breakthrough” of sorts. As he wrote later in the fall, “I was tremendously impressed not only with his results, but also with him and his general attitude; he has a surprisingly profound understanding of the significance of the subject on which he has been conducting his research.”15
Movius had also accumulated a great deal of experience in the highly competitive world of American academic archaeology and gave Marshack some advice that turned out to be prescient. He explained that archaeologists did not welcome major new ideas so that a deliberate and incremental strategy was Africa, Europe, West and South Asia from those of East and Southeast Asia. He was also one of the first archaeologists to use carbon-14 dating. His multi-volume report on the Abri Pataud is an exhaustive model of scientific archaeology. For details, see Edgar J. Driscoll, “Obituary,” The Boston Sunday Globe, 31 May, 1987, and William White Howells, Hallam l. Movius Jr., 1907-1987, (Cambridge, Harvard University, Peabody Museum, 1988).
14 Marshack Papers, Marshack to Abelson, 20 July, 1964; 28 July, 1964. Movius to Mary C. Ritter, 13 November, 1964. Movius Papers, Peabody Museum Archives, Harvard University, Series I, 5.22.
Other quotations from Movius’ correspondence are also given by date required. Movius explained that “I must proceed both with haste and caution. I must leave France at once, talk to no one, and show no one the manuscript. I must publish as soon as possible to establish priority, but not too much, merely a short introductory paper.” He must then quickly return to Europe and check the European materials first-hand, because, Movius said, the existing photographic evidence and published sketches of archaeological materials were inadequate for the serious scientific work Marshack proposed to undertake.16 Marshack returned to New York and began writing a short paper outlining his argument.
The paper, “Lunar Notations on Upper Paleolithic Remains” appeared in early November in Science.17 Marshack’s first scientific publication was two-and- one half pages long. He began by noting that Hawkins’ papers on Stonehenge indicated an “unexpectedly complex” understanding of solar and lunar events. The presence of such astronomical skill and knowledge elsewhere in Eurasia, notably in the Near East, raised for Marshack “the question as to whether an earlier, basic
16 Marshack, Roots, 16-18.
17 146 (6 November, 1964) Abelson accepted it for consideration on September 8th under the title “The Solution of One Aspect of Upper Paleolithic Notation.” Marshack Papers, Abelson to Marshack, 8 September, 1964. Hawkins was the first reviewer for Science and he recommended to Abelson that either Movius or Otto Neugebauer, an authority on early calendrics at Brown University with whom Marshack had been in correspondence, as the second reviewer. Marshack Papers, Hawkins to Marshack, 24 July, 1964; Marshack to Neugebauer, 27 July, 1964.
astronomical skill and tradition existed” inasmuch as the sophistication of Stonehenge “indicates an evolution of some thousands of years.” Marshack then reported what must have struck his readers as an astonishingly bold remark: “Computations and analyses I have made have disclosed evidence of lunar observation in notational sequences and markings dating from the Upper Paleolithic period” extending to around 35KYA. These very early notations, which can be found on thousands of sequences engraved on mobilary art as well as in rock shelters and the decorated caves of Franco-Cantabria, provide the context and prelude for the later Neolithic and agricultural civilizational structures such as Stonehenge. At the time, Marshack allowed as he was surprised at how far into the past he could trace these calendric notations.18
Marshack provided four brief accounts of artifacts from three different prehistoric periods. The first two were painted Azilian notations from Canchal de Mahoma and the Abri de las Viña in Spain, around 12 KYA; the second, a piece of Magdalenian mammoth ivory from Gontzi, Ukraine, dated from the late Paleolithic (ca. 17-12KYA); the third, a piece of Aurignacian bone from Kulna, Czechoslovakia was at least as old as the mammoth ivory. All, Marshack argued, contained calendric notations. He concluded that “the questions raised by this evidence ... entail a revaluation of the origins of human culture, including the
18 Marshack Papers, Marshack to Movius, 1 November, 1967.
origins of art, symbol, religion, rite, and astronomy and the intellectual skills that were available for the beginnings of agriculture.” This rather grand statement was followed by the announcement that he had begun the task of “reconstruction of the culture of Homo sapiens in the Upper Paleolithic period.”
The timeline for Marshack’s initial achievement was impressive. In April, 1963 he returned to the troublesome paragraph about the beginnings of science. He looked at the account in Scientific American about the Ishango bode and within a short period “cracked the code” concerning what the incisions of the bone expressed, namely a calendric lunar sequence. (More cautiously one would speak of the hypothesis of a calendric lunar sequence, as Marshack later would do; at the time he was understandably more enthusiastic than cautious.) Starting in the summer of 1963, he worked for over a year in libraries looking at photographs and drawings of other artifacts in the scientific literature and tested his code-breaking technique on what he could observe from this secondary evidence. By late spring or early summer of 1964 he had a manuscript for a book based on this extensive secondary research. During the summer of 1964 he spoke with Hawkins and then with Movius, both of whom advised him on the next steps he needed to take. In November, 1964 he had taken the first: the short piece in Science established his “priority” as Movius had advised.
With Movius’ help, he applied to The Wenner-Gren Foundation to study first-hand in European museums and private collections the artifacts that had become familiar to him from published accounts.19 Marshack began his Wenner- Gren-supported work in the winter of 1964-5. Movius continued his support by writing letters of introduction to several senior scholars in France.20 In Part I of The Roots of Civilization Marshack provided a retrospective account of what must have been an exciting and demanding couple of years and clarified two interrelated concepts that have already been encountered: notation and time-factoring.
The concept of time-factoring was initially developed in Marshack’s manuscript about the space program. There he argued that “the brain was essentially a ‘time-factored’ and a ‘time-factoring’ organ.” It was time factored insofar as it had evolved over millions of years as well as growing and developing sequentially in each individual human; it was time-factoring insofar as “it remembers, it reacts, it plans, it participated in the dynamics of relations and processes outside of it.”21 For Marshack, that is, the time-factoring cognitive Movius later told Lita Osmundsen of The Wenner-Gren Foundation that Marshack’s work was “highly meritorious,” which was the highest ranking possible within the categories The Wenner-Gren used to evaluate applications. Movius Papers, Movius to Osmundsen, 16 December, 1969. Osmundsen agreed with Movius that Marshack should be supported even though at the time he lacked any academic institutional affiliation so that awarding him a grant would contravene Foundation rules. Marshack Papers, Marshack to Hawkins, 19 October, 1964. Movius turned Marshack into a research associate and was able to support him indirectly by way of the Peabody Museum, which was the official recipient of funds from various granting agencies. Marshack was made a Fellow of Harvard and of the Peabody in the spring of 1970, though without funds or a salary. “Ah, well, one doesn’t win them all,” he remarked to Gerald Hawkins (Marshack Papers, Marshack to Hawkins, 3 April, 1970).
20 The included Annette Laming-Emperaire and André Leroi-Gourhan (6 January, 1965); René Joffroy (20 January, 1965) and several others. See Movius Papers, Movius to Marshack, 24 February, 1965.
21 Marshack, Roots, 25.
capability of the brain was a fundamental attribute of human being.22 The implications rather than the adequacy of this rather crude anthropology are of interest in the present context.
As noted above, the ability to develop and hand over a tradition was central to Marshack’s concept. In the example of the Ishango bone, if it was in fact a calendric document, the author of it would have had to rely on observational skills that had taken thousands of years to develop. This is why, in the Science article, Marshack looked at material that was thousands of years older than the Ishango bone was thought to be.
Marshack drew an additional implication: if the Ishango bone was time- factored, it was because it displayed a notation. The two concepts, in other words, were tied together. “If ... we assume it [the Gontzi bone, in this example] to be notational, then it must be ‘time-factored,’ both in the making and the meaning.” The marks on the bone must have been conceived sequentially and the author of the document, the human being who actually made the scratches, “must have known the ‘story’ or meaning that was being structured by the sequence,” in this example, ex hypothesi, a lunar sequence.23
22 One might also argue that animals have time-factoring capabilities. This is why, for example, dogs welcome home familiars who have been absent and occasionally develop characteristic behaviors to “say goodbye” when a familiar leaves. See Frans de Waal, Are we Smart Enough to know how Smart Animals Are? (New York, Norton, 2106), 2, 33.
23 Marshack, Roots, 39.
Marshack’s use of the term notation attempted to preserve what he took to be the relatively imprecise or at least non-mathematical information recorded on the Upper Paleolithic art. The most obvious meaning of notation was simply record.24 Some of the differences in clarifying what he meant came out in his correspondence. For example, he several times had to remind his colleagues and critics that lunar notations were not “astronomy” but at best a “precursor” to astronomy.25 Because notations were sequential and so of varying periods of time, not always a single 24-hour day, they were not arithmetical either.26 These sequences, Marshack said could be termed “phrasing,” which suggests an image taken from music.27
His problem was, in fact, complex as well as imprecise. As he explained to Leon Svirsky, “the game I am playing is a double one. I am trying to find a pattern but I am also trying to re-create the way in which ice-age man played his game, to find his system and his pattern. This goes beyond numbers and counting.... It is not only a number game, it is also a story game and it extends to rite and ritual.”28 As a “story game,” the notations would also convey a meaning.
24 He used the term this way in Roots, 105.
25 Marshack Papers, Marshack to Glynn Daniel, 22 January, 1972.
26 Marshack Papers, Marshack to Colin Renfrew, 22 May, 1971; Marshack to Jimmy McNeil, 4 May, 1975. 27 Marshack, Roots, 28, 31, 53.
28 Marshack Papers, Marshack to Svirsky, 1 April, 1964.
In a letter to Hawkins in June, 1964 Marshack responded to some questions Hawkins had raised about whether the notations Marshack found were representative of all the artifacts he had looked at. Marshack replied: “the order of the presentation [of scratches, lines, etc.] is not random.” It starts with simpler bones, without any hint of “art” and then proceeds to more complex examples. He noted as well that “I have done over a thousand such ‘readings’ and find that the lunar pattern and phrasing is always present.” At the same time, he said, some sub- groupings may have no astronomical significance.
They would vary month to month, season to season, tribe to tribe, culture to culture, and generation to generation. For these are “storied” periods. Usually such periods would fall under the aegis of some deity, animal, or symbol. The tendency to find such “storied” breakdowns would increase as one finds the notations more closely related to the ceremonial and storied animals. There is therefore a differentiation between observed periods and storied periods. But they are not contradictory or mutually exclusive.
“Storied” periods, which is to say meaningful periods, may refer to ritual days, days of dance, purification, good or bad luck, and so on, that sometimes may become weeks or even months, as, for instance, with initiation rites. “The point about these storied and ceremonial periods,” he said, “is that they always occur in the right season, and usually at some lunar-solar point. They are related to and come within a lunar-solar observation.”
Marshack then indicated that there were three kinds of notation: (1) day-to- day notation, which is highly correlated with lunar phrasing; this is observational; (2) entirely storied, made in advance and consisting of smaller or shorter periods within the lunar, observational count; here there is no correlation with the lunar count but these periods are (somehow) related to it; (3) a combination of the first two, based on lunar phrasing and storied periods that are related to lunar-solar points that mark events. Marshack concluded this elaborate, obscure, and highly speculative account with a more modest observation: “I suppose it is true that the main thesis of the book would hold if only one notational sequence from the ice age were clearly proven to be lunar. For the revolution in our thinking about man and prehistory would begin there.”29 Hawkins rather mordantly replied: “how these notations developed into Stonehenge is not clear.”30
Years later, after having published a great deal on lunar and other notations, most of which was more focused than the rather grand notions Marshack discussed in his pre-publication correspondence with Hawkins, Marshack wrote a letter to the editor of Scientific American that distinguished between arithmetic and notational calendars by raising the possibility of a thirteen-and-a-half lunar month year when the year began with the spring equinox rather than a specific “arithmetical” date
29 Marshack Papers, Marshack to Hawkins, 14 June, 1964. The date indicated that the “book” to which he referred was the manuscript that was not published.
30 Marshack Papers, Hawkins to Marshack, 16 June, 1964.
such as January first. That is, he explained, “Indian lunar ‘calendars’ were not based on numbered years of twelve set months accurately following one another but were based on set sequences of ‘moons’ that were seasonally and phenomenologically named.”31 Accordingly, a lunar “year” could last from nine to thirteen “months.” In modern terminology, one would say that the notation of Indian lunar calendars expressed observed cosmological sequences.
More recently still, in a letter to Chris Scarre, Marshack called notation “a form of visual problem-solving by the maker and, at a different level, by the contemporary analyst.”32 In short, for thirty years Marshack used the term notation along with associated terms such as storied and time-factored in ways that were not always self-evident. Moreover, he did so usually in an experiential context that asserted that he had looked at a lot of artifacts and this is what made sense to him and, if you had looked at as many examples and in the same way, it would make sense to you, too. It seems to me that Marshack’s terminological ambiguities, and many of his later disputes over method stemmed from the inductive procedures he adopted after he cracked the code of the Ishango bone. If, as he claimed, his only assumptions were that the bone (and other Upper Paleolithic art) was (1) time-
31 Marshack Papers, Marshack to Scientific American, 26 June, 1972. Marshack used the term “phenomenological” in the literal sense of “accounting for appearance” and not in the philosophically technical sense of Husserl and his followers.
32 Marshack Papers, Marshack to Scarre, 4 May, 1995.
factored and (2) notational, so that it might possibly reflect a lunar notational story, as he said in The Roots of Civilization, he would proceed on the basis of internal evidence of the markings themselves.33 And, of course, it is true that he presented his argument in The Roots of Civilization, more than in the initial article in Science in a tentative way. “Hesitantly,” and with caution, he said, he studied the photographs and drawings, but then “slowly ... the assumptions and computations, the comparisons and the eliminations of possibility began to give me feelings that at times approached certainty.”34 And so, for example, when he finally got to examine the Blanchard bone or plaque at the Museum of National Antiquities, now the National Archaeological Museum, in Saint Germain-en-Laye, outside Paris, he immediately recognized, on the basis of his lengthy study of library materials, a sequential lunar pattern. As he remarked to Movius, “I actually found a Magdalenian ‘Rosetta’ stone, one bone [in the Museum] that classified the procedures and the path through some of the most difficult and complex of the Magdalenian pieces.”35
In fact, his analysis of the Blanchard plaque was nothing like a Rosetta stone, which allowed scholars to translate previously unknown Egyptian hieroglyphs into known languages because the known languages (Demotic and
33 Marshack, Roots, 38.
34 Marshack, Roots, 36.
35 Movius Papers, Marshack to Movius, 2 June, 1965.
classical Greek) were also inscribed on the stone. Marshack certainly knew the limits of his inductive procedures. Such insights are invariably accompanied by doubts. “Was I seeing what I had wished to see, what I had prepared myself to see?” he asked himself.36 Movius raised this problem in 1967:
You should always remember one thing, namely, what you have found and seen is quite an individualistic “discovery.” In other words, another person looking at the same pieces could conceivably see something quite different from what you yourself have seen.... One has to have a great deal of very specialized background, interest and understanding in order to even begin to decipher the carious patterns which you have so skillfully depicted in your letter.37
As Grahame Clark asked him: did you select only what fit your theory? After all, “with sufficient ingenuity one can detect calendrical notation on all manner of artifacts devised for functional purposes.38 That is, induction invariably introduces the issue of connoisseurship, which to critics is indistinguishable from subjectivity. Even if friendly or not-so-friendly critics had not reminded him of the problem, Marshack was fully aware of it on his own.39
Marshack’s answer was two-fold. First, he argued that his results “are neither theoretical nor interpretive, but absolute. The method itself establishes the
36 Marshack, Roots, 49. He made a later comparison of the Rosetta stone to a Spanish artifact, the bâton from Cuerto de la Mina, with more justification.
37 Movius Papers, Movius to Marshack, 14 August, 1967. The letter referred to by Movius contains sketches of museum pieces with colors to show scratches on statues made with different points.
38 Marshack Papers, Clark to Marshack, 9 December, 1968. Clark was Disney Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge and Master of Peterhouse.
39 See, for example, Marshack Papers, Marshack to Michel Lorblanchet, 1 May, 1986, where he brought up the issue explicitly for Lorblanchet’s consideration.
accuracy.”40 This “intensive internal analysis” was not arbitrary because it referred to external realities, namely the observable lunar sequences against which the engraved notations could be compared for accuracy.41 His second answer, which concluded Part I of The Roots of Civilization, was that he had discovered, mainly through his use of a microscope on museum artifacts, “a growing series of interlocking controls.” He listed five sets of “controls:” (1) the numerical counts of groups and of sequences engraved on the bones; these sequences reinforced one another because of their regularity; (2) the “invariant phases of the moon” to which the sequences notatively referred; (3) the visualization of the moon that can be observed from ea