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The Clyde Mystery

The following is from The Clyde Mystery by Andrew Lang:

XXX--The Figurines

Dr. Munro writes of "the carved figurines, 'idols,' or 'totems,' six in number," four from Dumbuck, one from Langbank. {119a} Now, first, nobody knows the purpose of the rude figurines found in many sites from Japan to Troy, from Russia to the Lake Dwellings of Europe, and in West Africa, where the negroes use these figurines, when found, as "fetish," knowing nothing of their origin (Man, No. 7, July, 1905). Like a figurine of a woman, found in the Dumbuck kitchen midden, they are discovered in old Japanese kitchen middens. {119b}

The astute forger, knowing that figurines were found in Japanese kitchen middens, knowing it before Y. Koganei published the fact in 1903, thought the Dumbuck kitchen midden an appropriate place for a figurine. Dr. Munro, possibly less well-informed, regards the bottom of a kitchen midden at Dumbuck as "a strange resting place for a goddess." {120a} Now, as to "goddess" nobody knows anything. Dr. Schliemann thought that the many figurines of clay, in Troy, were meant for Hera and Athene. Nobody knows, but every one not wholly ignorant sees the absurdity of speaking of figurines as "totems"; of course the term is not Dr. Munro's.

We know not their original meaning, but they occur "all over the place"; in amber on the Baltic coast, with grotesque faces carved in amber. In Russia and Finland, and in sites of prehistoric Egypt, on slate, and in other materials such grotesques are common. {120b} Egypt is a great centre of the Early Slate School of Art, the things ranging from slate plaques covered with disorderly scratchings "without a conscience or an aim," to highly decorated palettes. There is even a perforated object like the slate crooks of M. Cartailhac, from Portugal, but rather more like the silhouette of a bird, {121a} and there are decorative mace-heads in soft stone. {121b} Some of the prehistoric figurines of human beings from Egypt are studded with "cups," cupules, ecuelles, or whatever we may be permitted to name them. In short, early and rude races turn out much the same set of crude works of art almost everywhere, and the extraordinary thing is, not that a few are found in a corner of Britain, but that scarce any have been found.

As to the Russo-Finnish flint figurines, Mr. Abercromby thinks that these objects may "have served as household gods or personal amulets," and Dr. Munro regards Mr. Abercromby's as "the most rational explanation of their meaning and purpose."  He speaks of figurines of clay (the most usual material) in Carniola, Bosnia, and Transylvania. "Idols and amulets were indeed universally used in prehistoric times." {121c} "Objects which come under the same category" occur "in various parts of America."  Mr. Bruce {121d} refers to M. Reinach's vast collection of designs of such figurines in L'Anthropologie, vol. v., 1894. Thus rude figurines in sites of many stages are very familiar objects. The forger knew it, and dumped down a few at Dumbuck. His female figurine (photographed in fig. 19), seems to me a very "plausible" figurine in itself. It does not appear to me "unlike anything in any collection in the British Isles, or elsewhere"--I mean elsewhere. Dr. Munro admits that it discloses "the hand of one not altogether ignorant of art." {122} I add that it discloses the hand of one not at all ignorant of genuine prehistoric figurines representing women.

But I know nothing analogous from British sites. Either such things do not exist (of which we cannot be certain), or they have escaped discovery and record. Elsewhere they are, confessedly, well known to science, and therefore to the learned forger who, nobody can guess why, dumped them down with the other fraudulent results of his researches.

If the figurines be genuine, I suppose that the Clyde folk made them for the same reasons as the other peoples who did so, whatever those reasons may have been: or, like the West Africans, found them, relics of a forgotten age, and treasured them. If their reasons were religious or superstitious, how am I to know what were the theological tenets of the Clyde residents?  They may have been more or less got at by Christianity, in Saint Ninian's time, but the influence might well be slight. On the other hand, neither men nor angels can explain why the forger faked his figurines, for which he certainly had a model--at least as regards the female figure--in a widely distributed archaic feminine type of "dolly." The forger knew a good deal!

Dr. Munro writes: "That the disputed objects are amusing playthings--the sportive productions of idle wags who inhabited the various sites--seems to be the most recent opinion which finds acceptance among local antiquaries. But this view involves the contemporaneity of occupancy of the respective sites, of which there is no evidence. . . ." {123a}

There is no evidence for "contemporaneity of occupancy" if Dunbuie be of 300-900 A.D., and Dumbuck and Langbank of 1556-1758. {123b} But we, and apparently Dr. Munro (p. 264) have rejected the "Corporation cairn" theory, the theory of the cairn erected in 1556, or 1612, and lasting till 1758. The genuine undisputed relics, according to Dr. Munro, are such as "are commonly found on crannogs, brochs, and other early inhabited sites of Scotland." {124a} The sites are all, and the genuine relics in the sites are all "of some time between the fifth and twelfth centuries." {124b} The sites are all close to each other, the remains are all of the same period, (unless the late Celtic comb chance to be earlier,) yet Dr. Munro says that "for contemporaneity of occupancy there is no evidence." {124c} He none the less repeats the assertion that they are of "precisely the same chronological horizon."  "The chronological horizon" (of Langbank and Dumbuck) "seems to me to be precisely the same, viz. a date well on in the early Iron Age, posterior to the Roman occupation of that part of Britain" (p. 147).

Thus Dr. Munro assigns to both sites "precisely the same chronological horizon," and also says that "there is no evidence" for the "contemporaneity of occupancy."  This is not, as it may appear, an example of lack of logical consistency. "The range of the occupancy" (of the sites) "is uncertain, probably it was different in each case," writes Dr. Munro. {124d} No reason is given for this opinion, and as all the undisputed remains are confessedly of one stage of culture, the "wags" at all three sites were probably in the same stage of rudimentary humour and skill. If they made the things, the things are not modern forgeries. But the absence of the disputed objects from other sites of the same period remains as great a difficulty as ever. Early "wags" may have made them--but why are they only known in the three Clyde sites?  Also, why are the painted pebbles only known in a few brochs of Caithness?

Have the graffiti on slate at St. Blane's, in Bute, been found--I mean have graffiti on slate like those of St. Blane's, been found elsewhere in Scotland? {125} The kinds of art, writing, and Celtic ornament, at St. Blane's, are all familiar, but not their presence on scraps of slate. Some of the "art" of the Dumbuck things is also familiar, but not, in Scotland, on pieces of slate and shale. Whether they were done by early wags, or by a modern and rather erudite forger, I know not, of course; I only think that the question is open; is not settled by Dr. Munro.

XXXI--Grotesque Heads--Disputed Portuguese Parallels - Footnotes


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