Ancient Painter's Secrets Revealed, Leads to More Questions
In the last eNews, we showed microscopic evidence that the White Shaman mural was painted one color at a time. First black, then red, then yellow, and finally white. Considering how difficult it would be to paint an entire mural in this way, many readers have asked, "Why?" Excellent question, readers.
Shumla researchers believe there were both physical and spiritual reasons for the way the mural was painted. Carolyn Boyd talks a lot about this in her new book The White Shaman Mural: An Enduring Creation Narrative coming out in November. We'll hit the highlights here.
Reason 1: Conserve Important Resources
Carolyn Boyd and Phil Dering have rediscovered the way paint was made by ancient muralists. It was a mixture of pigment, water, deer bone marrow (the fat) and yucca juice (the "soap" to make the water and fat mix).
The pigment had to be located, carried to the mural site and ground to dust. Water had to be carried from the nearest source. Deer had to be hunted and butchered to access the bone marrow. Yucca had to be harvested and the juice squeezed from the roots. All this in high enough quantities to create enough paint for an entire mural.
Pretend you are an ancient hunter-gatherer. Deer meat and marrow are an important part of your diet. But rather than feed this marrow to your family, you mix it into paint. You must think the art is pretty important. So important that it contributes to the survival of your family as much or more than feeding them!
Continuing on this train of thought, how many hours of work goes into creating this paint? How many precious calories are expended to gather and mix these ingredients. You're not going to waste a drop!
If you gather ingredients for all colors and mix them all, by the time you're done mixing, paint will have started drying. Paint will continue to dry as you work on the mural - requiring more resources and time to get all those colors to the right consistency again.
But what if you mix just one color. As you paint the black, for example, you can make more as you need it until you are finished with all the black. You haven't wasted a drop. You've conserved your energy, time and resources. Now you're ready to move to the next color.
This explains why it's a good idea to paint one color at a time, but why would they choose to paint black first, then red, yellow and white? If it were only about resources, they could have chosen any color first.
Reason 2: Color Carries Meaning
Archaic hunter-gatherers of the Lower Pecos assigned meaning to all things in their environment. Stars, plants, animals, stones, sounds, color - everything carried meaning.
It's not that different than the way we assign meaning in our culture. Think about the color blue in the context of a baby. It means a baby boy, right? What about the color blue in the context of feelings. It means sadness. Red= Love. But red can also mean stop or hot. Four-leaf clover = Luck. It's also associated with the Irish and St. Patrick's Day. A pumpkin may signify the Autumn, but a pumpkin with eyes, a nose and a mouth carved out signifies Halloween. You get my drift. We just know this stuff. These meanings are part of our culture.
Carolyn Boyd has studied the meanings behind all aspects of the White Shaman mural. She determined that it is a visual narrative -- the telling of their story of creation. Here's just a taste of what she discovered about the meaning of color in this ancient creation myth. See if you can determine the reason for the painter's color sequence.
They chose to paint black first because it literally represented the beginning. The dark before creation. The time before time began. Time then begins with the birth of the sun. So, the red must come next. Followed by the yellow of the sun's rays triumphing over the darkness of night and the red glow of sunrise. Finally, the white is painted and creation is bathed in the white light of the midday sun.
If you think this is fascinating, there is so much more to come! Carolyn's book will be out in November and you won't believe what she's discovered. Her book is the culmination of 20 years of research on one single mural in the Lower Pecos. Imagine what we'll learn as we continue to document and research the other two hundred... Mind. Blown.