ARTH 300, Fall 2009, Wed. 5:20-8:00 PAC101
THE ARTIFACTS OF PREHISTORIC CULTURE
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE MENHIR CHRONICLE
It all starts with a stone - a piece of gray marble, actually, morphed from the exoskeltons of dying sea organisms, deposited eons ago on the ocean floor, to be served up in the 19th C. from Ash Grove, Missouri's historic Phoenix Quarry, as stone was cut to build the Missouri State Capital building. At the edge of the quarry lay a seven-ton flake, for another hundred years, until I searched there for a "menhir"(a Gaelic word meaning "long-stone".) For years, I had searched for an appropriate stone to present to my Artifacts of Prehistoric Culture (ARTH 300) class, to explore the technical problems associated with moving and standing a large stone, using only technology available during the earliest phase of the Neolithic period. While in western France and in Ireland, neolithic people had erected stones many times the size of the lift-over piece at the Phoenix Quarry, I noted that the stone on the quarry rim was approximately the size of my Oldsmobile sedan and would provide a considerable challenge for 21st C students, in the habit of heroically dragging and dropping on the desktops of their Macs.
Inquiries were made, resulting in the gift of the stone to our class by the current owner of the quarry, Mr. David Richter. It will be delivered by truck in the next few days to a spot near where it will be raised, using only tools available to Neolithic people. We have permission to install it on a recently acquired property at the north end of Hutchins Field, where it will stand for thousands of years as a tribute to the motivation, ingenunity, and social organization of the students who moved it there and stood it up. The term "experiential learning" will have a new meaning for all those involved, as will the concept of "seven tons".
The course, this Fall, will be organized around the problem of moving and standing the stone. We will survey available research and theories about the erection of such stones in the Neolithic period, as well as contemporary explaining why they were placed many millennia ago and by whom.
Our research will enable us to infer meaning and significance to these large, but little understood objects, by modeling the functionalist methodology pioneered by the cultural anthropologist, Bronislaw Malinowski, early in the 20th C. In that process we will develop an overview of both the early Neolithic period and the upper-Paleolithic that preceded it, inquiring into climate, resources, modes of sustenance, religion, technology, tradition, remaining evidence and artifacts, etc. To expert on primitive skills, to conduct a three-hour workshop on Stone Age technology during the fourth week of the course.
Our written research will be germane to the project, student selected and presented in six short papers of approximately 1,000 words that will be posted on a class website, to be reviewed, evaluated and used by the class. Additionally, we will include on the website, the emerging chronicle of progress, problems and images associated with moving and standing the stone. Prof. Parker will provide an ongoing narration of these efforts. Each of the weekly class sessions will be devoted to discussion of evaluation of the papers, as well as to planning and organizing the construction work with the stone.
It should be understood that you will not be "taught", in the traditional sense, how the stone is to be moved and erected. (No one is certain just how it was accomplished!) It is assumed that each of you possess intellectual skills comparable to Neolithic stone-standers and will be able to identify and solve the problems presented by the task. Proof of a workable solution will be a standing stone at the end of it. We hope to compensate what we lack (current, applicable culture), with Internet skills, library research, and informed creative conjecture. As we proceed, we will need to clear final plans with Vice President for Campus Affairs, Pete Radecki, who has a vested interest in a safe and successful outcome. In addition to Mr. Radecki, I have identified several others who might provide valuable insights.
Prof. Wendy Anderson
Prof. M.J. Neal
Prof. Keith Hedges
Prof. Brant Hinrichs
Prof. Wayne Holmes
Mr. Red Richmond
Prof. Jacqueline Tygart
Prof. Don Weber
Two texts, The Nature of Palolithic Art (Guthrie), and Noah's Flood (Ryan and Pitman) will be used as contextual resources.
This project is made possible through the generosity of Mr. Robb Baird and Mrs. Nancy Aton.
Attendance and participation will be mandatory and grades will reflect the quality of the research papers and the success of the projected task. We can accomplish this.