Saturday 13 March 2010

Love in Bethlehem, 11 000 years ago

This is my new all time favourite object.

It is the Ain Sakhri lovers, and has formed part of the History of the World in 100 Objects series, narrated beautifully by Neil MacGregor.

The history of this object can be completely, and more thoroughly researched by clinking the link above. Here, I would like to tell you why I love it. But, if you really love this, listen to Neil talk about it. He is so precise with his words, you will never forget the story.

Where to start? It is made from 'chattered' stone. A pebble which has journeyed down stream, 'chattering' against other stones as it passes through the water. This has made the pebble smooth, its contact with others has rubbed off its hard edges, made it soft to the touch. At some point in the journey, someone, perhaps the person whose domestic and homely cave in which this figurine was found, picked this smooth stone from the cold waters and carved it into an image of human love. A couple locked in a sexual embrace. Smooth, calm, intimate.

It was found in the Ain Sakrhi cave, near Bethlehem. How amazing that the oldest representation of human love was found there! These lovers date from 8000bc, picked up by a traveling bedouin, sold to the French Fathers and acquired by Rene Neuville in 1958. The person who carved this beautiful image of lovers was a member of the Natufian people. Natufians are noted as being the first human beings to farm their food. They bred sheep and goats, and so had some understanding about the principles of reproduction. They hunted gazelle with their dogs, and gathered figs, acorns, pistachios, wild lentils, chick peas and wheat. As a lifestyle they had developed a way of staying in one place and producing an abundance of food. Naturally, this led to periods of reflection, thought and time to carve so beautiful and object.

It is amazing to me that in such moments of reflection so long ago, someone would have chosen to carve two people loving each other. Many anthropologists have argued that early human people did not have long term monogamous relationships. That sex was just a way of continuing the species, and that women grouped together to look after their offspring, whilst men headed out to hunt. This statue does not speak of that phenomenon. It is not possible to tell which of these figures is male, and which is female, they are so tightly embraced. They are looking into each others' eyes. One wraps their arms around the shoulder of the other, their legs are entwined. This, to me at least, is an image of love.

So, in conclusion, why to I really love this object? A chattering stone made a journey to Bethlehem, was picked out of the cold and moulded by a human hand into the form of love. And all of this happened because of the moment of reflection good food brought. Now, that is a perfect narration of how the world should be.