Subject:      complexity as evidence of contact (was: Olmec emergence
From: (Yuri Kuchinsky)
Date:         1997/06/04
Message-ID:   <5n44vu$i2$>
Newsgroups:   sci.archaeology.mesoamerican,sci.archaeology,alt.mythology

Garry Williams ([22] wrote:
: [23] (Yuri Kuchinsky) wrote:

: >But I really see some connections from across the Pacific. Their art is
: >very important in this respect. Whether people are "inventive" or not, I
: >don't think certain complex artistic styles were likely to have been
: >invented more than once. Laws of mathematical probability are just too
: >strongly against this. Unfortunately, little attention is being given to
: >these artistic parallels. Are many people familiar with all the work done
: >by Professor Heine-Geldern?

: Might you give us the details, or at least a reference to a work where
: the details are laid out for all to see, of the stochastic model (as
: in, "Laws of mathematical probability") used to predict the
: unlikelihood that "certain complex artistic styles were likely to have
: been invented more than once" ?


Well, this matter is relatively quite simple, and doesn't need to involve
any advanced mathematics, I hope. :) Paul Tolstoy explained it quite
nicely in some of his publications on bark-beaters (used in paper-making)
parallels in Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. The key is the complexity of
a process or a technique. According to him, the more the complexity of two
parallel processes (technological processes that are found in two cultures
far removed from each other) increases, the less likely it would have been
for both of them to have been invented independently. If parts of a
process are found to be non-essential, i.e. these parts/components are
arbitrary, and not determined by practical utility, then the likelihood
decreases even further. Of course one can write mathematical equations
stating this with some precision, but I don't think he actually did this.

Here's a quote from Tolstoy:

        In effect, we measure thus the uniqueness and complexity of a set
        of resemblances, which we can contrast to all the possible
        non-resemblances and their combinations which _could_ occur, yet
        do not. I called that the test of the _plurality of alternatives_,
        and recommended its use jointly with other tests, of which two
        others depend on structural understanding: that of the
        _non-essentialness_ of some of the commonalties of the systems
        compared (more accurately, the degree to which their form cannot
        be accounted for by their function), and that of their
        _redundancy_, i.e. the co-occurence, in these systems, of more
        than one alternative in the same function or position.
                Tolstoy, QUARTERLY REVIEW OF ARCHAEOLOGY, 7:3-4 (1986),
                p. 7

This is a very long article that looks at these questions in great detail.

Let's take an example. There're many mythologies around the world
associated with the moon. Let's say it would be quite possible for two
tribes far removed from each other to see an animal on the moon. Fine,
independent invention.

Next step, what are the chances of this animal on the moon, as seen there
by two different tribes, to be the same animal? Many candidates are
available, so if the animal is the same, the likelihood of independent
invention decreases.

Next step, what are the chances of this _same animal_ to be seen, by
tribes in two places far removed from each other, to be engaging in the
_same activity_? The probability of independent invention decreases
further. And so on.

Of course, by now, many people will realise that I'm talking about that
famous "Rabbit in the Moon" that is present both in China and in America.
And here's another quote:

        "...every sinologist who visits Mexico is amazed that the Aztecs
        should have had the idea that there was a rabbit in the moon,
        since this is so characteristically Chinese. The rabbit was
        associated with the Octli god or gods of _pulque_, and therefore
        of alcohol-extracts of drug-plants, as also with sex, procreation
        and licentiousness. In the Chinese palace of the Lady of the
        Moon, the Rabbit pounded perpetually the drugs of the elixir of
        immortality." Joseph Needham, TRANS-PACIFIC ECHOES, 1985, p. 30

Needham provides further references, and two pictures, one from Mexico,
and one from China, portaying a Rabbit in the Moon mixing up the

Independent invention? Somehow I doubt it. And when you put this
mythological complex side by side with many other mythological complexes
that are parallel on both sides of the Pacific, the probability of
independent inventions becomes rather insignificant, IMO.

The same thing applies to artistic techniques, certainly. As the
complexity increases, the probability of physical contact between the two
tribes increases also.

Of course this is just a brief and mostly off-the-cuff summary. It would
take me a bit more time to provide more references and footnotes. There's
much to be said about all this, and many more factors to consider.

For many artistic parallels in Asia, Oceania, and America, a good source
symposium arranged by the Dept. of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia
University, NY, Noel Barnard, ed, 1973, (3 volumes). This includes an
important article by Heine-Geldern, and another article by Tolstoy. His
additional research on bark-beaters was published in SCIENCE not so long
ago, and I can find a ref for this too.



Yuri Kuchinsky   | "Where there is the Tree of Knowledge, there
     -=-         | is always Paradise: so say the most ancient
 in Toronto      | and the most modern serpents."  F. Nietzsche
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