Researchers find werewolf fears 10,000 years ago
They were created to trigger our most primitive fears by depicting half-human, half-animal monsters that hunted the living.
But these horrific creatures differed in one crucial way from the warped humanoid beasts that fill the high school corridors of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or the werewolves and blood-sucking monsters that populate horror books. These creatures were painted by Stone Age peoples more than 10,000 years ago and represent some of the world's oldest art.
The surprising discovery that werewolves are as old as humanity is the handiwork of researchers who have carried out a major analysis of the world's ancient rock art sites in Europe, Africa and Australia.
"We looked at art that goes back to the dawn of humanity and found it had one common feature: animal-human hybrids," said Dr. Christopher Chippindale, of the museum of archaeology and anthropology at Cambridge University in England.
"Werewolves and vampires are as old as art, in other words," he said. "These composite beings, from a world between humans and animals, are a common theme from the beginning of painting."
Chippindale's research carried out with Paul Tacon of the Australian Museum in Sydney involved conducting surveys of rock art painted on cliffs in northern Australia, on ledges in South Africa and inside caverns in France and Spain. These are the world's principal prehistoric art sites.
Nor are they simply made up of crude daubs of paint or streaks of charcoal. Many were executed with breathtaking flair.
For example, those at the recently discovered Grotte Chauvet near the Ardeche Gorge in France are more than 30,000 years old, but have stunned critics with their grace and style: horses rearing on their hind legs, rhinoceroses charging.
Most archaeologists have examined these paintings for evidence of the creatures that were hunted in prehistoric times. Naturally, these varied according to locality, but Tacon and Chippindale wanted to find common denominators among these creations, despite the fact that they were painted on different continents.
After careful analysis, they found only one: the "therianthropes" human-animal hybrids. Statues of cat-head humans, for example, were found in Europe, while in Australia the team discovered paintings of feathered humans with birdlike heads and drawings of men with the heads of fruit bats. One of these animal-head beings is depicted attacking a woman, like a poster for an early Hollywood horror film.
"Hybrids were the one ubiquitous theme we discovered," Chippindale said. "They belong to an imagined world which was powerful, dangerous and most likely very frightening."
These rock art nasties were almost certainly gazed upon by people in "altered states of consciousness" individuals who were either drugged or in trances the Stone Age equivalent of a six-pack and a video nasty.
This idea is influenced by studies of the modern San people of South Africa, who often dance themselves into hypnotic trances. The images they recall are painted onto cave walls as attempts or entry cards to a spirit world. "The spirit world is a different and separate place, and you need to learn how to access it," added Chippindale. Buffy taps a deep creative vein.
Many anthropologists believe that ancient art works like those at Chauvet were also created for the same reason.
"They are among the most potent images mankind has ever created," Chippindale said. "When you enter these caves today, with electric lights and guides, they are still pretty frightening. Armed with only a guttering candle, the experience would have been utterly terrifying in the Stone Age.
"You would crouch down a corridor and would then be suddenly confronted by a half-man, half-lion, or something similar," he pointed out.
And once we had unleashed these scary monsters, we never looked back, from the human-animal hybrid gods of the Egyptians such as Bast, the cat god; or Anubis, the dog god; or creatures such as minotaurs or satyrs. Later came legends such as the werewolf and finally specific creations such as Bram Stoker's Dracula, an "undead" human with bat-like features who preyed on the living.
More recently, the most successful Hollywood horror movies films such as "Alien" and "Predator" have focused on creations that mixed the features of reptiles or insects with those of humans. "These were wellmade films, but they also succeeded because they tapped such an ancient urge," said Chippindale.
DEPICTED AS FIERCE killers, wolves don't always live up to their reputations. AFP PHOTO
DEMONIC WOLVES and half-humans have always exerted a fascination over mankind, evidenced by the discovery that our Stone Age forefathers feared them too. AP PHOTO