Ice Age Horse

Ice Age horse

Happy Winter Solistice!

My painting is a reconstruction of what a horse looked like during the time of the Ice Age based on cave paintings. Representations of horses and other animals were carved, painted and drawn by Upper Palaeolithic artists and grace the walls of several European caves. The most famous examples are found in Lascaux and Chauvet in France and Altimera in Spain.

ice_lasc_hors

Cave painting of a horse from Lascaux

This equine image from Lascaux (dating approximately 17,000 years ago) reveals features similar to the Jungarian horse or Przewalski’s horse, which is known as the takhi in Mongolia. It is dun coloured with a big white belly and has a dark brown mane. Other cave paintings also feature horses in their winter coats with long hair around the jaw and hoofs. The frozen body of a Pleistocene stallion known as the Selerikan horse was found in Siberian permafrost in 1968 and its preserved hide confirms the accuracy of the Upper Palaeolithic paintings.

bm-rbnhood

The ‘Ochre Horse’ (source: British Museum)

Horse bones have been found in Britain at sites such as the Pin Hole Cave, Creswell Crags, Derbyshire (dating around 50,000 to 45,000 BCE) and Kent’s Cavern, Devon. So far there is not much evidence with regards to art from the Upper Palaeolithic in the UK, let alone equine depictions. A bone with an engraving of a horse’s head, however, was found in Robin Hood Cave in the Creswell Crags. It was originally known as the ‘Ochre Horse’ (dating approx. 13,000 to 11,000 years old) and now resides in the British Museum collections. At the moment, the Ochre Horse is the only piece of Upper Palaeolithic portable art with an animal depiction found in Britain.

 

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Happy New Year – Buryat

sagaalgan white moon festival

Сагаан hapaap! Сагаалганаар!

The New Year for the Buryats starts with Sagaalgan (the “White Month”) festival, which corresponds to the Mongolian Tsagaan Sar (“the White Moon”), and is celebrated one month after the first new moon following winter solstice.

The Buryats are Mongols who live in the south-central region of Siberia along the eastern shore of Lake Baikal known as Buryatia. In Buryatia bonfires, Buddhist prayers and visits to friends and family are the traditional ways of celebrating Sagaalgan. Buuza (big meat dumplings) and ‘white foods’ are consumed during this time which include cheese, curds, bread, dumplings and milk.

My illustration depicts a Buryat woman in traditional costume based on photos from the late 19th to early 20th century. She stands by a Buryat horse – a hardy equine breed which can endure the harshest of winter conditions.

Macha and Liath

Macha and Liath

The most famous tale about the Irish goddess Macha refers to her as the daughter of the mysterious Sainrith mac Imbaith – in other words she is the Daughter of ‘Sainrith Son of the Sea’.  She came from nowhere to live at a farmstead and her powers brought fertility and prosperity. She named an area as Emain Macha, ‘Macha’s twins’, which, in turn, became the ancient capital of Ulster. Other areas in Ireland named after this goddess also include Mag Macha, the Plain of Macha, and Ard Macha, the Hill of Macha.

In my draft illustration above Macha rides Liath Macha, ‘Macha’s Grey’, who is one of the horses belonging to the great hero Cú Chulainn. Here I depict Liath as a grey mare pony. Macha’s torque is based on the one found in the Broighter hoard, Limavady, County Derry, while her tunic fasteners are based on the bronze disc with triskele found in the River Bann near Loughan Island, County Derry. Additionally, her bracelets are based on the Bronze Age golden armlets that were found deep within a bog at Derrinboy in County Offaly.

Broighter hoard

http://irisharchaeology.ie/2012/09/the-broighter-hoard/

Derrinboy armlets

http://irisharchaeology.ie/2013/09/a-pair-of-late-bronze-age-gold-bracelets-from-co-offaly/

River Bann disc

http://culturalheritageireland.ie/index.php/irelands-top-100-heritage-discoveries/81-irelands-top-100-heritage-discoveries/179-the-bann-disc

 

Year of the Wood Horse

Takhi

Happy New Year !

Mongolians celebrate the new year, Tsagaan Sar, on the second new moon after winter solstice. This year the 31st of January is the first day of the Year of the Wooden horse. In turn, this wonderful symbol became the basis of my takhi illustration for a greeting card, which the prototype is featured above.

The takhi (Mongolian) is also known in English as the dzungarian or Przewalski’s horse. It is an endangered species of wild horse, which was native to the steppes of Central Asia but died out last century. The only remaining takhi were found in captivity around the world. The takhi has been recently reintroduced to Mongolia from herds derived from a breeding programme involving zoo animals.

Terekty Aulie

Horse petroglyphs from Terekty Aulie, Central Kazakhstan

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting a rock art site in Central Kazakhstan (Terekty Aulie) which has countless takhi-like equids carved into the natural rock. Kazakh archaeologists date these images to the Bronze Age of Central Kazakhstan, circa 1500 bce.

More information about the rock art site of Terekty Aulie is found at http://basr.ac.uk/diskus_old/diskus11/lymer.html

Poor Old Horse

hoodenhorselow

We’ve got a poor old horse,
And he’s standing at your door,
And if you’ll only let him in
He’ll please you all, I’m sure.
Poor old horse, poor old horse. 

He once was a young horse,
And, in his youthful prime,
My master used to ride on him,
And thought him very fine.
Poor old horse, poor old horse. 

But now that he’s grown old,
And nature doth decay,
My master frowns upon him,
And these words I’ve heard him say —
Poor old horse, poor old horse.

These are the first three verses of an Old Horse song that was sung at Yule in Sheffield during the winter of 1888. This and the phenomenon of Kentish Hooden Horses were the inspirations for my above illustration. Furthermore, this element makes up part of a scene featured in my guest blog about the Folklore of Yule posted on the Words and Pictures website (see link below).

The Old Horse was a traditional English folk play performed around Yule or the New Year. In East Kent it was known as the Hooden Horse, while it was referred to as the Owd Oss in northern Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire. It entails singing a ballad to an Old Horse by a small troupe. The horse was represented by someone bent over and covered in a blanket while holding a horse’s head (or the representation of one) that was placed upon the end of a stick. At the end of the performance a hat would be passed round for donations of money. The troupe would visit farms, public houses and the houses of the well off.

There is also a humorous historical account of a Hooden Horse recorded in 1859 which cites the dramatic effect of such plays. A German woman, who resided at Lower Hardres, Kent, had been chair-bound for seven years. She witnessed a local Hooden Horse performance and was so frightened by the wooden prop steed that she leapt up from her chair and dashed for safety. This ‘miraculous’ cure impressed her husband so much that he bought the horse costume and took it back to Germany.

My Words and Pictures blog on Yule Folklore is found at
http://www.wordsandpics.org/2013/12/mummers-old-horses-and-treasure-trove.html

The complete text for the Sheffield Old Horse song is found at
http://www.folkplay.info/Texts/88sk38sa.htm

And Hooden Horses galore are found here
http://www.hoodening.org.uk

Iron Age Horse

This my illustration of an Iron Age horse intended for a children’s education pack that did not come to pass. Many horse bones have been recovered at Iron Age sites across Britain. Archaeozoologists tell us these horses were small by contemporary standards as they were the size of what we call would call ‘ponies’. Iron Age horses have also been compared to the Exmoor ponies and, thus, I used reference photographs of them as the basis of my illustration.

 ironagehorselow

Wear on teeth and back bones indicate Iron Age horses were ridden, while wear on other bones indicate they were used for heavy labour such as ploughing. Horses also pulled wagons or chariots and the most famous British example derives from the Wetwang burial. Here an Iron Age woman of high prestige was buried with an elegant chariot. More can be found on this remarkable woman and a reconstruction of her vehicle on the British Museum website:

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/online_tours/britain/the_wetwang_chariot_burial/the_wetwang_chariot_burial.aspx