culture is subconscious

Debate: Are cultural correspondences due to diffusion, or archetype?

Author Alistair Coombs posted a link to some Ice Age engravings in support of his correspondence theory of the diffusion of attributes of the Pleiades and Ursa asterisms (,1128408,1128408#msg-1128408). Mindprint author Edmond Furter demonstrates that correspondences run much deeper than a few hearsay tales. Here is an extract of part of the debate.
“Alistair, you affirm your view that “cultural diffusion routes… reflect DNA migration trails”, traceable in asterism personification variants.
But DNA is mixed, with few links to localised culture. The only inborn culture is universal.
You cite songlines “associated with astronomy at a national level” of scale in Australia.
But diffusion and standardisation of asterisms does not imply that incidental details of personification are developmental; nor that culture arises from diffusion.
You link my work to “David Lewis-Williams… mythic patterns neurologically generated rather than observed in culturally isolated traditions, which might account for similarities, like Jungian archetypes.”
But Lewis-Williams never uses any concepts or terms related to archetype or Jung. He summarised his recent position (2012) on ethnography as ‘individual idiosyncrasy, within a cultural framework’. He cites Megan Biesele on cultural motifs that may or may not ‘catch on’. This agrees with your paradigm of development and diffusion.
My research findings support and develop Plato, Jung and Levi-Strauss, not the cognitive trance dance rationalisation school.
You write that cognitive archaeology ignores astronomy.
But there is very little astronomy in cultural media. Babylonian, Sumerian, Indian, Chinese and Arabic decans and artworks, for example, are all mutating sets of calendric characters (Neugebauer and Parker 1996), useless for observational astronomy except as more or less arbitrary labels. Culture does not come from the sky, and is not sustained by the sky.
We agree that “zodiacal conceptions are not entirely neurologically generated,” but for different reasons. My research indicates that layers of archetypal meaning and structure are inherent in nature and in perception, with some inherent options allowing economic polities some differences, and a thick layer of stylisation (such as different sound strings in languages).
You doubt my finding of a “universal, subconscious, compulsive impulse” for “sounding elaborate”.
But the human sciences have fallen behind natural sciences partly due to populist simplification. I had found the ‘periodic table’ of culture, which simplifies the study of culture, by charting its quirks and structural complexities. Your diffusionist paradigm sounds like alchemical correspondence theory, before discovery and eventual acceptance of the periodic table. And it sounds generally true, meaning that it is not testable, in Popper’s definition of science.
You found that ‘the Pleiades came to be associated with flood… after being seven pursued maidens… more abstract parts of Taurus… both remain in cultural memory.’
But there is no secure way of dating the various attributes of this archetype. I listed about five or six attributes of type 2 Builder or Taurus, in my initial comment above. These attributes have always appeared at fixed average frequencies in artworks and building sites worldwide, anciently and in modern times, and will continue to do so. Archetypes are not man-made, and do not arise from major events. Events express archetype.
You found Taurus and Orion “less problematic than Ursa and the Pleiades, because Taurus [Hyades] reasonably resembles a bull or horned beast; and Orion resembles a man.”
But V-shaped buccrania are rare in art (see Gobekli Tepe images in the link I gave in my initial comment). Hyades and Orion-Auriga star lore is complex (Allen 1899).
You note that “Ursa and the Pleiades resemble each other in shape.”
But culture is more complex than visual gestalt (making wholes from suggestive parts based on relative proximity and magnitude). Egyptian myth links them since they are 90 degrees apart, former spring to former midsummer, equinox to celestial pole; and both have seven major stars. That common knowledge prompted conscious recognition of the archetypal motif of spring sacrifice, at the time of a bull foreleg, cast to the polar region as a severed foreleg-bull, and later a smaller one when the celestial pole and thus midsummer moved closer to Ursa Minor.
We agree that “Ursa does not suggest a bear, and Pleiades do not suggest a group of women.” But archetype prompts the rest of the picture, ritual, calendar, myth map, and compromises with peculiarities of diffused crafts, such as religion and legend.
You found that asterisms “came to represent different things to different cultures across time and space, which may not warrant input from an archetypal paradigm.”
But most star lore (Allen list all the known features from classical and modern sources) expresses almost all the elements of cultural structure, and few superfluous ones (which are often due to conscious correspondence theory ambiguation, or interference, and to a few inherent ambiguities, of which I have identified five, in Mindprint 2014). The archetypal paradigm confirms that asterisms and other cultural features do not “become”, and do not “represent things”. Star lore, myth, calendar, ritual and building sites did not start on blank canvases, and do not rest on idiosyncratic foundations (which do not eventually “become” cultural frameworks, as the current “scientific” paradigm assumes).
You note that ‘sevens might be archetypal, but also [arise from] language systems… meaningless [in the] Palaeolithic era.’
But language, which you probably equate with evolving cognition, does not dictate art, calendar, ritual or practical crafts. My research indicates that cultural media do not, and thus did not ‘evolve’. Paleolithic assemblages are complex and complete (textiles, needles, buttons, jewellery, cosmetics, fire, art, ritual, calendar, myth), lacking only metals, probably due to lack of population. Stone Age language was probably equal to any language, with stone, bone and mastic terminology instead of metallurgy.
You found that “The Pleaides came to represent a central role in the cosmologies of different cultures.”
But the function of every part of cosmology depends on the other parts. The Pleiades are meaningless without Sirius in Gemini, Hydra under Cancer, Regulus in Leo, Spica in Virgo, Antares in Scorpius, the three visible poles, three equators, and the rest of the ‘story’.
There is only one cosmology, with several different format options (ecliptic, celestial, galactic; months or hours; geometric or mythic; and so on).
Your partly agree with me, that “co-incidences of migration and trade routes with cultural elements, form a circular argument that reveals nothing about culture or humanity, unless it is studied in the archetypal paradigm,” but you remain in the conscious, developmental, diffusionist paradigm: “how ancient or extinct people storied their skies.” But our species is not extinct. Neanderthal, Denisovan, Flores and other mutational variants could re-appear.
You are working on “an early observational history… and genetic trail linking Siberia, North America, Melanesia and Australia… how such identities might remain in isolated groups for unexpectedly long periods… looking at the same constellations.”
But the same dots in the sky alone do not account for the correspondences, as you acknowledge. Nor does cultural contact. Archetypal expression of culture in various media is a simpler explanation.
We agree that the Seven Sisters and other characters “likely stem from very deep, archaic sources,” but you add the term “from observation”.
If our sky was as opaque as that of Venus, we would have used other canvases, such as long lines, geoglyphs, landmarks and building sites more extensively.
You do not see archetype at work in “what determines what we see in an asterism, other than resemblances.”
But Plato and many other philosophers found archetype to be inherent in nature. Your assumed detailed diffusion does not even explain all the visible correspondences between cultures separated in time and space. And you offer no explanation for the five layers and about 75 features of identical structural in 600 artworks and building sites, many of which I have posted a link to above.
For the Pleiades, you propose “a cosmic hunt theme, reformulated into a flood narrative, retaining earlier actors or depictions of space.”
But some Pleiades lore and images do not involve a hunt. And some flood stories do not single out the Pleiades.
On Ursa, you cite Asiatic-American parallels of Ursa as a bear “of immense antiquity”. Meaning Ice Age art.
But Ursa is not always a bear. And bear images do not all express Ursa. See the structuralist analysis of a doubled mindprint in the Trois Frere cave engraving, Mindprint p150-151, also via my link above, or in my GH AOM September 2015 article, where a bear frontal face, top left, subconsciously expresses type 15 Maker or Gemini.

Ice Age engraving in Trois Frere cave ‘sanctuary’ (After Donsmaps. Structuralist analysis by Edmond Furter).

Or see the structuralist analysis of the Trois Frere ‘Sanctuary’ engraving to which you posted a link, where a baby bear frontal face expresses an extra type 1 Builder or Taurus [here labelled 2Ta in error, it should be 1Ta, as the 1Ta elephant on the same axis], which the sky expresses as Auriga and Orion. Its outer eye expresses type 15g, which in the sky is the Galactic Gate and Polaris at the Ursa Minor (Small Bear) ‘hoof’. Art is not cosmology or astronomy of course, but all media express aspects of archetypal structure. The frontal face does not seem to be graffito, since this panel has some unusual false starts or later additions (mostly between types 8 and 9 Healer or Scorpius). [UPDATE; If it is graffiti, it does not disrupt any of the five layers of archetypal structure that artists and sometimes collaborators express.]
You warn researchers to ignore ethnographic sources of the last 100 years, to avoid contamination by “the information bubble”; and you cast suspicion that archetypal theories are contaminated by mass media, and thus diffusion mistaken as subconscious inspiration.
But standardisation had started in the Egyptian empire, and the Greek world, and the Chinese empires, and expanded in the Roman Empire; thus the last century is a random number. Notable recent ‘savage’ exceptions include the Picts in Scotland (see Stoneprint Journal 1; Pictish beasts, at, yet even there some Germanic, Scandinavian and Norse influences are visible.
The level of archetypal detail that I have isolated in cultural media, rises above diffusion and imitation. And in some examples, diffusion is entirely ruled out (as in the faint engraving in the recently opened Berriruata cave in Spain, sealed off for millennia, see my article in the anthropology journal Expression).
There is probably no diffusion between the Trois Frere examples and anybody anywhere, yet several artworks in that cave express mindprint in as much detail as any artwork anywhere, at any time. The list of archetypes that I give above, could be used to write a caption for the artwork (that you chose to support one of your points), by simply deleting the features that are not expressed; but are expressed in other Ice Age artworks. The same applies to Gobekli Tepe, Sumer, Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Picts, and about ten artists whom I know personally. They were all astonished when I demonstrated to them the extent of their subconscious repertoire. But they remain calm and keep on ‘designing’ artworks. As I expect that correspondence theorists will keep calm and keep on calculating diffusion routes, until a hundred of them have seen a hundred examples of mindprint in their data.
The explanation for this over-determined set of correspondences, and the study of culture, and the implications for who we are, has to involve archetype.
Alistair, I believe our irreconcilable differences are all paradigmatic. We look at the same data from different perspectives.