Thursday, 6 October 2011

Ancient patterns and celestial changes

I read this amazing piece on the BBC today -

Aboriginal Stonehenge: Stargazing in ancient Australia

As the sunset can be seen from my kitchen window, moving from one solstice to another behind the neighbouring mountain, I originally wanted to line up tall garden features to mark the solstices, which would have made a triangular setting rather like this.


Earlier, I started looking up some other ancient designs, this time from Japan - Jōmon (up to c.200 BC), Yayoi (c200 BC - AD250) and Kofun (AD250 - 552) eras. During the Kofun era, there were tumulus burials in Japan, in Kyushu and parts of Honshu.

The guides at Knowth and Newgrange made points about the similarity between the designs at these sites and other ancient cultures throughout the world. I guess it is largely because these are very universal patterns - the spiral and variations similar to a human fingerprint (pointed out by Glyn), concentric circles, square spirals (like the raimon or lightning design in sashiko), the zigzags and triangles, the crosshatchings etc.

In 'Arts of Japan 1' (Weatherhill/Shibundō, 1973), Saburo Mizoguchi notes that Jōmon designs 'must be related in one way or another to continental Aisian cultures'. He notes a 'preserence for oblique lines and every variation of spiral and coil'. Jōmon means 'cord pattern' and the designs are in clay, either impressed with cord (like beaker pottery) or coils of clay applied to the surface. The photos below are scanned from 'Arts of Japan'.

Bronze was introduced from the continent during the Yayoi era, as seen in the highly decorate ritual bells known (now) as dōtoku.

Mizoguchi notes that Yayoi ceramics are in a 'quieter' style, with patterns being less dominant than the overall form of the vessel, while motifs are in vivid colours.

Later Kofun era pieces show influences from China and Korea. This is when large tumuli or kofun were constructed as tombs for dead emperors and other important figures.

Try Google image searching the above era names for more pictures of Jōmon to Kofun era art. It is interesting to compare these designs, especially the Jōmon and Yayoi pieces, with some of the designs at Newgrange and Knowth (see below and previous posts).

'Arts of Japan 1' is now out of print, but there are several copies for sale on Amazon UK - here and here, some much pricier than others! It covers aspects of Japanese design up to the Edo era, and includes a short guide to kamon (family crests), a handy glossary of design terms and has a decent index. Many illustrations, but mainly in black and white. A good addition to your library, if you are interested in the history of Japanese design motifs.

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