Welcome to the first in my running series, “Designing from Bones”, using archaeology and the artifacts of human history to find and design stories. Today we will step back 32000 years to the shadowed past of modern humanity and visit the Aurignacians.
While primitive by our standards the Aurignacians are considered to be the first modern human culture with handicrafts, social customs and beliefs. They were located around the Haute Garonne region of France early in the expansion of homo sapiens into areas once controlled by Neanderthals.
Imagine if you will the recesses of a cave long ago. Our ancestors dressed in animal skins gathered before a small figurine. They dance and sway before their god appealing to it for good fortune or health or safety in a savage world. Flanking the figurine a pair of shamans play music on hand-tooled flutes, the eerie notes echoing and blending on the walls of the dank cavern. Firelight flickers causing shadows to dance and writhe across the surface of the figurines’ human body, topped by the head and visage of a powerful cave lion. Carved from a single piece of ivory, the roots serving as legs, unblemished in contrast to its worshipers, the Lion-Man seems to animate and call back to the minds of the faithful, bringing them hope and promise.
Discovered in 1939 in a cave in Southern Germany the Lion-Man was surrounded by bones, shards of ivory and several flutes. The figurine itself was damaged making its gender indeterminable.
So what inspiration can we as writers find and utilize from the Lion-Man?
Bringing history alive in our writing requires three simple things. Genre determines the use of the history, setting brings it meaning and purpose and our creative imaginations empower it. Let’s explore just a few of the options that the Lion-Man has to offer.
The Lion-Man as an object.
Any object in history can be used to engage the mind, the meaning determined by the setting we choose to place it in or the manner in which we display it for our readers. Place the figurine on a mantle and it adds eerie ambiance to a mystery landscape. Hang it from a chain and it becomes a talisman with character and appeal. When centered on a shrine surrounded by black candles and human bones it inspires fear, tension and foreboding. Positioned as the handle to a potion of love and it becomes a sign of virility and intrigue.
The Lion-Man as a being.
The ancients loved to create objects that fascinated the imagination and became the stylized writing prompts of antiquity. We, as writers, can do the same. If we place the Lion-Man in space he becomes an alien species with a face that symbolizes ferocity and power. As the leader of a human cult, perhaps in the Victorian era, but any time frame would work and he takes on a sinister edge, a dangerous antagonist to drive stakes and tension. Perhaps he lives in a quiet grove that our heroine stumbles upon one day, the Lion-Man’s exotic beauty and the sweet melodies of his flute calling to her lonely heart and now we have a paranormal romance. Setting brings purpose, genre shows us what it can be used for and our imagination is the eternal guide to breathe life into history.
The culture of the Aurignacians.
When placed in the future the culture of the Aurignacians, rife with shamanic rituals, the crafting of symbolic images, fears of the unknown and visions of things seen moving from the corner of the eye become a post-apocalyptic dystopia or the basis of a culture discovered by human travelers exploring a new world. Set in the past and they become a story of the struggle for survival contrasted to the beauty of human achievement and forgotten mystique .
Playing “What if?”
Being a science fiction writer, “What if?” is a staple of creative design, but I feel it is the heart of all good writing. Here are a few possibilities that came to mind. What if two members of the tribe required the blessing of the Lion-Man, or its shaman, to be allowed to ask for a blessing of togetherness? What if a quest to placate a silent god or alien master was required to save the tribe or culture, or to free them from domination? What if a modern explorer were to discover this culture still alive and well in the depths of the Amazon jungle or a remote valley in Nepal?
Studying any ancient culture will open ideas to a myriad of story seeds just waiting for our creative muse to nurture into powerful and compelling stories. It is my hope that this series will inspire creative minds to seek out and use the vast treasures of human history.
What interesting points of history have you found a use for in your stories? Does any of the above speak to your muse? Feel free to post your thoughts and suggestions in the comments. I will be posting this series on Wednesdays from this point. I look forward to your comments and seeing you soon when we explore an interesting collection of Irish watchtowers.
The story of the Aurignacian Lion-Man can be found on Stone Pages. Interested in more great ideas and information on writing? Check out the excellent bloggers featured on my Blog Roll. Want to know how make blogging and social media a powerful tool? Try Kristen Lamb author of We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media.