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The Origins of MonstersImage and Cognition in the First Age of Mechanical Reproduction$
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David Wengrow

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780691159041

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691159041.001.0001

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Urban Creations

Urban Creations

The Cultural Ecology of Composite Animals

(p.50) 4 Urban Creations
The Origins of Monsters

David Wengrow

Princeton University Press

This chapter considers the cultural ecology of composite animals. Paleolithic and Neolithic societies sometimes created durable images of composite beings, and the few surviving candidates have often been accorded great prominence in modern interpretations. Yet they remain strikingly isolated. If the popularity of minimally counterintuitive images is to be explained by their core cultural content and its appeal to universal cognitive biases, the question that arises is: Why did composite figures fail so spectacularly to “catch on” across the many millennia of innovation in visual culture that precede the onset of urban life? Much hinges here upon our conceptualization of the “counterintuitive” and its role in cultural transmission. To determine what kind of “cultural ecology” the composite animal belongs to, the chapter examines composites in early dynastic Egypt before discussing the relationship between the spread of urban civilization and the widespread transmission of images depicting composite beings.

Keywords:   cultural ecology, composite animals, counterintuitive images, composite figures, visual culture, urban life, cultural transmission, dynastic Egypt, urban civilization

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