The Cultural Ecology of Composite Animals
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.
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