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It has often been claimed that "e;monsters"e;--supernatural creatures with bodies composed from multiple species--play a significant part in the thought and imagery of all people from all times. The Origins of Monsters advances an alternative view. Composite figurations are intriguingly rare and isolated in the art of the prehistoric era. Instead it was with the rise of cities, elites, and cosmopolitan trade networks that "e;monsters"e; became widespread features of visual production in the ancient world. Showing how these fantastic images originated and how they were transmitted, David Wengrow identifies patterns in the records of human image-making and embarks on a search for connections between mind and culture. Wengrow asks: Can cognitive science explain the potency of such images? Does evolutionary psychology hold a key to understanding the transmission of symbols? How is our making and perception of images influenced by institutions and technologies? Wengrow considers the work of art in the first age of mechanical reproduction, which he locates in the Middle East, where urban life began. Comparing the development and spread of fantastic imagery across a range of prehistoric and ancient societies, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and China, he explores how the visual imagination has been shaped by a complex mixture of historical and universal factors. Examining the reasons behind the dissemination of monstrous imagery in ancient states and empires, The Origins of Monsters sheds light on the relationship between culture and cognition.
The targeted destruction of ancient sites and monuments in the Middle East provokes widespread outrage in the West. But what is our connection to the ancient Near East? In this updated edition of What Makes Civilization? archaeologist David Wengrow investigates the origins of farming, writing, and cities in ancient Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Egypt, and explores the connections between these two civilizations. It is the story of how people first created kingdomsand monuments to the gods and, just as importantly, how they pioneered everyday practices that we might now take for granted, such as familiar ways of cooking food and keeping the house and body clean. Wengrow asks why these ancient cultures, where so many features of modern life originated, have come tosymbolize the remote and the exotic. Today, perhaps more than ever, he argues, the beleaguered cultural heritage of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia stands as a warning for the future. A warning of the sacrifices people will tolerate to preserve their chosen form of life; of the potential for unfettered expansion that exists within any cultural tradition; and of blood perhaps yet to be spilled, on the altar of a misguided notion of civilization.