picture
Dioramas

Passage selected from the Written Reflection Legends

"Neanderthal Burial Site," recreates a place of lonely internment in the Dordogne region of France. Amidst the many graves of brown bears buried by the people of that time lay the bones of a solitary male skeleton. The body of this man, his story irretrievably lost, was laid on a bear skin, his corpse restored to the position it had known prior to birth, and buried in a stone-lined pit. Bear meat and stone tools were placed on the slab that sealed his place of burial, and the slab itself covered with smaller rocks and crowned with the antlers of a deer. There is evidence of a funeral fire. In an adjoining pit, an immense stone slab covered the remains of a brown bear, the great bones ritualistically reformed in a pattern, its purpose and meaning an evocative mystery. Opposite the pelvis rested the skull. Between poles established by skull and pelvis lay curved rib bones, carefully spaced. Parallel groupings of leg and back bones set at right angles to skull and pelvis marked the four corners of a quadrant. The monument reverberates. Its particulars rest elusive mysteries.

The bones of this nameless man, the only human known to be buried among the bears, lay hidden for nearly fifty thousand years. The wonder is that we know of them at all. That they should lie undisturbed and altered throughout the years of that vast span of time borders on the miraculous.

"Who was he?" we ask, aching to know. But his burial site has become a cache for the story of his life as well as his bones. Its secrets lie embedded in the untranslatable hieroglyphics of the burial patterns. Our speculations perhaps he was a hunter among hunters, a shaman whose powers inspired and instructed the hunter, a human manifestation of the spirit of the bear fill the void incompletely. When we pause to listen in reverence, as the recreation of his burial site demands, we think we hear the echoes of his silenced voice forming the words of a lost language. The eons of time that separate his life and death from ours intercede and muffle the sound. We long to pick up a bone, put its curved hollow to our ear, and listen to see if, like a chambered nautilus plucked from the ocean, it still contains sound.

At the edge of the open burial pit, a woman holds aloft a blood- drenched bone above the body of the man who belonged to the bears. Beside her stands a grief-filled child. A uniformed guard leaves the silent, empty room. Noiselessly, I cross over the protective museum railing that separates us and join the mourners in their wordless lament.