The Hunter, the Stag, and the Mother of Animals: Image, Monument, and Landscape in Ancient North Asia. By ESTHER JACOBSON-TEPFER. Oxford: OXFORD UNTVERSITY PRESS, 2015. Pp. xxxiii + 413. $85.
Rock art began to appear in South Siberia sometime in the third or early second millennium B.C.E., initially in the form of pecked-out images on cliffs, and later pecked or engraved into boulders and freestanding monoliths or slabs. Although organized religion did not exist in North Asia prior to the end of the Bronze Age, traces of ancient beliefs shared across a broad geographical area and timespan can be detected in these ancient artworks. In The Hunter, the Stag, and the Mother of Animals, Esther Jacobson-Tepfer unearths those early layers of belief--focusing particularly on the roles of women and animals--and examines how they were shaped by the harsh physical environment in which they were produced.
The systematic study of rock art has historically been hindered by a variety of factors, chief among them the fact that it is rarely associated with datable burials. Fortunately, as the author reveals in her helpful appendix, "The Dating of Rock Art," much can be inferred about dates and chronology by observing differences in style, patination, and technique, as well as the subjects depicted and their placement in relation to one another. Previous studies have also often recorded rock art in line drawings rather than photographs, obscuring important information about its material, positioning, and directional orientation. In order to rectify this situation, the author has undertaken extensive fieldwork to document South Siberian materials over a period of approximately 12,000 years, with color photographs taken by her husband, Gary Tepfer. The author supplements these visuals with much-needed descriptions, which train the eye of the uninitiated reader to discern the at times unclear images.
In her earlier book. The Deer Goddess of Ancient Siberia: A Study in the Ecology of Belief (Brill, 1993), Jacobson-Tepfer discovered that the predecessor of the stag image popular in the art of the early nomads of the first millennium B.C.E. was in fact a cervid or bovid (antlered or horned) female power. In this volume, the author expands her study of the bovid Animal Mother, beginning with examples seen on the Minusinsk Basin stone monoliths decorated with horned masks bearing female features, as well as more ferocious faces carved on slabs associated with a...