Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Is a Zebra White With Black Stripes, or Black With White Stripes?

While working in Kanab, Utah this last month a recurring theme seemed to reappear on site after site.  As we cruised along recording the never-ending lithic landscape that the kindly paleo and post-paleo folk had left behind as evidence of their passing, we continued to find black-on-white sherds everywhere.  Now, rather than discuss the intricacies of ceramics as many of our ilk are prone to do, I simply want to focus on design elements.  Specifically, one design element, that of color selection.

Why did they chose black on white?  Why not white on black.  Clearly, these revered ancients understood something that still perplexes many a scientist and elementary-age child.  All evidence seems to suggest that they were providing the answer to the age-old question:  Are zebras black with white stripes, or white with black stripes?  As is evidenced by the abundant collection of black-on-white found throughout the Four Corners area, they were clearly white with black stripes. 

Thank the gods that we finally have an answer!  I have been losing sleep over that one for YEARS! and now I can sleep peacefully knowing the Anasazi have my back.

So... one is left to ponder... how did THEY know that?  Clearly, as is evidenced by the abundant pottery  under discussion, zebras must have been observed by the Anasazi.  After all, we are struggling scientists looking at the obvious evidence before us, so it must be true.  Perhaps the zebra was observed in all his/her striped glory galloping along the red sandy washes and canyons of southern Utah way back in the day when everything was clearly perfect (with the one minor exception of spousal discord - see earlier post) and man was (presumably) one with the natural world.  Maybe the zebra was so sacred that it was all used up.  Maybe just one guy in a dugout happened to bring one back from the African continent (Not likely - have you ever tried to paddle one of those things?).  Perhaps some zebras were caught on a log jam near the coast of Africa during a storm and floated to the New World (the evidence from iguanas and other terrestrial species is well documented in the historic literature).  Perhaps there were only a few strays from the unintended seagoing voyage that eventually made there way to the southwest, wherein they were elevated and revered to such a degree (there is good evidence to suggest this is possible from the horse that once belonged to Cortez in Mexico that was later revered and idolized by the indigenous cultures) that their coloration became embedded in the culture.  Maybe, after time, the whole idea of a horse disappeared from the context and we are only left with the black and white palette from which the Anasazi could continue to revere their ancient equine visitor.

Perhaps in our wanderings throughout the deserts, we ought to pay careful attention to the dead horse bones often found laying in a wash.  Rather than being a horse, they could be the remnants of the ancient (and most certainly revered - I mean, look at all the pottery!) zebra.  How they got here, we can only postulate and guess.  However, we at least can all sleep well tonight, knowing that one of our age-old questions has been answered by our friend the Anasazi.  Clearly, as is indicated by the abundance of sherds, the zebra is white with black stripes.

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