Who Owns Prehistory?

We do! All of us! Because it is about us!

So, no more exclamation points, please.

Cecilia Dougherty on a field trip on February 9, 2023, to the Hall of Human Origins at the American Museum of Natural History with her students enrolled in HMS-340S-01, Who Owns Prehistory?  

This is one my courses at Pratt Institute. A course I designed. My baby. In the course, we non-scientists (we, artists, that is) look at the discourses of science surrounding the never-ending question to figure out what is “human,” who qualifies as “human,” and how many species of bona fide “humans” are there? The discourses are fun and interesting and always spark my imagination like crazy. And going to the American Museum of Natural History with my students was like turning on all the lights. They saw things I hadn’t seen, even after many trips. They pointed out objects, displays, topics that I had always missed or glossed over. Paleolithic music, for example – music, hearing, the development of the ear. Very important topic.

Cecilia Dougherty looking at an exhibit in the Hall of Human Origins at the American Museum of Natural History, New York
Cecilia Dougherty at the American Museum of Natural History. Photo by Gina Marchetti.

Neanderthals and Cro Magnons on the Horizon

Alasne, a Neanderthal child circa 33,000 BCE, from my web-based story, Shanidar.

I’m creating a web-based interactive story called Shanidar, a sequel to my 2019 piece, Time Before Memory (https://paleolithic.ceciliadougherty.com). Shanidar takes place in Paleolithic times and tells a story of a small band of Neanderthals and Cro Magnons on a migration through France, Italy, the Balkans and southward to what is now Iraqi Kurdistan, to a site called Shanidar, which is the location of the famous Neanderthal “flower burial.”

I started Shanidar, while we were, more or less, in lockdown. And while I had traveled to sites in Spain and France to research Time Before Memory,  I had to do a most of my research for Shanidar from my desktop. Unable to travel to Europe to gather source materials and take photographs of paleolithic sites, I decided to draw the background imagery for the story and imagine my fictional characters more clearly as people and less as (pre)historical elements.

Both stories have involved research into human species, climate change, patterns of human migration over thousands of years, and most wonderfully, into Paleolithic art, ritual, and behavior. There’s queer and trans influence in the storyline and characters as well, acknowledging a long history of multiplicities of gender.

Shanidar is speculative fiction, and is not science. It questions and critiques scientific findings and observations, nonetheless. I expect to finish this piece in mid-2022. I’m using Twine game software to create the story and am adding not only original imagery, but also an original soundtrack.

Time Before Memory

a story game by Cecilia Dougherty

Announcing my new mobile and web-native story game, which I produced in Twine and which has just been launched (Dec 8, 2019) by Microscope Gallery in Brooklyn as the first project in their new web-based artspace, Platform. Thank you, Andrea and Elle!

screen shot of Time Before Memory gameplay

You can play the game online here. Play the story on your phone, your iPad or tablet, laptop, or computer. It’s Paleolithic!