When I saw a recent photo of a jet nose-diving at a Chinese air show, it jogged a long-standing question in my mind. Why do anthropologists and archaeologists call rock-art pictures such as the ones in this post “maces”? My suggestion for an answer is “Because their academic world-view does not allow them to see these pictures as airplanes or spaceships.”
Here’s a precolumbian Mesoamerican “avian-motif stone” that served as a macehead:
Later maces look quite a bit different:
In the spring 2011 article “America’s Ancient Cave Art,” from the Paris Review, via slate.com, John Jeremiah Sullivan makes an interesting observation. He and his colleague are lying on their backs in a Tennessee cave, looking up at a “panel” of images:
…And last a picture of a crown mace, a thing shaped like an elongated bishop in chess, meant to represent a symbolic weapon, possibly held by the chiefly elite during public rituals. It’s a ‘type artifact’ of the Mississippian sphere, meaning that, wherever you find it [in the U.S.], you have the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, or, as it used to be called (and still is by archaeologists when they think no one’s listening), the Southern Death Cult. In this case the object appeared to be morphing into a bird of prey.
The University of Arkansas offers a website with many good pictures of local rock art, including many pictures of maces, and also this rather amazing rock art picture:
Meanwhile, while researching “mace,” I wasn’t surprised to discover that (as with the ancient Thunderbird gods), the U.S. Air Force is using the name. The USAF used to have a surface-to-surface missile it named the Mace, and still has a tactical squadron of jet fighters called the Royal Maces.
Images of maces appear in a variety of Mississippian art forms, such as pottery vessels, rock art, copper plates, and marine shell gorgets and engraved cups. The contexts in which maces are shown suggest that leaders used them in ritual to symbolize authority and power. Conquering heroes are shown wielding maces in dramatic action poses, while vanquished foes are symbolized by broken maces. Although the mace was most likely not used as a literal weapon, its shape, something between that of a battle axe and scepter, speaks to superiority and dominion – essential attributes of a ruler in warrior society. — Dickson Mounds website.