“Ten thousand years ago, a wounded prey is running away from its hunters. Three arrows of a material that is not yet flint are stuck on its side. The beast stumbles, gasps for air and closes its eyes one last time as the frigid waters of the lake claim it. The hunters pass it by, the prey forgotten.
After a violent pause and millennia of silence, a bunch of bones are unearthed and reassembled on top of a wooden dais surrounded by glass and unfamiliar air. On the other side, a stranger stands, lingers for a moment, and walks by.”
Very often, we think of cultural encounters as a clash of civilizations and colliding world-views. These encounters bring to the fore differences and complexities through the alien familiarity and the uncomfortable closeness of the other. We see on those who are not us the quality that brings us closer to them, and as a result, a vast array of at first irreconcilable and often inconceivable differences is laid before us like an insolvable abyss.
Very often, too, we disregard such encounters happening around us, specially when those encounters happen within the eyes of the dead.
The Aurochs of Vig was uncovered in 1905 in a turf digging nine thousand years after its death. Its remains, rescued and rearranged in the most natural of ways, now rests within the Prehistoric Period section of the National Museum of Denmark. Poised in a casual resting position, it seems as if the aurochs head was to turn and look at you at any moment, waving perhaps the remnants of an invisible tail, or scratching the echo of a disappeared ground with its exposed hooves.
It is the eyes, though, and the markings on the side where the arrows hit ten thousand years ago that raise the questions. What is the last thing the aurochs saw? Who pulled the string of the bow that fired the arrow? Who made the arrow that hit the beast? How did they learn to make them?
When the almost perfectly preserved bones of the aurochs were discovered at Vig, those who found the remnants of the beast uncovered with it a cultural encounter that began ten thousand years ago. Such encounter realizes itself every time a visitor stares into the hollow eyes of the aurochs and wonders about its impossible journey through time, the markings of arrows on its side, and all the little things still unknown about the beast and the hunter’s chase.
In this encounter, however, there is none of the friction, conflict or even violence that arises from the meeting of living and dynamic world-views. In this encounter, there is no dialogue but reflection.
When we stare into the aurochs’ gaze, we find only ourselves staring back.
This was a blog entry I wrote in 2018 for my MA in English and Cultural Encounters in Denmark, when the sun still shone and one was allowed to go out and bask in its life-giving radiance. It was a risky gambit, written in a hurry, referring to no other academic sources or bibliography. The professor loved it.