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Roque, C.S. (1983). Pontius, A. (New York). ‘Face representation linked with literacy level in colonial American tombstone engravings and Third World pre-literates’ drawings: towards a cultural-evolutional neurology’. Experientia, 38, pp. 577-580 (1982).. J. Anal. Psychol., 28(3):276-277.

(1983). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 28(3):276-277

Pontius, A. (New York). ‘Face representation linked with literacy level in colonial American tombstone engravings and Third World pre-literates’ drawings: towards a cultural-evolutional neurology’. Experientia, 38, pp. 577-580 (1982).

Review by:
Craig San Roque

Edited by:
Andrew Samuels

Anneliese Pontius is concerned with images of the human face. She notices common features in the distortion or simplification of the face by certain groups of people.

From this common patterning she makes inferences about the evolution of neurological structures.

She notes:

1.   Babies do not see faces as they are. They like it simple; they are happy to leave bits out.

2.   Some dyslexic children don't see faces as they are. When they draw they leave bits out. Significant diagonals and appendages.

3.   American Colonial tombstone carvers with no sophisticated training also like to make simple shape faces.

4.   Tribesmen (who cannot read) in New Guinea, South America and Indonesia also like to make simple representations of the face.

She suggests that this may indicate a common pattern of neurological development. She suggests that neurological structures evolve and this evolution is linked to the cultural context. Finally, she suggests that the ontogeny of such cognitive functions (spatial-relational processes) recapitulate their prevailingly culturally determined phylogeny.

This is intriguing, and it may be the edge of a contribution to the discussion on the relationship of neurological development to the development of archetypal representations.

Do archetypes have a neurological base? Do babies see simple forms? Is their vision the same as the neolithic vision? What becomes of this early vision/perception/expression once the hand and eye become trained and sophisticated? Can a person slip back down an evolutional scale, not only into early psychological substrata but also into ever-present, early, neurological sub-strata?

Pontius does not make these statements, but they fall out from between the lines of her paper and generate this kind of speculation.

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