Attitudes Towards Animals in Neolithic and Assyrian Times


Towards Animals in Neolithic and Assyrian Times

Animals have been viewed differently by
different cultures. This is evident when comparing the wall painting
of a deer hunt from the Neolithic period (Gardner, 38) and the reliefs
of Ashurbanipal hunting lions and the dying lions from the Assyrian dominated
period of the ancient near east (Gardner, 56). The deer hunt scene,
painted at Catal Huyuk c. 5750 BC, depicts several humans hunting two large
deer and one small deer. The reliefs, sculpted at Nineveh c. 650

BC, consist of King Ashurbanipal sitting in a chariot and shooting several
lions with his bow and arrow, and a close-up view of a dying lioness that
has been shot three times by arrows but is still trying to move.

The deer hunt scene shows that prehistoric people had more respect for
animals than the Assyrian people did partly because the Neolithic people
felt that magic was needed to help with their hunting. The two works
also show that there was a large difference in the technology of these
two cultures. In addition the Assyrians would sometimes hunt for
sport, while the Neolithic people would hunt only out of necessity for

The deer hunt scene shows the animals
as being stronger than humans, while the lion hunt scene shows the animals
as being weak as compared to King Ashurbanipal. The two adult deer
are much larger than any of the humans in the first scene. Humans
are usually slightly taller than most deer, but here the deer are drawn
about twice as tall as the humans. It also takes several humans with
weapons to hunt the deer. In the lion scene, all of the lions have
been killed or injured by arrows. The only person in the scene with
a bow and arrows is King Ashurbanipal. It is apparent that he has
shot all of the lions himself, showing his superior strength over the lions.

In prehistoric times, cave paintings of
hunting scenes served magical purposes: "By confining them (animals) to
the surface of their cave walls, the prehistoric hunters may have believed
that they were bringing the animals under their control" (Gardner, 28).

Also, the humans on the left of the wall painting don’t seem to be directly
involved in the hunt, as the deer are on the right side. It appears
that they are doing some sort of dance, possibly a magical dance to help
the hunters. Prehistoric people respected and feared animals so much
that they felt that they needed magic to help defeat them. In contrast,
the Assyrians have no magical references in their hunting scenes.

Simple brute force is used to kill the lions, displaying the power of King

Ashurbanipal. The lions have little or no chance of survival in this
scene. The humans in their high perch are in no real danger.

The depiction of the dying lioness trying to move despite being shot several
times appears to show respect for the animal, but it was probably used
to show how strong the king was for killing such proud animals (Gardner,


The scenes also tell us about the technology
available for each culture. The Assyrians had the technology to conquer
animals. The use of horses and carriages is a distinct advantage
in the hunt. With this advanced technology, animals possess no real
threat to the hunters. Without this technology, the prehistoric people
had a more difficult time with hunting. Without horses and carriages
to sit upon, the humans had no protection against the animals. This
technology difference plays a large role in the difference in respect for
the animals.

The reason for hunting was also different
for each culture. Prehistoric people hunted for food purposes only.

The number of people used in the hunt shows this. It is a community
effort to provide themselves with food. The use of magic and religion
suggests the importance of the hunt whereas the lion hunt scene depicts
hunting for sport only. This is evident because it appears that the
lions have been pierced with "far more arrows than are needed to kill them"
(Gardner, 56). Had this been a hunt for food, the lions probably
would only have been shot enough times just to kill them. The lions
were trapped and then put into a gaming pen where the king could hunt them
(Gardener, 55). This also shows the culture’s dominance over animals.

As humans gained technology, their attitudes
towards animals changed. Prehistoric people, with their primitive
technology, had reason to be fearful of animals. It took much effort
on their part to hunt animals for food. Therefore, they respected
them and used religion