Last year there was the rather striking discovery out of Tehran of a 5000 year old "animation" of a goat found on an earthenware bowl. Like many, I found this fascinating and recently wanted to take a closer look at the actual sequence to see what its structure looked like. This ended up becoming a bit of an internet treasure hunt for me. First, I found the animated clip they had created from it:
However, upon closer inspection, this seemed really odd. First off, why are there two trees if this was going around a bowl? Shouldn't that be one tree, that just becomes ancillary to the next "panels" representation? Of course, that's not a big deal...
But, when I dissected the animation, things really got interesting. It's made of 9 images, yet it features several repeated goat images (watch for the white dot on the goat's behind which appears and disappears). The way this animation was made simply took the overall background (note that the trees never change), then cut and pasted the goat figures several times in different places!
Upon further searching, I found this great page showing the archiving of the bowl, which actually looks like this:
Quite immediately I could see that all the 9 frames could not fit on such an object. The most interesting shot by far though, was this one:
Note on the bottom is a recreation of the actual sequence of the goat. It only contains five "frames," and the goat only jumps once, as opposed to the two hops taken nine frames in the animation. So, the animation exaggerates the degree of movement — as well as how one can really consider it "animation" in the first place. Looking at the bowl, unless someone put the hollow bottom on a "point" of some sort and spun it, real animation couldn't come from it at all.
To me, calling it "animation" is a presumption about its function and usage in society, which there has yet to be expressed evidence for. Creating a false animation from the pieces of it – which doesn't accurately reflect the original – simply misrepresents the discovery. In my opinion, this is irresponsible scholarship (or potentially journalism, depending on "who made the call" for terminology).
In searching for a modern comparison, would it be so hard for research to just have called it a "comic" (or "fumetti," given that the archeologists were Italian), or would that have been too demeaning for them? From my visual language perspective, the original turns out to be quite interesting. Another good ancient example of VL grammatical structures, just as I suspected.
Additional thoughts on "animation" in the Burnt City Bowl can be found in this post.