The Wild Goat of Burnt City, from http://www.cais-soas.com
Those of us steeped in early film know all about the pre-history of cinema, with the optical toys, Zoetropes, Phenakistiscopes and so on of the nineteenth century and a history of screen practice going back to the seventeenth century and the emergence of the magic lantern. And many have argued that the history can go back as far as you like, some even asserting that cave paintings demonstrate a proto-cinematic imagination.
But here we have a candidate for the world’s oldest piece of animation, even the world’s oldest movie – an ‘animation’ from 2,600 B.C. In the 1970s an Italian archaeological team uncovered a pot in the 5,200-year-old Burnt City of ancient Iran. It was Iranian archaeologist Dr Mansur Sadjadi, who discovered that the five images on the pot, showing a wild goat leaping up to eat the leaves of a tree, formed a related series. Now a documentary film has been made by Mohsen Ramezani which animates the sequence.
The original five images of the wild goat, from http://www.cais-soas.com
Of course, the ancient Iranians did not invent the animated GIF, and in any case there has been some jiggery-pokery to make the animation succeed (there are more than five images to the animated sequence, the images have been cleaned up, and the background trees are unfeasibly rocksteady). So it’s an animation of an animation. Nevertheless, it’s delightful to see, and does make you think that the wish to capture life in art has always included a need to suggest motion, so that cinematic urge has always been there, in some form. It’s a fundamental human need. Now, were any other such pots made, and where are they?
Find out more about the pot and film from the Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization site. Acknowledgment also to the commendable Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub, where I found the story.