Friday, February 19, 2016

‘Rock Art’ and Its Study - Some Preliminary Thoughts

  Archaeologist and ethnohistorian Alicia Colson writes, “I think that the images that exist on the surface of rocks should be termed rock images, or petroglyphs and pictographs instead of rock art. I realise that the term ‘rock art’ is applied world-wide to images that are placed on the surfaces of rocks. It occurs in many different places and settings: Australian rock shelters, the surfaces of boulders in the Jordanian desert, vertical rock faces or rock outcrops on the Canadian Shield, the sides of the stone passages of New Grange in Ireland, and the walls of deep caves in France and Spain. ‘Rock art’ also covers features created using rocks of different sizes to produce ‘rock,’ or ‘boulder alignments.’ I think that the term ‘art’ is problematic because it suggests that these images have primarily a decorative value and no intrinsic value or meaning of their own. It also implies classification of these images according to Western notions of high or low art, or, perhaps, a craft. These terms have loaded meanings, since they impose the analyst’s conventional values. Rock images should not be considered within such a perspective, since, evidently, the cultural context of the ‘reader’ or ‘viewer’ influences perception and classification. This prejudgement affects how images are understood (Blocker 1994; Conkey 1987; Price 1989)…

    Rock image sites cannot be studied using the same techniques as are applied to other archaeological sites. The theoretical approaches used and the questions asked may be the same but the data sources are radically different and generally far more limited. These images cannot be excavated using the techniques for recovering, cataloguing, and analysing data that archaeologists apply to ‘conventional’ archaeological sites. The area surrounding such images may be excavated but the physical context of the site often provides little or no information about the meaning(s) of the images themselves. The subjective beliefs and ideas held by the people who created these images did more to shape them than technological processes or the economic or political systems in which these people lived. Therefore, the archaeologist must rely to an unusual degree on a range of nonarchaeological sources in order to establish the meaning of the images. It is very difficult to access this information for a group whose past is available only through the archaeological record. The difficulties in accessing the symbolic knowledge of a group of people through the inherent attributes and physical location of such images may explain why these sites have often been ignored, or merely described, in contrast to similar images found on birch bark scrolls. Fieldwork and archival work must be considered as equally important in this study, since information must be drawn from a wide range of disciplines, including archaeology, anthropology, history, art history, geology, and geography.”

From: What Do These Symbols Mean?

This below, also by Colson, is also very good - or as someone wiser than I commented, "This article is marvelous, and it really hits home to us who work out of the mainstream."

"The costs or/and advantages of being “different,” that is, thinking differently."
By Alicia Colson

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