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Book Preview: Making Scenes: Global Perspectives on Scenes in Rock Art

Did scenes in rock art create new ways of seeing the world? In the spirit of the SAA annual conference we are delighted to provide a book preview (along with striking images) of Iain Davidson and April Nowell’s title, MAKING SCENES: Global Perspectives on Scenes in Rock Art.

Text and images provided by Iain Davidson and April Nowel

The project had its beginnings with one particular definition of how a scene might be recognized and has morphed, through the successive definitions by different authors in the book, into a broader discussion of scenes in rock art. The hope is that our broadening can contribute to correcting ideas about scenes that took hold early and have persisted despite general knowledge of exceptions that proved those ideas wrong.

Rock art is often said to be universal among modern humans, though it is slightly more difficult to define “universal” and to document that. The book includes material from a period of sixty thousand years and from all six continents.

There have been two extreme positions about rock art studies: (1) that it is the specialty of those who are interested only in the rock art and their views of how it was used; and (2) that rock art is primarily of interest as art. The studies in this volume avoid these extremes and, in the third part of the framework, attempt to relate the art and the sites where it occurs to the archaeology that was contemporary with its production. The fourth and fifth approaches, which are fundamental to this book, concern how the rock art relates to the evolution of behavior in a particular region and how rock art varies between regions in relation to evolving behavior.

One of the frustrations of the archaeology associated with rock art is that there is often a divide in interests between rock art specialists and other archaeologists. The reasons for this are various and often relate to the coarseness of the chronology of rock art and the relative refinement of the chronology of other aspects of archaeology. Yet it is also highly probable that the people who were responsible for the other archaeology lived in societies that produced and used the rock art. Thus, relating the rock art aspect of those past societies to the other aspects should be an important goal.

What this collection hints at is a set of broader contexts of importance for rock art in the relations between people and their environments. These do not necessarily arise from the traditional preoccupations with identification of image content and the definition of image style boundaries in space and time. Also, they do not arise from speculations about the “meaning” of art in terms of the quasi-ethnographic categories of structuralism, shamanism, or other fashionable -isms in the study of people without history. Instead, we suggest that the production of art consisting of scenes in which individual images could be seen to have agency allowed them to be seen as such after the times of production. Independent of the original storytelling and ritual with which they were produced, observers unversed in the stories or rituals could interpret the agency and tell a story, just as the authors in this book have done. As one of us argued elsewhere (Davidson, in press) this is a major step toward art being intrinsic to the images, and not just a feature of the cultural context of their production.

Global Perspectives on Scenes in Rock Art
Edited by Iain Davidson and April Nowell

Dating back to at least 50,000 years ago, rock art is one of the oldest forms of human symbolic expression. In this unique volume examining the nature of scenes in rock art, researchers examine what defines a scene, what are the necessary elements of a scene, and what the evolutionary history can tell us about storytelling, sequential memory and cognitive evolution among ancient and living cultures.

To celebrate SAA, we are offering a 35% discount on all Archaeology titles until May 17th, 2021: Use discount code SAA2021 on print and eBooks orders placed through our website. Read our latest Archaeology newsletter for suggested titles and details.

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