Archaeologies of Art: Time, Place, and Identity in Rock Art, Portable Art, and Body Art Inés Domingo Sanz, Dánae Fiore, and Sally K. May
Time, place, and identity are some of the main issues archaeologists try to confront through the empirical and analytical study of visual arts (rock art, portable art, and body art). The classical view of these archaeological remains as art for art’s sake, created by a gifted individual or having a speciﬁc/unique aesthetic quality (for example, Reinach in Ucko and Rosenfeld 1967) is no longer supported in the academic arena. Just as with any other archaeological remains, visual arts are ﬁlled with signiﬁcance and encode many levels of information about the identity of the artists and their sociocultural context. This information can be more or less successfully decoded through different ways of doing archaeology, understood as the study of past societies through the analysis of their material culture. Archaeological evidence is usually debris of human activities, often scattered fragments resulting from abandonment or destruction. However, the three particular artistic endeavours analysed in this book – rock art (images painted or engraved on rocks), portable art (decorated artefacts or artefacts shaped with speciﬁc forms), and body art (images painted or tattooed on the body) – are more than discarded fragments of human activity. They are both a reﬂection of, and a constructing force behind, human culture. Likewise, even if it is internationally accepted that the meaning of the message of past art traditions (particularly when they are prehistoric) is inaccessible in the present, there are enough data hidden in the motifs to place them in cultural, spatial, and temporal contexts. Considered within this context, this book unites international case studies to explore questions of time, place, and identity through the archaeological and ethnoarchaeological analysis of rock art, contemporary Aboriginal art, and body art. The long and ongoing debate about the misuse and in/appropriateness of the term ‘art’ for past and nonWestern images is not central to this book (see Anati 2002; Conkey and 15
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Hastorf 1990; Fiore 1996; Layton 1991; Leroi-Gourhan 1964; Ucko and Rosenfeld 1967; among others), and the term is broadly used throughout the chapters as a common denominator of the wide realm of images created and viewed by past and present human groups in different parts of the globe. The chapters in this book reﬂect this openness in attitudes to art and of its relationship to time, place, and identity within an archaeological framework. There is a great diversity of frameworks and analyses reﬂected in these eleven chapters, and these archaeologies (plural) of art show that there are several viewpoints to the issue of how time, place, and identity can be explored through art. At the same time, this selection of chapters shows the limits of each of these viewpoints which, in turn, relates to the nature of the archaeological questioning and to the low visibility of many factors in the archaeological record. In line with this, tackling the issue of, for example, identity in art does not involve imagining situations but rather tying interpretations and theories to material correlates. Archaeology can contribute considerably more to the study of art than picture books and pseudoscience.
Archaeologies versus Archaeology
Plurality is one of the main notions this book embraces, and connotations of this are invoked by each of the concepts tackled in this volume. The word ‘art’, even if singular, involves the wide range of visual forms in which artistic creations can be shaped, including the three main artistic endeavours analysed through this volume, rock art, body art, and bark paintings (portable art). Time is conceived in different ways by different cultures, be it lineal, cyclic, spiral, or simply disregarded as a...
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