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Rock art theories
Friday 06 December 2019

Considering various rock art theories

Theory: Art as Information

Premise: Prehistoric art, both parietal and portable, was a means of storing and transmitting information. The information was conveyed via images and symbols.

Looking at various rock art theories. Theory Art as Information. Premise Prehistoric art, both parietal and portable, a means of storing and transmitting information. The information was conveyed via images and symbols.
Laussel Woman, Grand Abri de Laussel, Dordogne, France. Perigordian 27,000-22,000 years old. Her right arm supports a bison horn marked with 14 vertical incisions.

Principle: The information was regionally specialized, for 2 reasons - specific information would naturally be restricted to a local environment, plus it would help reinforce a group's identity thereby creating a social cohesion, essential for survival.

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Application 1: In the decorated caves of southern Europe, information was everywhere, even blank panels held a message. The parietal art itself was only part of the experience; the task of 'arriving' at the rock art may have been important. In the cave of Rouffignac, located in the Black Perigord of Dordogne in France, it would have taken our Palaeolithic ancestors roughly 45 minutes to walk to the end chamber. Rouffignac has rock art on panels along the cave, but the end chamber appears to house the artistic zenith.

Looking at various rock art theories. Theory Art as Information. Premise Prehistoric art, both parietal and portable, a means of storing and transmitting information. The information was conveyed via images and symbols.
The two faces of an engraved baton from El Pendo near Santander, Spain. It contains the extremely fine engraving of a stag and hinds, one horse and six sets of notation. Upper Magdalenian. Image: A. Marshack.

Application 2: Caves in southern Europe were memory palaces. The same applied elsewhere in the world; in Australia the Aboriginies follow the 'songlines' or 'dreaming tracks' that traverse the arid landscapes to connect with origin myths and ancestral homes. To Aboriginals they are the 'Footprints of the Ancestors' or the 'Way of the Law' and represent personal identity as well as territorial markers.

Application 3: Art as Information is believed to be especially evident on bones and antlers. Alexander Marshak carried out extensive research in this field, much of it laid out in his definitive publication 'The Roots of Civilization.' In this he proposed that notches and lines carved on certain Upper Paleolithic bone plaques were in fact notation systems, specifically lunar calendars notating the passage of time. Using microscopic analysis, Marshack showed that seemingly random or meaningless notches or cut marks on bone were structured series of numbers.

click here to read more about this prehistoric sculpture

click here to read more on Alexander Marshak

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