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Rock Art Network Peter Robinson
Rock Art Network Peter Robinson
Rock Art Network Peter Robinson
Peter Robinson
The dangers of 'Discovering' rock art
4 June 2021

by Peter Robinson
Editor, Bradshaw Foundation

La Lindosa Guavire
La Lindosa Guavire
© Judith Trujillo Téllez/GIPRI
Two recent articles on the Rock Art Network website highlight the importance of working with indigenous communities when understanding, recording and preserving rock art. One article - 'Exploring the wonders of cave art in Australia' - was based on a radio interview with Professor Paul S.C. Taçon, ARC Australian Laureate Fellow (2016-2021), Chair in Rock Art Research and Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology, Griffith University, Australia & Director, The Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit (PERAHU), joined by Professor Josephine McDonald, Rio Tinto Chair of Rock Art Studies, ARC Future Fellow (2011-2016), Director of the Centre for Rock Art Research & Management at the University of Western Australia, and First Nations colleague Wayne Brennan, archaeologist & Interpretive Officer at National Parks and Wildlife Service. The conversation covered fundamental aspects of rock art, perhaps the most salient of which was the importance of the art within the indigenous communities and the ensuing dialogue with scientists. Both Paul and Josephine are members of the Rock Art Network.

The rock art of La Lindosa Guavire
The rock art of La Lindosa Guavire
© Judith Trujillo Téllez/GIPRI
Another article by Tom McClintock, Research Associate at the Getty Conservation Institute and a member of the Rock Art Network - 'Studying the Source of Dust Using a Simple and Effective Methodology' - describes his research in Australia in conservation and site management. Here he was enlisted by Njanjma Rangers, an indigenous ranger group dedicated to natural and cultural resource management based in the community of Gunbalanya in Australia’s Northern Territory.

Conversations I have had with all members of the Rock Art Network reinforce this point. So it was interesting to observe a deviation from the rule in recent press coverage, this time in the guise of Western-centrism and Eurocentrism.

Judith Trujillo Téllez and her colleagues working on the project
Judith Trujillo Téllez and her colleagues working on the project
© Judith Trujillo Téllez/GIPRI
Last year I was contacted by Judith Trujillo Téllez, a Colombian archaeologist working with the Group of Investigation of Indigenous Rock Art (GIPRI), to collaborate with their research and dissemination of the rock art of La Lindosa Guavire in the Chiribiquete National Park.

We duly posted a story on our Latest News describing the rock art and how it was being studied by archaeologists and anthropologists, and the implementation of preservation measures by the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History (ICANH) declaring the Serranía La Lindosa a protected Archaeological Area of Colombia (AAP), covering an area of 893 hectares. With La Lindosa, Colombia now has 21 protected archaeological areas.

The rock art of La Lindosa Guavir
The rock art of La Lindosa Guavir
© Judith Trujillo Téllez/GIPRI
Clearly, the rock art of this region is very important, confirmed by the fact that it was given UNESCO World Heritage status: Chiribiquete National Park: “The Maloca of the Jaguar”. Date of Inscription 2018, and No. 41 on 'Rock Art on UNESCO’s World Heritage List' by Pilar Fatás Monforte, Directora Museo Nacional y Centro de Investigación de Altamira. We look forward to working with Judith and her colleagues from GIPRI.

However, later in the year, reputable newspapers and magazines in Europe and in other western cultures ran articles with titles such as 'Sistine Chapel of the ancients' and 'Rock art discovered in remote Amazon forest', claiming the glamorous discovery of one of the world’s largest collections of prehistoric rock art 'in an as-yet unnamed site' deep in the Amazon rainforest.

Detail of rock art of La Lindosa Guavire
Detail of rock art of La Lindosa Guavire
© Judith Trujillo Téllez/GIPRI
Sure enough, there was an immediate response on social media. Colombian researchers replied with comments such as “We need to have an awkward conversation", "a clear example of how scientific discovery is colonised and monopolised", "Colombians have known, researched and fought to preserve this site for decades", "In principle, it would not be a 'discovery', as these had already been warned [sic] and investigated for more than 70 years (Gheerbrant, 1952; Botiva, 1986; Urbina, 2015; etc)" and "indigenous communities that even today (after millennia) have a direct connection with those sites".

Simon Sebag Montefiore points out in his new book 'Written in History; Letters that Changed the World' that Christopher Columbus, who was famed for the discovery of America, that in fact 'it was only new to Europeans: civilisations unknown to Europe had thrived there for millenia.' Lessons have been learnt from the past. One is reminded of the early interpretation of the White Lady of Brandberg in Namibia by Abbe Henri Breuil who declared that the central figure was a depiction of a graceful and poised young woman of Minoan or Cretan origin whose presence was explained by an ancient Mediterranean visit to this southerly realm of Africa; a tracing of the White Lady by Harald Pager clearly shows 'her' to be a man. So I always find it odd when such lessons seem to be forgotten every now and then.

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→ Dating the Earth and its Rock Art
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by Tom McClintock
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→ ABC Radio National 'Nightlife' with Philip Clark - 'Exploring the wonders of cave art in Australia'
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10 March 2021
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Jean-Michel Geneste
1 February 2021
→ Oldest cave painting found in Indonesia
by Rock Art Network
14 January 2021
→ Graffiti Dates and Names as a Rock Art Conservation and Management Tool
by Johannes H. N. Loubser
29 October 2020
→ Animals in Rock Art
by Aron Mazel
7 October 2020
→ Reflecting Back: 40 Years Since ‘A Survey of the Rock Art in the Natal Drakensberg’ Project (1978-1981)
by Aron Mazel
29 September 2020
→ Art on the Rocks in the Age of COVID-19
by Neville Agnew & Tom McClintock
15 September 2020
→ Explore Cederberg rock art from your home
by Janette Deacon
9 September 2020
→ The Continuum of Art: The relationship between Ice Age art and contemporary art and how an understanding of the former can help engage a modern audience
by Peter Robinson
16 August 2020
→ Illuminating the Realm of the Dead: The Rock Art within the Dolmen de Soto, Andalucía, Southern Spain
by George Nash
29 July 2020
→ Rock Art Adventurous Field Work during COVID-19 in the Southernmost of South America
by María Isabel Hernández Llosas
9 June 2020
→ The Final Passage - FAQ
by Jean-Michel Geneste
1 June 2020
→ Experts rush to map fire-hit rock art
by Andrew Bock
15 May 2020
→ Sacred Indigenous rock art sites under threat
by Amy van den Berg
12 May 2020
→ Virtual Meeting
by Ben Dickins
22 April 2020
→ The Bradshaw Foundation Launches the Rock Art Network Website
by Wendy All
23 March 2020
→ The aftermath of fire damage to important rock art at the Baloon Cave tourist destination, Carnarvon Gorge, Queensland, Australia
by Paul Taçon
24 November 2019
→ The removal and camouflage of graffiti: The art of creating chaos out of order and order out of chaos
by Johannes H. N. Loubser
11 November 2019
→ The Histories of Australian Rock Art Research symposium, 8-9 December 2019, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
by Paul Tacon
5 November 2019
→ San rock art exhibition at the National Museum & Research Center of Altamira
by Aron Mazel
17 September 2019
→ The 2018 Art on the Rocks Colloquium
by Wendy All
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by Pilar Fatás Monforte
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