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Beyond Shamanism: Landscape and Self-Expression in the Petroglyphs of Inner Mongolia and Ningxia (China)

  • Paola Demattè (a1)


Petroglyph sites in the Yinshan and Helanshan ranges were documented during a recent survey. Archaeological remains indicate that these areas have for millennia been both militarized borders and osmotic trading zones connecting the pastoral people of northern Asia and the Chinese world. Petroglyphs form a significant part of the material and symbolic culture of this transitional zone from the Neolithic down to the later dynastic phases (nineteenth century). By using newly-gathered data, this article moves away from interpretations which see rock art as a wholly shamanistic phenomenon, introducing territory and iconography as key elements for the understanding of local geographies, cultural interactions, and the agencies of identity. The location of the sites indicates that petroglyphs were next to travel routes and may have served as territory markers and meeting places. In addition, the scattering of marked rocks in key locations suggests that petroglyphs were markers of identity essential for a people who were engaged in a dialectic contention with the expanding agricultural world. The sense of identity can be perceived also in the subject matter (wild and domesticated animals, hunting and herding scenes, faces) which seems to emphasize respect for, or even enjoyment of, pastoral and nomadic life.


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Cambridge Archaeological Journal
  • ISSN: 0959-7743
  • EISSN: 1474-0540
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-archaeological-journal
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