CONTEXT AND BASIC HUMAN NEEDS
This contribution aims at describing a theoretical basis for a pragmatic approach to collecting contextual data relevant to rock art. The approach presented here tries to include “the totality of the relevant environment” (Hodder 1992: 14) as far as is pragmatically possible, bearing in mind that the selection of what is to be considered as context is biased and, for the purpose of scientific rigour, needs to be made explicit by elaborating its theoretical foundations (for example Lewis-Williams 1995; Bednarik 2001).
The term ‘context’ has many colloquial uses, but when it comes to archaeology it is a more or less firm concept, albeit a diffuse one. Ian Hodder (1986) established the concept of ‘Contextual Archaeology’, but even in his theoretically and methodologically well-founded study, the concept necessarily remains vague, based on the definition that the “context of an archaeological ‘object’ (including a trait, a site, a culture) is all those associations which are relevant to its meaning. This totality is of course not fixed in any way…” (Hodder 1992: 14). In order to handle this totality, Hodder (1992: 15) sees “thick description” (after Geertz) as a prerequisite of Contextual Archaeology, where the “aim is to draw large conclusions from small, but very densely textured facts” (Geertz 1973: 27).
In order to get to grips with the elusiveness of the concept of ‘context’, Figure 5.2. presents a model that provides structure for the concept in an operational scheme. It avoids establishing any theoretically loaded categories, instead focusing on the degree of integrity of phenomena, distinguishing them according to how reliably we can recognise them today in comparison to their original state or shape. While it is problematic to collect data on the dynamic/transient context in relation to prehistoric rock art since it has to be entirely (re-)constructed, the static/durable context, by contrast, is of a character that usually persists in its original configuration. However, not all details of this context will be equally relevant for the understanding of the meaning of prehistoric art.