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Chapter 5 - Art and authorship in southern African rock art: Examining the Limpopo-Shashe Confluence Area

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 April 2018

Edward B. Eastwood
Affiliation:
Ed Eastwood passed away during the preparation of this volume. The editors pay tribute to an archaeologist who made an exceptional contribution to the field of rock art studies.
Geoffrey Blundell
Affiliation:
Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, PO WITS 2050, South Africa
Benjamin Smith
Affiliation:
Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, PO WITS 2050, South Africa
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Summary

ROCK ART AND REGIONALITY

In 1925, Samuel Shaw Dornan, an Irish Presbyterian missionary, remarked on Bushman forager rock art: “The paintings are of the same general type all over South Africa. I have seen examples in the Cape Province, Orange Free State, Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Rhodesia, and they all looked the same; one cannot tell from reproductions of these paintings unless one is told where they come from” (1925: 182). It was not until the late 1920s that differences in various parts of the subcontinent were formally recognised; regional bodies of rock art were classified according to differences in stylistic characteristics and other features (e.g. Burkitt 1928; Van Riet Lowe 1952; Willcox 1963a; Malan 1965; Rudner & Rudner 1970; Lewis-Williams 1983; cf. Laue 1999). Today, researchers would not offer general statements such as Dornan's.

With the recognition of regional diversity comes the dual challenge of its explication and explanation. One obvious suggestion is that diversity is an indication of cognitive and cultural differences among the artists (e.g. Lewis-Williams & Dowson 1994: 207; Skotnes 1996: 238). Diversity is, of course, well noted in other aspects of forager culture; ethnographic studies point to the diversity of Khoisan languages and the fluidity of forager religious thought (e.g. Barnard 1992; Guenther 1994, 1999), despite broad similarities. Yet, one needs to guard against any simplistic correlation between material culture and cultural identity (Hodder 1985; Johnson 1999: 98 101; Hammond-Tooke 2000). Differences in material culture do not necessarily translate into a different cognitive system, and any particular example is likely to be more complex than some archaeological models portray. In southern Africa, a poor chronological understanding of the rock art makes such correlations even more difficult.

Nevertheless, determining more precisely which linguistic group of foragers made what particular cluster of art could allow for the use of more specific ethno - graphy and also for a more nuanced understanding of the diversity of southern African forager rock art than at present.

Type
Chapter
Information
Seeing and Knowing
Understanding Rock Art With and Without Ethnography
, pp. 74 - 97
Publisher: Wits University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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