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Chapter 9 - Layer by layer: Precision and accuracy in rock art recording and dating

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 April 2018

Johannes Loubser
Affiliation:
Stratum Unlimited, LLC, 10011 Carrington Lane, Alpharetta, GA 30022, USA Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
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Summary

BACKGROUND: informed and formal approaches in conjunction

This chapter deals with the ethnographically informed interpretation and formal stratigraphic recording of the ‘Great Murals’ (Crosby 1984) within Cueva de El Ratón, central Baja California, north-western Mexico (Figure 9.1). The premise of this chapter is that neither informed use of ethnography nor formal archaeological recording can, done in isolation, give an adequate picture of prehistoric rock art (Chippindale & Taçon 1998a), such as evidenced at El Ratón. Albeit essential in any empirical investigation, the mere adoption of rigorous methodologies in both informed ethnographic and formal archaeological studies is not sufficient to guarantee an accurat e picture of the past. It is only when treated in conjunction that informed and formal approaches reach their full potential. Although local ethnographic records are the most logically valid starting points for analogies, the archaeological record is not a one-toone reflection of the ethnography. Demonstrable pattern s observed in the rock art record, for example, sometimes contain information not directly mentioned in the ethnography. Instead of despairing that we cannot interpret the rock art due to a lack of a perfect ‘fit’ with the ethnographic record, such an ostensib le disjunction should be viewed more positively. Indeed, if all rock art neatly reflected the ethnography, then the best we could claim is to have learnt something about the rock art. However, if the rock art reveals convincing bits of information not mentioned in the ethnographic record, then we can rightly claim to have learnt something from the rock art (Inskeep 1971). Herein lies the strength of rock art studies as proposed by David Lewis-Williams (1981) in his seminal Believing and Seeing, in which careful observations of San rock art revealed aspects not always immediately obvious in San ethnography. Ever since his early days of rock art research, Lewis- Williams (1974, 1992) advocated meticulous observation and exploration of patterns, such as super positioning sequences. Nevertheless, as Lewis-Williams has repeatedly stated, meticulous observation alone is not adequate in the absence of a correct understanding of how ethnography and rock art are linked. It is in tribute not only to Lewis-Williams’ insights concerning the subtle and often evasive relationship between ethnography and rock art, but also to his ongoing insistence on close observation and meticulous recording, that I have approached the El Ratón study.

Type
Chapter
Information
Seeing and Knowing
Understanding Rock Art With and Without Ethnography
, pp. 148 - 167
Publisher: Wits University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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