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African Archaeological Review

, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 7–35 | Cite as

Representation and knowledge in the prehistoric rock art of Africa

  • Whitney Davis
Article

Abstract

This study proposes that prehistoric rock art in Africa represents aspects of the natural and social environment which are aesthetically charged, for practical and symbolic reasons, and which are also problematic, in specific ways, for ordinary, untutored perception. Rock art functions as a medium of communication in three principal contexts. It refers to an extended network of ritual acts and beliefs, to out-of-the-ordinary perception and knowledge, and to adaptively significant local information. Rock art is therefore a particular, specialized instrument of the production process. Investigating the study of prehistoric art from art historical, archaeological, and anthropological points of view, the paper examines the ways in which the original contexts of function or meaning might be reconstituted, given the special nature and constraints of graphic representation as a mode of knowledge. Three major traditions of prehistoric rock art in Africa, the Sahara, Nile valley, and southern, are the focus of discussion and source of examples. The paper takes as a general theme the feasibility or possibility of an adequate archaeology of prehistoric knowledge.

Keywords

Social Environment Local Information Cultural Study Special Nature General Theme 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Résumé

La présente étude propose que l'art rupestre préhistorique en Afrique représente des aspects du milieu naturel et social, exprimés de façon esthétique pour des raisons pratiques et symboliques, et qui présentent aussi des problèmes particuliers face à une perception non instruite. L'art rupestre sert de moyen de communication dans trois contextes principaux: il fait allusion à un réseau compliqué de croyances et d'actes rituels, à une perception et à des connaissances hors de l'ordinaire et à des renseignements locaux affectant l'adaptation. L'art rupestre figure donc comme instrument particulier et spécialisé dans le processus de production. En vérifiant l'étude de l'art préhistorique des points de vue historique, archéologique et anthropologique de l'art, l'article examine les façons selon lesquelles les contextes originaux de la fonction ou la signification pourraient être reconstitués, selon la nature et les contraintes spéciales de la représentation graphique comme genre de connaissance. La discussion se centre sur trois traditions principales d'art rupestre préhistorique, celles du Sahara, de la vallée du Nil et de l'Afrique du Sud, d'où sont aussi tirés les exemples. L'article a pour thème général la possibilité d'une archéologie mieux adaptée à la reconstruction des modes de connaissance préhistorique.

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  • Whitney Davis

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