Skip to main content

Prehistoric Art as a Boundary Object: Technology and Temporality of South African Petroglyphs

Abstract

Decades ago I argued for the limited analytic purchase of the term “art.” I was then primarily concerned with the relatively recent invention of the present day category; the lack of local and archaeological specificity when “art” was discussed in broad classificatory lumps; and the minimal reflection on the geopolitical ground of archaeological practice. While I continue to find little analytic value in the term “art” when used to describe a broad range of prehistoric materials, I offer a defense of its transactional nature. I embrace the term “art” to show some of the classificatory work the term has done and the potential it may have if decoupled from certainty. I will show that the category “prehistoric art” has been historically controlled through networks of materials, archives, and scholars. As a contrasting point of reference, the concept of a boundary object, a productive term in science studies, might allow for a far greater flexibility and inclusion of different communities to participate in the conversation about “art.” To illustrate my point, I discuss technologies and temporalities of art at Wildebeest Kuil, Northern Cape, South Africa.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5

References

  • Alberti, B. (2016). Archaeologies of ontology. Annual Review of Anthropology, 45(1), 163–179.

    Google Scholar 

  • Alberti, B., Fowles, S., Holbraad, M., Marshall, Y., & Witmore, C. (2011). “Worlds otherwise”: Archaeology, anthropology, and ontological difference. Current Anthropology, 2(6), 896–912.

    Google Scholar 

  • Alberti, B., Jones, A., & Pollard, J. (2013). Archaeology after interpretation: Returning materials to archaeological theory. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press, Inc..

    Google Scholar 

  • Bahn, P. (2001). Save the last trance for me: An assessment of the misuse of shamanism in rock art studies. In H. P. Francfort & R. Hamayon (Eds.), The concept of shamanism: Uses and abuses, Bibliotheca Shamanistica (pp. 51–93). Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.

    Google Scholar 

  • Berger, L. R., Hawks, J., de Ruiter, D. J., Churchill, S. E., Schmid, P., Delezene, L., Kivell, T., Garvin, H. M., Williams, S. A., DeSilva, J. M., Skinner, M. M., Musiba, C. M., Cameron, N., Holliday, T. W., Harcourt-Smith, W., Ackermann, R. R., Bastir, M., Bogin, B., Bolter, D., Brophy, J., Cofran, Z. D., Congdon, K. A., Deane, A. S., Dembo, M., Drapeau, M., Elliott, M., Feuerriegel, E. M., Garcia-Martinez, D., Green, D. J., Gurtov, A., Irish, J. D., Kruger, A., Laird, M. F., Marchi, D., Meyer, M. R., Nalla, S., Negash, E. W., Orr, C. M., Radovcic, D., Schroeder, L., Scott, J. E., Throckmorton, Z., Tocheri, M. W., VanSickle, C., Walker, C. S., Wei, P., & Zipfel, B. (2015). A new species of the genus Homo from the Dinaledi chamber, South Africa. eLife, 4, e09560.

    Google Scholar 

  • Callon, M. (1986). Éléments pour une sociologie de la traduction. La domestication des coquilles Saint-Jacques et des marins-pêcheurs dans la baie de Saint-Brieuc. L’année sociologique, 36, 169–208.

    Google Scholar 

  • Callon, M. (1997). Representing nature. In Representing Culture. Paris: CSI, Ecole Nationale Supérieur des Mines.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cochrane, A., & Jones, A. M. (2018). The archaeology of art: Materials, practices, affects. London: Taylor and Francis.

    Google Scholar 

  • Conkey, M. (2009). Materiality and meaning-making in the understanding of the Palaeolithic arts. In C. Renfrew & I. Morley (Eds.), Becoming Human: Innovation in Prehistoric Material and Spiritual Culture (pp. 179–194). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Conkey, M. (2010). Images without words: The construction of prehistoric imaginaries for definitions of ‘us’. Journal of Visual Culture, 9(3), 272–283.

    Google Scholar 

  • Conkey, M. W., Soffer, O., & Stratmann D. (1997). Beyond art: Pleistocene image and symbol. San Francisco, Calif: California Academy of Sciences.

  • Creese, J. (2017). Art as kinship: Signs of life in the eastern woodland. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 27(4), 643–654.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dowson, T. (2007). Debating shamanism in southern African rock art: Time to move on. South African Archaeological Bulletin, 62(185), 49–61.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fritz, C. (1999). Towards the reconstruction of Magdalenian artistic techniques: The contribution of microscopic analysis of mobiliary art. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 9(2), 189–208.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fritz, C., & Tosello, G. (2007). The hidden meaning of forms: Methods of recording Paleolithic parietal art. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 14(1), 48–80.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gero, J. (1996). Archaeological practice and gendered encounters with field data. In R. Wright (Ed.), Gender and archaeology (pp. 126–139). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Helvenston, P. A., & Bahn, P. G. (2005). Waking the trance. Shelbyville: Wasteland Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Heyd, T. (2012). Rock “art” and art: why aesthetics should matter. In McDonald, J. and P. Veth (eds.), A Companion to Rock Art, 276–293. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

  • Huvila, I. (2016). Awkwardness of becoming a boundary object: Mangle and materialities of reports, documentation data, and the archaeological work. The Information Society, 32(4), 280–297.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jones, A. M. (2017). Rock art and ontology. Annual Review of Anthropology, 46(1), 167–181.

    Google Scholar 

  • Latour, B. (1987). Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Law, J. (Ed.). (1985). Power, Action and Belief, sociological review monograph no. 32. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

    Google Scholar 

  • Law, J., & Hassard, J. (Eds.). (1999). Actor network theory and after. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leeb, S. (2012). Weltkunstgeschichte und Universalismusbegriffe: 1900/2010. Kritische Berichte, 40(2), 13–25.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leeb, S. (2015). Primitivism and Humanist Teleology in Art History around 1900. Journal of Art Historiography, June, 1–16.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lewis-Williams, D. J. (1987). A dream of eland: An unexplored component of san shamanism and rock art. World Archaeology, 19(2), 165–177.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lewis-Williams, D. J. (2002). A Cosmos in Stone: Interpreting Religion and Society through Rock Art. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lewis-Williams, D. J. (2004). Consciousness, intelligence, and art: a view of the West European Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition. In G. Berghaus (Ed.), New Perspectives on Prehistoric Art (pp. 11–30). Westport: Praeger.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lewis-Williams, D. J. (2005). Inside the Neolithic Mind: Consciousness, Cosmos and the Realm of the Gods. London: Thames & Hudson.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lewis-Williams, D. J., & Dowson, T. (1988). The signs of all times: Entoptic phenomena in upper Palaeolithic art. Current Anthropology, 29(2), 201–245.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lucas, G. (2012). Understanding the archaeological record. In Cambridge. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • McDonald, J., & Veth, P. M. (2012). A companion to rock art. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  • Morley, M. W., Goldberg, P., Sutikna, T., Tocheri, M. W., Prinsloo, L., Jatmiko, W. S. E., Wasisto, S., & Roberts, R. G. (2017). Initial micromorphological results from Liang Bua, Flores (Indonesia): site formation processes and hominin activities at the type locality of Homo floresiensis. Journal of Archaeological Science, 77, 125–142.

    Google Scholar 

  • Moro Abadía, O. (2006). Art, crafts and Paleolithic art. Journal of Social Archaeology, 5(1), 119–141.

    Google Scholar 

  • Moro Abadía, O., & González Morales, M. R. (2008). Paleolithic art studies at the beginning of the twenty- first century. Journal of Anthropological Research, 64(4), 529–552.

    Google Scholar 

  • Moro Abadía, O., & González Morales, M. R. (2013). Paleolithic art. A cultural history. Journal of Archaeological Research, 21(3), 269–306.

    Google Scholar 

  • Moro Abadía, O., & Nowell, A. (2015). Palaeolithic personal ornaments: Historical development and epistemological challenges. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 22(3), 952–979.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nicholas, G. & Wylie (2013). ‘Do Not Do Unto Others…’: Cultural misrecognition and the harms of appropriation in an open-source world. In Appropriating the past: Philosophical perspectives on the practice of archaeology, (Eds), G. Scarre and R. Coningham (pp. 195–221). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Porr, M. (2019). Rock art as art. Time and Mind, 12/2, 153–164.

    Google Scholar 

  • Porr, M., & Bell, H. R. (2012). ‘Rock-art’, ‘animism’ and two-way thinking: Towards a complementary epistemology in the understanding of material culture and ‘rock-art’ of hunting and gathering people. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 19(1), 161–205.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rees, J. (2012). Vergleichende Verfahren - verfahrene Vergleiche. Kunstgeschichte als comparative Kunstwissenschaft - eine Problemskizze. Kritische Berichte, 40(2), 32–47.

    Google Scholar 

  • Reinach, S. (1903). L’art et la magie. Les peintures et des gravures de l’âge du renne. L’Anthropologie, 14, 257–266.

    Google Scholar 

  • Reinach, S. (1905). Cultes, Mythes et Religions. Paris: E. Leroux.

    Google Scholar 

  • Robb, J. (2017). “Art” in anthropology and archaeology: An overview of the concept. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 27(4), 587–597.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sjöstrand, Y. (2017). The concept of art as archaeologically applicable. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 27(2), 371–388.

    Google Scholar 

  • Solomon, A. (2019). Rock arts, shamans, and grand theories. In B. David & I. J. McNiven (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology and Anthropology of Rock Art (pp. 1–23). Oxford Handbooks Online.

  • Sommer, M. (2006). Mirror, mirror on the wall: Neanderthal as image and ‘distortion’ in early 20th-century French science and press. Social Studies of Science, 36(2), 207–240.

    Google Scholar 

  • Star, S. L. (1991). Power, technology and the phenomenology of conventions: On being allergic to onions. In J. Law (Ed.), A sociology of monsters: Essays on power, technology and domination (pp. 26–56). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Star, S. L. (2010). This is not a boundary object: reflections on the origin of a concept. Science, Technology and Human Values, 35(5), 601–617.

    Google Scholar 

  • Star, S. L., & Griesemer, J. (1989). Institutional ecology, ‘translations’ and boundary objects: Amateurs and professionals on Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology 1907-39. Social Studies of Science, 19(3), 387–420.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tomášková, S. (1995). A site in history: Archaeology at Dolní Vestonice/Unterwisternitz. Antiquity, 69(263), 301–316.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tomášková, S. (1997). Places of art: Art and archaeology in context. In M. Conkey, O. Soffer, & D. Stratmann (Eds.), Beyond Art (pp. 265–287). San Francisco: Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tomášková, S. (2011). Archaeology in a middle country. In L. Ložný (Ed.), Comparative Archaeologies: A Sociological View of the Science of the Past (pp. 221–242). NY: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  • Trompette, P., & Vinck, D. (2009). Revisiting the notion of boundary object. Revue d'anthropologie des Connaissances, 3(1), 3–25.

    Google Scholar 

  • Trompette, P., & Vinck, D. (2010). Back to the notion of boundary object (2). The notion's richness in the ecological analysis of innovative objects. Revue d'anthropologie des Connaissances, 4(1), i-m.

    Google Scholar 

  • White, R. (2006). The Women of Brassempouy: A Century of Research and Interpretation. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 13, 250–303.

  • Winnicott, D. (1971). Playing and reality.London, UK: Tavistock Publications.

  • Yarrow, T. (2003). Artefactual persons: The relational capacities of persons and things in the practice of excavation. Norwegian Archaeological Review, 36(1), 65–73.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zijlman, K., & Van Dame, W. (Eds.). (2008). World arts studies: Exploring concepts and approaches. Amsterdam: Valiz.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Funding

Funding for the project was generously provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The fieldwork in South Africa has been supported and intellectually sustained over the years by Dr. David Morris, McGregor Museum, Kimberley, and Muzi Msimanga who has been the best field assistant I could have ever asked for. Peter Redfield shared stylistic and editorial boundary objects where only coherence was necessary. Audiences at the Schloß Conversation in Tübingen in 2019, the Royal Anthropological Institute, and at the UISPP conferences in 2018 heard versions of the paper and offered useful feedback. All errors in interpretation remain with the author.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Silvia Tomášková.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Tomášková, S. Prehistoric Art as a Boundary Object: Technology and Temporality of South African Petroglyphs. J Archaeol Method Theory 27, 526–544 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10816-020-09470-x

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10816-020-09470-x

Keywords