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African Archaeological Review

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 135–147 | Cite as

Eland and Therianthropes in Southern African Rock Art: When Is a Person an Animal?

  • John Parkington
Article

Abstract

The interpretation of part human part animal figures is critical to the understanding of southern African rock paintings, as is the meaning ascribed to the many depictions of eland. The conventional view is that these image patterns derive from the essentially shamanistic character of the art. Here I argue that the conflation of human and animal is a far more pervasive component of southern African hunter-gatherer expressive culture and relates to the central significance of hunting in organizing man–animal and male–female relations. The eland too plays a key role in these relations. In the western Cape rock paintings the influence of this extended hunting metaphor in informing image choice appears to be paramount.

L'interpretation des figures a la fois humaines et animales est fondamentale afin de comprendre les peintures rupestres sud-africaines. II en est de pour la signification des representations attribuees de l'elan. L'idee conventionnelle veut que les sujets de ces representations proviennent du caractere chamanique de l'art. Je defends ici l'idee que le melange de l'humain et de l'animal est un element nettement plus rependu de la culture expressive sud-africaine des chasseurs-cueilleurs et releve de l'organisation des relations animal/homme et homme/femme dans l'idee centrale de la chasse. L'elan joue egalemnet un role clef dans ces relations. Dans les peintures rupestres de l'Ouest du Cap, l'influence de cette metaphore elargie dans le choix d'images informatives (ayant du sens) parait etre essentielle.

rock painting metaphor therianthrope eland 

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© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2003

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  • John Parkington

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