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BOOK REVIEWS

HANDPAS: MANOS DEL PASSADO. CATÁLOGO DE REPRESENTACIONES DE MANOS EN EL ARTE RUPESTRE PALEOLÍTICO DE LA PENÍNSULA IBÉRICA, 2018

Edited by: HIPÓLITO COLLADO GIRALDO

PUBLISHED BY JUNTA DE EXTREMADURA

One of the earliest human expressions on cave and rock shelter walls is the hand print and hand stencil. This most human of all symbols is found across most regions of the world.  Both hand print and stencil are executed in all shapes and sizes and use a variety pigments and designs.  Some sites possess multiple hand symbols that represent family units.  In other instances hand symbols are accompanied by Palaeolithic animals such as bison, horse and geometric designs.  One region where hand symbols are numerous is northern Spain; one of Europe’s core Upper Palaeolithic rock art areas.

Published in Spanish, the Handpas volume is organised into four chapters with lavish imagery throughout. Chapter 1 provides the reader with a good grounding in how hand symbols were executed onto wall panels; Chapter 2 deals with the methods and documentation employed.  Chapter 3 documents the corpus of 13 cave/rock shelter sites where hand symbols are present. Included in the corpus is the infamous Curve de el Castillo (within the province of Cantabria) where possible Neanderthal motifs were identified. Chapter 4 provides that all-important summary.

H. Collado Giraldo and an invited international team have produced a significant corpus which draws together all hand symbols that adorned the cave and rock-shelter walls of the Iberian Peninsula. This book with be a much-used reference in years to come. 

 

NARRATIVES AND JOURNEYS IN ROCK ART:

A READER, 2018

EDITED BY: George Nash and Aron Mazel

Why publish a Reader? Today, it is relatively easy and convenient to switch on your computer and download an academic paper. However, as many scholars have experienced, historic references are difficult to access. Moreover, some are now lost and are merely references in later papers. This can be frustrating. This book provides a series of papers from all over the world that extend as far back as the 1970s when rock art research was in its infancy. The papers presented in the Reader reflect the development in the various approaches that have influenced advancing scholarly research.

Discovering North American Rock Art, 2017

Edited by: Lawrence L. Loendorf; Christopher Chippindale and David S. Whitley;

This book originally published in 2005 in hardback and has just been reprinted in paperback and is therefore in the financial reach of students researching the social sciences.  The book geographically covers a wide area of North America, from the High Plains of the Canadian prairies to the caves and rock-shelters of the South-east. The twelve chapters engages the reader to consider a number of intellectual debates that are still ragging, some 12 years after the hardback publication; in particular, the origins and interpretation of the numerous engraved and painted imagery that is found in many corners of the North American continent.  Although this is essentially a case-study volume, the book also provides a useful summary by the editors in the opening chapter on the history of rock art research in North America.  The contributors are essentially a who's who of rock art research in North America - William Hyder, James Keyser, Johannes Loubser and David Whitley to name but a few. This book is a useful contribution to the rock art bookshelf, providing the reader with a series of stimulating debates.  Although the book is arguably dated, due to improved scientific techniques and recent discoveries), it will nonetheless be an essential point of reference for those interested in the early history of North America.  Although each chapter is stimulating in terms of its textual content, readers should be aware that the image quality is very poor.

The Hunter, the Stag, and the Mother of Animals: Image, Monument, and Landscape in Ancient North Asia, 2015

Esther Jacobson-Tepfer

This richly-illustrated book written by one of the world authorities on Eurasian prehistoric art provides the reader with an excellent account on central Eurasian Bronze and Iron Age archaeology, and the underlying ritual and symbolic structures that would controlled and manipulated it. The main geographic focus is western Mongolia and Siberia where a wealth of open air and monolithic engraved rock art is located.  The art, usually in the form of animal representations, in particular deer and the horse, are intricately interwoven visual narratives. The prehistoric rock art would have probably been commissioned by Bronze Age and Iron Age nomadic hunters and herders; this is at a time when this part of world was becoming known far and wide as a warrior society (as reflected in the archaeological record). However, despite this male-dominant evidence, Jacobson-Tepfer suggests that Eurasian society at this time was controlled mythically hybrid beasts (animumanus) that were female and were considered instrumental in the success of any hunt. The rock art (and the portable art) tradition appears to have extended some 2000 years and like all long traditions, changes occur within either the material culture (in particular, the burial record) or the subject matter within the rock art.

From this non-literate society, Jacobson-Tepfer using the artistic endeavour of the hunter, asks the fundamental questions of what does this art mean and how does it inform us on how people, society and different traditions came and went within this once significant steppe powerbase?  Using the available archaeological evidence, this book delivers a power statement on a little-known resource, that of the intimate relationship between art, animals and people, and how this relationship changed over two millennia. This is a well-written and beautifully-illustrated account of a rock art assemblage that has been largely ignored by the western academic community; a must buy for anyone studying the social sciences of Eurasia.    

Archaeologies of Rock Art. South American Perspectives, 2018

Edited by: Andrés Troncoso, Felipe Armstrong and George Nash

Rock art in South America is as diverse as the continent itself. In this vast territory, different peoples produced engravings, paintings, and massive earthworks, from the Atacama to the Amazon. These marks on the landscape were made by all different kinds of peoples, from some of the earliest hunter-gatherers in the continent, to the very complex societies within the Inca Empire. This book brings together the work of specialists from throughout the continent, addressing this diversity, as well as the variety of approaches that the Archaeology of rock art has taken in South America. Constructed of eleven thought-provoking chapters and arranged in three thematic sections, the book presents different theoretical approaches that are currently being used to understand the roles rock art played in prehistoric communities. The editors have skillfully crafted a book that presents the contribution the study of South American rock art can offer to the global research of this materiality, both theoretically and methodologically. This book will interest a broad range of scholars researching in archaeology, anthropology, history of art, heritage and conservation, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate students who will find interesting case studies showcasing the diverse ways in which rock art can be approached. Despite its focus on South America, the book is intended as a contribution towards the global study of rock art.

Rock Art and the Wild Mind: visual imagery in Mesolithic Northern Europe, 2017

Ingrid Fuglestvedt

The advanced hunter-gatherer rock art of northern Scandinavia has remained one of archaeology’s closely guarded secrets. In southern Scandinavia, however, significant research has been undertaken over the past 40 years, focusing mainly on hunter/fisher/gatherer mobiliary art – incised engravings that occur mainly on amber, antler, and bone. This book by Ingrid Fuglestvedt ventures further north into Arctic and sub-Arctic Norway and Sweden.The main focus is rock art, covering all the major sites along coastal Norway and Baltic Sweden, such as Alta, Bardal, Nämforsen, and Vingen. Engraved are mainly animals, in particular elk, red deer, and reindeer, sometimes depicted life-size. Also present are bears, dolphins, and whales of various types and even the occasional hunter. Organised into 12 well-crafted chapters, the book is unlike many other studies of rock art in that it delves deep into the mindset of the artist and the community he or she would have served. Fuglestvedt explores the underlying mechanisms and structures that would have controlled and influenced the artist as to what was engraved on glacially-polished open-air panels.

This theoretical-based book provides the reader with numerous discussion points and will be of use to scholars researching prehistoric hunter/fisher/gatherer archaeology in northern Europe (as well as an excellent focus on prehistoric rock art, of course).

The Northern Rock Art Tradition in Central Norway, 2017

Kalle Sognnes

In recent years the open air rock art of Norway has become of great interest to scholars researching Mesolithic archaeology; the engraved imagery revealing an insight into the hunting strategies and reverent through artistic endeavour of animals such as bear, dolphins, elk, red deer, reindeer and whale. This unique but sometimes forgotten assemblage, dating to between c. 2000 and 8000 BCE has been the focus of research for author Kalle Sognnes who has also been instrumental in a number of major discoveries in and around the fjords and inland waterways of Central Norway.

Sognnes is the latest in a long tradition of rock art researchers who have explored beyond the imagery to offer the reader with a comprehensive account of how and why advanced hunter-gatherers came to engrave such a diverse repertoire. Sognnes skillfully uses a variety of approaches, including various ethnographies and philosophical discourse to provide a stimulating account of the underlying mechanisms that would have controlled and manipulated these fjord- based hunter-gatherer communities.

The book will be an essential reference to those interested in the symbolic and ritual processes associated open air engraved rock art, making an important contribution to European hunter- gatherer studies. It is frustrating though to see such a well-crafted book being placed between a lifeless red cover.

Lands of the Shamans: Archaeology, Cosmology and Landscape [Paperback], 2018

EDITED BY: Dragoş Gheorghiu; George Nash; Herman Bender and Emilia Pasztor 

‘Shamanism’ is a term with specific anthropological roots, but which is used more generally to cover a set of interactions between a practitioner or ‘shaman’ and a spiritual or religious realm beyond the reach of most members of the community. It has often been considered from an anthropological viewpoint, but this book gathers the most recent studies on a subject which has not been comprehensively studied by archaeologists. By putting together experts from two continents who have studied the phenomenon of shamanism, Lands of the Shamans through carefully selected case studies uses the archaeological evidence to construct the shamans’ worldview, landscape and cosmology. Recent interdisciplinary studies support the idea of the existence of shamanistic representations as long ago as the Middle/Upper Palaeolithic, but at the same time, do not follow developments during the history of humankind. As ethnographic evidence shows, shamanistic activity represents a complex phenomenon that is extremely diversified, its spiritual activity possessing a large variety of expressions in the material culture. In other words, shamanism could be defined as a series of differing spiritual world views which model the material culture and the landscape. Throughout the archaeological record of all prehistoric and historic periods, there is a series of visual representations and objects and landscape alterations that could be ascribed to these differing world views, many thought to represent shamanistic cognition and activity. The shaman’s landscape reveals itself to the world as one of multifaceted spiritual and material activity. Consequently, this first book dedicated completely to the shamanistic landscape presents in fresh perspective the landscapes of the lower and upper worlds as well as their phenomenological experience. Case Studies come from Europe, North America and Asia.  

Rock Art Studies: News of the World V,  2017

Edited by: Paul Bahn, Natalie Franklin, Matthias Strecker and Ekaterina Devlet

This weighty and much awaited volume, the 5th in a series that dates back to 1997 is an essential round-up of rock art discoveries and research around the world between 2010 and 2014.  The editors have done well to craft a volume of this size.  Each of the chapters creates a region-by-region account.  A noticeable inclusion has been the amount of field research that is using new scientific techniques to either enhance imagery or to assist in our understanding in terms of chronology. The book is organised into a series of chapters that cover the majority of the areas the world that contain prehistoric and protohistoric rock art.  Each chapter has been written by eminent scholars from whose fieldwork and research covers such diverse areas as the Carrabean, Ecuador, Korea, Peru, Saharan Africa and Siberia (to name but a few); alas, much of north-western Europe appears to have been ignored, despite recent discoveries within the editor's time span. 

The handsome volume, printed and published by Archaeopress is much needed resource for academics and those interested in rock art research.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL APPROACHES TO SHAMANISM, 2017

EDITED BY: Dragoş Gheorghiu, Emilia Pásztor, Herman Bender and George Nash

This long awaited book discusses both ancient and modern shamanism, demonstrating its longevity and spatial distribution. The book is divided into eleven thought-provoking chapters that are organised into three sections: mind-body, nature, and culture. It discusses the clear associations with this sometimes little-understood ritualised practice, and asks what shamanism is and if tangible evidence can be extracted from a largely fragmentary archaeological record. The book offers a novel portrayal of the material culture of shamanism by collating carefully selected studies by specialists from three different continents, promoting a series of new perspectives on this idiosyncratic and sometimes intangible phenomenon. 

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