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Dialogues in stone: past and present engagements with rock art in sub-Saharan Mali, West Africa

Kleinitz, Cornelia; (2006) Dialogues in stone: past and present engagements with rock art in sub-Saharan Mali, West Africa. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Rock art remains a tangible part of landscapes for hundreds or thousands of years due to its fixation in space and its potential durability, making it especially valuable in understanding synchronic and diachronic processes of human symbolic engagement with their landscapes. The accretional nature of rock art at sites and in wider landscapes, embodying visible traces of meaningful past human (or ancestral or supernatural) action at specific places, has provoked reactions and response by successive populations. Many rock art sites show evidence of continuous and discontinuous use over considerable periods of time, and many, if not most rock art sites have undergone additions or modifications of pictographs and/or petroglyphs after an initial marking event. Rock art sites often appear to have been attributed significance by their successive users and may have been modified to suit changing perceptions and uses of these places and the wider landscapes. Rock art site- and landscapes are thus 'updated' and transformed during successive marking episodes. Over time they have evolved into palimpsests of 'past' and 'present' marks and marked places. Rock art making and use is, consequently, a dynamic process reflecting changing attitudes to and understandings of places and landscapes. Under these premises the present study introduces and discusses a regional sample of one of the least known bodies of rock art on the African continent, that of sub-Saharan Mali. Based on a substantial corpus of newly recorded rock art from the Baoule-Bakoye region of south-western Mali detailed descriptions of motifs in their site and landscape contexts are provided according to a consistent set of definitions and terms. The discussion of this rock art corpus focuses on the use of graphic symbolism and space at rock art sites in synchronic and diachronic perspectives, including issues of access and audiences, which hint at differences in social contexts of marking. The process of transforming or 'updating' of symbolic landscapes over time is followed in this study by discussing the 'life-histories' of rock art panels, sites and landscapes in the study region. 'Life-histories' of rock art sites comprise an initial marking event (which may have been triggered by a pre-existing importance attached to the particular locality) as well as often multiple subsequent marking events and episodes. The latter may include a variety of reactions to existing rock art, such as modifications of motifs, or the addition of new pictographs or petroglyphs to existing panels, sometimes in superimposition or juxtaposition to existing motifs. Such palimpsests thus inform about changing perceptions and uses of past markings and marked places in the past. Sub-Saharan Mali in addition provides a rare example of a contemporary rock art tradition, that of the Dogon people of the Bandiagara region in the centre of the country, which informs us not only about the social contexts of rock art making and use, but also illustrates interrelationships between symbolically marked places and the construction of personal and group identities. A case study of the Dogon circumcision rock shelter at Songo, where marking and re-marking takes place in a ritual context, follows the life- history of this site over the past century on the basis of a photographic documentation. Songo consequently provides a contemporary example of the dynamic nature and temporality of rock art making and use. It also shows how additions to and modifications of rock art sites in turn influence and transform human engagement with these localities over time. This thesis thus goes beyond the common stylistic approach to rock art in sub-Saharan West Africa, highlighting the dynamic nature of rock art making and use. It introduces contextual and in particular landscape approaches to the recording and study of rock art in sub-Saharan West Africa, while also considering almost a century of documentation and discussion of the rock art imagery. The thesis challenges current understandings of the character, age-range and the presumed social and cultural contexts of rock art in sub-Saharan Mali, and proposes new hypotheses as to the historical and archaeological contexts of this diverse rock art corpus in a diachronic perspective.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Dialogues in stone: past and present engagements with rock art in sub-Saharan Mali, West Africa
Identifier: PQ ETD:594426
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest. Third party copyright material has been removed from the ethesis. Images identifying individuals have been redacted or partially redacted to protect their identity.
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1446432
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