Changing Perspectives of Rock Art 3000 -1500BCE

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Changing Perspectives of Rock Art 3000 -1500BCE


Amateur observations and later archaeological research has identified rock art within the landscape. Its location has been restricted to suitable soft materials of rock identified as either red-stone or grit-stone. The art appears on these, yet its restricted to marginal areas between the upland and lowland, enhancing low-lying earthfast boulders. The art has been picked or inscribed to form specific motifs. There range is described as predominately geometrical and abstract. These have been labelled and defined into various typologies being, chevrons, cup and ring, spirals and linear lines. In addition motif types are either singly found or are in clusters of multiple combinations. Nonetheless, it appears they are not entirely restricted to low-lying boulders. Rock art is also located either on independent standing stones found within or outside stone circles. Such art has also been combined within a burial context where it is hidden or enclosed under cairns or within cists. Various locations in where the art is located highlight and suggest various human uses where integrated. Subsequently a change of use and function is indicated through the archaeological evidence, suggest its meaning and definition varied between 3000 – 1500 BCE.

Therefore how, and why did such changes occur? Prior to this endeavour, there is a need to establish a chronological sequence. Moreover various models have been proposed, Ronald Morris an early contributor published a survey suggesting an origin in the Bronze Age within England (Morris 1989). While recent assessments support the late Neolithic (Nash and Chippendale 2002, 16). Alternatively, a cross discipline contribution, from a geographical perspective has proposed an earlier Mesolithic date centred on a specific motif type of cups and rings (Waddington 1998, 31). Yet, general discussions do clustered around the Neolithic threshold (Bradley 1997; Beckensall1999; Nash and Chippendale 2002). Moreover, it highlights the challenges rock art presents chronologically. Yet, the likelihood for further inter-discipline debate appears still to be available. Nonetheless, there does appear to be a consensus of its conception within the early Neolithic period. Therefore, any attempt to linear date rock art becomes problematic.  Consequently, one needs to consider the monument sequence, combined with present models of human subsistence practices. This could assist to ascertain an archaeological change in context and assist to explain why it occurred.

Past views held in the late 1970's suggest the positioning of rock art had a relationship to viewpoints, or markers signifying pathways (Bradley 1997, 90). The hypothesis has been tested through a study that was centred on the cheviots at Millstone Burn and Dod Law. Phenomenology was incorporated in the approach specifically including how rock art is encountered when considered as pathway markers. Rock art visibility could be identified at distances between 50 and 100 meters when approached. The samples used were at the 200m O.D with continual access to further higher ground. These sites have been argued to act as route markers of communication between both lowland and upland areas  (Bradley et al 1993; Bradley 1996, 93; 1997, 85). The findings indeed supported the earlier suppositions of viewpoints and pathways. Yet, it too confirmed the arts importance within a wider landscape.

Additional studies highlighted the pathway hypothesis further in respect to route ways.  These involved linking together complex motif designs in the upland areas of Kilmartin valley that suggested inter-visibility (Bradley 1997, 121-122).  Consequently, it has been argued rock art within the landscape marked both viewpoints and routes for mobile communities as they navigated between them. Therefore, mobile hunter-gatherers societies were guided from area to area, once it has been depleted of resources. Indeed rock art carvings have been further indicated to be located in areas suited to mobile exploitation, prior to later agricultural intensification (Bradley 1996 87; 1997, 7). Indeed, it too highlighted that designs disappear all together, once agriculture intensification occurs. Chronologically, it would support the Neolithic period where open-air art, is modelled on pathway markers. However, it does not consider the earlier megalithic rock art enclosed and hidden within cist tombs. A change appears to have occurred as these are now inscribed in the open.

Contrasting arguments concerned rock art assist in creating spaces and places, within the landscape. Either an individual performing a social organised function within a community or society creates constraints contributed to rock art. Therefore, it falls into a model that reinforces memory, where social control is being manipulated. Moreover, it's held within the symbolic cognitive parameters of ritual when understanding the lived in world (Nash and Chippendale 2002). Nonetheless, a strong argument is presented concerning the manipulation and interference by mobile hunter-gatherers that also indicate territorial markers combined with symbolic relationships. Therefore to encountering rock art in an open landscape would be more than just defining route ways. Yet, some styles of motifs displayed are removed from earlier tombs structures indicating an ancestral presence was placed within the landscape. In time, it has become altered, incorporating a change in context. Such a change has been indicated where rock art is considered to express non-verbal information, which assisted the forager but also, the ritual specialist (Ouzman 1998).

This leads to the question of whether rock art holds an ambiguity and works on various levels, secular or practical, as well as profane. Rock art designs are both complex and simple, while the former is restricted to the higher ground. Complex forms frequency increases when approaching monuments in lowland areas (Bradley 1997, 118). In addition these designs have also been discussed to mark entrances leading towards a change of landscape. Such as when traversing past Roughting Linn towards the uplands (Backenshall 2002, 46). Alternatively the Powden Boulder in the Ingram Valley, with its complex designs has a relation when approaching both an earlier long cairn, and later stone circle (Topping 2002 118-9). This tends to indicate ambiguity, but also a change in perspective of how rock art functioned in the landscape.

Therefore, if such change is available concerning perception of inscribed boulders. Then those motifs meaning could also alter. The model presented by George Nash and Christopher Chippendale suggests a 'social order and stratification' were present within mobile societies. Indeed once the motifs appeared on the earthfast boulders they represented more than the simple route-makers, but also marker for local community authority. The art is also a reflection of a microcosm displaying an understanding of the landscape, which has been marked. This then moves rock art into the realms of ambiguity (Nash and Chippendale 2002, 1, 8, Bradley 1996, 96). It then appears to be emphasising landscape, place and space in contrast to the route hypothesis. Indeed, it suggests a multidimensional Neolithic cognitive reality is being represented (Topping 2002, 118). Therefore, rock art becomes attributes that play on the abstract level of understanding the world. Moreover, it may not function as route markers. What does become clear is that multiple interpretations available, at the same time it causes multiple challenges for the archaeologist.

Anthropological parallels have indicated motifs designs can be placed into two criteria. The first is being of simple design illustrating ambiguity in its intended meaning. Therefore, it has a ritual significance, where it's meaning became unfolded and explained to an initiative by a rite of passage at a particular age. Secondly, there are complex designs that are not ambiguous and more precise in the information they convey. Indeed rock art motif panels in the uplands display a mixture of both types, and therefore would function as both markers of pathways, viewing points over the landscape or used for ritual disclosure of some kind. However to uncover such meaning or indeed attempt to understand its origin, is now far removed by 5000 years. Human cognitive development understanding the importance of both places within the landscape has since changed. As have the terrestrial view has slightly changed perhaps beyond recognition.

Nonetheless, whether rock art are route markers in the landscape or jointly used for ritual purposes. It highlights and opens questions concerning human settlement of mobile communities. This question appears to remain unanswered due to lack of archaeological evidence. Thus, it would indicate current models do not support permanent settlement. Therefore, it tends to indicate mobile communities used rock art as pathway markers. However, one must not loose sight of the contrasting cognitive implications.

Irrespective of the lack of settlement evidence, a Paleoenvironment study concerning the Chiviot has argued for a model of settlement being present. While being fully aware, no archaeology evidence is presently available. Cereal grain pollen has been identified from a sample in the higher uplands at Swindon Hill. Similar evidence has also been recovered from soil cores within the Bowmont lowland valleys. Exploitation is indicated being undertaken which could suggest settlement (Tipping 1996). At the same time, it too could be argued that mobile communities exploited the landscape and used pathways to navigate, where rock art marked the route. The pollen record suggests an area of boreal woodlands with cleared areas within the lowland valleys. Therefore, markers become important when held within mental maps of the locality, when limited agricultural subsistence is practised.

Indeed, alternative models indicate change of use. Their significance changed with advances in domestic livestock farming. Although the art may retain it's route and viewpoint significance, with mobile pastoralists moving stock when practising transhumance. It therefore would indicate a change occurred in use. Primarily the distribution of rock art still functions in the same way (Bradley 1997, 92). Yet, they are termed as markers denoting upland summer grazing areas (Waddington 1996, 156). As society subsistence practices became more complex, rock art meaning could also have changed, altered or be lost. Therefore, such changes indicate its motivation being dictated through the understanding concerning not only the place, but also its manipulation of resources for human survival. Therefore as cognitive knowledge of the lived in world becomes more complex, it will no doubt alter the attributed meaning and function placed on the art.

It therefore makes sense rock art displayed within a new context such as on standing stones. As at Long Meg where a number of spirals adorn it's inscribed surface. Although the inscribed stone stands outside of a stone circle, the spiral motifs had a specific significance, when transferred and hidden within past burial monuments (Fordsham, 1996, 111-3). In addition, the motif is not as widely used as other art, when compared with the low-lying earthfast boulders of cups and rings motifs. Indeed although cosmological overtones could be emphasised through its alignment to the southwest and the solstice point. In contrast, another standing stone located at Morwick is near to a fording place on a pathway inscribed with similar spiral motifs (Beckensall 1999, 15). However, the change of context could be a regional representation. Therefore, a motif becomes an outward expression of regional understanding of the world lived in, or coming to terms with a particular aspect of it. Yet, the difficulty lies in the chronology of when standing stones were erected. Inclusive of the art it portrays, was it inscribed before or after they were placed in their present position? Indeed had a cognitive change occurred? The questions of timing will become important to establish such changes inclusive of over what periods it took to manifest. Moreover, if a standing stone has received its rock art prior to its erection, it then becomes a moveable item. Subsequently its mental implications would have altered when compared to the earthfast boulders and panels on outcrops. Indeed, the relationship of rock art has been suggests an overlap or continuity exist, where it changes, in respect of standing stones and circles towards possible terrestrial alignments (Bradley 1996).

Further emphasises of change within the context of stone circles has been highlighted at Castlerig in Cumbria  (Beckensall 1999, 15).  Spiral motifs identified on the inner surface of a stone forming an inner enclosure within the circle. Such an enclosure compares with the earlier circles of Stanton Drew and Avebury. Although it's presently understood, that no rock art is present there. This tends to suggest ritual significance being confined to specific place forl disclosure within Castlerig circle. It alludes to its exposure for a particular group of people. However, a complication does arise, similar to the standing stones above. Does the stone within this circle indicate re use or is it contemporary (Forsham 1996, 113). However, an antiquarian recording survives of buried stones with a charcoal find. Indeed it could throw light on its previous or later significance. Without further archaeological evidence by modern excavation techniques, these questions remain unanswered. However, what appears to be evident is the change in the use of rock art. Such change has been suggested to have a direct response and relationship to perception of landscape when perceived on more than one level (Topping 2002 118).

Rock art enclosed within burials forms part of the archaeological archive and indicates a change in context. Where moveable rock art is reused and located enclosing inscribed stone within cist burials. The motif carvings face inwards, irrespectively of whether it formed the internal wall or used as the capping stone. However, Beakers burials located in cist could be otherwise, where rock art has been specifically newly carved for the internment process (Morris 1989, 47). Scholars have recently argued for a change in the arts significance, thus its removed from the open landscape, becoming removed and hidden (Brechensall 2002, 42). It's further concluded its position changed and its removal suggests a last 'recognition of the old symbolism' is in progress.

In contrast, new rock art appears to have been cut and placed within a burial context at Wilton Gilbert near Durham. Alternatively re-cut in the case of Little Meg, in Cumbria (Fordsham 1996,113). Therefore, the change may well indicate it is more than recognition, but also a continuation through change of rock art use.  On the other hand rock art displays the current understanding of the ancient world marked in stone (Nash and Chippendale 2002, 16). So why is the art suddenly being hidden away? When consideration is given to rock art recovered from under the kerbstone at the Fowberry cairn, with additional associated inscribed outlying low boulders of art. Are these makers of pathways or do they have a ritual significance. Is the same implication applied to the art within cist burials? This tends to illustrate rock art reuse in particular cases, yet it indicates two scenarios. First, the meaning has changed, and the reuse is simply of suitable and accessible material availability. Second, the meaning is still valid but held within its community transmission. Therefore, it could have a ritual significance or meaning to those who carried out the burial rite. Moreover, this goes against argument when suggesting changes in rock art deposition indicate a different way of thinking about carved inscription. Alternatively, the mental continuity of understanding those symbols have in fact maintained their significance. Nonetheless, broken rock art is evident in small fragments with larger moveable stones being reused in cairns could well suggest otherwise. However, ones attention is drawn to the rock art significant to the burial rite during the early Bronze Age (Bradley 1997, 149). Further changers are indicated when field rock art boundaries become overlaid that occurred on Ilkey Moor. On the contrary its been argued that rock art significance was not maintained over and into the later Bronze Age (Bradley 1996, 96).

Therefore, to summarise rock art has been found in various contexts and these appear to have changed. Nonetheless, multiple purposes indicate a process of chronological change. Rock art could mark and create specific places of ritual significance. Alternatively, it plays a duel role where the visible art assist mobile populations movement in the landscape, towards new areas of resources. Chronologically it could well pertain to the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition where rock art markers on low-lying boulders marked pathways. They too has been a change when they later became markers for upland grazing areas of domesticated livestock. A change has been brought about through variation of methods when exploiting food resources from wild to domesticate. Indeed mixed farming could well be in evident from the paleoenvironmental evidence.

In contrast, the same rock art functioned as territorial community markers within social territorial areas of control, the art then contained power and authority inscribed within its motifs. Specific motifs, such as the spiral have been brought out into the open from earlier megalithic passage tombs. Yet over time these have returned to be hidden in the later cist burials of the earlier Bronze Age. Indeed the art is either recycled or newly inscribed. Either way, the relevance of rock art disappears when confined to burials. It too is broken up, forming individual stones when becoming an integral part of stone cairns. Intensification of agricultural and the forming of field boundaries lay above previous art motifs. This suggests a change from its original function with its importance subsided. Such a supposition moves away from pathway markers and inscribed grazing areas that could be likely enclosed through a change in land use. Yet the ritual element is possibly still present.

Therefore, the implications of rock art context changed archaeologically during the period from 3000 to 1500 BC. This appears to have under gone a change from the sacred to the profane. Thus, the practical application and its movement from panels to standing stones and cists eventually marked its demise. Subsequently, a conjecture of human beings understanding the landscape, and their perceived place within when combined with its manipulation for the available natural resources. The prime mover of any change is likely the result of cognitive ideological factors, socially expressed in a changing understanding of the "lived in" world.

© 2002

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Last updated March 22, 2005