Academic journal article Rock Art Research

Rock Art, Technique and Technology: An Exploratory Study of Hunter-Gatherer and Agrarian Communities in Pre-Hispanic Chile (500 to 1450 Ce)

Academic journal article Rock Art Research

Rock Art, Technique and Technology: An Exploratory Study of Hunter-Gatherer and Agrarian Communities in Pre-Hispanic Chile (500 to 1450 Ce)

Article excerpt


Like any material product resulting from human labour, rock art is a technology that is deployed within particular social, economic and historic contexts. While the literature abounds with works that discuss technical procedures used to manufacture rock art, especially paintings (Rowe 2001), less attention has been paid to the techniques associated with producing petroglyphs and how these are integrated into the social milieus of which they are a part.

Studies of petroglyphs conducted to date have focused on describing the attributes of the instruments used, their traces of wear, and the time invested in this labour. While such studies date back as early as the late 19th century (McGuire 1891, 1892), with additional contributions coming more recently (Sierts 1968; Bard and Busby 1974; Pilles 1975; Busby et al. 1978), in the past two decades the topic has been more systematically and intensively addressed in replication studies of cupules and other petroglyphs (Álvarez and Fiore 1995; Bednarik 1998, 2001, 2008; Whittaker et al. 2000; Álvarez et al. 2001; Keyser 2007; Méndez 2008; Krishna and Kumar 2010-2011; Kumar and Prajapati 2010; Kumar and Krishna 2014). Less research has been conducted into grooves and the operative sequences involved in manufacturing petroglyphs (Fiore 1996, 2007; Valenzuela 2007; Vergara 2009, 2013). All such works have sought to address one of the less explored dimensions of this materiality and to build a body of information to systematise our knowledge of this aspect of petroglyphs by employing objective approaches and terminology.

While building a systematic knowledge about the instruments and indicators linked to petroglyph manufacture is an essential aspect of rock art studies (Bednarik 1994,1998,2001), it also offers a window into understanding and elucidating other aspects linked to the social dynamics and productive processes of pre-Historic societies (Fiore 1996, 2007; Whittaker et al. 2000). Nevertheless, the social implications of the technical attributes and productive processes associated with petroglyphs remain relatively unexplored.

In effect, the technological aspects of material objects are deeply rooted in the social and cultural dynamics of the communities that produce them (i.e. Mauss 1936; Leroi-Gourhan 1971; Lemonnier 1986, 1992; Verbeek 2005), and thus studying them serves to broaden our understanding of human societies. It therefore follows that understanding the technological dynamics of a given materiality does not involve merely identifying the types of instruments and procedures used to manufacture it, but also encompasses the spatial, phenomenological and historical context in which that materiality is produced. Such an analysis relies on the separation, employed in the field of anthropology, between techniques and technologies (Lemonnier 1986; Sigant 1994; Schlanger 2005, 2006). Techniques include the set of procedures and instruments used to manufacture an object, or in Mauss's words (1936), 'traditional actions combined in order to produce a mechanical, physical or chemical effect'. In contrast, technology refers to a broader dimension that has to do with the cognitive, symbolic, cultural and social aspects of the manufacturing actions (Lemonnier 1986; Sigant 1994; Schlanger 2006).

Rock art is no exception in this respect, and it is therefore essential to understand the forms, dynamics and implications of its producti ve process. In light of tire above, our study explores the links between tire teclnrical attributes of petroglyphs and the social dynamics of their production in the Limari valley of north-central Chile, in order to understand the technologies associated with the manufacturing of petroglyphs by two types of communities. By characterising and comparing the technologies involved in the production of rock art in hunter-gatherer and agrarian communities, we can evaluate their differences and their relation to the respective communities' social dynamics. …

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