Friday, June 04, 2010

The Signs of Which Times?

The first afternoon of the colloquium "The Sign of Which Times? Chronological and Palaeoenvironmental Issues in the Rock Art of Northern Africa" took place yesterday, with four lectures and plenty of discussion. It is organized by The Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences.

As the title implies the aim of the colloquium is to explore rock art within a temporal and environmental context. One of the principal problems with any attempt to interpret rock art is that rock art tends to exist in something of a contextual vacuum. It is remarkably difficult to form a generally agreed upon date for any section of rock art because scientific (absolute) dating techniques have yet to be applied successfully in north Africa (at least, not without considerable disagreement about the results). This means that dates must be acquired by building comparative sequences (very much like the culture history days in European archaeology before C14), or by using other data when available. And it's difficult. The rock art may be in the vicinity of remains of human occupation but there's no real guarantee that the occupation evidence and the rock art are connected. More helpfully there may be environmental evidence (for example fossil pollen, geological and geomorphological information) which can help to suggest when the areas where rock art was painted were actually habitable for the types of activities shown in the engravings or paintings.

This colloquium is exploring some of those issues. One of the key benefits for those not particularly focused on rock art is that the colloquium has the potential for providing updates regarding environmental research in North African and at the same time raising the profile of that research - and this should certainly be of interest to all archaeologists working in post-glacial north Africa. I will summarize the main themes when the colloquium has ended.

In the meantime I am delighted to report that the weather is stunning, the al fresco dining and the quality of the food in Brussels quite wonderful, the beer is cold and full of flavour, and good quality red wine is remarkably inexpensive.

On a more helpful note the Royal Museum of Ancient Art is well worth a visit, and not merely for the Egyptian collection or, for that matter, its remarkable building. I will write much more about the museum when I return to London. Unfortunately I forgot to pack my camera's card reader or I would upload some of the photos. Kat- I've taken some cats and lions for you!

I won't have the chance to update the blog until Sunday, so I hope that nothing earth shaking happens until then!

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