Archaeological, historical, art historical and ethnographic work has confirmed the importance of rock paintings and engravings as windows onto hunter-gatherer lifeways, some of which have vanished or on the point of extinction. Much of this work however overlooks the fact that rock art – an integral part of visual heritage and indigenous knowledge systems – remains powerfully relevant to what it means to be human. Rock art is implicated in cultural identity today in many different contexts (social, political, commercial), both on and off the rocks; South Africa’s new coat-of-arms, for instance, features re-contextualised rock art motifs. The proposed project will analyse exactly how rock art is used, and how it influences identity-formation processes, in three post-colonial nations today: the USA, Australia and South Africa. The project will also test the hypothesis that appropriate management of fragile rock art heritage sites in 7 carefully selected national parks can and does make a difference, challenging people's preconceptions of rock art and of the indigenous people who made it. In collaboration with conservation scientists and social scientists (archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, art historians, heritage managers), and combined with contemporary indigenous and tourist perspectives, an analysis of ethnographic and archaeological data will yield meaningful results and practical suggestions regarding identity-formation and the presentation of indigenous rock art. These results will be applicable to public rock art sites in countries worldwide, including Europe.
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