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Prehistoric Rock Art: Polemics and Progress Paperback – 21 Jun 2010

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Book Description

Paul G. Bahn provides a richly illustrated overview of prehistoric rock art and cave art from around the world. Summarizing the recent advances in our understanding of this extraordinary visual record, he discusses new discoveries, new approaches to recording and interpretation, and current problems in conservation.

About the Author

Paul G. Bahn is one of the world's leading scholars and popularizers of archaeology. The author or co-author of more than thirty books, he is the author of The Cambridge Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art. His articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines, including Nature, and he is an editorial consultant to Archaeology Magazine, DIG, and Antiquity.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Pointless polemic 29 May 2011
By Timothy Mason - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Bahn disagrees with the shamanic interpretation of rock art. However, this reader found that by the time he had waded through chapter 4, which is devoted to a hatchet job on Lewis-Williams, Whitley and Clottes, he had considerable sympathy for their point of view. There is a great deal of aggressive hand-waving, amongst which the substance - and there is substance to Bahn's argument - gets lost. Having now also read Whitley's book, and losing most of the sympathy that reading Bahn had gained for him, I get the impression that specialists in Prehistoric Art are not skilled at presenting their case in book form. If you can access the original papers, through JSTOR, for example, then I recommend doing so. An interesting and critical review of Lewis-Williams can be found in Current Anthropology Vol. 41, No. 5 (December 2000), pp. 866-873, written by Derek Hodgson of the University of York (UK)
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A more balanced view of the origins of prehistoric rock art 6 Sept. 2012
By Marilyn - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
P.G. Bahn marshals facts ... and facts ... and facts to support his interpretation of the origins of prehistoric rock art ---
something that the promoters of the shamanic-origin opinion do not do. [The questioning of this controversial theory
(the shamanic-theory) seems to be a major aim of Bahn's book]. While it is attractive and appealing to say that
rock art originated because of the activities of shamans who controlled the mind-world , such a view is both trendy,
and in need of analysis. It is highly questionable that ALL rock art had only ONE origin:
petroglyphs & geoglyphs were created in many geographical places, and over a wide time-frame.
The scope is enormous.
Therefore, I support the critical attitude that Bahn has taken:
Bahn leaves the very important impression that one-interpretation-does NOT-fit-all-cases'.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Rock Art Through a Skewed Lens 16 Aug. 2010
By Clifton Snider - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I know Bahn's work through such beautifully written and illustrated books as "Journey Through the Ice Age" (with Jean Vertut) and "The Cambridge Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art," both of which I read after visiting the Cave of Niaux in 1999, along with just about every other book on the topic of Europe's Ice Age art I could get my hands on.

My interest in rock art, albeit an amateur interest, began in 1984 when I first viewed petroglyphs in New Mexico near the Rio Grande. My approach to the topic is that of a poet, and has produced a poem on Niaux (translated twice into French) and, more recently, the Cave of Pech-Merle. So I enthusiastically ordered the hardcover copy of Bahn's new book, "Prehistoric Rock Art: Polemics and Progress."

My disappointment began with the fact the book had no dust jacket, unlike Bahn's previous book also published by Cambridge UP. The Amazon subsidiary from whom I ordered the book claims university presses don't usually publish with dust jackets. I have not found this to be true. A small point, perhaps, but if you're interested in art, you want as many illustrations as possible. The new book has lots of black and white photos; most are of poor quality, particularly measured against the splendid photos, both black and white and in color, of the other Bahn books I read (and own). Bahn says the lectures upon which he bases his book "were picture-led and heavily illustrated, whereas in the written format the emphasis must be on text" (Introduction). This is disappointing, especially considering the not inexpensive price of the hardcover edition.

Apart from his notorious and unscholarly exclamation marks (irritating in the extreme), Bahn is very readable. His prose style, apart from the exclamation marks, does not disappoint. He makes the subject interesting. I do not understand, however, why he spends two long chapters refuting the theory that much of the art stems from shamanism, a topic he has covered before and which even his favorite targets, Jean Clottes and David Lewis-Williams, admit does not account for all rock art. Bahn's objections are so strongly put one suspects something personal is behind it (though I have no way of supporting my opinion other than a gut feeling). Surely if the topic of shamanism deserves so much space (roughly a third of the book), then André Leroi-Gourhan's absurd structuralist and neo-Freudian theories deserve more attention. The former theory is barely mentioned, the latter not at all (although Bahn touches on it in a previous book).

If we are going to call rock art "art," I think it a mistake also to say "the only person who can really tell us what a particular image or set of images in rock art means is the artist himself or herself" (Introduction). True, knowing the intentions of the original artists would be immensely helpful, but if the art clearly means something (e.g. that the image is a bison with a red arrow-like projectile) then we can say that and interpret it as we will in its context, by which I mean both its location and its media. Bahn has committed what the New Critics used to call the Intentional Fallacy. No artist has the final say on what his/her work means if it is truly art.

Nevertheless, I'm glad to see that Bahn believes the art often represents mythology and perhaps ritual (such as initiation), as well as humor and many other possibilities. What he brings to the subject is an encyclopedic knowledge of rock art from around the world. I would like more on the "progress" in the subtitle and less of the "polemics."
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