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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam

Meetings Make History. Hunters' Rock Art and Lands of Identity in Mesolithic Northern Europe.

Awarded: NOK 7.4 mill.

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Project Period:

2011 - 2017


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"Meetings Make History. Hunters' Rock Art and Lands of Identity in Mesolithic Northern Europe" is a research project aiming to understand the total corpus of Mesolithic rock art on the Scandinavian Peninsula. Mesolithic rock art mainly contains two ways of depicting animals. Either in form of "open" and naturalistic, or schematically expressed figures. The latter type most often also contains "body fill", i.e. they are decorated with what is more or less regular patterns ('design patterns), or reminiscents of natural organs inside of their bodies. My main thesis is that the former is expression of animism, while the latter expresses totemism, as they focus on the outer (animal as person) and the inner (animal as essence and part of a clan landscape), respectively. Theprevailing design patterns are to a large degree local, or specific to the region. I argue that design patterns worked as clan markers for semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers. Thus, design patterns is the marker of identity landscapes. On this basis I have constructed what I call a fragment of a totemic geography. In some cases figural elements typical of one region, are found in rock art places far from their "origin". This is interpreted as expression of cases of meetings to have taken place between parties belonging in internally distant identity landscapes. Thus, a central point of departure of the project is to regard the large rock art sites as Meeting places for groups, or clans. These venues have been used for rituals, gift exchange and feasts. The practice that can be attributed to the rock art places is regarded as essential to understand the social and historical development towards the end of the Mesolithic in northern Europe.

The aim of 'Meetings Make History' is to study the social processes as engendered history in the Mesolithic hunter-gatherer societies of northern Europe. The primary source material is hunters' rock art predating 4 500 BP, studied through the methodical d evices of 'animism' and 'totemism'. Rock art studies usually produce results that reside in a ritual sphere 'outside' society and social processes. 'World views' and rituals are thus detached from society. By operating with the concepts of animism and to temism, the objective is to unite the area of world views with social processes. Given that the division of labor always will be at the core of historical change, a central element in the planned study will be to investigate social processes through the dynamics of gender. Part of this is to study social processes and historical change with a focus on concrete meetings and gift echange between groups (e.g. 'clans') of different regions - and see both women and men as agents in this. Some 'strata' of suc h networking is materially available to us through the archaeological record, escpecially in figural elements in rock art pointing to 'lines of contact'. By operating the concepts of animism and totemism, the suggested project involves a new approach to the understanding of rock art and social processes. So far, this approach has turned out to be promising in that it reveals a level of meaning which is compatible with studies of settlement patterns and stray finds of Mesolithic age. During the last few y ears large Stone Age research projects have yielded an immense body of results on Mesolithic settlement. The reports and books on local settlement structures will be taken onboard in the present study, as important comparative material for the results on 'totem clan group areas' and animic groups. In the proposed project, this new information will be compiled and used in a wider, and geographically much larger context.

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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam