Tilman Lenssen-Erz – Sound, space and meaning: empirical evidence for sound production in the rock art of prehistoric Africa

15 January 2019
Universitat de Barcelona (Spain)

WHO:  Dr. Tilman Lenssen-Erz (African Archaeology Archive Cologne /​ Institut fur Ur- und Fruhgeschichte, Universitat zu Koln)​

There is hardly any landscape worldwide that has seen so little changes since prehistory as the Dâureb/Brandberg mountain in Namibia. Here the most notable anthropogenic change still today is ubiquitous rock art – about 50,000 pictures in ca. 1,000 sites in a circular area of 25 km diameter. This hunter-gatherer art tradition, that flourished between 4,000 and 2,000 years ago, focuses on depictions of humans showing them in highly differentiated activities. A small part of these depictions provides clear evidence for sound production or more precisely for musical bow playing. These depictions are all but a homogenous body of art, rather they encode different modes and different contexts of playing. Thus different social configurations can be hypothesized in which art and sound –presumably together- played an important role.

Another line of evidence of prehistoric sound production can be found at the bottom of the Dâureb/Brandberg where in a particular valley not only paintings and engravings occur –in part on the same rock face– but also intermingled rock gongs that can unambiguously be identified by the hit marks in the spots where the clearest sound can be produced.

The Dâureb/Brandberg and its body of art are particularly prone to research due to the extraordinary density of sites and to the fact that all has been completely published in print and digitally.

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