Review by George Nash
Prehistoric rock art is very much a world phenomenon, with assemblages found in every corner of the globe. To the expert eye, each region has its own unique style, engraving or painting technique, and chronology. Since the publication of the first News of the World volume in 1997 (based on the proceedings of a conference held in Turin, Italy, in 1995), the recording methodologies and the hard science they employ have moved the research agenda greatly. These significant technological changes since 1997 have been reflected in previous volumes in this series.
The book is divided into 28 chapters, starting with an introduction to Pleistocene art by Paul Bahn. Bahn provides the reader with a series of technical themes that cover the years 2015 to 2019. The remaining chapter sequence is organised geographically with Europe as the first port of call, with papers focusing on Scandinavia, southern Europe, and the central European Alps. The direction of the book then flows south to the Sahara, southern Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula. From this vast rock-art resource, the editors turn their attention to Asia, with papers from Russia, western-central and south-east Asia, Mongolia, China, and Korea. The focus then turns to Australia and the Pacific, albeit with just two papers. The final section of the book covers the Americas and features 12 papers.
Although the chapter layout is specifically focused on geography, the whole collection of papers deals with a variety of regional chronologies that span world prehistory. Moreover, contributors reflect on the various recording methodologies, which differ from region to region. Noticeable throughout the book is the use of photogrammetric techniques and the desk-based colour algorithm Decorrelation-Stretch (known as D-Stretch), which appears to be a far more suitable and safer recording technique than tracing, as tracing involves physical contact with the sometimes fragile rock-art.
This book, despite its smorgasbord of papers, provides the reader with an excellent baseline for further reading and research. It is lavishly illustrated throughout and – despite my reservations concerning issues associated with edited volumes, such as specific themes under general titles – this book provides a useful guide to a global phenomenon that was once assigned to the miscellaneous back pages of archaeology. Volume VI also reflects on the new discoveries that have been revealed over this busy five-year period.
This publication will be an important reference point for anyone interested in world rock-art – in particular, students and researchers who may be embarking on or ensconced in a post-graduate career. The publishers, Archaeopress should also be congratulated on the high-quality reproduction of the images in this book.
As a final note, I was heartened to see that the editors had dedicated the book to the Russian rock-art specialist Katja Devlet, who died recently.
Rock Art Studies: News of the World VI Paul Bahn, Natalie Franklin, and Matthias Strecker (eds) Archaeopress, £55 ISBN 978-1789699623.