Signalling and Performance: ancient rock art in Britain and Ireland

Review by Ceri Pennington

This book presents a compilation of new interpretations of prehistoric rock art across Britain and Ireland. The beautifully illustrated volume is filled with images displaying art from a range of different sites. Case studies originate from areas including Scotland, northern England, Ireland, and Wales, with analysis exploring the types and forms of the motifs alongside the significance of their creation and the physical act of carving itself.

These case studies bring the reader closer to the experience of creating rock art and understanding the possible meanings behind its production. The study also explores the connection of rock art to the landscapes and monuments where it is located. The examination of rock art at tombs such as Newgrange in Ireland and cave sites like Cathole in Wales provides a fascinating comparison between different contexts and time periods. The reader’s attention is drawn in one chapter to the reuse of earlier sites and pieces of rock art by later communities, demonstrating the importance of such imagery to a shared identity and memory across prehistory.

The various authors and their different approaches to analysis provide an expansive overview of the many different features of rock art, including, in some cases, identifying what sort of audience the maker created the art to be viewed by, and whether it was ‘public’ or ‘private’ art. Many highlight areas for further research, whether by new methodologies or excavating specific sites that have only been partially revealed, opening the door for novel explorations regarding a number of archaeological locations.

This study of prehistoric rock art does indeed provide an ‘insight into the mindset of its makers’, investigating how prehistoric people interacted with these motifs and what they meant to them culturally and socially. It is an important contribution to the exploration of this subject in Britain and Ireland, as well as being an enjoyable and academic read that will engage a range of archaeologically minded audiences.

Signalling and Performance: ancient rock art in Britain and Ireland
Aron Mazel and George Nash (eds)
Archaeopress, £40 (pbk), £16 (eBook)
ISBN 978-1803272511