A Multisensory Approach to Rock Art: Exploring Tactile and Visual Dimensions in the Southern Scandinavian Rock Art Tradition

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Abstract

This paper discusses rock art in southern Scandinavia as a multisensory format, where both sight and touch would have contributed to the comprehension of the images. From a structural semiotic point of view, we suggest that rock art can be construed as an organised set of features, such as visual and tactile elements, organised into heterogeneous unities with dynamic relations between elements that can change over time with respect to how they are experienced. We argue that in order to understand the rock art medium, it is crucial to take into consideration the multisensory interaction between the perceiver and the qualities of the rock art surface. The reason for including tactile elements in our interpretation of the conception of rock art is the way it was created: by hands interacting with tools and rock surfaces, as well as the spontaneous human tendency to explore the physical world through touch. One can identify key features in the images that would arguably facilitate tactile recognition, as well as be better explained from a multisensorial perspective. This includes the position of the images on horizontal outcrops, the moderate size of the images, the application of an orthographic perspective, the use of ‘tactile markers’ (ie crucial features having a strategic function for understanding images by touch), and the occurrence of incomplete images. A multisensorial perspective on rock art furthermore has semiotic implications. Incomplete images, for example, can be understood as indexical stand-ins for the whole imagined picture, ie as iconic indices. A multisensorial approach to Scandinavian rock art thus allows for new explanations for certain design choices, as well as a new understanding of how the images could relay meaning to a perceiver.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-110
Number of pages16
JournalProceedings of the Prehistoric Society
Volume86
Early online date2020 Oct 27
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Dec

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Archaeology
  • Other Humanities not elsewhere specified

Keywords

  • : multisensory
  • rock art
  • southern Scandinavia
  • tactile images
  • semiotics

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