Ways Prehistoric “Art” can be Interpreted
Prehistoric art are generally artifacts and artwork ranging from cave paintings, megaliths, to figurines that were produced prior to the existence of written language. The interpretation and analysis of prehistoric art requires the collaborative efforts of both historians and archeologists. For example, archaeologists are usually involved in looking for any tangible evidence through the examination of rocks, stones and minerals while historians may be needed to help in creating a chronology as well as the relationship of the artifact to the culture of its time.
Generally, during the interpretation of any prehistoric work, a number of concerns regarding the driving force behind the creation of such works usually arise. Consequently, in order to fully interpret and understand prehistoric arts, archeologists, historians as well as art historians usually make their interpretations based on the clues of the cultures of the people that produced such artifacts. The interpretation of any prehistoric work usually begins with understanding and placing them in the context of human creative expressions, the age, as well as the form of the artifact. Additional investigations can also be carried out to determine the tools that were used to make the artifacts and other necessary material evidences that can help towards the formation of a working explanatory hypothesis. For example, archeological evidence reveals that rituals or religious purposes were behind most of the prehistoric artifacts. The interpretation of ancient depictions generally focuses on the probable message of the art, aesthetic and principles and norms, their composition, and reflection of life. Although many archeologists, historians or art historians may interpret prehistoric arts differently depending on their own personal understanding, scientific clarity requires that any interpretation must not negate the narrative possibilities of the remains of the prehistoric art. This paper discusses some of the different ways through which prehistoric “art” can be interpreted. Contextual Interpretation One of the most important ways of interpreting prehistoric artefacts and artworks is the contextualization of images during the interpretation of their symbolism based on the prevailing cultures of their time. Generally, this method involves making judgments on prehistoric artifacts within the presumed context of the peoples daily routines and domestic structure. For example, the interpretation of prehistoric works such as the vulture paintings of Mellaart’s shrine VII.8 can be effectively interpreted as an evidence of the excarnation of the dead. This is particularly because the vultures were not related to any of the archeological practices of the time and therefore it is more likely that such paintings may have seen the vulture as a Goddess of death when they saw vultures cleaning copses (Lewis-Williams, 73). It can be argued that contextual interpretation is based on the fact that most prehistoric artists were more concerned with the abstract relationships of their artifacts than with the artworks themselves. It is however worth noticing that the contextual interpretation of prehistoric archeological artifacts is normally based on unjustifiable assumptions regarding the tastes or religious practices and ideologies of the people who designed or made the artifact. As earlier been noted, prehistoric art can be several things from the dolmens to little stone collectibles. Sometimes paintings on the walls of the ancient man’s caves as well represent prehistoric art which are vital in the interpretation of the ancient history of the development of art by man. Many palaeontologists, geologists and geneticists while studying the past art use the participant observation in formulating hypothesis concerning social behavior of man during the Stone Age periods when the artistic nature of men improved greatly.