77 The omission of fine details either in copying the art or in interpretation can indeed have a serious negative impact on the value of research, but all current researchers accept and work within this knowledge. Our current understanding of San rock art is such that we recognise that it is often detailed features, such as, distinctive postures, erect hairs, streamers, eared serpents, dying postures, epistaxis, and some peculiar gestures, that inform interpretation (Lewis-Williams 1984: 227). Observing features carefully is clearly key, but does this mean we must examine everything together? What are the implications of drawing out particular
elements within a panel for the purposes of analysis? At times, this can also be a problem. A case in point is Pager’s use of a formling from Mutoko to argue that formlings represented “combs of bees’ nests” (Pager 1973: 5, fig. 5). Three years later, Pager (1976: 3, fig. 2) used the same image to suggest that southern African depictions of “bees’ combs” were “extremely similar” to what he described as “four scutiforms” from the cave of Altamira, in Spain. In this later use of the motif, Pager deliberately omitted the outline that encloses the four oval-shaped cores of the Mutoko motif to make it resemble the Spanish “four scutiforms.” Yet, outlines are one of the crucial identifying features of the subject matter of formlings and, when examined closely, they rule out the beehive explanation for most formlings. Mischievous selectivity therefore can certainly undermine interpretation. And yet, almost all writers today work from single figures and single contexts to complex panels and multiple associations. In this, they are consciously selecting sets of imagery or ‘analytical units’ based on specific features needing explication. Unlike earlier studies (Cooke 1964; Lee & Woodhouse 1970), such
Published on Dec 31, 2001
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Arts, University of the Witwatersrand,Johannesburg, for the degree of Master of Arts. 2002, by Siyakha...