Hidden sites, hidden images, hidden meanings: Does the Location and Visibility of Motifs and Sites Correlate to Restricted or Open Access?

Ines Domingo Sanz, Claire Smith, Gary Jackson, Didac Roman Monroig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
30 Downloads (Pure)


Using an ethnographic approach, this research assesses common assumptions in rock art research in terms of their validity for Aboriginal rock art sites in the Barunga region of the Northern Territory, Australia. In particular, we assess the potential and limits of the commonly held assumption that open or restricted access to sites and/or the meaning of motifs can be assessed by determining the visibility of the site or image within the landscape. This research calls into question some assumptions that are core to contemporary archaeological method and theory. Our results challenge the notion that a secluded location, or difficulty of access, is needed to restrict access to a site. “Hidden” sites do not need to be hidden, as site access is controlled by a plethora of cultural rules. Moreover, sites that appear to be hidden within the landscape may be open access sites, although access may be restricted for periods of time. Conversely, sites that are visible and accessible from a landscape perspective can be subject to restricted access, regulated through social rules. In addition, the results question the notion that the control of secret information in rock art sites is determined by the visibility and location of motifs and sites. Hidden meanings are not necessarily related to hidden locations or the low visibility of the art, since cultures can have many other ways of hiding meaning. Finally, the results of this study challenge the commonly held dichotomy between sacred/restricted access and secular/open access.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)699-722
Number of pages24
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020

Bibliographical note

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  • Ethnoarchaeology
  • Rock art
  • Theory and method
  • Semiotics
  • Aboriginal
  • Cultural landscapes
  • Indigenous


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