A core feature of rock art studies concerns the characterisation and analysis of motif styles to generate new insights into their function, meaning, and symbolism in the deep and recent past. Yet what is oftentimes overlooked is attention to the production sequence used to create motifs, and what this can reveal about the social and cultural behaviour of artists. Where it is evident that a particular group of motifs contains a wide range of individual design conventions, questions about why and how these choices were made become points of enquiry that have the potential to develop new insights into their symbolic and relational character, and cultural significance. To address this challenge, we undertook an investigation of the rare and highly distinctive Painted Hand rock art style from western Arnhem Land (Northern Territory, Australia). Using a quantitative, systematic, style-based analysis, and an ethnographic exploration of a select group of distinctive design conventions, we show how the decisions made by artists to use specific design conventions were not random but instead were deeply implicated in, and shaped by, social processes acquired through learning or enculturation.
- Chaîne opératoire
- Rock art