Rock Art and Ethnography Part 2: Special collection of selected papers presented at the 2018 IFRAO Congress in Valcamonica, Italy

Claire Smith, Sally May, Ines Domingo

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorial


This is the second of two special issues of Rock Art Research deriving from the 20th International Rock Art Congress of the International Federation of Rock Art Organisations (IFRAO), held in Darfo Boario Terme, Valcamonica, Italy, in 2018. The conference theme was ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’. Our session, ‘Rock Art and Ethnography’, built on the ethnography symposium convened by Mike Morwood at the first Australian Rock Art Research Association (AURA) Congress, held in Darwin, Australia, in 1988. Hence, in this introduction it seems apposite to consider developments in rock art research and ethnography over the last 33 years. Mike Morwood challenged researchers of the time to undertake 'middle-range' ethnographic studies of how artistic systems encode social and economic information.

What progress has been made over the last 30 years? The articles in the ‘Rock Art and Ethnography’ issues of Rock Art Research provide evidence of major developments in the ethnographic study of rock art since the AURA conference in 1988. New approaches that have broadened the conceptual frameworks of rock art research include a greater emphasis on Indigenous ontologies and epistemologies and on contemporary Indigenous engagements with rock art sites; studies of agency, affect and emotion and of how experiences at rock art sites shape people’s interactions with each other and with non-human beings; the life-biographies and legacies of known artists; rock art as part of the ethnographic present of Indigenous lives; how communities of practice can shape the development of regional styles; and the analysis of historical inscriptions to obtain insights into pre-existing petroglyphs. Moreover, a florescence of studies of contact rock art have embedded the analysis of historical and archival data into the methods of rock art research. Today, this research often elides historical, archaeological and ethnographic data in multi-pronged efforts to obtain rich interpretations of the art. Nevertheless, there are still significant gaps in research. Though studies of rock art and ethnography have flourished over the last 30 years there has been little progress in ethnoarchaeological studies of rock art, in which ethnography is used to develop theoretical frameworks that can be applied to understanding societies of other times and places. In this sense, Mike Morwood’s challenge remains largely unaddressed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137
Number of pages1
JournalRock Art Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


  • Rock Art
  • Ethnography
  • Ethnoarchaeology
  • Indigenous
  • 2018 IFRAO Congress


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