A Talk by David Coulson
The African continent is home to some of theworld’s most beautiful art—rock art. Imagesof 20-foot giraffes in Niger’s Aïr Mountains,engravings of human footprints in the WesternKalahari Desert, and carvings of 6.5-foot intri-cately decorated human figures in Chad are justsome of the figures meticulously etched into orpainted on rock surfaces throughout Africa.Over 500,000 pictographs and petroglyphsdating back as much as 26,000 years tes-tify to the fact that prehistoric African peoplewere prolific artists who created intricate andthoughtful pieces of art across a vast continent.African rock art is among the best preserved onearth and predates writing by tens of thousandsof years. While it is difficult to determine theexact age of the rock art using modern scien-tific methods, the images themselves can offervaluable clues. The artists painted and carvedwhat they saw in their world.
Raising Awareness of Prehistoric African Rock Art
In March, British photographer David Coulsonspoke to an audience in Santa Fe, NM at theLensic, Santa Fe’s Performing Arts Center. Theevent was a first-time collaboration between theSchool for Advanced Research (Santa Fe, NM)and The Leakey Foundation (San Francisco, CA).Coulson’s images aptly illustrated the magnif-icent engravings and paintings he documentedfor the book,
African Rock Art: Paintings and Engravings on Stone
(2001) that he co-authoredwith Alec Campbell. Vertical rock surfaces aregood locations for rock art, although engravingstend to be concentrated in the Sahara Desert,central Tanzania, eastern Zambia and SouthAfrica. Paintings are found in protected areaseither in shelters of sandstone or granite or oncliffs and boulders not exposed to the elements.The locations of several hundred thousandworks of art are officially known and each yearhundreds more are added to the list.The late paleontologist Mary Leakey intro-duced Coulson to the rock paintings of centralTanzania. Leakey and Coulson shared a love forthe rock art and a mutual concern for its protec-tion. This led to the 1996 creation of TARA, theTrust for African Rock Art, a not-for-profit, NGOregistered in Kenya and America.“TARA’s mission is to create greater globalawareness of the importance and endangeredstate of Africa’s rock art; to survey sites andmonitor their status; to be an informationresource and archive; and to promote andsupport rock art conservation measures.” Theorganization has the support and endorsementof Kofi Annan and Nelson Mandela as well asThe Getty Conservation Institute, The NationalGeographic Society and The Ford Foundation.Vandalism, an encroaching population, and agrowing tourist industry are major threats todayto the petroglyphs and pictographs. David andTARA are committed to helping preserve themagnificent work of African prehistoric peoplesas a legacy for present and future generations.
Photo courtesy of David Coulson
Lessons From an AccidentalViral Video
What is Web 2.0 and what does it mean for anthro- pology?
By late January of this year I had spentseveral months struggling to answer this questionfor a paper I was preparing on the possibilitiesand challenges of using new web technologies forthe presentation of ethnography online.
A New Mediascape
Web 2.0 is notoriously difficult to capture inwords. The name itself is strategically non-descriptive, refusing to declare anything exceptthat whatever it is, it is different than the “Web1.0” that came before. Coined by O’ReillyMedia in 2004, there is a healthy skepticismamong many that it is nothing more thana marketing buzzword. However, few wouldargue that technologies like blogs, wikis, RSSfeeds and tagging that operate under the ban-ner of “Web 2.0” have not significantly trans-formed the way many humans now interactand participate online.
What Is Web 2.0? What Does ItMean for Anthropology?
The more I tried to explain Web 2.0 and itssignificance in words, the more I was struck withthe irony of trying to represent dynamic, visualand participatory media in a traditional static andauthorial paper format. I tried to imagine how Icould present my work in the medium I was tryingto explain, and the idea for a YouTube video wasborn. Three days later I had completed a roughdraft, posted it to YouTube, and sent the link to tencolleagues. To my great surprise, one week later thevideo was the #1 featured video on YouTube andhad been viewed over one million times.ing that the changes we are witnessing are so pro-found that we may need to rethink everythingfrom copyright and authorship to love, familyand ourselves. While the content of the videomay not offer enough evidence to support such aradical claim, the journey of the video itself mapsout at least three important characteristics of thenew mediascape that suggest that some signifi-cant rethinking does need to be done.
Speedy Creation and Distribution
First, the fact that I was able to create this videoin just three days without any professionaltraining demonstrates that the tools for creatingcontent and self-publishing to large audiencesare now within the reach of millions of people,including most anthropologists. Publishing writ-ten content is especially easy. Using free hostingservices like Blogger or Wordpress, a blog can becreated in less than one minute.Second, new web technologies allow self-published information to spread to interestedparties across traditional disciplinary boundarieswith tremendous speed. In the first day after Ireleased the video it spread slowly by email tojust over 100 viewers. Some users of del.icio.usand other social bookmarking sites began tag-ging it with words like “Web 2.0” and “anthro-pology,” spreading the link to other users of those services watching for those words.Bloggers began writing about it, spreadingit throughout the blogosphere. On day threeit received its biggest boost when somebodyposted it on Digg.com, a site that allows users to
The video delivers a quick history of the weband highlights the most significant differencesbetween paper-based media and digital media,focusing especially on the ability of digital mediato separate form and content. In the video I arguethat this allowed more users to create contentwithout needing to know complicated format-ting codes, opening the way for the user-gener-ated revolution we are now witnessing.The video quickly tracks the most commonmanifestations of this revolution—blogs, media-sharing, tagging and wikis—and ends by suggest-