171

Rock Art Research 1006 Va/urne 23, NlIrnber 2, pp, /71-/78, A, MUZZOLlNI
KEYWORDS: Classification - Style - Typology - Ethnic group - Chronology Sahara
CLASSIFYING A SET OF ROCK ART:
HOW TO CHOOSE THE CRITERIA
Alfred Muzzolini
Abstract. In this, his final paper, the author sets out his procedures of classifying rock art, focusing
on the rock art regions of the Sahara. The primary criteria he chooses in searching tor a typology, after
emphasising that the objectives of such endeavours need to be clearly defined, are presumed ethnic
groups, style, artistic groups and relative chronology, Although he is optimistic about the prospects of
such analyses, he cautions against simplistic deductions derived from subjectively perceived styles,
and he emphasises the need for comprehensive interdisciplinary studies.
Classifying is distinguishing subsets, named dasses,
within a set of elements. One has firstly to define the crite­
ria according to which element belongs to a dass, then each
element of the set is attributed to its relevant dass. This
procedure is commonplace in all scientific fields, and pre­
History abundantly uses it as weIl. However, methods for
classification are diverse. As far as sets ofrock art are con­
cerned some preliminary questions must be answered: is a
classification necessary, and for which object? According
to which criteria may we classify? Is a link possible, or
probable, from a dass of images to the makers of them?
As the present writer is only familiar with the Saharan
field of research it will be easier for hirn to cite examples,
when necessary, taken from this field. However, this paper
intends to deal not only with the Saharan rock art, but also
in a more general way with the dassification of any set of
rock art.
1. Classifying for which objective?
Rock art occurs in the form of hundreds of thousands
of extremely diverse pictures. Studying a region rieh in
rock art images evidently begins with the survey of sites
and scenes represented. Already at this stage unavoidable
subjective choices take place: what constitutes or limits a
scene, which features must be regarded as significant
features that will be used in later processing? Very soon
the necessity of classifying the elements of the survey ap­
pears evident. Whatever the aim of the study, ever since
Aristotles and even before hirn, science has been only about
the general. It would really be impossible to handle such a
mass of elements if at the very start we do not order them
into groups defined by some regularities, the groups being
few enough to allow in the first place a discourse about
these groups. It will be possible later to go back to a unique
element induding special data.
How can we make up these groups or classes, how to
dassify? Choosing the criteria that define a dass is reallY
the major epistemological problem, owing to the fact that
endless criteria seem to be possible, and each ofthem, or a
conjunction of some of them, allows a classification
(Bednarik 1994). But any classification, provided that it is
coherent, with criteria correctly defined, independent and
not redundant, is legitimate, 'exact': it cannot be said to be
right or wrong. However, a classification can be more or
less useful for the dassifyer's aim. For instance a dassifi­
cation of pictures according to their dimensions is easy,
precise, 'exact' ... but useless for an archaeozoologist who
wants to study the evolution of fauna, when it is noticed
that every species is depicted in nearly every dass of di­
mension.
Therefore, we must firstly answer the question: what is
the objective of our study? Of course this will orientate us
when choosing the discriminating criteria for our classes.
Now, this objective unavoidably constitutes a personal
choice, or at least depends on the discipline practised. For
the present author and his discipline, pre-History, the ob­
jective consists in understanding, reconstructing, describ­
ing the history ofsocial groups in the remote past. We know
that rock art offers important remnants of this past. Con­
fronted by a set of rock art the prehistorian will try to de­
tect whether it possesses a structure. If its production ex­
tended over a long time, it includes at least chronological
strata. If several human groups took part in this making,
the set certainly refers to diffefent artistic, technologieal,
sodal and symbolic worlds. A classification will aim at
distinguishing them.
2. The ethnic group
In order to reconstruct the remote past, how do prehis­
torians usually proceed, either in rock art or in whatever
field of their discipline?
They start from finds, for instance a set of arrows is
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Rock Art Re.•earch 1006 - Va/ume 23. Number 2, pp. 171-178. A. MUZZOLlNl
found throughout an area: this cultural feature at least re­
flects a cultural group of arrow-users. However, this group
only represents a very rudimentary group, because it is
defined by only one feature moreover, a widespread
feature, not specific of a unique human group, Above all,
such elementary groups may be only etic groups, i.e. units
created by prehistorians only for the requirements oftheir
studies but not in use among the humans studied. For in­
stance these humans were probably not aware of there be­
ing a 'group of arrow-users'.
But some cultural occurrences sometimes are specific
of a unique group who was living in the area during a pre­
cise age: the ethnic group. The ethnic group can be defined
as a group possessing, and conscious that it is possessing,
either one or several cultural features that are original, i.e.
exclusive and consequently specific of the group - or a
conjunction of non-exclusive cultural features, but this
conjunction being original, hence specific of the group as
weil. An example of the first case: all the arrows found
show a special decoration pattern, termed a style unique,
consequently specific ofthe group. An example ofthe sec­
ond case: the arrows are trivial, but they occur in the same
limited area as other cultural features such as painted pot­
tery, buildings under large natural shelters, human skulls
artificially elongated (the example is taken from the Ameri­
can Indian Pueblo group). Neither the exclusive style nor
the exclusive conjunction of several non-redundant fea­
tures is due to natural environment, and they cannot be
random occurrences either. Then it appears very likely that
these cultural features are attributable to a cultural group
living in this area, possessing these special features that
marked its difference from the neighbouring groups, i.e.
rnarked its identity: an ethnic group. Such a cultural group
in this way should no longer reflect an intellec­
tual construct ofthe prehistorian, but represents a category,
termed emic, which really functioned in the concepts of
the population under study.
Once the ethnic group has been defined by its discrimi­
nating cultural features, it can be described with all its fea­
tures, discriminating or not. Afterwards it is possible to set
it into a classification of ethnic groups. The description
generally includes chronological markers that allow the
definition of the ethnic group relative to others. The final
result is a chronological classification of ethnic groups
called 'sequence', This operation, and sometimes its result
as weil, are also termed 'seriation'.
Such an approach, classically practised in Prehistory,
that consists in pcrceiving, defining, naming ethnic groups,
then assigning to them a place in a sequence, is building a
culture history. It was often criticised during the decades
when structuralism was triumphant. The main objection
was that culture history too often confined itself to the de­
scription, by means ofa host offlint or ceramic types, ofa
mere mosaic of cultural units that belonged to very differ­
ent patterns through time and space, while the studies
missed the most important: the underlying structures other
than material culture, structures that often transcend eth­
nic groups and extend beyond centuries. For many studies
earlier than 1950 such a criticism was justified. Since then,
however, ideas have evolved, and today the diatribes against
a crude culture history do not find their target so easily.
Anyway, when starting whatever study of a pre-His­
toric set, consisting of either images or objects,. it is abso­
lutely necessary to build a preliminary sketch of culture
history, at least a rudimentary one, confined to determin­
ing the main cultural groups and their arrangement in chro­
nological order. Such an elementary classification is indis­
pensable even for a study with a structuralist objective, at
least in order to know, when faced with two groups, which
one could possibly have derived from the other. Claiming
that it might be possible to dispense with this preliminary
framework in order to 'go straight to meaning' is onIy fair
words, because in such a case synchrony and diachrony
would remain intermingled. There would arise a serious
risk of comparing thoroughly unrelated elements from dif­
ferent periods, different ethnic groups or different symbolic
worlds, and yet detecting apparent but misleading relations.
In short there would be a risk of mixing everything up.
3. Criteria available for rock art cIassification
As rock art study is a branch of pre-History, research­
ers working on rock art also adopt the approach we have
described. However, they come against a difficulty pecu­
liar to rock art. Several ethnic groups, often nomadic, could
have in the past occupied the same region or, worse still,
the same site. Prehistorians frequently experience a simi­
lar situation when excavating a site, but in this case the
stratigraphy is often visible and allows distinguishing the
diverse occupation layers. On the contrary, the remains of
rock art, the images, are only juxtaposed; superimpositions
of images are very rare. Moreover, it is often difficult to
clearly distinguish which one is overlying the other. We
are then in the same position as when prehistorians have at
their disposal, instead of stratified excavations, only sur­
face finds where all flints and ceramic shards of the suc­
cessive inhabitants ofthe site are mixed up (Bednarik 1995).
Therefore, what we can at first do with rock art is only
to detect and map repetitions or regularities, although we
do not even know whether they are ethnically relevant. As
for ethnic markers, those currently used by anthropologists
language, religion, social structures etc. do not gen­
erally appear on rock walls. The choice of criteria for c1as­
sification is restricted mainly to artistic markers that are
conspicuous in the images but less surely discriminating in
an ethnic sense. Some of them discriminate very little, for
instance techniques (polished outline, pecked surface, paint­
ing in ochre flat tint etc.), because most of them are too
widespread. Others are slightly more discriminating: for
instance special techniques (polychromy, engravings with
double outline etc.) or unusual dimensions.
Thematic markers are more difficult to use, even when
they are exclusive, i.e. specific a group, because they
are visible only in some pictures of the group. Therefore
they cannot be considered as real criteria far classifYing
e.g. the buffalo, a specific thematic marker of the Saharan
group named Bubaline, cannot be a criterion for classifica­
tion, because it does not help to discriminate a composi­
tion of giraffes. However, if a thematic feature appears fre­
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Rock Art Research 2006 - Volurne 23, Numbe,. 2. pp. /71-/78. A. MUZZOLINI
quently and exclusively within a group that
has already been defined by other criteria,
it can be used as a marker for the composi­
tions in which it appears. Moreover, such
an exclusive recurrence will be a good con­
t'irmation of the coherence of the group,
suggesting its emic validity. An example
from Saharan rock art is the 'flying gallop'
chariots (Fig. 1). They belong to a group
named Caballine. They are not a criterion
det'ining the Caballine group - this group
is det'ined by diverse artistic markers - but
they are found only in compositions of this
group (Muzzolini 1994). They may then
constitute an auxiliary thematic marker of
the Caballine group. Other examples of such
thematic markers include headdresses,
clothes, weapons, special objects and devices, physical
types of human figures, uncommon animals or also very
unusual themes (e.g. animal masks, therianthropes). Jt does
not matter whether the meaning or the function of these
themes are known or not, for the time being we can use
them only as markers specific of a group.
Finally, even chronological markers can be used as c1as­
sification criteria if they include a discriminating value.
For instance patinae - a group of dark-patinated petro­
glyphs can be distinguished from a group of buff-patinated
ones - or the faunal spectrum - 'dry' or 'wet', steppe or
savanna faunas-may permit con'elation with dated known
climatic episodes. Most importantly, an artistic criterion
for differentiating groups, and consequently for c1assify­
ing them, appears in all regions and periods of rock al1 as a
major criterion, nearly always very discriminating: style.
4. A major criterion of classification: style
Style is the way of doing something, and in art, whether
rock art or not, the way of representing an object, a figure,
a scene, a symbol.
Hs advantage as a cultural marker comes from the fact
that even when the subject represented is very common,
widespread, and does not discriminate from an ethnic point
ofview, its making had a unique author in a unique group.
First of all, this author very often has a peculiar way of
representing. Whatever theme Botticelli or Raphael painted
- e.g. a Nativity, an Annunciation, that were very com­
mon themes - their 'hand', that is their manner of paint­
ing, is recognisable. In this case, style is the aI1ist's marker.
In other cases, mainly among social groups termed 'tra­
ditiona!', the artist is a member of a group that dictates
more or less strictly not only which themes must be repre­
sented but also how they must be executed. The rules are
often adopted by the artist's social conformism, without
any express constraint. The al1ist's freedom is not total any
longer, the group influences the way of representing. In
this case style is a marker of the group.
Whether the artist's or the group's marker, style neces­
sarily has some relation to the ethnic group that produced
it. Maybe this relation is neither exclusive nor simple ­
for example the group could have employed several con-
Figure 1. 'Flying gallop chariot', paintingfrom
Immeseridjen (Tassili, Algeria), Caballine school
(L = c. 30 cm). (Photograph A. Muzzolini.)
temporary styles - nevertheless, it is a relation.
Such a use ofthe criterion style as an ethnic marker has
been questioned. It has been asserted that the concept of
style is obscure and too subjective, because the defmition
of stylistic categories or their recognition among the im­
ages would depend too much on the observer's personal
vision and culture. 1s such an objection valid?
We firstly acknowledge that a confusion frequently
arises but it only relates to a wrong use ofthe word 'style'.
Hence one must only avoid this confusion instead of dis­
missing the use of style. Let us repeat that style is the way
of representing, and not the thing represented. Unfortu­
nately the archaeologicalliterature has sometimes wrongly
used the word 'style' for what were only repetitions, on
the same rock wall or in the same region, of either favourite
subjects placed side by side, or subjects linked by some
thematic and technical similarities. A typical example of
this error is the so-called 'Panaramitee style' in Australia.
1t refers to a pan-continental set of petroglyphs showing
simi1ar technique and often patina. But the themes repre­
sented are very simple, non-figurative or 'not very figura­
tive', and often of geometric pattern - circles, dots, cres­
cents, concentric ares, human footprints, 'kangaroo or emu
tracks', 'Iizards' and so on. Consequently they are aJways
very much alike. All subjects are abundantly repeated, but
as there are not many 'ways of representing' a circle or
even a bird track, 'stylistic' variations are few, ifany. Such
an accumulation of similar subjects is an interesting fact
that requires an explanation. However, it has no relation
whatsoever to the concept of style. When subjects are too
simple the danger occurs of finding them widespread
through the Australian continent - as it indeed occurred­
or even a1l over the world (McCarthy 1988; Bednarik 1995).
Even Leroi-Gourhan's 'styles' of Upper Palaeolithic
rock art are only defined by a mixture of real stylistic fea­
tures and thematic ones.
Style can indeed exist only when the artist has the free­
dom to allow a specific way of representing, so that the
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Rock Art Research 2006 - Volume 23, Number 2, pp. 171-178. A. MUZZOLINf
Figure 2. 'Bowman' and 'floating figures', Round Head school, painting from Ti-n-Tazarijt (Tassili, Aigeria)
(H offigures = c, 1 m), (Photograph A. Muzzolini)
work includes what we may call a 'stylistic charge'. This
implies a certain degree of complexity, thanks to wh ich
characteristic touches, both peculiar to the artist or the
group, and different from other artists or groups, can be
manifested. Circles, chevrons, dots and so on, even when
accumulated, do not allow this, and style has nothing to do
with them.
Once this misapprehension about style has been set
aside, the objection about subjectivity remains to be exam­
ined. Researchers admittedly define and identify styles
through qualitative evaluations: we are not dealing with
presence/absence statements, an appreciation by the ob­
server occurs at least partially. However, even different
works by the same artist show some variability, and artists
do not strictly respect the standards imposed by the group.
Therefore, it must be admitted that the 'way of represent­
ing' involves a degree ofvariability, more or less wide, but
unavoidable. The researchers have to appreciate this as weil
as they can. Of course they run the risk of wrongly distin­
guishing two styles within the same group, or inversely
confusing two styles that are really different but possess
too much variability. In order to mini mise these risks they
should only retain the stylistic groups that are definitely
clear-cut.
Such groups do exist when stylistic charge is signifi­
cant. To argue against distinguishing, even only on the ba­
sis of style, Byzantine and Renaissance art, Romanesque
and Gothic sculptures, cubist and impressionist schools,
would be unreasonable. Similarly in the Saharan field even
a non-initiated person or a chance tourist will easily distin­
guish the paintings of the stylistic group we name Round
Heads (Fig. 2) from those of the Caballine style (Fig. 3).
Such a stylistically grounded discrimination between two
cJear-cut units should not be denounced as subjective.
To sum up: provided that we confine ourselves to sets
with notable stylistic charge we may confidently use style
as a criterion for classifying rock pictures. And it will be a
major criterion because stylistic groups surely have some
link with ethnic groups - bearing in mind that the latter
are the ultimate goal of our study.
5. Tbe artistic group
Up to now we have only explained which kind of crite­
ria can be used for classifying a set of rock art. But which
criteria must we actually choose?
Which criteria must be retained would be a more ap­
propriate term. Indeed, we only note that some regulari­
ties, which suggest or impose the relevant criteria, are
present in the set. Our choice is limited to the actual range
of criteria that are visible locally. We notice particularly
that some thematic criteria are relevant only within a given
period.
Since the possible criteria are only those which possess
a discriminating power within the set under study it stands
to reason that there is no universal method available for
classifying rock art. A consequence of this is that the so­
called 'universal automatic classifications' are mere uto­
pias. Classifications ofthis kind have sometimes been tried,
but unsuccessfully, They start from very many criteria cho­
sen apriori - it should firstly be noted that such a choice
is arbitrary, it only emphasises the problem of choosing
the really relevant criteria (the 'crucial common denomi­
nator of a phenomenon category' of Bednarik 1994) and
setting them in hierarchical order. Then computers are set
to work, measure distances and establish derivations be­
tween elements, scenes, groups etc., the final result ofwhich
are 'exact' groupings of data, but most of them have no
emic reality.
Rock art does not allow classifications similar to the
systems used in zoology or botany by way of a unique
framework of criteria set apriori in hierarchical order. Sci­
entifically-minded researcbers are accustomed to sets like
palaeontological sets in which an element derives from
another, both having a common origin and the whole be­
ing liable to be sketched by way of a tree, or as sets of
elements that reflect quantifiable common parameters, the
distances ofwhich can be shown in a unique cluster analy­
sis. These researchers are puzzled witb our definitions of
c1asses that use lists of criteria, which vary according to
each group. The main cause is that cultural features are
infinitely diverse, not permanent, and cannot be arranged
into a hierarchical system of constant parameters.
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Rock Arl Research 2006 Volume 23. Number 2. pp. 171-178. A. MUZZOUNI
All we can do is to subjectively choose some
repetitive features as criteria, because we think
they are significant from either the artistic or
the ethnic point of view (e.g. a deeply polished
outline, painting in fl.at tint, a 'geometrie sche- '.
matic style' clearly perceptible in all figures).
We will consciously abandon the other features.
Let us remember that the classifiers are free to
choose their criteria. For instance they may give
up a feature that is too ubiquitous and conse­
quently does not discriminate very much (e.g.
colour in paintings). There is no 'circular think­
ing' or illegitimate preconceived idea in their
choices, they just want to choose between what
seems useful, or useless, for the classification
they intend to propose. Such choices are as le­
gitimate as for instance the choice of the zoolo­
gist who for classifying mammals chooses not
to use the colour of the coat, or the choice taken
by the historian who, among the myriads of data
collected, subjectively chooses only those con­
sidered as significant for exposing the thread of
history.
With criteria that are different for each group, what can
we expect to gain? We can obtain a few clusters of rock
pictures that we will name 'artistic groups'. We are dealing
with apparently fairly homogeneous groups ofpictures that
are similar enough, within an acceptable variability area,
and different enough from all other pictures. Such simi­
larities and differences must be understood with respect to
the criteria adopted (in statistics this kind of classification
is termed 'typology').
If a marker chosen as a criterion is specific of an artis­
tic group and present in all pictures of this group - e.g. a
clear-cut style - it is sufficient to define this group. The
other markers are redundant, they are useful only for the
description of the group. But if specific markers are lack­
ing one can also choose an unusual conjunction consisting
of non-specific criteria, and this conjunction may even in­
clude thematic criteria that are not manifest in all pictures.
For instance, in the Sahara the conjunction technique of
deeply polished outline + naturalistic style (two artistic
criteria) + dark patina (chronological criterion) defines the
artistic group ofpetroglyphs named 'Naturalistic Bubaline'
(Fig. 4). Moreover, as this group mainly represents ani­
mals, a fourth criterion, both thematic and chronologieal,
may be added: archaie fauna of a savanna. These four cri­
teria are not redundant but none of them is specific of the
group. It is their conjunction that is specific, and sufficient
to characterise a lot ofpetroglyphs. We can make them up
into a sui generis artistic group or cluster.
By using in this manner severallists of criteria it is pos­
sible to define several artistic clusters within the set under
study. However, in opposition to what produces a classifi­
cation with only one Iist of criteria in a hierarchical sys­
tem, it is very unlikely that the diverse groups we can iden­
tify by this way may constitute a classification in which
the sum of the classes is exhaustive, i.e. conesponds ex­
actly to the totality of the elements of the set under study.
Figure 3. Caballine figures, painting from Ti-n­
Rassoutine (Tassili, Algeria) (H = c. 25 cm).
(Photograph A. Muzzolini.)
Generally a residue will subsist, made of pictures that do
not match with any of the lists of criteria used, and are too
heterogeneous to suggest the making-up of additional ar­
tistic clusters. This residue may be quantitatively impor­
tant, but we willleave it as a pseudo-group, the 'unclassifi­
able pictures' - pending a finer classification, able to deal
with it and at least diminish it.
The present author has used this 'cluster method' in
order to classify the rock art ofthe central Sahara (Muzzolini
1995). However, the Sahara is by no means a special case.
One is reduced to this method, admittedly unsophisticated
and unfinished, when the set to study comprises several
'layers' of pictures that correspond to several successive
ethnic or artistic groups, without any possibility of physi­
cally discriminating these layers. Of course one is reduced
to it only ifthe goal ofthe study is reaJ!y the prehistorian's
goal, that is disentangling the diverse ethnic strata. If the
goal is different, other classifications, easier and exhaus­
tive, are possible. For instance a kind of classification is
presented in many site or regional surveys. It consists of
the list ofthemes represented: humans, objects, and mainly
the diverse animals (cattle, giraffes, elephants etc.). How­
ever, in spite of the precise percentage indicated in addi­
tion for each of these merely thematic classes, such a clas­
sification is generally useless for prehistorians, because
most animals, both wild and domestic, have been depicted
by several ethnic groups. Therefore such classes do not
allow distinguishing between the work of different ethnic
groups, or illuminate their history.
We must point out that trying to avoid tbe 'unclassifiable
pictures' that this 'cluster method' discards is illusive. In
actual fact all researchers of the preceding generations at
176
Rock Art Research 2006 - Vo/ume 23. Number 2. pp. /7/-/78. A. MUZZOLIN/
L'igUlf::"-t! 1Jomestic cow (note the collar and pendant), petroglyphfrom Wadi Hagalas (Messak, Libya), Naturalistic
Bubaline school (L = c. 120 cm). (Photograph A. Muzzolini.)
work in Saharan rock art (Obermaier, Monod, Lhote, Mori
etc.) did also define artistic groups on the ground of di­
verse criteria. But as they were convinced that an 'exact'
classification had necessarily to be exhaustive, they made
a point of inserting somehow all figurations into one of the
four, five or six groups they had defined. This raised prob­
lems for many pictures, required many subjective, ques­
tionable - and questioned - attributions, diluted the defi­
nitions of groups or was even sometimes inconsistent with
them. In short, the coherence ofthe groups wasjeopardised.
The present writer consciously abandoned such an ambi­
tion to classify all pictures and contents himselfwith a few
well-defined and more credible clusters.
6. From the artistic to the ethnic group
Once the artistic groups have been defined and de­
scribed, the following step is noting the chronological mark­
ers that each of them nearly always includes. These mark­
ers are diverse according to regions 01' groups. For instance,
chronoJogical markers commonly used in the Sahara are
patinae (the validity ofwhich is only statistical) and mark­
ers that can be given at least a rough date by other disci­
plines: e.g. the global spectra of fauna (archaic 01' recent),
01' special animals (the buffalo, the oryx, the horse, the
camel etc.), the position of which in the overall climatic
evolution 01' in the history of domesticated animals is known
from archaeozoology; devices or objects to which a place
can be assigned within a well-known technological evolu­
tion (e.g. bows, spears, swords, chariots), inscriptions de­
noting arecent period etc. Artistic clusters can by this way
be arranged into a chronological sequence, at least as far
as relative chronology is concerned.
What can such an artistic-chronological sequence be
used for? Of course it may allow writing a history of artis­
tic forms, independent of the history of the ethnic groups
that produced these forms. But we also know that in the
past the various artistic forms nearly always had some re­
lation with temporary social units - tribes, castes, sects,
religions, peoples and so on - that they characterised.
Therefore we can chiefly study whether the artistic-chro­
nological cluster reflects some ethnic group.
How? No universal method is available for studying
this problem either. Each case has to be discussed accord­
ing to the particular circumstances. However, researchers
frequently use one argument, at least implicitly. It lies in
the fact that an artistic group is likely to correspond to an
ethnic one when it can be both established that:
1. Its territorial range is all in one block and coincides
with some geographical border (e.g. the artistic group
extends on an entire massif, is surrounded by deserts 01'
is Iimited by a river).
2. Chronological markers are included in the artistic clus­
ter and they are coherent (e.g. the faunal spectrum re­
flects only savanna anima1s, all pictures have statisti­
cally identical dark patinae etc.).
It must be acknowledged that in such cases there is at
least a presumption ofthe emic reality ofthe artistic group.
It would indeed appeal' very surprising that a cluster de­
fined, for instance, by way of stylistic criteria could be in
keeping with limits related to space, time or ecology, un­
less it corresponds to some discrete ethnic element bounded
by the same space and time limits. Finding an original con­
junction of artistic 01' thematic criteria only within a lim­
ited area, 01' within a distinct enough period, 01' within both,
would be an unexplainable fact, unless a human group was
the cause of this unusual concentration. By noting this spa­
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Rock Ar/ Research 2006 - Volume 23, Number 2, pp. 171-178. A. MUZZOLINI
Figure 5. Figures holding 'curved sticks', painting /rom Tahilahi (Tassili, Algeria), Iheren-Tahilahi school
(H 0/a flgure = c. 30 cm). (Photograph A. Muzzolini.)
ti al and temporal concordance for each of the features that
define the artistic cluster, the relevance of all features is
confirmed. So the relevance of the artistic cluster and its
emic reality are also confirmed aposteriori.
As an illustration, the artistic group of paintings named
'Caballine' in the Sahara can be quoted (Muzzolini 1995:
139). It includes almost only human figures and is defined
by the following conjunction: figures painted in ochre (or,
though rarely, white), flat tint (no internal details) + a very
specific schematic style (Iarge shoulders depicted in front
view, very narrow waist and a simple vertical stroke to rep­
resent the head) + typical clothes (a short 'skirt' for men
and a 'Iong dress' for women) + typical 'weapons': 'spears'
and 'shields', never bows nor swords (Figs 1 and 3). These
diverse features, jointly technical, stylistic and thematic,
are found only on the rock walls of an area of c. 1000 by
500 km, in fact only in the contiguous massifs of Tassili,
Acacus and Hoggar. As we are dealing with nomadic popu­
lations in an arid zone, such an area does not appear im­
mense. As for the set ofweapons, it is often a good chrono­
logical marker, it is coherent. The bow, a weapon common
among the preceding Neolithic groups, now disappears and
is replaced by more modern weapons - the spear and the
shield. The sword, however, will be adopted only in the
following phase, the 'Cameline' period. We can reason­
ably conclude that the artistic cluster defined as the
Caballine group corresponds to an ethnic group that lived
on this limited territory. The typical clear-cut style of fig­
ures, with little variability area, even reflects a rather ho­
mogeneous group.
Other examples that define an artistic group likely to
correspond to an ethnic group who inhabited a natural area
are the Saharan group of'Round Heads' (Fig. 2) that occu­
pies an area of c. 400 by 100 km, all in one block within
the Tassili-Acacus massif, or the group ofpaintings named
Iheren-Tahilahi group (Fig. 5) that does not extend beyond
the Tassilian massif, or the Australian group of Gwion fig­
ures (formerly 'Bradshaw figures') that are unknown out
of the Kimberley (Walsh 2000).
Admittedly, the relation between artistic cluster and eth­
nic group is not always so clear as in these examples and is
not necessarily univocal. For instance, the artistic cluster
may correspond to only a fragment of the ethnic group. A
major problem with which we are sometimes faced is how
to interpret an artistic group found over a huge area. An
explanation might be that the group has been defined by
only one criterion that discriminates too poorlY: such are
the artistic groups, able to include nearly everything, based
on a criterion of the kind' presence of cattle' or 'naturalis­
tic style' alone. The literature has sometimes presented such
groups, but it is apparent that the category used, obviously
etic, is too wide, may involve a lot of ethnic groups, and
therefore is uninteresting for prehistorians. On the contrary,
if the artistic group has been correctly discriminated by a
speciflc criterion or by several concordant criteria - which
implies that its reality as an artistic cluster is undeniable­
but extends over an area that appears too vast for an ethnic
group, what is to be thought?
Too vast - what does this mean? There exists no
generalisable standard. Population densities vary too much,
they depend on the 'carrying capacity' ofthe biotopes, thus
ethnic groups in arid zones generally occupy areas larger
than those in temperate zones. Most importantly, the no­
madic way of Iife can century after century shift or widen
those areas until they cover very large territories. A well­
known example is that of the Fulani. During the last mil­
lennium they have left their traces over a territoly that ex­
tends from the Sudan to the Atlantic, along a stretch of c.
178
Rock Art Research 2006 . Voll/me 23, NI/mbe,. 2, pp. 171·178. A MUZZOLiNI
4000 km long and 1000 km wide. This area, albeit immense,
can nevertheless be geographically and ecologically de­
fined: it corresponds to the Sahelian savannas, between the
tropical forest and the Saharan desert. It was imposed by
the Fulani 's pastoral way of life.
In the Sahara the cluster 'Naturalistic Bubaline', al ready
mentioned (Fig. 4), perfectly defined as an artistic group,
presents a problem ofthis kind (Muzzolini 1995: 97). It is
found from the Atlantic to Fezzan, but not beyond, mainly
in the Saharan Atlas, Tassili, Fezzan, besides some smaller
districts in Hoggar. On such a very large area, which is
very diverse today, it appears difficult to imagine a unique
ethnic group with a uniform way of life. But the Naturalis­
tic Bubaline group goes back to a wet period of the
NeoJithic, when the entire Saharan land was a fairly con­
tinuous steppe that allowed a pastoral way of life. A first
explanation might be an analogy with the case of the mod­
em Fulani: the artistic group Naturalistic Bubaline could
reflect an ethnic group, ecologically defined, which in the
course of centuries could have expanded over a stretch of
land which we find incredibly vast today. But there is an­
other, very different possibility: this artistic group might
correspond to several ethnic groups, diverse and yet bound
by some system, symbolic (language, religion etc.) or po­
litical, which was leading to similar expressions in the ar­
tistic domain. Such artistic communities formed by vari­
ous ethnic groups are known in art history: for instance,
the Hellenistic art, the Islamic art, the Romanesque or
Gothic architectures of diverse Christian nations and so
on.
lfwe confine ourselves to rock art, the conclusion about
the ethnic reality of the artistic c1ass will sometimes re­
main uncertain.
7. Comparing with other disciplines
Indeed we must not content ourselves with rock art. In
addition to the uncertainties about the relations between
some artistic clusters and ethnic groups, the sequence of
artistic c1asses reflects only the human groups who did paint
or engrave on rocks. In the Air mountains, for instance, in
contrast to other Saharan regions, the earliest traces of rock
art date only from the recent phases of the Holocene, al­
though the massif was inhabited since the very beginning
of the Holocene. Moreover, each artistic c1ass of our clas­
sification represents only a point in the past, continuity in
time is seIdom manifest and hiatuses more or less impor­
tant could have separated diverse clusters. In short, the rock
art archives do not provide us with the complete story. The
sequence of artistic classes is only a rough image, neither
safe nor complete enough, of a true regional culture his­
tory. At best it is a best-fit hypothesis, valid untiJ it can be
called into question by data coming from other origins.
The most obvious data relevant for that checking can
be found by comparing our artistic-chronological sequence
with sequences provided by other disciplines: the culture
history inferred from archaeological excavations, the evo­
lution of faunas described by archaeozoology, that of cli­
mates, the history of human groups known from ancient
authors and so on. Firstly, our cultural sequence must be
compatible with these data obtained from other sources. It
will eventually enlighten or complete them, mainly in do­
mains like the symbolic world, the access ofwhich is diffi­
cult. It will also try to make use of those other sequences,
while at the same time seeking confirrnations of the emic
character of our artistic clusters. There is a need of an ex­
change on all levels between the various disciplines that
contribute to reconstructing the past. Through such an ex­
change the various disciplines strengthen each other. His­
tory has always been written by way of combining, check­
ing, comparing the attainments of various disciplines.
In short, we must try through all available ways, mainly
by making the best of the data of all archaeological disci­
pi ines involved in the same object, to understand the eth­
nic significance ofthe identified and classifled artistic clus­
ters. Without a conclusion about this aspect the classifica­
tion of artistic groups could remain, for the prehistorian, a
mere intellectual exercise, 'exact', but difficult to use, and
perhaps useless.
Postscript: This paper was first presented to the Third
AURA Congress, held in Alice Springs in July 2000. Pub­
lished here posthumously, it represents the author's final
message to the discipline of rock art research.
REFERENCES
BEDNARIK, R. G. 1994. On the scientific study of palaeoart.
Semiotica 100(2/4): 141 ~ 6 8 .
BEDNARIK, R. G. 1995. Taking the style out ofthe Panaramitee
style. AURA Newsletter 12(1): 1-5.
McCARTHY, F. D. 1988. Rock art sequences: a matter of clarifi­
cation. Rock Art Research 5: 16-42 (with RAR Comments
by J. Clegg, B. David, N. R. Franklin, J. McDonald, L. May­
nard, D. R. Moore, M. J. Morwood, A. Rosenfeld, R. G.
Bednarik).
MUZZOLINI, A. 1994. Les chars au Sahara et en Egypte. Les
chars des 'Peuples de Ja Mer' et la 'vague orientalisante' en
Afrique. Revue d'Egyptologie 45: 207-34.
MUZZOLlNI, A. 1995. Les images rupestres du Sahara. Chez
I'auteur, Toulouse.
WALSH, G. L. 2000. Bradshaw art olthe Kimberley. Takarakka,
Melbourne.
RAR 23-778

worse still. and conscious that it is possessing. superimpositions of images are very rare. An example ofthe sec­ ond case: the arrows are trivial. Prehistorians frequently experience a simi­ lar situation when excavating a site. different ethnic groups or different symbolic worlds. Thematic markers are more difficult to use. termed a style unique. However. even when they are exclusive. that consists in pcrceiving. if a thematic feature appears fre­ .e. while the studies missed the most important: the underlying structures other than material culture. religion. Some of them discriminate very little. often nomadic. For in­ stance these humans were probably not aware of there be­ ing a 'group of arrow-users'. a widespread feature. consequently specific ofthe group. ofa mere mosaic of cultural units that belonged to very differ­ ent patterns through time and space. buildings under large natural shelters. As for ethnic markers. rnarked its identity: an ethnic group. either one or several cultural features that are original. because it does not help to discriminate a composi­ tion of giraffes.e. specific o~ a group. Neither the exclusive style nor the exclusive conjunction of several non-redundant fea­ tures is due to natural environment. because it is defined by only one feature moreover. but in this case the stratigraphy is often visible and allows distinguishing the diverse occupation layers. Afterwards it is possible to set it into a classification of ethnic groups. It was often criticised during the decades when structuralism was triumphant. but they occur in the same limited area as other cultural features such as painted pot­ tery. it is abso­ lutely necessary to build a preliminary sketch of culture history. the images. human skulls artificially elongated (the example is taken from the Ameri­ can Indian Pueblo group).. what we can at first do with rock art is only to detect and map repetitions or regularities. do not gen­ erally appear on rock walls. and today the diatribes against a crude culture history do not find their target so easily. 171-178. they come against a difficulty pecu­ liar to rock art. this group only represents a very rudimentary group. possessing these special features that marked its difference from the neighbouring groups. it is often difficult to clearly distinguish which one is overlying the other.•earch 1006 - Va/ume 23. i. Then it appears very likely that these cultural features are attributable to a cultural group living in this area. social structures etc. ideas have evolved. Such an elementary classification is indis­ pensable even for a study with a structuralist objective. But some cultural occurrences sometimes are specific of a unique group who was living in the area during a pre­ cise age: the ethnic group. The final result is a chronological classification of ethnic groups called 'sequence'. pp. the buffalo. cannot be a criterion for classifica­ tion. There would arise a serious risk of comparing thoroughly unrelated elements from dif­ ferent periods.) or unusual dimensions. Since then. could have in the past occupied the same region or. In short there would be a risk of mixing everything up. An example of the first case: all the arrows found show a special decoration pattern. consisting of either images or objects. is building a culture history. units created by prehistorians only for the requirements oftheir studies but not in use among the humans studied. Such an approach. are only juxtaposed. and yet detecting apparent but misleading relations. However. Claiming that it might be possible to dispense with this preliminary framework in order to 'go straight to meaning' is onIy fair words. because they are visible only in some pictures of the group. for instance techniques (polished outline. 3. and sometimes its result as weil. termed emic. not specific of a unique human group. structures that often transcend eth­ nic groups and extend beyond centuries. those currently used by anthropologists language. On the contrary. which really functioned in the concepts of the population under study. engravings with double outline etc. because most of them are too widespread. only sur­ face finds where all flints and ceramic shards of the suc­ cessive inhabitants ofthe site are mixed up (Bednarik 1995).g.e.172 Rock Art Re. A. Several ethnic groups.e. Therefore. pecked surface. Therefore they cannot be considered as real criteria far classifYing e. i. Such a cultural group I\~tl'leved in this way should no longer reflect an intellec­ tual construct ofthe prehistorian. but this conjunction being original. research­ ers working on rock art also adopt the approach we have described. Number 2. paint­ ing in ochre flat tint etc. instead of stratified excavations. exclusive and consequently specific of the group . classically practised in Prehistory. the same site. MUZZOLlNl found throughout an area: this cultural feature at least re­ flects a cultural group of arrow-users. The main objection was that culture history too often confined itself to the de­ scription. For many studies earlier than 1950 such a criticism was justified. This operation. We are then in the same position as when prehistorians have at their disposal. are also termed 'seriation'.). The choice of criteria for c1as­ sification is restricted mainly to artistic markers that are conspicuous in the images but less surely discriminating in an ethnic sense. at least a rudimentary one. confined to determin­ ing the main cultural groups and their arrangement in chro­ nological order. the remains of rock art. hence specific of the group as weil. by means ofa host offlint or ceramic types. then assigning to them a place in a sequence. i. it can be described with all its fea­ tures. when faced with two groups. Once the ethnic group has been defined by its discrimi­ nating cultural features. The ethnic group can be defined as a group possessing. but represents a category. Others are slightly more discriminating: for instance special techniques (polychromy. However. Moreover. discriminating or not. Anyway. such elementary groups may be only etic groups. defining. which one could possibly have derived from the other. i. a specific thematic marker of the Saharan group named Bubaline. Above all. at least in order to know. The description generally includes chronological markers that allow the definition of the ethnic group relative to others. although we do not even know whether they are ethnically relevant. when starting whatever study of a pre-His­ toric set.or a conjunction of non-exclusive cultural features. however. because in such a case synchrony and diachrony would remain intermingled. and they cannot be random occurrences either. Criteria available for rock art cIassification As rock art study is a branch of pre-History. naming ethnic groups.

widespread. MUZZOLINI 173 quently and exclusively within a group that has already been defined by other criteria. 1s such an objection valid? We firstly acknowledge that a confusion frequently arises but it only relates to a wrong use ofthe word 'style'.Volurne 23. on the same rock wall or in the same region. Let us repeat that style is the way of representing. 'Flying gallop chariot'. For instance patinae . non-figurative or 'not very figura­ tive'. but as there are not many 'ways of representing' a circle or even a bird track.a group of dark-patinated petro­ glyphs can be distinguished from a group of buff-patinated ones . The al1ist's freedom is not total any longer. 'kangaroo or emu tracks'. nearly always very discriminating: style. Other examples of such thematic markers include headdresses. ifany.g.g. paintingfrom Immeseridjen (Tassili. In this case style is a marker of the group. and in art. A typical example of this error is the so-called 'Panaramitee style' in Australia. Caballine school (L = c. of either favourite subjects placed side by side. concentric ares. uncommon animals or also very unusual themes (e. They may then constitute an auxiliary thematic marker of the Caballine group. style is the aI1ist's marker. A major criterion of classification: style Style is the way of doing something.) temporary styles . the way of representing an object. it is a relation. suggesting its emic validity. cres­ cents. (Photograph A. and not the thing represented. this author very often has a peculiar way of representing. 1). 'Iizards' and so on. They belong to a group named Caballine. Maybe this relation is neither exclusive nor simple ­ for example the group could have employed several con- . In other cases.e. The rules are often adopted by the artist's social conformism. Figure 1. /71-/78. 'stylistic' variations are few. Style can indeed exist only when the artist has the free­ dom to allow a specific way of representing. its making had a unique author in a unique group. dots. It has been asserted that the concept of style is obscure and too subjective. therianthropes). an artistic criterion for differentiating groups. special objects and devices. Numbe. But the themes repre­ sented are very simple. pp. Hence one must only avoid this confusion instead of dis­ missing the use of style. steppe or savanna faunas-may permit con'elation with dated known climatic episodes. Such a use ofthe criterion style as an ethnic marker has been questioned.this group is det'ined by diverse artistic markers . such an exclusive recurrence will be a good con­ t'irmation of the coherence of the group. and consequently for c1assify­ ing them. All subjects are abundantly repeated. that were very com­ mon themes . Finally. Moreover.Rock Art Research 2006 . because the defmition of stylistic categories or their recognition among the im­ ages would depend too much on the observer's personal vision and culture. Algeria). mainly among social groups termed 'tra­ ditiona!'. and does not discriminate from an ethnic point ofview. a scene. it has no relation whatsoever to the concept of style.nevertheless. style neces­ sarily has some relation to the ethnic group that produced it. A. the artist is a member of a group that dictates more or less strictly not only which themes must be repre­ sented but also how they must be executed.their 'hand'. a symbol. 1t refers to a pan-continental set of petroglyphs showing simi1ar technique and often patina. Most importantly. Muzzolini. In this case. human footprints. First of all. Whatever theme Botticelli or Raphael painted . Whether the artist's or the group's marker. clothes. is recognisable.or the faunal spectrum . When subjects are too simple the danger occurs of finding them widespread through the Australian continent .but they are found only in compositions of this group (Muzzolini 1994). even chronological markers can be used as c1as­ sification criteria if they include a discriminating value. Such an accumulation of similar subjects is an interesting fact that requires an explanation.circles. it can be used as a marker for the composi­ tions in wh ich it appears. or subjects linked by some thematic and technical similarities. without any express constraint. whether rock art or not. Unfortu­ nately the archaeologicalliterature has sometimes wrongly used the word 'style' for what were only repetitions. animal masks. physical types of human figures. for the time being we can use them only as markers specific of a group. Hs advantage as a cultural marker comes from the fact that even when the subject represented is very common. weapons. Consequently they are aJways very much alike. an Annunciation. 30 cm). and often of geometric pattern . the group influences the way of representing. 2. Even Leroi-Gourhan's 'styles' of Upper Palaeolithic rock art are only defined by a mixture of real stylistic fea­ tures and thematic ones. Jt does not matter whether the meaning or the function of these themes are known or not. appears in all regions and periods of rock al1 as a major criterion.'dry' or 'wet'. a Nativity.as it indeed occurred­ or even a1l over the world (McCarthy 1988. a figure. An example from Saharan rock art is the 'flying gallop' chariots (Fig. They are not a criterion det'ining the Caballine group . Bednarik 1995). so that the 4.. that is their manner of paint­ ing. However.

the final result ofwhich are 'exact' groupings of data. but most of them have no emic reality. This implies a certain degree of complexity. . can be manifested.it should firstly be noted that such a choice is arbitrary. and style has nothing to do with them. Such a stylistically grounded discrimination between two cJear-cut units should not be denounced as subjective. an appreciation by the ob­ server occurs at least partially. On ce this misapprehension about style has been set aside. These researchers are puzzled witb our definitions of c1asses that use lists of criteria. However. (Photograph A. pp. Byzantine and Renaissance art. not permanent. Tbe artistic group Up to now we have only explained which kind of crite­ ria can be used for classifying a set of rock art. 'Bowman' and 'floating figures'. Number 2. measure distances and establish derivations be­ tween elements. Of course they run the risk of wrongly distin­ guishing two styles within the same group. We notice particularly that some thematic criteria are relevant only within a given period. it must be admitted that the 'way of represent­ ing' involves a degree ofvariability. Our choice is limited to the actual range of criteria that are visible locally. To argue against distinguishing. groups etc. painting from Ti-n-Tazarijt (Tassili. more or less wide. Sci­ entifically-minded researcbers are accustomed to sets like palaeontological sets in which an element derives from another. Similarly in the Saharan field even a non-initiated person or a chance tourist will easily distin­ guish the paintings of the stylistic group we name Round Heads (Fig. MUZZOLINf Figure 2. To sum up: provided that we confine ourselves to sets with notable stylistic charge we may confidently use style as a criterion for classifying rock pictures. A. 1 m). and cannot be arranged into a hierarchical system of constant parameters. it only emphasises the problem of choosing the really relevant criteria (the 'crucial common denomi­ nator of a phenomenon category' of Bednarik 1994) and setting them in hierarchical order. Classifications ofthis kind have sometimes been tried. The researchers have to appreciate this as weil as they can. are present in the set. scenes.174 Rock Art Research 2006 - Volume 23. In order to mini mise these risks they should only retain the stylistic groups that are definitely clear-cut. Round Head school. or inversely confusing two styles that are really different but possess too much variability. They start from very many criteria cho­ sen apriori . even only on the ba­ sis of style. Therefore. but unavoidable. would be unreasonable. both having a common origin and the whole be­ ing liable to be sketched by way of a tree. A consequence of this is that the so­ called 'universal automatic classifications' are mere uto­ pias. Such groups do exist when stylistic charge is signifi­ cant. we only note that some regulari­ ties. Muzzolini) work includes what we may call a 'stylistic charge'. both peculiar to the artist or the group. 5. do not allow this. Researchers admittedly define and identify styles through qualitative evaluations: we are not dealing with presence/absence statements. And it will be a major criterion because stylistic groups surely have some link with ethnic groups . Then computers are set to work.bearing in mind that the latter are the ultimate goal of our study. Rock art does not allow classifications similar to the systems used in zoology or botany by way of a unique framework of criteria set apriori in hierarchical order. which vary according to each group. cu bist and impressionist schools. But wh ich criteria must we actually choose? Which criteria must be retained would be a more ap­ propriate term. and different from other artists or groups. Circles. 171-178. 2) from those of the Caballine style (Fig. Indeed. 3). Since the possible criteria are only those which possess a discriminating power within the set under study it stands to reason that there is no universal method available for classifying rock art. even different works by the same artist show some variability. even when accumulated. dots and so on. which suggest or impose the relevant criteria. and artists do not strictly respect the standards imposed by the group. or as sets of elements that reflect quantifiable common parameters. the distances ofwhich can be shown in a unique cluster analy­ sis. the objection about subjectivity remains to be exam­ ined. Aigeria) (H offigures = c. chevrons. The main cause is that cultural features are infinitely diverse. Romanesque and Gothic sculptures.. but unsuccessfully. thanks to wh ich characteristic touches.

g. but we willleave it as a pseudo-group. it is very unlikely that the diverse groups we can iden­ tify by this way may constitute a classification in which the sum of the classes is exhaustive. because most animals. 4). Caballine figures.Rock Arl Research 2006 Volume 23. We will consciously abandon the other features. How­ ever. a clear-cut style . colour in paintings). This residue may be quantitatively impor­ tant.g.e. or useless.). elephants etc. Such simi­ larities and differences must be understood with respect to the criteria adopted (in statistics this kind of classification is termed 'typology'). when the set to study comprises several 'layers' of pictures that correspond to several successive ethnic or artistic groups. both thematic and chronologieal.it is sufficient to define this group. and sufficient to characterise a lot ofpetroglyphs. in spite of the precise percentage indicated in addi­ tion for each of these merely thematic classes. they just want to choose between what seems useful. By using in this manner severallists of criteria it is pos­ sible to define several artistic clusters within the set under study. or illuminate their history. Such choices are as le­ gitimate as for instance the choice of the zoolo­ gist who for classifying mammals chooses not to use the colour of the coat. because we think they are significant from either the artistic or the ethnic point of view (e.'. Let us remember that the classifiers are free to choose their criteria. If the goal is different. With criteria that are different for each group. It is their conjunction that is specific. for the classification they intend to propose. 25 cm). painting in fl. We must point out that trying to avoid tbe 'unclassifiable pictures' that this 'cluster method' discards is illusive. One is reduced to this method.at tint. Of course one is reduced to it only ifthe goal ofthe study is reaJ!y the prehistorian's goal. The present author has used this 'cluster method' in order to classify the rock art ofthe central Sahara (Muzzolini 1995). as this group mainly represents ani­ mals. For instance. Algeria) (H = c. a deeply polished outline. Moreover. A. giraffes. For instance a kind of classification is presented in many site or regional surveys. both wild and domestic. the 'unclassifi­ able pictures' . If a marker chosen as a criterion is specific of an artis­ tic group and present in all pictures of this group .e.pending a finer classification. within an acceptable variability area. pp. the Sahara is by no means a special case. and this conjunction may even in­ clude thematic criteria that are not manifest in all pictures. The other markers are redundant. easier and exhaus­ tive. Therefore such classes do not allow distinguishing between the work of different ethnic groups. In actual fact all researchers of the preceding generations at . and are too heterogeneous to suggest the making-up of additional ar­ tistic clusters. painting from Ti-n­ Rassoutine (Tassili. they are useful only for the description of the group. among the myriads of data collected. Muzzolini. However. i. made of pictures that do not match with any of the lists of criteria used. without any possibility of physi­ cally discriminating these layers. MUZZOUNI 175 All we can do is to subjectively choose some repetitive features as criteria.) Generally a residue will subsist. other classifications. able to deal with it and at least diminish it. and mainly the diverse animals (cattle. what can we expect to gain? We can obtain a few clusters of rock pictures that we will name 'artistic groups'. in opposition to what produces a classifi­ cation with only one Iist of criteria in a hierarchical sys­ tem. are possible. and different enough from all other pictures. These four cri­ teria are not redundant but none of them is specific of the group. subjectively chooses only those con­ sidered as significant for exposing the thread of history. It consists of the list ofthemes represented: humans. We are dealing with apparently fairly homogeneous groups ofpictures that are similar enough. Figure 3. have been depicted by several ethnic groups. Number 2. admittedly unsophisticated and unfinished. a 'geometrie sche. such a clas­ sification is generally useless for prehistorians. conesponds ex­ actly to the totality of the elements of the set under study. objects. in the Sahara the conjunction technique of deeply polished outline + naturalistic style (two artistic criteria) + dark patina (chronological criterion) defines the artistic group ofpetroglyphs named 'Naturalistic Bubaline' (Fig.g. may be added: archaie fauna of a savanna. We can make them up into a sui generis artistic group or cluster. that is disentangling the diverse ethnic strata. matic style' clearly perceptible in all figures). a fourth criterion. But if specific markers are lack­ ing one can also choose an unusual conjunction consisting of non-specific criteria. For instance they may give up a feature that is too ubiquitous and conse­ quently does not discriminate very much (e. or the choice taken by the historian who. (Photograph A. There is no 'circular think­ ing' or illegitimate preconceived idea in their choices. 171-178. However.

the following step is noting the chronological mark­ ers that each of them nearly always includes. required many subjective. Lhote. the global spectra of fauna (archaic 01' recent). By noting this spa­ 6. These mark­ ers are diverse according to regions 01' groups. What can such an artistic-chronological sequence be . How? No universal method is available for studying this problem either. But as they were convinced that an 'exact' classification had necessarily to be exhaustive.) work in Saharan rock art (Obermaier. But we also know that in the past the various artistic forms nearly always had some re­ lation with temporary social units . time or ecology. the artistic group extends on an entire massif. Therefore we can chiefly study whether the artistic-chro­ nological cluster reflects some ethnic group.). Number 2. five or six groups they had defined. 01' within both. 01' special animals (the buffalo. Finding an original con­ junction of artistic 01' thematic criteria only within a lim­ ited area. bows. chariots).176 Rock Art Research 2006 - Vo/ume 23. Chronological markers are included in the artistic clus­ ter and they are coherent (e. is surrounded by deserts 01' is Iimited by a river). the horse. petroglyphfrom Wadi Hagalas (Messak. 120 cm). /7/-/78. the faunal spectrum re­ flects only savanna anima1s. castes. Libya). The present writer consciously abandoned such an ambi­ tion to classify all pictures and contents himselfwith a few well-defined and more credible clusters. the oryx. inscriptions de­ noting arecent period etc. 2. Mori etc. ques­ tionable . used for? Of course it may allow writing a history of artis­ tic forms. pp. A. un­ less it corresponds to some discrete ethnic element bounded by the same space and time limits.attributions. for instance. they made a point of inserting somehow all figurations into one of the four. would be an unexplainable fact. In short. unless a human group was the cause of this unusual concentration. devices or objects to which a place can be assigned within a well-known technological evolu­ tion (e. the coherence ofthe groups wasjeopardised. It would indeed appeal' very surprising that a cluster de­ fined. (Photograph A.g. Naturalistic Bubaline school (L = c.that they characterised. 01' within a distinct enough period. spears. It must be acknowledged that in such cases there is at least a presumption ofthe emic reality ofthe artistic group. However. the camel etc. at least implicitly. sects. It lies in the fact that an artistic group is likely to correspond to an ethnic one when it can be both established that: 1. Artistic clusters can by this way be arranged into a chronological sequence.g. the position of which in the overall climatic evolution 01' in the history of domesticated animals is known from archaeozoology. by way of stylistic criteria could be in keeping with limits related to space. Its territorial range is all in one block and coincides with some geographical border (e. diluted the defi­ nitions of groups or was even sometimes inconsistent with them. all pictures have statisti­ cally identical dark patinae etc. Muzzolini.and questioned . swords. Each case has to be discussed accord­ ing to the particular circumstances. peoples and so on . From the artistic to the ethnic group Once the artistic groups have been defined and de­ scribed.). MUZZOLIN/ L'igUlf::"-t! 1Jomestic cow (note the collar and pendant). religions. researchers frequently use one argument. independent of the history of the ethnic groups that produced these forms. Monod. at least as far as relative chronology is concerned. chronoJogical markers commonly used in the Sahara are patinae (the validity ofwhich is only statistical) and mark­ ers that can be given at least a rough date by other disci­ plines: e.g. For instance.) did also define artistic groups on the ground of di­ verse criteria.tribes. This raised prob­ lems for many pictures.g.

the relevance of all features is confirmed. MUZZOLINI 177 Figure 5. So the relevance of the artistic cluster and its emic reality are also confirmed aposteriori. never bows nor swords (Figs 1 and 3). Iheren-Tahilahi school (H 0/ a flgure = c. The bow. 5) that does not extend beyond the Tassilian massif. Most importantly. . During the last mil­ lennium they have left their traces over a territoly that ex­ tends from the Sudan to the Atlantic. in fact only in the contiguous massifs of Tassili. For instance. it is coherent. 2) that occu­ pies an area of c. (Photograph A. The sword. painting /rom Tahilahi (Tassili. very narrow waist and a simple vertical stroke to rep­ resent the head) + typical clothes (a short 'skirt' for men and a 'Iong dress' for women) + typical 'weapons': 'spears' and 'shields'. if the artistic group has been correctly discriminated by a speciflc criterion or by several concordant criteria . These diverse features. all in one block within the Tassili-Acacus massif. A. thus ethnic groups in arid zones generally occupy areas larger than those in temperate zones. based on a criterion of the kind' presence of cattle' or 'naturalis­ tic style' alone.) ti al and temporal concordance for each of the features that define the artistic cluster. such an area does not appear im­ mense. 30 cm). or the group ofpaintings named Iheren-Tahilahi group (Fig. As for the set ofweapons. Algeria). The typical clear-cut style of fig­ ures. Muzzolini. Number 2.which implies that its reality as an artistic cluster is undeniable­ but extends over an area that appears too vast for an ethnic group. It includes almost only human figures and is defined by the following conjunction: figures painted in ochre (or. On the contrary. Admittedly. The literature has sometimes presented such groups. Figures holding 'curved sticks'. Population densities vary too much. may involve a lot of ethnic groups. with little variability area. is too wide. pp. the relation between artistic cluster and eth­ nic group is not always so clear as in these examples and is not necessarily univocal. obviously etic. As we are dealing with nomadic popu­ lations in an arid zone. Acacus and Hoggar. will be adopted only in the following phase. the 'Cameline' period. though rarely. the artistic group of paintings named 'Caballine' in the Sahara can be quoted (Muzzolini 1995: 139). the artistic cluster may correspond to only a fragment of the ethnic group. what is to be thought? Too vast . a weapon common among the preceding Neolithic groups. the no­ madic way of Iife can century after century shift or widen those areas until they cover very large territories.the spear and the shield. now disappears and is replaced by more modern weapons . 400 by 100 km. Other examples that define an artistic group likely to correspond to an ethnic group who inhabited a natural area are the Saharan group of'Round Heads' (Fig. even reflects a rather ho­ mogeneous group. and therefore is uninteresting for prehistorians. able to include nearly everything. but it is apparent that the category used. they depend on the 'carrying capacity' ofthe biotopes. however. stylistic and thematic. jointly technical. 171-178. As an illustration. are found only on the rock walls of an area of c. We can reason­ ably conclude that the artistic cluster defined as the Caballine group corresponds to an ethnic group that lived on this limited territory. A well­ known example is that of the Fulani.Rock Ar/ Research 2006 - Volume 23. or the Australian group of Gwion fig­ ures (formerly 'Bradshaw figures') that are unknown out of the Kimberley (Walsh 2000). An explanation might be that the group has been defined by only one criterion that discriminates too poorlY: such are the artistic groups. flat tint (no internal details) + a very specific schematic style (Iarge shoulders depicted in front view. A major problem with which we are sometimes faced is how to interpret an artistic group found over a huge area. it is often a good chrono­ logical marker. 1000 by 500 km. white). along a stretch of c.what does this mean? There exists no generalisable standard.

and perhaps useless. in contrast to other Saharan regions. R. our cultural sequence must be compatible with these data obtained from other sources. mainly in the Saharan Atlas. presents a problem ofthis kind (Muzzolini 1995: 97). comparing the attainments of various disciplines. lfwe confine ourselves to rock art. the Islamic art. D. Chez I'auteur. we must try through all available ways. R. the Romanesque or Gothic architectures of diverse Christian nations and so on. the earliest traces of rock art date only from the recent phases of the Holocene. G. A. A. McCARTHY. The sequence of artistic classes is only a rough image. check­ ing. 171·178. al ready mentioned (Fig. Fezzan. R. ecologically defined. held in Alice Springs in July 2000. A. the access ofwhich is diffi­ cult. MUZZOLINI. it represents the author's final message to the discipline of rock art research. But the Naturalis­ tic Bubaline group goes back to a wet period of the NeoJithic.178 Rock Art Research 2006 . perfectly defined as an artistic group. WALSH. which is very diverse today. of a true regional culture his­ tory. Voll/me 23. RAR 23-778 . R. a mere intellectual exercise. But there is an­ other. Moore. L. In the Sahara the cluster 'Naturalistic Bubaline'. the sequence of artistic c1asses reflects only the human groups who did paint or engrave on rocks.. Rock Art Research 5: 16-42 (with RAR Comments by J. His­ tory has always been written by way of combining. the evo­ lution of faunas described by archaeozoology. Rock art sequences: a matter of clarifi­ cation. M. for the prehistorian. neither safe nor complete enough. very different possibility: this artistic group might correspond to several ethnic groups. B. The most obvious data relevant for that checking can be found by comparing our artistic-chronological sequence with sequences provided by other disciplines: the culture history inferred from archaeological excavations. symbolic (language. McDonald. A MUZZOLiNI 4000 km long and 1000 km wide. Such artistic communities formed by vari­ ous ethnic groups are known in art history: for instance. Pub­ lished here posthumously. albeit immense. Rosenfeld. G. which in the course of centuries could have expanded over a stretch of land which we find incredibly vast today. Bednarik). Melbourne. Bradshaw art olthe Kimberley. for instance. It was imposed by the Fulani 's pastoral way of life. which was leading to similar expressions in the ar­ tistic domain. Moreover. 7. but not beyond. while at the same time seeking confirrnations of the emic character of our artistic clusters. F. the Hellenistic art. Takarakka. N. G. can nevertheless be geographically and ecologically de­ fined: it corresponds to the Sahelian savannas. Toulouse. when the entire Saharan land was a fairly con­ tinuous steppe that allowed a pastoral way of life. Firstly. It will also try to make use of those other sequences. Morwood. Through such an ex­ change the various disciplines strengthen each other. the conclusion about the ethnic reality of the artistic c1ass will sometimes re­ main uncertain. A first explanation might be an analogy with the case of the mod­ em Fulani: the artistic group Naturalistic Bubaline could reflect an ethnic group. continuity in time is seIdom manifest and hiatuses more or less impor­ tant could have separated diverse clusters. NI/mbe. Les images rupestres du Sahara. Taking the style out ofthe Panaramitee style. mainly in do­ mains like the symbolic world. It is found from the Atlantic to Fezzan. the history of human groups known from ancient authors and so on. In addition to the uncertainties about the relations between some artistic clusters and ethnic groups. REFERENCES BEDNARIK. 4). J. 1994. besides some smaller districts in Hoggar. D. Comparing with other disciplines Indeed we must not content ourselves with rock art. pp. 1995. valid untiJ it can be called into question by data coming from other origins. mainly by making the best of the data of all archaeological disci­ pi ines involved in the same object. religion etc. 1994. Semiotica 100(2/4): 141 ~68. It will eventually enlighten or complete them. each artistic c1ass of our clas­ sification represents only a point in the past. Franklin. it appears difficult to imagine a unique ethnic group with a uniform way of life. AURA Newsletter 12(1): 1-5. J. Les chars des 'Peuples de Ja Mer' et la 'vague orientalisante' en Afrique. David. Postscript: This paper was first presented to the Third AURA Congress. L. In short. but difficult to use. the rock art archives do not provide us with the complete story. On the scientific study of palaeoart. BEDNARIK. In the Air mountains. There is a need of an ex­ change on all levels between the various disciplines that contribute to reconstructing the past. Les chars au Sahara et en Egypte. 2. In short. May­ nard. between the tropical forest and the Saharan desert. diverse and yet bound by some system. Without a conclusion about this aspect the classifica­ tion of artistic groups could remain. 1995. that of cli­ mates. R. G. Clegg. al­ though the massif was inhabited since the very beginning of the Holocene. 'exact'. At best it is a best-fit hypothesis. This area. 2000. 1988. to understand the eth­ nic significance ofthe identified and classifled artistic clus­ ters. On such a very large area. MUZZOLlNI. Tassili. Revue d'Egyptologie 45: 207-34.) or po­ litical.

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