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Raising Awareness of Prehistoric African Rock Art
A Talk by David Coulson
JEAN SCHAUMBERG LYNN THOMPSON BACA SCHOOL FOR ADVANCED RESEARCH The African continent is home to some of the world’s most beautiful art—rock art. Images of 20-foot giraffes in Niger’s Aïr Mountains, engravings of human footprints in the Western Kalahari Desert, and carvings of 6.5-foot intricately decorated human figures in Chad are just some of the figures meticulously etched into or painted on rock surfaces throughout Africa. Over 500,000 pictographs and petroglyphs dating back as much as 26,000 years testify to the fact that prehistoric African people were prolific artists who created intricate and thoughtful pieces of art across a vast continent. African rock art is among the best preserved on earth and predates writing by tens of thousands of years. While it is difficult to determine the exact age of the rock art using modern scientific methods, the images themselves can offer valuable clues. The artists painted and carved what they saw in their world. In March, British photographer David Coulson spoke to an audience in Santa Fe, NM at the Lensic, Santa Fe’s Performing Arts Center. The event was a first-time collaboration between the School for Advanced Research (Santa Fe, NM) and The Leakey Foundation (San Francisco, CA). Coulson’s images aptly illustrated the magnificent engravings and paintings he documented for the book, African Rock Art: Paintings and Engravings on Stone (2001) that he co-authored with Alec Campbell. Vertical rock surfaces are good locations for rock art, although engravings tend to be concentrated in the Sahara Desert, central Tanzania, eastern Zambia and South Africa. Paintings are found in protected areas either in shelters of sandstone or granite or on cliffs and boulders not exposed to the elements. The locations of several hundred thousand works of art are officially known and each year hundreds more are added to the list. The late paleontologist Mary Leakey introduced Coulson to the rock paintings of central Tanzania. Leakey and Coulson shared a love for the rock art and a mutual concern for its protection. This led to the 1996 creation of TARA, the Trust for African Rock Art, a not-for-profit, NGO registered in Kenya and America.
Fighting cats. Photo courtesy of David Coulson
“TARA’s mission is to create greater global awareness of the importance and endangered state of Africa’s rock art; to survey sites and monitor their status; to be an information resource and archive; and to promote and support rock art conservation measures.” The organization has the support and endorsement of Kofi Annan and Nelson Mandela as well as The Getty Conservation Institute, The National Geographic Society and The Ford Foundation. Vandalism, an encroaching population, and a growing tourist industry are major threats today to the petroglyphs and pictographs. David and TARA are committed to helping preserve the magnificent work of African prehistoric peoples as a legacy for present and future generations.
What Is Web 2.0? What Does It Mean for Anthropology?
Lessons From an Accidental Viral Video
MICHAEL WESCH KANSAS STATE U What is Web 2.0 and what does it mean for anthropology? By late January of this year I had spent several months struggling to answer this question for a paper I was preparing on the possibilities and challenges of using new web technologies for the presentation of ethnography online. A New Mediascape Web 2.0 is notoriously difficult to capture in words. The name itself is strategically nondescriptive, refusing to declare anything except that whatever it is, it is different than the “Web 1.0” that came before. Coined by O’Reilly Media in 2004, there is a healthy skepticism among many that it is nothing more than a marketing buzzword. However, few would argue that technologies like blogs, wikis, RSS feeds and tagging that operate under the banner of “Web 2.0” have not significantly transformed the way many humans now interact and participate online. The more I tried to explain Web 2.0 and its significance in words, the more I was struck with the irony of trying to represent dynamic, visual and participatory media in a traditional static and authorial paper format. I tried to imagine how I could present my work in the medium I was trying to explain, and the idea for a YouTube video was born. Three days later I had completed a rough draft, posted it to YouTube, and sent the link to ten colleagues. To my great surprise, one week later the video was the #1 featured video on YouTube and had been viewed over one million times. NET@WORKING The video delivers a quick history of the web and highlights the most significant differences between paper-based media and digital media, focusing especially on the ability of digital media to separate form and content. In the video I argue that this allowed more users to create content without needing to know complicated formatting codes, opening the way for the user-generated revolution we are now witnessing. The video quickly tracks the most common manifestations of this revolution—blogs, mediasharing, tagging and wikis—and ends by suggest-
ing that the changes we are witnessing are so profound that we may need to rethink everything from copyright and authorship to love, family and ourselves. While the content of the video may not offer enough evidence to support such a radical claim, the journey of the video itself maps out at least three important characteristics of the new mediascape that suggest that some significant rethinking does need to be done. Speedy Creation and Distribution First, the fact that I was able to create this video in just three days without any professional training demonstrates that the tools for creating content and self-publishing to large audiences are now within the reach of millions of people, including most anthropologists. Publishing written content is especially easy. Using free hosting services like Blogger or Wordpress, a blog can be created in less than one minute. Second, new web technologies allow selfpublished information to spread to interested parties across traditional disciplinary boundaries with tremendous speed. In the first day after I released the video it spread slowly by email to just over 100 viewers. Some users of del.icio.us and other social bookmarking sites began tagging it with words like “Web 2.0” and “anthropology,” spreading the link to other users of those services watching for those words. Bloggers began writing about it, spreading it throughout the blogosphere. On day three it received its biggest boost when somebody posted it on Digg.com, a site that allows users to
May 2007 • Anthropology News
“digg” a website to the top of the list or “bury it.” It was quickly “dugg up” to the front page. By noon the next day it had over 18,000 views and had become the most linked video in the blogosphere, appearing at the top of video rankings on Technorati and viralvideochart.com. From there it had the momentum to attract over two million views over the next two months. Creative Commons and Collaboration Third and finally, collaboration has never been easier. The video I created was actually created in collaboration with Deus, a musician living in the Ivory Coast whom I have never met. Deus offers his music for free under a Creative Commons license which designates that others may use his music as part of their own creative works as long as they give credit to him for the music. Creative Commons is just one of many new ways of thinking about copyright that enables more creativity and collaboration. I offered my video under
the same Creative Commons license, which means people can show it, save it and change it as long as they give me proper attribution. I also posted it on Mojiti, a site which allows people to add their own subtitles and animations to the video. With the combination of a Creative Commons license, Mojiti and other collaboration-enhancing technologies like Google Docs, the video has inspired others to create a mass of additional material which includes a full transcript, embedded links to additional information, numerous thoughtful commentaries in which people actually wrote on top of the video, and mashups in which people took pieces of the video to create their own arguments in reply to mine. Most impressively, within just two weeks after I first posted the video, it had been translated into five languages. In short, creation, dissemination and collaboration have never been easier. And these three elements feed into one another. The ease of creation and dissemination creates more
material for collaboration which feeds back into the loop of creation and dissemination. New Forms of Sociality But if we focus on the media alone we are missing the bigger picture. It is not just the mediascape that is transforming, it is human relationships, and anthropologists are increasingly being called upon to explain this. Understanding human relationships within this new mediascape will require us to embrace our anthropological mainstay, participant observation. We know the value of participant observation in understanding social worlds. Now we need to participate in the new media in order to understand the new forms of sociality emerging in this quickly changing mediated world.
Michael Wesch is assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University.
OFF THE SHELF
The Value of Folklore
Huichol Mythology. Robert M Zingg. Jay C Fikes, Phil C Weigand and Acelia García de Weigand, eds. U Arizona Press. 2004. 290 pp. Elders: Wisdom from Australia’s Indigenous Leaders, Forewords by Mandawuy Yunupingu and Lowitja O’Donoghue, photographed and recorded by Peter McConchie. Cambridge U Press. 2003. 126 pp. Folktales from Syria, collected by Samir Tahhan, intro by Andrea Rugh. U Texas Press. 2004. 110 pp.
JIM PIERSON CAL STATE U SAN BERNARDINO You do not have to be a folklorist to consider folktales important ethnographic resources. These three books demonstrate, in somewhat different ways, the value of folklore for field researchers, readers generally interested in learning more about an area and its people, and the people among whom the stories were collected. Each book contains stories that were collected in very specific locations but seem to represent broader geographic and cultural areas. Huichol Mythology is a collection of myths (accompanied by 24 pages of photographs) recorded in 1934 in the Huichol village of Tuxpan in west central Mexico. Elders contains the observations of 17 contemporary indigenous Australian “clan and tribal leaders” from various locations as they summarize locally relevant beliefs and knowledge. Folktales from Syria includes 20 folktales for children collected a couple of decades ago in Aleppo in northern Syria. The Huichol myths were published in Spanish in 1998; the Syrian folktales were published in larger collections in Arabic in the early 1980s; the Australian collection has not been published previously. Each of the three collections of stories was initially recorded for different purposes than the oth-
ers and has been published for somewhat different audiences, suggesting the importance of context in evaluating the use of folkore as a resource. Robert M Zingg collected the Huichol myths during ethnographic research in 1934; the editors discuss this research in the introduction. The myths are organized into the Dry Season Cycle, the Wet Season Cycle and the Christian Cycle. The editors intended the book to be “the most authentic and comprehensive work on Huichol mythology ever published” (p xiii). Their translation, editing, introduction, ethnohistorical background, discussion of Zingg’s background and research, and copious footnotes are important in achieving such an aim. Their goal is not to analyze the material, contending this would be “premature” (p xiii), but rather to make it and the richness of Huichol culture accessible to nonspecialists and the body of myths available to future researchers. Complex stories and situations provide details about the origins and explanations of many features of the Huichol physical and sociocultural environments. This book’s scope is much more comprehensive than that of the other two. The Syrian folktales were collected by Samir Tahhan and transcribed by his wife to try to preserve the largely oral narratives they felt would
disappear with the generation of grandparents in the area in the 1970s. Folktales from Syria contains about a third of the folktales that were collected and originally published in Arabic. Andrea Rugh provides a preface that discusses Tahhan and a very informative introduction. The folktales are brief and quite entertaining and informative, due in part to Rugh’s explanation of the types of Syrian folk narrative, techniques (such as repetition and detail) used in the stories to educate children, how different characters and occupations symbolize religious and ethnic groups, and how Syrian oral narratives are often altered by the storyteller for different audiences. The Australian narratives focus on important contemporary issues that are strongly influenced by long-held myths and rituals. The book’s nine short chapters each emphasize a topic—the land, the sea, family, spirit, for instance—through a narrative by one or more elders. The chapters are accompanied by Peter McConchie’s beautiful color photographs and some colorful “maps of Aboriginal Australia” (pp 112–15) to give readers a sense of the locations of the elders’ homelands within the broader context of Australia. The book refers to the narratives as “wisdom” that is being shared with a larger population. McConchie recorded these narratives, according to Mandawuy Yunupingu’s Foreword (p vi), so Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can share their “timeless wisdom” and enable others to “Learn from us, as we have had to learn from you.” This is not just some New Age vision; the first chapter, “Healing,” discusses reconciliation, being sorry, and other issues that have strongly influenced ethnic relations in Australia the past decade or so. The book and its stories, in short, are intended to be part of a cross-cultural exchange of information and recognition of the value of Aboriginal cultural knowledge. The book therefore seems aimed especially at a general Australian audience. For a non-Australian audience, the stories are interesting and educational but not in the same way they are for someone who is aware of some of the issues of reconciliation.
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