Rock Art

Wadi HammamatIntroduction

The rock art of the Eastern Desert probably deserves a website of its own.  In this site, it has an extensive section dedicated to it due to the complexity of the data involved and the difficulties of tying that information into other data available from the archaeological record.

This section has been divided into four parts, as follows, which can be reached by using the menu bar to the left, or the overhead menu bar at the top of the page:

  • Issues and problems with rock art analysis.  This should probably belong in an appendix, but it is of fundamental importance to the reader to understand why rock art is difficult to use as archaeological evidence, and how this impacts any consideration of the Eastern Desert at different periods of time.
  • Why study rock art?  Having outlined the problems, this section looks at why, even given that those problems certainly exist, it is worth finding ways around them in order to incorporate all the available data from all sites into a cohesive study.
  • An introduction to Eastern Desert rock art.  This looks specifically at the rock art that has been created in the Red Sea hills area for 1000s of years, and considers the many attempts to impose different forms of archaeological framework upon them.
  • A link to the rock art web gallery on the sister site.

In Appendix E, there is an introduction to North African rock art, which puts Egyptian rock art into a broader Saharan context. 

In Appendix F, a number of rock art sites in the Eastern Desert have been described, organized by the wadi in which they are located.  This is by no means comprehensive, and although the data is derived from formal surveys, it does not provide a formal overview itself.  For formal descriptions of 100s of rock art sites in numerous wadi locations, visitors are referred to the Desert Rock Art Topographical Survey (Morrow and Morrow 2002) and the E.D.S. survey (Rohls 2000). 

The problems with dating rock art have meant that, unlike the Archaeology pages, the Eastern Desert rock art page has not been organized chronologically. This means that the overall presentation of the site’s two main sections, Archaeology and Rock Art, are somewhat less than structurally consistent, but I am somewhat at a loss as to how to improve matters. 

Although I have chosen to divide archaeology and rock art into two different sections, with archaeology divided by period and rock art divided by subject, I have tried to bring together both sets of data in a rather more coherent form in the section that follows this one, Blending Datasets. An attempt has been made to look at bringing together the archaeological data with the rock art data, with a view to understanding how, or if, the two data sets can complement each other.

I have used the term “rock art” in spite of my reservations is doing so.  The term “art” implies that the creators had an aesthetic approach to their subject matter, which might or might not be present in any rock paintings or engravings.  It also comes fully loaded with all sorts of preconceptions and cultural ideas, as Lewis-Williams points out:  “All too readily people assume that ‘art’, as they understand the term, is a universal phenomenon, and they tend to describe not only the word itself but also all its connotations to non-Western contexts.  However, he goes on: ‘‘Art’ is a handy monosyllable, and provided we are aware  of the dangers of its Western connotations we can use it with caution” (Lewis-Williams 2002, p.41).  It has therefore been kept here for the sake of simplicity.  At a future date, when I am feeling strong, I will probably go through the entire site and change all references to rock art to “petroglyph” instead.

Finally, a disclaimer.  Rock art is really not something I have spent a lot of time looking at in the past, so these pages are the result of several weeks of research, not several years.  I will be the first to accept that some of these pages may be lacking in insights that could be offered by those who have specialized in rock art studies.  Any contributions, corrections and suggestions for improvements will be very gratefully received.