Thesis abstract ‘Motives for Motifs: Identifying Aggregation and Dispersion Settlement Patterns in the Rock Art Assemblages of Central Australia’
04th January 2014
BA(Hons), Department of Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology, University of New England, Armidale, November 1996
This thesis is an investigation of several rock art assemblages in central Australia, and how they relate to Aboriginal aggregation and dispersion settlement patterns within the region.
Conkey (1980) has shown that there is variation between art assemblages in Palaeolithic Europe which she attributes to the differences between aggregation and dispersion settlement patterns. This assertion was based largely upon the documented aggregation and dispersion settlement patterns of the San hunter-gatherers of the Kalahari, and the archaeological correlates of such behaviour. The key signature of aggregation from the San ethnography was a relatively high diversity of archaeological assemblages, while dispersion sites have assemblages of low diversity. Conkey applied these expectations to an analysis of engraved bone and antler from the Palaeolithic sites. However, no warrant was established linking the patterning in art to aggregation and dispersion settlement patterns.
Central Australia is well placed to research this problem, having a well-documented body of rock art and an ethnography that relates art to social organisation and population movements in the region. In this thesis I have addressed the research problem first by asking whether we can define the characteristics of rock art assemblages in situations of aggregation and dispersion? And, if so, what are the characteristics of rock art assemblages that will allow us to identify aggregation and dispersion settlement patterns in the absence of an ethnography? To answer these questions I have analysed the rock art in conjunction with the ethnographic literature of central Australia. My analytical approach included a reassessment of previously recorded rock art data, and a series of analyses including comparisons of relative frequencies of motifs, diversity analysis and correspondence analysis.
The results show a distinct patterning to the rock art assemblages which correlates well with the ethnography. Patterning in the rock art can be defined for what I have termed Aggregation A sites and dispersion sites among the petroglyph data; and Aggregation A sites, Aggregation B sites, and dispersion sites for the pictograph data. The patterning among the pictographs particularly correlates with ethnographically documented sites of the totemic clan based social system of central Australia and to theories relating aggregation and dispersion to the inside/outside control of information. This research has shown that there is more than one type of aggregation site: that Conkey was only partly right; and that importantly, aggregation as defined in this thesis, does not necessarily lead to diversity in the archaeological record.Galt-Smith, B.
Thesis abstract 'Motives for Motifs: Identifying Aggregation and Dispersion Settlement Patterns in the Rock Art Assemblages of Central Australia'
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