Friday, October 21, 2011

Painting the Picture of the Past


Dr. Sada Mire is a department member of the institute of archaeology at the University College of London. Doctor Mire, focuses her research interests on culture heritage management, archaeological and anthropological theory and practice. In 2010,
Dr Mire headed a local team to Africa, where they uncovered cave paintings at over 100 different and unknown sites. Reporter Dalya Alberge of The Guardian in the United Kingdom, covered this story.

"UK archaeologist finds cave paintings at 100 new African Sites: Scientist unearths 5,000-year-old rock art, including drawing of a mounted hunter, in Somaliland." Some of the rock art found by Mire and her team has been dated back to 5,000 years ago. Interestingly, one of these pieces has been identified as one of the earliest depictions of a mounted hunter. Similar to many of the pieces that archaeologists have found up to this point, the cave paintings include animals such as antelopes, giraffes, and snakes. However, according to Alberge's interview, Dr. Mire was noted as saying, "These are among the best prehistoric paintings in the world." The clarity of these works are unmatched, but is that a matter of quality? Or the lack of their
exposure?

In the article, Mire is cited, "Yet Somaliland is a country whose history is totally hidden. With wars, droughts and piracy in Somalia, hardly anyone has researched the archaeology until now. But its absolutely full of extraordinary well-preserved rock art." But is it really Somalia's turmoil that has made Somaliland an archaeological black hole? This is a large issue in respect to the development of Africa's cultural history. So many areas of Africa have been left unexplored. Not only is it a detriment to the representation of African history, but also a downfall in the outside world's understanding of a truly brilliant culture. These examples of ancient artwork reflect the vast abilities of early human populations. Their ability to depict their surroundings, use artistic techniques such as a variance of mediums, use art as communication, these abilities should not be neglected.

As a Somali-native, Dr. Mire took some stabs as to the meanings of some of the rock art she and her team found. In Dhambalin, an area about 40 miles from the Red Sea, features different pastoral animals: cattle, sheep and goats. Mire notes that the animals "have distinctive bands around their backs and bellies, which suggests farming or ritual traditions." Additionally, some of the more recently dated pieces, are "more mysterious." These include images of the moon in different stages and other geometric signs. The doctor believes these images "depict the ancient artists' view of the world, time and space." Of course these interpretations could be wrong, but her discoveries could be the catalyst for a much needed expansion of archaeological Africa.


How can we allow ourselves to overlook such a crucial part of evolution, the origins of our population? When it comes to exploring the origins of the African population and the evolution of the human population as a whole, it is not sufficient to only examine a selected few areas of a large and highly influential continent. Authors such as Diop and Posnansky have touched upon the need for the development of African Archaeology, and Dr. Sada Mire is on the right track. In my opinion, these findings are huge in the development of our archaeological knowledge. What we need is the further exploration of areas that are completely unknown. Extensive research has been done in some African states, like Egypt for example, which is a great start. However, it is the areas less known that may give us some of the answers we are looking for.

There is an incredible amount of information to uncover, but there are needs to be the desire from archaeologists willing to walk on paths unpaved.

1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/17/cave-paintings-found-in-somaliland
2. http://www.soas.ac.uk/staff/staff59125.php


1 comment:

  1. Maya, this is a fascinating example of rock art - thanks so much for bringing it to the attention of the class!

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