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  • Publication
    Inscribed landscapes: contextualising prehistoric rock art in Ireland
    (University College Dublin, 2006-02) ; ;
    This study addresses the landscape context of Atlantic rock art, comparing three study areas in Ireland; the Inishowen Peninsula, Donegal, the Louth/Monaghan area, and the Dingle Peninsula,Kerry. Recent dating evidence is reassessed, suggesting a Late Neolithic terminus ante quem for the practice and a potentially earlier origin, with related traditions continuing into the Bronze Age. A combination of field observations and GIS analyses reveals that a complex range of landscape features, as well as taphonomic and survey biases, have influenced the known rock art distribution. At the regional level geological formations, topography, wetlands and soil types played a role in structuring general distribution. Within these areas, rock art appears to cluster on particular topographical features, outcrop formations, distinctive soil zones, and specific viewpoints or ‘hidden’ parts of the landscape. This echoes recent landscape theory that such distinctive places were actively used to enhance certain experiences and activities. A pilot study into motif analysis is conducted using an innovative recording method combining photogrammetry and epigraphic survey, and three new approaches to classification. By linking these classifications to the GIS, subtle variations across the landscape are also investigated. The collation of survey and excavation evidence indicates that in these areas rock art was located in relative proximity to prehistoric settlement, yet frequently removed from contemporary monument complexes. This suggests that many panels may have formed foci for ‘everyday’ ritual activity by broad and unrestricted social groups, contrasting with the proposed specialist nature of megalithic art. Within each study area a distinction between dispersed panels and regional clusters is identified, the latter situated in removed locales, demonstrating that different panels played different roles. One of the regional clusters formed the focus for further field investigations. By employing a high-resolution data collection method, a geophysical survey identified a wide range of low visibility archaeological features across the site. Following this, excavation (the first at an in situ rock art site in Ireland)demonstrated that the features dated to the Early and Middle Neolithic, as well as later periods. The various contextual studies presented here suggest that rock art research can be approached as a way of accessing the complexities of different social relationships and identities in the past, and that the practice of carving may have played a key role in the maintenance of social memory. (Thesis submitted to University College Dublin for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the College of Arts and Celtic Studies)