What are the right words for rock-art in Australia?

12th November 2013

Christopher Chippindale

From ‘rock-art’ to ‘rock-pictures’ to ‘rock-markings’* 

The prompt to the present note is the difficulty being seen in the phrase ‘rock-art’, evident in the recent publication of the papers from the 1996 Lucas Heights dating workshop (Ward and Tuniz 2000a). The organisers of the workshop itself, avoiding the word ‘art’, called their meeting the ‘First Australian Rock-Picture Dating Workshop’. For its publication, they used neither the word ‘art’ nor ‘picture’ but a different one again, ‘marking’, in the title of their book, Advances in Dating Australian Rockmarkings. These concerns, and the doubt about which words are right, echo those about other terms such as ‘prehistory’ in Australia; see Mulvaney and Kamminga (1999:xvvi–xviii) for why they retain the title Prehistory of Australia for the new edition of Mulvaney’s classic (1969). I here defend the use of the term ‘rock-art’ (and of related terms like ‘rock-engraving’ and ‘rock-painting’), and caution whether well-intentioned changes to standard terms in our vocabulary are always to the good. (I explain the hyphens below.)

*Note that an abstract was not included with this paper, and so the introductory paragraph has been included here instead of the abstract.

Chippindale, C.
What are the right words for rock-art in Australia?
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