Figure 1. Two examples of religious iconoclasm of rock art motifs, (a) a petroglyph from Besov Nos, Karelia, and a pictogram from (b) Peña Escrita, central Bolivia, both with superimposed cross petroglyphs.
In the above critique of ethnographic constructs — the ideas ethnographers form about people and their social systems — the enormous differences we must expect to exist between the respective conceptualisations of meaning, reality and significance, of the informant and the interviewer were hardly even considered. The latter, with the rashness of Western science, assumes that his framework of reality, his metaphysical model of the world, is superior. Admittedly, in recent years it has become fashionable to treat alternative models of reality with less condescension than in the past, and this trend may even lead to a better quality in the information from such sources. There are three reasons for this recent trend: the gradual global improvement in the recognition of ‘tribal’ culture, the retreat of arrogant archaeology, and rapid developments in ethology. The latter have resulted in a general blurring of traditional humanistic divisions. The effect may be a better appreciation of the complexity of tribal cultures, but this does not help us in its actual understanding; it merely helps us to understand how difficult proper appreciation of such complexities might be. This is a step in the right direction, certainly, but still no help in interpreting palaeoarts. While ultimately all forms of art are in some way connected, it would serve no useful purpose to select two historically unrelated arts and to use one to interpret the other on the basis of one’s own perceptions. If there is a sound historical connection possible, this is of course a different matter; there is no reason to assume that one form of art should not have affected another.There is a second connection that may link the arts of a particular geographical region. Rock art has the unusual ability of surviving for a long time, and it occurs frequently in very prominent places within landscapes. Hence it is clear that rock arts of previous peoples were seen, interpreted and reacted to by later peoples occupying the same locality. Thus rock art has the outstanding ability of acting as a cultural determinant (Bednarik 1991/92). Indigenes in most parts of the world believe that the art of earlier traditions was not made by other humans, but was part of the original landscape (Flood 1995; Mowaljarlai and Vinnicombe 1995), having been placed by spirits, deities or creation heroes. Therefore rock art played a central role in the spiritual world of such tribes: it proved and confirmed, for all to see, the existence and power of the spiritual forces a group believed in — whatever those forces may have been. This validating role of rock art is fundamental to its significance to traditional societies. Naturally, such societies would adopt aspects of the earlier art’s motif range into their own art, or they would adapt them to fit their own interpretations. In this way the older art served as a normative determinant of artistic expression, and there are rock art traditions that survived for tens of millennia without significant changes (Bednarik 1992b). This is not necessarily so because the region was occupied by just one definable ethnic group all this time, but because the successive occupiers or traditions adopted the earlier art into their cosmology, which led to an artistic conservatism of great durability. Other forms of art may have been developed alongside, but the most ancient form continued to exert its artistic influence through its relative permanence.This, however, is not the only reaction documented in the evidence. One of several other forms of responses to rock art suggests vandalism, and rock art vandalism is almost as old as rock art itself. In Cosquer Cave, France, two phases of rock art are believed to be present: the first occupation may have been between 28 000 and 26 000 years BP, the second between 19 000 and 15 000 BP (Clottes et al. 1992). The more recent ‘Solutrean’ or ‘Magdalenian people’ destroyed or damaged much of the art of the earlier, ‘Aurignacian’ or ‘Gravettian people’. Many of the hand stencils of the earlier occupiers were over-marked or tampered with, or the stalactites bearing them were smashed.Graffiti or vandalism occur right through the periods of pre-History and History, and of particular interest are those of modern religions (Figure 1). For instance, Christian missionaries were notorious for over-marking or disfiguring early rock art (Bednarik 1991c), and the iconoclastic rock art vandalism of Moslems in western China and elsewhere was most extensive. In short, different peoples have responded to rock arts in different ways, which illustrates cultural dynamics. This type of information is much more reliable than vacuous speculations about the meaning of individual motifs, or about ethnocentrically perceived ‘styles’ — and it is much more useful. For instance, it may provide an opportunity for historical correlation, as in the case of documented Spanish policies in Andean regions in the 16th century, of ‘exorcising’ the spiritual dimensions from rock art sits (Querejazu-Lewis 1991/92).

R. G. Bednarik, 2001