Utah Rock Art Research Association


Bluff, Utah

Bluff Community Center

3rd East and Mulberry Ave. Bluff, UT

October 4 - October 8, 2018

The annual URARA symposium will be held in Bluff, Utah October 4-8, 2018. Bluff is located in the four corners area of southeastern Utah on the San Juan River. It is famous for being settled by the Mormon "Hole In The Rock" expedition in 1880.

The event includes one day of workshops (Oct 4), two days of field trips (Oct 5/8), two days of fabulous speakers (Oct 6/7), and the business meeting. There will a dinner, auction, delicious Green River watermelons, lots of fun, time to renew of old friendship and make new ones.

The rock art in the Bluff area is fantastic. With the San Juan River to the south, Cedar Mesa and Comb Ridge to the west, Montezuma Creek to the east, and Blanding to the north Bluff is surrounded by thousands of years of archeology and rock art.

Note that you will not see registration or field trip information unless you are logged in as a member.

Keynote Speakers

Ellen Dissanayake

University of Washington, Seattle

Geometric Rock Art: Questions and Answers

To most people, the term “rock art” first brings to mind the breathtaking animal paintings on the walls of Ice Age caves in southwest Europe or panels of mysterious figures on cliff walls and rock faces in Australia and the Americas. Few people think first of non-figurative geometric designs, although they appear to be the earliest and most widespread marks made by our remote and recent ancestors. They have been largely neglected by scholars, perhaps because it is impossible to decode what they “mean.” From crude zigzags made by Homo erectus in Java 500,000 years ago to Neanderthal cupules and lattice patterns in Europe, to parallel lines in South Africa 99,000 years ago, and to a large proportion of complex geometric assemblages in our own American West, the majority of deep-time paleoart everywhere is and has been non-pictorial.

Can we explain why the earliest rock art (in the Americas as elsewhere) should consist of geometric or abstract primitives? What hypotheses best account for the origins and functions of these non-representational markings? Most paleoarchaeologists assume (assert) that all rock art is symbolic, yet recent discoveries of marks made by early hominins belie that assumption. If they aren’t symbols, what are they? Why did mark-making arise in the first place and what does it tell us about the early human mind?

Drawing upon research and ideas from her recent book (co-authored with Ekkehart Malotki), Early Rock Art of the American West: The Geometric Enigma , Ellen Dissanayake will discuss these questions. In conclusion, she will suggest that if we think of rock art as mark-making, something that people do (rather than only as the finished product that we see), we expand our appreciation of rock markings and the people who made and even today respond to them. Her lecture will be illustrated with examples from the Western Archaic Rock Art Tradition, considered the foundational iconography for all of North America, from sites all over the western United States.

Ellen Dissanayake is the author of three books, What Is Art For? (1988), Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why (1992), and Art and Intimacy: How the Arts Began (2000). With co-author Ekkehart Malotki she has recently published Early Rock Art of the America West: The Geometric Enigma. She has also published over seventy academic papers and general articles. Ellen Dissanayakegraduated summa cum laude from Washington State University in Pullman, with a degree in Humanities, specializing in Music and Philosophy. She has an M.A. in Art History from the University of Maryland in College Park. She is currently an Affiliate Professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. (See her website www.ellendissanayake.com and her page at academia.edu).

James Farmer

Virginia Commonwealth University

Ignorance, Knowledge, and “De-Romancing” the Stone: On the Evolution of Southwestern Rock Art Research and the Case of the Barrier Canyon Style

American rock art research and scholarship has evolved rapidly during the past 20 years. Rock art studies have long been hampered and marginalized from mainstream academic disciplines by several problematic areas of analysis. However, recent advances in the scope and techniques of basic documentation, technical means of recording and analyzing rock art imagery, dating techniques, and updated use of ethnographic information have vastly expanded the understanding and interpretations of original contexts and purposes of the creation of ancient imagery. In addition, redefined roles and closer engagement of rock art research with and within the more traditional academic fields of study (such as anthropology, archaeology, and art history, among others) have elevated rock art research to a more respected position in the fields of ancient American research. This presentation offers the case of the Barrier Canyon Anthropomorphic (aka. “BCS”) style as an example and intellectual road map in the evolution of these recent interpretations of American rock art. In large part because of the establishment in 1992 of the BCS Project, focused study on the BCS style has revealed a highly sophisticated ancient painting tradition centered in south-central Utah and in full bloom by at least as early as 1000 bce (perhaps earlier). Beginning with only 19 documented BCS style sites, the current catalog of total documented BCS style sites now exceeds 400. This vastly expanded catalog of images provides much more in-depth study and interpretive opportunities.

Early studies of the BCS style emphasized highly romanticized themes of shamanism, spiritual transformation, or related spiritual qualities as the primary content or subject matter of BCS imagery; its primary “meaning”. BCS images display highly sophisticated techniques of paint application, a nuanced understanding and depiction of spatial organization and illusionistic perspective, extreme degrees of intricate detail and scale, and a complex conceptual approach to composition and the visual integration of rock art imagery with the surrounding stone wall. Many of these traits are more often associated with so-called “more advanced” styles of Western art, such as the European Renaissance. Paralleling this formal sophistication is recent research revealing a complex iconographic program in many BCS scenes presenting depictions of possible gods and related acts of creation, which may be tied to later Pueblo and Mesoamerican ethnographic sources. Long-standing scholarship on the BCS style found few direct cultural ties with documented historic Native American groups, thus opening the door for more speculative, highly romanticized scholarly interpretations emphasizing generalized themes of shamanic transformation or spirituality, often exasperated through widespread dissemination in popular culture and media. Recent breakthroughs however suggest that BCS style paintings may actually depict subjects directly ancestral to historic Puebloan peoples, thus establishing direct iconographic roots of Puebloan art and religious thought extending well into the archaic past.

As of June of this year, Jim Farmer has retired from Virginia Commonwealth University, Department of Art History, in Richmond, Virginia, where for 26 years he was an Associate Professor of Art History, including seven years as the Chair of the department. He received his Ph.D. from University of Texas, Austin in 1992. His dissertation, “Style and Variation in Early Anasazi Art: The Green Mask Site in Grand Gulch,” attests to his early interest in the prehistoric rock art in Utah.

Jim served on the URARA Board of Directors from 2014 thru 2017, and has been the Chair of the Board of the BCS Project since 2007.

URARA's 2018 Symposium has received funding from Utah Humanities which empowers Utahans to improve their communities through active engagement in the humanities.

P.O. Box 511324, Salt Lake City, Utah 84151-1324

URARA is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization

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