Site records from different eras.
‘A lot of digitisation projects tend to be very empirical, governed by the standard discourse on preservation and dissemination, whereas what I find interesting is the way in which these records speak to an intellectual history of Rock Art research in South Africa in wonderfully direct ways.
The materiality and texture of these records varies substantially across time. The early records reveal quite an ad-hoc free-form approach, with people jotting down notes in random notebooks with beautiful little sketch maps… You know: ‘Leave your car on so-and-so’s farm, turn left at the waterfall, walk up the hill, but watch out for the baboons’, or whatever. But then, with the professionalisation of the discipline in the late 1960s and early 70s, there was an effort to standardise the record sheets, which required researchers to clip their notes to the standardised maps etc. Like all forms, they were meant to be standardised, impersonal and objective, serving the empirical capture of data, but inevitably they too ended up recording subjective encounters with landscape. So in addition to the empirical information about the sites, there is a surplus and it’s these surplus traces of subjectivity that are fascinating. The responses coded as surplus tend to leak into the content of the document itself – particularly when it comes to the older records.
In the 1950s and 60s, there was a whole group of amateur enthusiasts in Cape Town who were very keen on recording Rock Art sites. In addition to writing up the sites, they would take great photographs as well as photographing themselves in the landscape. There was a real hey-day of this kind of work, but then a falling off in the high apartheid moment of the 70s in response to a whole series of pressures – both domestic and international.
In the early days, the site documentation might only have got you to within 100 metres of a site, whereas nowadays people use GIS (geographic information system) and get within metres of the site. So the technology has changed dramatically over time.
In all these senses, these records provide a sort of biography of the discipline of archaeology in South Africa. An intellectual history of Rock Art research would speak to these kinds of local histories of practice and notions of professionalization.’ – Nick Shepherd