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Significantly Differentiated Figures: understanding difference through the construction of personhood in the southern African San idiom

Author(s): Alice Mullen

Year: 2017

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Summary

Within the corpus of San rock art in the South African Drakensberg mountains is a category of highly embellished, oversized anthropomorphic figures termed Significantly Differentiated Figures (SDFs). Such images have previously been interpreted as San ritual specialists' conceptualisation of themselves, in metaphor, as a result of the arrivals of African farmers and European colonists. This paper, drawing on new data gathered during surveys of the Matatiele region in the Eastern Cape, South Africa and the Sehlabathebe National Park in Lesotho, shifts focus from broad discussions on the embodied experiences of ritual specialists to the significance of individual SDF images within the region. A newly identified site is to be sampled for dating, with a view to challenging interpretations of SDFs as a recent phenomenon in the history of San rock art production. Examination of ethnographic texts relating to San personhood highlights the construction of identity through a network of relationships between human and non-human beings existing both in the mundane and spiritual universes of San peoples, offering insight into why certain non-human features may have been incorporated into these highly distinctive figures and

what message they may have conveyed to subsequent viewers.


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Significantly Differentiated Figures: understanding difference through the construction of personhood in the southern African San idiom. Alice Mullen. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430609)


Keywords


Spatial Coverage

min long: -18.809; min lat: -38.823 ; max long: 53.262; max lat: 38.823 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 17045

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America