Acts of Nature and Culture: Caves, Performance, and Transformation

Author(s): Karen Holmberg

Year: 2018


The role of performance in disaster risk reduction provides the focus for evocative recent discussions of somatic experience, embodied knowledge, and climate change (e.g., Cosgrove and Kelman 2017). In this paper, I’d like to expand this perspective on the perception of dynamic environments through consideration of how material residues in caves link to large-scale transformations in the complexly entwined natural and cultural landscapes outside of the caves. I draw on four seemingly disparate cave contexts: a 7,400 year stratigraphic sequence in Banda Aceh, Indonesia that extends the record of tsunami events beyond what oral history provides; a preceramic rock shelter in western Panama with an unusual lithic cache interpreted as evidence for the earliest example of shamanistic practice in Central America; a coastal cave in northern Patagonia, Chile filled with prehistoric rock art and the bones of a child; and the paleolithic caves of Matera, Italy, which helped secure the city’s designation as a European Capital of Culture for 2019. In each case, whether in prehistoric or contemporary contexts, I posit that acts and actions performed in caves link the performers literally to a scale that is geological in span and chthonic in association.

Cite this Record

Acts of Nature and Culture: Caves, Performance, and Transformation. Karen Holmberg. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 443871)

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Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 18851