ATS2138 - The archaeology of world rock art - 2017

6 points, SCA Band 1, 0.125 EFTSL

Undergraduate - Unit

Refer to the specific census and withdrawal dates for the semester(s) in which this unit is offered.




Dr Bruno David

Not offered in 2017


A major way that archaeologists make sense of the past is through the images that people depicted on rocks and on cave walls: rock art is one of the most common, and most visually impressive kind of archaeological evidence. In this unit students will learn about the history of modern humans from 40,000 years ago into recent times across the world, through the symbols and artworks they made and used. They will learn about what cave art looks like across different regions of the world and from different periods of time, and the different kinds of theories and approaches that archaeologists have employed to try to make sense of this imagery. They will learn and be encouraged to reflect about how those theories concern not just 'other' cultures past and present, but also how they reflect on the preconceptions of the researchers themselves and their own cultures. Students will cover a range of topics from the earliest years of the discipline of archaeology to the latest writings on human symbolic behaviour, and from the Ice Age to more recent artworks.


Upon successful completion of the unit, students should be able to understand:

  1. the earliest history of human symbolic behaviour and how it relates to the evolutionary beginnings of modern humans;
  2. how and when modern humans peopled the earth, from the onset different cultures emerged, as evident by differences in ancient art styles;
  3. how archaeologists and collaborating scientists work out how old rock art is;
  4. how rock art is recorded;
  5. how archaeologists make sense of rock art: what kinds of things people painted, how they made the art, where they made the art, how we can find out if art was meant for public or more restricted viewing;
  6. how and why recent digital technology enables us to see paintings that have faded to the extent of being invisible to the naked eye;
  7. how rock art can help us understand past social relationships between groups;
  8. how and why communities and descendants of past rock artists value rock art from community perspectives today;
  9. how theories about ancient rock art can be as much about the artists who made the art, as about the researchers who study it;
  10. how researching 'other' cultures past or present through rock art can help us reflect on our own social and cultural experiences and positioning's today.


Within semester assessment: 100%

Workload requirements

Minimum total expected workload to achieve the learning outcomes for this unit is 144 hours per semester typically comprising a mixture of scheduled learning activities and independent study. A unit requires on average three/four hours of scheduled activities per week. Scheduled activities may include a combination of teacher directed learning, peer directed learning and online engagement.

See also Unit timetable information

Chief examiner(s)

This unit applies to the following area(s) of study


Twelve credit points of first-year Arts units.