RT7 Digital Technologies and Quantitative Methods in the Study of Prehistoric Art

Claire Heckel, Carole Fritz

The application of digital technologies and quantitative methods to the study of prehistoric art is producing exciting new results in a wide range of areas. Three-dimensional modeling and imaging of painted/engraved caves provide enhanced opportunities for scientific study and new platforms for sharing protected sites with the public. Digital displays of archaeological sites and museum exhibits allow for broader public engagement with prehistoric art. Detailed renderings of decorative motifs on many materials (cave walls, stone, bone, antler, and ivory) are providing insights into the gestures and techniques used to create works of prehistoric art. Increasingly sensitive dating techniques are refining the chronology of prehistoric art. Quantitative studies of the morphology of early symbolic and ornamental systems are shedding light on the aesthetic values and social organization of production among prehistoric groups. Non-destructive chemical analysis of raw materials is revealing patterns of movement and exchange in prehistoric networks. In the wake of these diverse and exciting developments, collective reflection on the benefits and challenges of new methods is essential.

Numerous publications in the last decade have introduced a wide range of exciting methodological developments. The goal of this round table session is to engage specialists in computer-based and quantitative methods in a discussion of the benefits, limitations, challenges, and ethical implications of their methods of study. Chronological and geographic area are open, limited only to the pre- and protohistoric. Participation will be limited in order to provide ample discussion time. Participants will be asked to submit in advance a publication or a manuscript in development for discussion at the round table. In the session, participants will present their methods of analysis in detail, will have the opportunity to pose and respond to questions about these methods, and will engage in broader discussions about established and emerging computer-based and quantitative techniques. In closing, participants will be asked to reflect upon the implications of these methods in terms of public engagement, interpretive challenges, and the management, presentation, and preservation of data.

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