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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Research Postgraduates

Miss Isobel Wisher

Contact Miss Isobel Wisher (email at isobel.c.wisher@durham.ac.uk)

Academic background

MSc in Early Prehistory and Human Origins with distinction, University of York. Dissertation title: In the Eye of the Beholder? Negotiating Identity through Personal Ornaments in the Upper Palaeolithic.

BSc in Archaeology with first class honours, University of York. Dissertation title: The Use of Space in the Middle Palaeolithic in Europe: A Cognitive Perspective.

Research Topic

The Origins of Visual Culture: Psychological Foundations of Early Palaeolithic Cave Art in Northern Spain.

Abstract

Palaeolithic cave art, since its discovery in the late 19th Century, has captivated the imagination of Palaeolithic researchers. Although recent research has identified a much older, non-figurative phase of Palaeolithic cave art, the vast majority is figurative and dates to >40,000 – 15,000 years ago, during the period of the European Upper Palaeolithic. It is dominated by breath-taking depictions of prey animals critical to the survival of Pleistocene hunter-gatherer groups; the representation of these ancient animals, by ancient minds, have thus deservingly been subject to extensive research. However, despite decades of research, Palaeolithic cave art remains an elusive phenomenon. The initial dismissals of its authenticity in the 19th Century, followed by a trend of uncritical ‘umbrella theories’ have resulted in a suite of untested interpretations. These has failed to elucidate important understandings of one of the most important human inventions; visual culture.

My PhD aims to make an original contribution to novel research in this area, through exploring the role of the visual system in the process of the production of cave art, exploring its theme, style, and form. This adopts recent relational and P-Arch theories, to breathe nuance into the material engagement involved in cave art production and how this may have served as cognitive scaffolding. By combining specific research in selected caves in northern Spain with established methods of psychological research, I will be able to develop and test hypotheses about the production of art in Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer groups. This will enable, for the first time, in-depth insight into the making and meaning of Palaeolithic figurative cave art.

Grants

October 2018 – Present, AHRC Northern Bridge DTP

Papers

Wisher, I. and Langley, A. (2019) ‘Have you got the tine? Prehistoric Methods into Working Antler.’ EXARC 8 (2) [online]. Available at: https://exarc.net/issue-2019-2/at/have-you-got-tine-prehistoric-methods-antler-working

Wisher, I. (2017) ‘Monkeying around: An evaluation of how analogies with modern primates can help make inferences about early human behaviour.’ The Post Hole 50: 5 – 12.

Conference Papers

Wisher, I. and Needham, A. (16/02/2019) ‘Painting a Different Picture: Reconceiving Neanderthal Art through a Relational Framework.’ Unravelling Human Origins No. 10. University of York.

Wisher, I. and Langley, A. (19/12/2018) ‘Experimental Archaeology: A Conceptual Bridge? Experiences in Mediating Science and Theory through Antler Working Experiments.’ Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) No. 40. University of Chester

Wisher, I. (17/12/2018) ‘More than a Bead: A Relational Approach for Studying Palaeolithic Personal Ornaments.’ Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) No. 40. University of Chester.

Wisher, I. ‘Grounding the Theoretical: The Contribution of Experimental Archaeology to Understanding the Role of Palaeolithic Personal Ornaments.’ Experimental Archaeology Student Symposium (EAStS) No. 1. 27th October 2018. Newcastle University.

Wisher, I. ‘In the Eye of the Beholder? Negotiating Identity through Personal Ornaments in the Magdalenian.’ Cambridge Annual Student Archaeology (CASA) Conference No. 2. 14th September 2018. University of Cambridge.

Wisher, I. ‘Negotiating the Body, Identity, and Selfhood through Materials in the Upper Palaeolithic.’ Durham Anthropology’s Annual Postgraduate Conference. 24th April 2018. Durham University.

Wisher, I. Beyond the Functional: Palimpsests of memory and the significance of place in Middle Palaeolithic occupations.’ Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) Conference No. 39.19th December 2017. Cardiff University.

Jorgensen-Rideout, S. and Wisher, I. ‘Archaeological Theory: The Marmite Module?’ Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) Conference No. 39.19th December 2017. Cardiff University.

Wisher, I. ‘Out of Body, Out of Mind: The extended body and manifestations of identity in the Palaeolithic.’ Cambridge Annual Student Archaeology (CASA) Conference No. 1. 16th September 2017. University of Cambridge.

Conference Posters

[Accepted - due to present] Langley, A. and Wisher, I. (05/2019) ‘We should break things off: An experimental investigation into soaking antler.’ EXARC Conference No. 11. University of Trento.

Wisher, I. (16/02/2019) ‘Creating a Relational Constellation: Tracing the object biographies of Magdalenian personal ornaments through experimental archaeology.’ Unravelling Human Origins No. 10. University of York.

Amy, M., Needham, A., Langley, A. and Wisher, I. (16/02/2019) ‘Playing with fire: Exploring the role of Magdalenian limestone plaquettes in hearth structures using experimental archaeology.’ Unravelling Human Origins No. 10. University of York.

Conference Workshop and Session Organisation

Organised and ran the experimental archaeology half-day workshop. Unravelling Human Origins (UHO) Conference No. 10. 17th September 2019. University of York.

Wisher, I. and Jorgensen-Rideout, S. Session 2. Refugia: Negotiating Identity in Dynamic Environments. Cambridge Annual Student Archaeology (CASA) Conference No. 2. 14th September 2018. University of Cambridge. (Lead session organiser)

Founding member and session organiser of the Equality and Diversity in Archaeology discussion series. Department of Archaeology, University of York.

Invited Talks

Wisher, I. (12/09/2018) ‘Unlocking Past Identities: A New Approach for Studying Magdalenian Personal Ornaments.’ Ice Age Journeys Project and FARI Archaeology, Newark.

Prizes and Awards

16th February 2019: Best Poster Prize. Awarded for the best poster at the Unravelling Human Origins Conference 2019.

18th January 2019: Departmental Prehistory Prize. Awarded for the highest mark in prehistory amongst the master’s cohort 2017/18.

27th November 2018: Hermann Ramm Prize, presented by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society. Awarded for the highest dissertation mark in the master’s cohort 2017/18.

16th September 2017: Cambridge Annual Student Archaeology (CASA) Conference Podium Award. Awarded for the best conference paper amongst master’s students.

12th July 2017: The York Award. Awarded in recognition of transferable skills obtained through academic study, work experience and extra-curricular activities.

July 2015: First Year Prize. Awarded for achieving the highest overall mark in the cohort.

Research Groups