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Durham University

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Publication details for Prof Robert H. Layton

Sauvet, G., Layton, R., Lenssen-Erz, T., Taçon, P. & Wlodarczyk, A. (2006). La structure iconographique d'un art rupestre est-elle une clef pour son interprétation? Zephyrus 59: 97-110.

Author(s) from Durham


The paper critiques and develops a method proposed by Layton (2000), using more extensive data and improved statistical methods, to discriminate between different cultural contexts in which rock art may be produced. Using data from Australia and South Africa, Layton found a correlation between local systems of belief and the frequency with which different animal species are depicted within and between the rock art sites of a particular region. The method is used to locate Upper Palaeolithic Europe in a field of cultural variation, in the hope of conducting a relatively secure comparative analysis that avoids the interpretative traps inherent in methods based on ethnographic parallels for the significance of individual motifs and to move beyond the rather simplistic dichotomy: totemism versus shamanism. We have used additional data provided by Taçon and Lenssen-Erz, and drawn on further published sources, including far more complete statistics on animal representations in Palaeolithic rock art than used by Layton. Some general trends become apparent in the data we analyse. Unfortunately, the Upper Palaeolithic remains one of the most difficult to interpret, because the great variability it displays. At different times and in different regions, Upper Palaeolithic art approaches the pattern for different ethnographic cases. We also accept that Layton’s initial correlations between specific motif distributions and cultural contexts are unlikely to be universally valid, particularly in the case of shamanism.