The social life of caves

The social life of caves: a new archaeological-geomorphological approach, with examples from France and Aboriginal Australia

12 MARCH 2014

Bruno David

bruno-david-seminar-03aAbstract: Caves and rockshelters are a key component of the archaeological record but are often regarded as natural places conveniently exploited by human communities. Archaeomorphological study shows however that they are not inert spaces but have frequently been modified by the actions of people, sometimes in ways that imply a strong symbolic significance. Bruno David will discuss how a team of researchers has developed an integrated archaeological and geomorphological approach that can reveal how the material fabric of caves and rock-shelters has been shaped, and re-shaped, through social engagement. He will explore the history of the material space, or of elements within it, at Chauvet Cave in France and Nawarla Gabarnmang rockshelter in Australia. Deep within Chauvet Cave, fallen blocks were moved into position to augment the natural structure known as The Cactus, while at Nawarla Gabarnmang, blocks were removed from the ceiling and supporting pillars removed and discarded down the talus slope. These are hence not ‘natural’ places, but modified and socially constructed, and highlight how even apparently materially set places have human histories that can be systematically investigated.

Dr Bruno David holds an Australian Research Council Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award.