1st Edition

The Archaeology of Seeing Science and Interpretation, the Past and Contemporary Visual Art

By Liliana Janik Copyright 2020
    252 Pages 124 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    252 Pages 124 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    The Archaeology of Seeing provides readers with a new and provocative understanding of material culture through exploring visual narratives captured in cave and rock art, sculpture, paintings, and more.

    The engaging argument draws on current thinking in archaeology, on how we can interpret the behaviour of people in the past through their use of material culture, and how this affects our understanding of how we create and see art in the present. Exploring themes of gender, identity, and story-telling in visual material culture, this book forces a radical reassessment of how the ability to see makes us and our ancestors human; as such, it will interest lovers of both art and archaeology.

    Illustrated with examples from around the world, from the earliest art from hundreds of thousands of years ago, to the contemporary art scene, including street art and advertising, Janik cogently argues that the human capacity for art, which we share with our most ancient ancestors and cousins, is rooted in our common neurophysiology. The ways in which our brains allow us to see is a common heritage that shapes the creative process; what changes, according to time and place, are the cultural contexts in which art is produced and consumed. The book argues for an innovative understanding of art through the interplay between the way the human brain works and the culturally specific creation and interpretation of meaning, making an important contribution to the debate on art/archaeology.


    1 How contemporary is prehistoric art?

    2 The origins of art

    3 The gallery: unveiling visual narrative 

    4 Power of display: the artist and the object

    5 Embodiment and disembodiment: the corporality of visual art and interwoven landscapes

    6 Portraiture and the reverence of the other

    7 Conclusion


    Liliana Janik is Assistant Director of Research, Deputy Director at the Cambridge Heritage Research Centre, and Fellow of Girton College, University of Cambridge. She leads research projects in Japan and Russia. She specialises in prehistoric art: rock art, sculpture, and neuroaesthetic approaches to art, as well as heritage of the landscape.