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Body and Image: Explorations in Landscape Phenomenology 2

Body and Image: Explorations in Landscape Phenomenology 2

By Christopher Tilley and Wayne Bennett. Pp. 287, figs. 95, tables 6. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, Calif. 2008. $89 (cloth); $34.95 (paper). ISBN 978-1-59874-313-5 (cloth); ISBN 978-1-59874-314-2 (paper).

Reviewed by

Tilley furthers his inquiry into the phenomenology of landscape with the book Body and Image. Continuing the work established by The Materiality of Stone (New York 2004), Tilley presents a theoretically informed approach to archaeological scholarship that will appeal to readers from other disciplines. The text is complemented by 95 black-and-white line drawings and photographs and six tables of data.

Following the pattern established in The Materiality of Stone, this book is divided into five chapters, consisting of a theoretical introduction, three case studies, and a short conclusion. Eschewing iconographic study of rock art as “superficial” (19), Tilley instead advocates a kinesthetic approach to the study of rock art. The introduction establishes the thesis of the work, that “[t]here is a dialectic at work between the rock itself, and its landscape location, and the positioning of the images carved on it” (16). More importantly, because it is “possible to describe bodily movement in relation to” the carvings, even if the viewer is unfamiliar with the meaning of the carvings, the human body can be construed to move in a way that is “dictated by the images themselves,” thereby establishing “a fundamental part of the significance of the rock art” (16). The meaning of the images, therefore, does not depend on decoding the iconography; rather, meaning can be derived by reflection on what “the body does in relation to imagery, its motions, its postures, how that imagery is sensed through the fingers or the ear or the nose” (20). In the concluding pages of the first chapter, Tilley presents a series of useful research questions about the body, directionality, and the sensory aspects of landscape study that served as the foundation of his work and that offer a template for other researchers to follow.

The second chapter of the work focuses on Vingen, a dramatically positioned cluster of several sites in western Norway with approximately 2,000 rock carvings, possibly dating from the Late Mesolithic. Although readers might anticipate that this chapter would advance the promising kinesthetic approach to archaeological exploration articulated in the introduction, the chapter is more concerned with documenting the extensive animal and human representations at Vingen, contributing to explorations made by Hallström (Monumental Art of Northern Europe from the Stone Age: The Norwegian Localities [Stockholm 1938]; Monumental Art of Northern Sweden from the Stone Age [Stockholm 1960]), Bøe (Felszeichnungen im Westliche Norwegen. Vol. 1, Vingen und Henøya [Bergen 1932]), Bakka (“On Shoreline Dating of Arctic Rock Carvings in Vingen, Western Norway,” Norwegian Archaeological Review 12 [1979] 115–22), and Lødøen and Mandt (The Rock Art of Norway [Oxford 2010]). The argument that the representations of animals show movement in their pattern of design and are therefore the embodiment of a kinesthetic ethic seems tenuous. However, the moment at which the thesis is most completely fulfilled occurs when Tilley points out that access to many of the carvings is along precipitous cliffside paths.

Chapter 3 explores the passage tombs of Loughcrew and Brú na Bóinne in Ireland. Like Vingen and Östergötland (discussed below), the tombs and carvings are located along a river. It is this functional and ceremonial water­way siting that links the selection of the case studies. The examination of the sites follows the pattern established in the previous chapter, a conventional review of the features of the sites leading into the thick description of each one. One of the more important conclusions of Tilley’s work as a whole is related at the end of this chapter, as he describes the interplay of light and darkness and of sight and touch at Loughcrew and the Brú na Bóinne temples. The dark interiors of the temples heighten senses other than sight, thereby transforming everyday dependence on sight into a ritual understanding that relies on touch and smell. The three pages devoted to light, exteriors, and interiors bring the thesis of Body and Image to its fullest and most coherent expression. Furthermore, there is an opportunity to extend Tilley’s perceptions into the kinesthetic study of ceremonial and ritual practices employed by groups. Indeed, in the chapter devoted to the carvings at Vingen, Tilley emphasizes that certain rocks were collectively carved, while other smaller rocks were private endeavors. If people came together to create the designs, they experienced the site in a collective, public, and decidedly physical manner.

The final case study of the work looks at the Bronze Age rock carvings in Östergötland, Sweden. As with Vingen, the carvings at Östergötland are distributed across the valley of the Motala River. Methodologically, this chapter is similar to the study of the Vingen carvings. The distinguishing feature of Östergötland is that figural carvings are positioned within naturally occurring glacial grooves in the rocks. Tilley’s thick description of the location often stresses that the observer must move from rock to rock, following the grooves. Such movement eventually reveals a narrative, “such as pig hunting, processions, boats being pulled by horses, herding, or movements of a bear” (249).

Body and Image draws on phenomenological philosophy and careful consideration of the physical properties of the sites. Tilley’s theoretical sources will be familiar to readers of his other works. Marcel Merleau-Ponty figures prominently. Tilley includes a special consideration of Gell’s Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory (Oxford 1998), a work that advances the theory that works of art have agency—in other words, that works of art can influence viewers to adopt particular attitudes and behaviors in relation to them. Gell’s work underscores Tilley’s contention that “[t]he images themselves are enough. We do not necessarily need to translate them, go beneath them, or worry about what they represent” (46). Despite this promising hypothesis that kinesthetics can supplant iconographical analysis, Body and Image demonstrates the difficulty of demoting sight from its position as the primary sense. The volume’s many figures and photographs remind the reader that kinesthetic experience complements—rather than replaces—visuality. However, while Tilley never directly calls for archaeologists to be active participants in the investigation of landscape, his work implies that the truest form of interpretation lies in a direct, tactile, and multisensory experience with the object of study. In short, there is no substitute for climbing the rocks.

Marguerite Helmers
Department of English
University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh
Oshkosh, Wisconsin 54901

Book Review of Body and Image: Explorations in Landscape Phenomenology 2, by Christopher Tilley and Wayne Bennett

Reviewed by Marguerite Helmers

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 116, No. 1 (January 2012)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1161.Helmers

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