Research Forum Spring Term 2011
caroline villers research fellowship
Technical Art Prehistory: Uncovering Technological Traditions and Social Choices in Palaeolithic Art Production
Thursday, 10 February 2011
18.00 - 19.00, Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre
Reindeer antler engraved with image of a deer's head. Excavated from the site of Courbet, France. Radiocarbon dated to c. 13,000-12,000 years before present. Curated at the British Museum, London.
Speaker(s): Dr Rebecca Farbstein (Visiting Fellow, The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge; and Caroline Villers Research Fellow 2009-10, The Courtauld)
Ticket/entry details: Open to all, free admission
Organised by: Dr Aviva Burnstock
The field of “technical art history” studies technological aspects of art production in relatively modern art made in the last several thousand years. This lecture presents the results of technological analysis of much older art, dating to the late Palaeolithic, c. 14,000—11,000 years before present. Focusing on technological choices, rather than the aesthetics or appearance of art, reveals the behaviours, processes, and priorities of prehistoric artists as well as the development of social traditions or technological styles. This lecture will present some results from using this approach to study Magdalenian portable art from southern France. Macroscopic and microscopic analysis of hundreds of decorated pieces of antler, bone, and ivory revealed several unusual technological choices and innovations that warrant close consideration. Situating these technological choices in their social contexts offers new insight into the ways people meaningfully engaged with materials and techniques in the past. Comparing the distribution of these technological innovations and styles at nearby and purportedly related sites sheds new light on the socio-technical interactions and the extent to which these traditions were shared between different groups in the past.
Dr. Farbstein was the 2009-2010 Caroline Villers Research Fellow at The Courtauld Institute of Art. During this fellowship, she pioneered a technological analysis of the Palaeolithic portable art collections curated at the British Museum (c. 14,000—11,000 years before present) using chaîne opératoire methodology to uncover the sequential actions and choices artists made while manufacturing prehistoric art. Her previous research includes analysis of museum collections as well as fieldwork in Britain, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, and Lesotho.
Dr. Farbstein earned her PhD from the Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge in 2009, and her bachelor’s degree in art history from Princeton University in 2004. She is currently a visiting fellow at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, where she is studying Palaeolithic and Mesolithic art and material culture from the site of Vela Spila in Croatia.