ECHO@e-c-h-o.org
 
Adumatu 1 (2000) pp. 7-28.
Rock art
Cognitive schemata and symbolic interpretation a matter of life and death

Fekri A. Hassan
< back
Resume
L'art rupestre peut être considéré comme un système de signes de structure syntactique, de contenu symbolico/sémantique et d'implications pragmatiques. Les signes sont des images picturales (icônes) sujettes à des règles de formation à partir desquelles des sceènes peuvent être générées. Le choix des images, leur collocation dans l'espace, leur type de présentation ainsi quo les relations entre les icônes, sont dominés par un ensemble de concepts.

Les scènes constituent des archives d'ensembles de combinaison d'icônes qui peuvent être étudiées grâce à des schémas cognitifs.

Un schéma est une structure roentale et malléable d'un ensemble d'éléments interchangeables. C'est un espace logique pour l'imagination. Un seul schéma peut générer plusieurs scènes.

Les schémas et les éleéments contenus dans la structure sont étroitement liés à des idées et des croyances inspirées par la vie et la vision du monde des artistes dans leur contexte social. Les images picturales ou «icônes» ne sont pas simplement des «représentations» d'objets mais les transformations picturales de structures mentales liées au concept de choses ou d'événements par un ensemble de règles logiques.

Abstract
Rock art may be regarded as a system of signs with syntactic structure, symbolic/semantic content and pragmatic implications. The signs are pictorial images (icons) subject to rules of information by which scenes can be generated. The choice of images, their spatial arrangement and mode of presentation as well as the relationship between the icons are governed by a set of concepts. The scenes constitute an archive of a set of combination of icons that may be searched for cognitive schemata. A schema is a malleable mental structure of a set of interchangeable elements. It is a logical space for the imagination. Many scenes may be generated from a single schema.

The schemata and the elements embedded in their structure are closely linked with ideas and beliefs formed by the life and world view of the artists within a social context. The pictorial images or icons are not simply representations of objects but are the pictorial transformations of mental constructs linked to concepts of things or events by a set of logical rules.

Icons and schemata are products of social acts of cognition, communication, and practice. The power of images and scenes lies in the way they may act upon the artist or the viewer. Pragmatically they may serve as an antidote to fear and anxiety or as a mediation between man and nature or man and others around him through magical, religious or ritual acts.

In an attempt lo explicate these views, I examined the Predynastic rock art from Nag Kolordona, Nubia, and present here an empirical method of analysis, a [artificial] system notation and an interpretative program based on assigning a primary set of eidetic meanings followed by symbolic interpretations based on the syntactic rules as welt as the rules of logical transformation.

The rock drawings of Nag Kolordona include scenes belonging to four schemata. Two schemata, cow/calf and dog chasing gazelle are regarded as a pair of opposites signifying motherhood/life/female and hunting/death/male. The two other schemata revolving around boats and sandals seem to be symbolic mediators between life and death and male and female. The boat apparently signifies the journey of life. The sandals seem to signify the union between the sexes.

The rock art of Nag Kolordona appears to have been connected with Saharan art. The schemata may have first appeared in response to Holocene droughts and were introduced to the Nile Valley by desert immigrants. The droughts led to change in subsistence and settlement patterns which in turn led to changes in the roles of men and women and in the relation between males from different groups. The threat of famines and the anxieties of changing living conditions were projected graphically in a symbolism celebrating life. The Saharan mythic views might have been the foundation of the ancient Egyptian belief system.