RockArtNet Iconographic Database

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TRACCE no. 7 – by Andrea Arcà

More than 30 messages in the last days of April 1997 were sent to the Rock Art email List, with the subject “suggestion”. They were all pointing to the opportunity of exchanging RA related pictures via Internet. These messages represented one of the most important and useful web discussion in the last 12 months.

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More than 30 messages in the last days of April 1997 were sent to the Rock Art email List, with the subject “suggestion”. They were all pointing to the opportunity of exchanging RA related pictures via Internet. These messages represented one of the most important and useful web discussion in the last 12 months.

The discussion was originated by Martin Bemmann on April 17:

    “There are thousands of archived rock carvings all over the world waiting for publication… Wouldn’t it be nice to have the opportunity to show those pictures… One solution would be to open a (moderated) newsgroup (something like **) where it would be possible to post scanned images”.

In the April 18 reply Andrea Arcà suggested the opportunity of:

    “posting directly online RA pictures… I think that specific photo galleries are a powerful tool for a worldwide comparison… anyone can easily obtain some 5-10 Mb of free space on the net”.

Someone was favourable to the opening of a RA newsgroup, others to the Web page solution. I personally think that both the solutions represent a goal to reach.

But one of the most interesting messages was without any doubt the one of James Martin (April 18), with a very concrete proposal:

    “… we get a block of free space in say, Geocities. Then we decide on the “core” fields on an online database, i.e. for petroglyphs: Description of Image Elements (Concentric circles, spirals, anthropomorphic figures, etc…), Country, Region, Panel Size, Means Produced (pecked, scratched, etc.), Images available and format (photo or drawing, jpg gif or tiff, etc.) and the Originators email address for further info. Each entry would be accompanied by a small jpg image thumbnail, large enough to show some detail, but small enough to save storage space and prevent the pictures from being used in unauthorized publications…”.

Always on April 18 John Campbell wrote:

    “…a brief survey of how many folks might be interested in participating either through Newsgroup or Web Page could be helpful in determining whether or not this concept is worth pursuing. With over 400 participants on the ROCK-ART Listerv I find the percentage of folks regularly posting here surprisingly small!.

So many problems and points of view are involved.

  • The first point is the absolute necessity for RA researchers of an iconographic (by tracings and/or pictures) data exchange. The relations and the comparisons between similar or different kinds of figures represent the base (the data base…) for a correct interpretation of any engraved panel.
  • The second point is that the Web is the best site to do it. It seems to me that there is nothing to add to this statement, it is so obvious. Books are (and will be) always the best tool, but an online summary or preview should greatly accelerate any research, here including the finding of the most appropriate bibliography.
  • The third point is that RA researchers are often the authors or the editors of their own published material: so perhaps they should be a little unwilling in giving a public access (such a web one) to their archives. In the same way there are problems about pictures copyright, which could be easily violated in a Web posting (but there is no possibility of publishing in a professional way a picture “stolen” from the web, the quality is too low): on the contrary I think that online pictures represent a good presentation for the research and for the authors, possibly including a promotion for their books *.
  • The best point is sharing. I think of the Web as a specialized bookstore. In many Rock Art congresses there is the opportunity of glancing over the pages of petroglyph books: in many cases we can find in some pictures or drawings the comparison we were searching for. If only a part of this material, thus in reduced size, will be available online, the knowledge in this particular field would be greatly enhanced.

So, returning to the proposal of James Martin, Footsteps of Man decides to open RockArtNet to an iconographic database, in this way:

  1. we reserve for the moment 3Mb in our web space (Geocities and/or or other)
  2. we will maintain 3 Web pages dedicated to worldwide themes (it means with no geographic or cultural limitation); we chose
    • Schematic Anthropomorphs (1),
    • Weaponed Anthropomorphs (2)
    • and Spirals (3)
  3. we will accept for the moment from any Rock Art researcher (receiving them as attached files) up to 90 pictures (30 pix each theme, max 30K each, plus short text and little thumbnails).
  4. we propose the name of “RockArtNet Iconographic Database”, like a name, a logo and a page format which could be used by anyone else who will maintain such a similar page with another subject
    • (Animals
    • Tools and Weapons
    • Cup-marks
    • Dwellings
    • Inscriptions
    • Schematic rounded figures
    • Schematic square figures
    • and so on…)

We obviously and strongly encourage the creation of other such pages (a Rock Art Net…), for which we can easily send our related pictures. We are aware that this idea is for the moment strongly limited by the web-space available (but it is growing day by day) and by many slow connections (but getting faster…): in any case we can say that it’s important to try, in order to find the best method and to improve a Web way of showing and sharing the data.

We think that the choice of a worldwide comparison about the same theme, even without any cultural relationship, could be of a great value, also in order to avoid any local dispute. If for example one takes care of a particular engraved area, and there is another research team working in the same place, it could be sometimes difficult to find an agreement. If on the contrary one is maintaining a thematic page, his position could be more fair and distant.
This doesn’t mean that we want to avoid photo-galleries related to a specific site or culture: on the contrary we think that they are one of the most powerful tools (we are working step by step to the Valcamonica photo-gallery ), but their creation is the task of each particular researcher and team, with all local differences of methods and techniques.

Anyway there should be pointed the necessity of working in order to obtain a public involvement (state? Region? Province-County? Municipalities? Parks?) and funding for a larger Online Database. We hope that the development of the web will make it possible.

We can’t wait 20 years while our slides change colors and none of us has ever seen all of them. If our archives are like little "golden" treasures, their burial under the powder of a cabinet will change them into "plastic" rubbish.

Andrea Arcà
Cooperativa Archeologica Le Orme dell’Uomo

piazzale Donatori di Sangue 1- 25040 CERVENO (Bs), Italy
tel. 39-364-433983 – fax 39-364-434351
contact page

TRACCE Online Rock Art Bulletin, while the site is obtaining a good success/access, is suffering a little from this problem: even in a worldwide context is not easy to obtain short papers for each issue.
We know that is not easy for many RA researchers to obtain a Web access, we know that the reduced size of the papers is not encouraging, we know that sending via email pictures and text could be hampered by technical difficulties.
So we launch this short call (sustained by the “advertising banners” on the top of each article): please feel free to send us short papers about any RA related theme here including a single engraved rock.
TRACCE editors and readers will be interested in enlarging any point of view.

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