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Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art
Paul Bahn, 1998, Cambridge Press, U.K.
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Reviewer: Gilbert Taylor

illustrated history of prehistoric art.Prehistoric artwork is puzzling to modern archaeologists, for its creators are long gone and their purposes obscure. Bahn surveys the field, spanning the continents, from a historical perspective, as he did the broader subject of archaeology in The Cambridge Illustrated History of Archaeology (1996); that is, he recounts how antiquarian approaches of the nineteenth century--just collecting the stuff--gave way to scientific methods of interpretation. For cave paintings and portable objects, such as "Venus" figurines, dating has become very accurate, thanks to stratigraphic and radiocarbon analysis (and helpful in exposing fakes, as one sidebar explains). But rock carvings tend to remain as obstinately undatable as they are ubiquitous; whatever their exact ages, their meanings excite speculation, capitalized on through this volume's wealth of photographs accompanied by informative captions. Bahn's final chapter warns of threats to petroglyphs because of their popularity, capping an effective visual introduction with a technical bibliography to guide serious students. end of story.

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