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Theatres of Imagery

A performance theory approach to rock art research

David M. Witelson
Publication Year:
224 pages, Illustrated throughout in b&w, and colour.
Sub-series name:
African Archaeology, 98
BAR number:


This monograph applies performance theory to rock paintings in the Stormberg mountains of South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province-a rich rock art area to the southwest of the Drakensberg mountains. The Stormberg’s rock paintings offer a unique opportunity to develop a novel set of theoretical ideas in relation to rock art sites.The research draws on performance theory to argue that an extinct rock painting practice was, in many respects, similar to San (Bushman) performances recorded in documentary sources and ethnographies. This approach helps us to better understand the nature of hunter-gatherer rock art at both regional and site-specific scales. The performances in which rock art images participated were not isolated, but instead belonged to an irreducible aggregate of interrelating performances that constituted society itself.

David M. Witelson is a postdoctoral fellow at the Rock Art Research Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. His research focuses on the painting practices of late Holocene hunter-gatherers.


‘Performance theory applied to the study of rock art production is novel, and the author has developed its use way beyond any prior work. It is original, meticulous, innovative, lucid and very well illustrated.’ Dr Jeremy Hollmann, Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand ‘This book is an extremely significant contribution to southern African rock art research. It provides new insights into contact art, rain-making and the interconnected nature of San expressive culture.’ Dr Ghilraen Laue, KwaZulu-Natal Museum