CARTA Members in the News: Emeritus Prof. Iain Davidson (U. of New England, Armidale, NSW Australia)

Aug 6, 2020

A Species Marked for Greatness?

CARTA Member and Emeritus Professor of Archaeology, Iain Davidson (U. of New England, Armidale, NSW Australia), is well known for his long-standing exploration of language origins and cognitive evolution in human prehistory. His most recent contribution to this body of knowledge, "Marks, pictures, and art: Their contribution to revolutions in communication," was published online first on 27 July 2020, in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. (ISSN 1072-5369 J Archaeol Method Theory DOI 10.1007/s10816-020-09472-9). Full-text access available on (PAYWALL).


"This paper addresses the question of the nature of art, how it came to be, how it fits with other communications revolutions and the implications of the emergence of art as a means of visual communication. How did iconic imagery emerge from other mark-making among humans and their ancestors and what has been its significance? I situate visual communication as the second revolution of the six communication revolutions during human evolution: the emergence of language, iconic imagery, writing, printing, various means of communication at a distance, and the digital electronic revolution. I begin by discussing the context of deliberate production of marks in the environment, with emphasis on the relations between (1) the producer of the mark and the mark, (2) the producer of the mark and an informed observer at the time, (3) the mark and the informed observer in the absence of the producer and (4) the uninformed observer and the mark. It is fundamental that at some stage the producer intended the mark to represent something, a subject in the real or imagined world. I emphasize the importance of telling stories and singing songs in secular and ritual contexts. Out of this framework, I discuss some of the earliest objects called art in relation to their semiotic elements. I outline my arguments about how these semiotic categories were transformed in the emergence of pictures during archaeohistory. I go on to discuss how all these examples of image production connect to that which is called art in western society. I conclude by reflecting on the impact of these changes of means of communication on human cognition. Each of the revolutions involved changes in the relationships among the communicative act (sensu lato), the agent and receivers of the communication, the perception and interpretation of the communication and the persistence of it through time and ultimately across space."

Learn more about his fascinating work in his CARTA profile:

Iain Davidson's picture

Emeritus Prof. Iain Davidson