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Archaeology: Prehistoric Line Markings

Archaeology Bibliography of Kevin Sharpe

I suggest that some prehistoric line markings found in European and Australasian caves are a notation system, or a mnemonic system of communication. I also propose an empirical means, based on Alexander Marshack, Robert Bednarik, Michel Lorblanchet, and Francesco d’Errico’s methods of internal analysis, to help elucidate my theory, and suggest a series of testable propositions for Koonalda Cave (South Australia) and its finger markings. If the propositions hold up, they suggest that each set of clusters of markings with similar structures depict a myth story told in the cave. I also describe the methodology and results of an experimental approach to the analysis of finger markings. The approach I adopt is relatively objective and will, I hope, facilitate the progress of future research confirming the importance of line markings.

At present, I conceive of my work here as focused on a book, Our Ancestors Touch Us: The Writing of Early Humans, with development and presentations of the ideas in articles, papers, and presentations.


I carried out my work in Koonalda Cave, South Australia, a number of years ago, but the puzzle as to what the line markings mean continues to intrigue me. I hope in time to put up on this site some of my earlier works from the period of my youthful explorations. What I do have up are several works from the recent past and some currently in progress that revisit my early unpublished writings and some that try to take my ideas further.  

The revisited papers include:

  • "Incised Linear Markings: Animal or Human Origin?" While it is now agreed that line marks called "finger flutings" are human, I don't think it's clear whether the smaller line scratches, say those on boulders in Koonalda Cave, were made by humans or by animals. I want to find some way of objectively distinguishing between scratch marks made by animals and those made by humans. If any of these scratch markings were made by humans, then the range of line markings whose meaning we seek to understand is expanded.

  • "The Smoothing and Rounding Process of the Boulders in the Art Passage of Koonalda Cave, Nullarbor Plain, South Australia." The floor of the Upper Chamber of Koonalda Cave comprises rockfalls of different ages and which appear different because they are of different ages and have to different extents weathered to smooth and rounded surfaces. The prehistoric visitors to the Cave used the rockfalls in different ways over time partly because of their different degrees of smoothness. It is important to understand how the boulders on the floor weather if we are to understand their human use and the time sequence inolved. 

  • "The Upper Chamber of Koonalda Cave, South Australia: A Second Report." An unpublished report by Christine Whitehead and me at the end of the 1976 visit to the Cave.

A book, Koonalda: Prehistoric Mind and an Australian Cave, describes many aspects of Koonalda Cave and the Nullarbor Plain under which it lies. I will post the synopsis, introduction, and one chapter of the book on this site.

I am also developing new research techniques and hypotheses as to the significance of the markings found in Koonalda Cave to their makers.

Since then, Mary Lacombe and I (sometimes with Helen Fawbert) have prepared presentations for three international rock art congresses and resulting publications. The works below are in chronological order and will show how our ideas have developed about the lines' meaning and experiments about how the lines were made.

We are currently working on further experiments and in-the-field research for a presentation in 2000.

Click here for some older but interesting ideas that I've had or come across, including some regarding prehistoric line markings.

Click here to return to Work in Progress

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