The architecture of the signs: Neolithic passage tomb art around the Irish Sea

Research output: Book/ReportBook

Abstract

The passage tombs of Ireland, Wales and Scotland were built during the second half of the fourth millennium B.C. and rank with the most impressive funerary monuments of Neolithic Europe. These large tumuli, sometimes over 80 m in diameter, are enclosed by a façade of kerbstones and cover one or several megalithic chambers whose architecture is complex (access passage, antechamber, vaulted chamber, cells). The international renown of these tombs result in great part from their parietal art: executed by carving on the inner and outer walls of the monuments, its repertoire includes exclusively geometric signs (circles, spirals, arcs, chevrons, squares, etc.), which distinguishes it from the other contemporary funerary representations on the continent (Brittany, Iberia), mainly composed of figurative motifs.
Around the Irish Sea, passage tomb art seems impenetrable, abstract in its geometric elements and complex in its rich and various compositions. Nevertheless, behind the apparent chaos of the signs, could it be possible to identify recurrent structures attesting an organization of the figures? Could there be a code, a system within the decoration that a simple comparative analysis could discover?
Without seeking to interpret the signs, this book proposes to analyse their architecture, i.e. their spatial structure(s) on several scales. On the basis of a corpus of 634 carved stones from 89 monuments, the organization of the signs in recurrent combinations, their relations with the structural stones on which they are found and, above all, their distribution within the complex architecture of the tombs are examined. The various syntax rules identified show for the first time a model of spatial representation that determines not only the location of the signs but also the location of the monument structures and funerary deposits. Additionally, those newly discovered rules make it possible to reconstruct the initial position of reused stones whose carvings, in a secondary position, are spatially disorganised.
Translated title of the contributionThe architecture of the signs: Neolithic passage tomb art around the Irish Sea
Original languageFrench
Place of PublicationRennes
PublisherPresses Universitaires de Rennes
Number of pages364
ISBN (Print)978-2-7535-0961-0
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Publication series

NameCollection Archéologie et Culture

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