Scenes from the World Rock Art course in KL

A couple of weeks ago, I got the chance to attend the World Rock Art course at the University of Nottingham’s Kuala Lumpur campus, an intensive five-day introduction to the rock art traditions from around the world. Most of our days were spent in the (extremely cold) lecture rooms of the university’s branch office in the city centre, but one of the highlights of the course was a field trip to Gua Tambun, the site I’m researching.

(my bad. i had inadvertedly got only half of Dr George Nashs face in this shot)
(my bad. i had inadvertedly got only half of Dr George Nash's face in this shot)


The course was attended by 11 participants from around the world (Malaysia, Singapore, US, UK, Canada and Australia) who were given an overview of specific rock art traditions from around the world, including examples from Australia, England, Spain, and of course, Malaysia. The course instructor were Paul Tacon and Sally May from Griffith University in Australia, George Nash, a visiting Fellow at the University of Bristol, Mokhtar Saidin from Universiti Sains Malaysia, as well as Barry Lewis, from the University of Nottingham’s Trent & Peak Archaeology. I had previously met Paul and Barry at a conference last year, and Paul and Sally have been more recently in the news with the discovery of contact rock art in Northern Australia.

Besides learning about the different rock art traditions (it should be noted that rock art can be found in almost every part of the world), we also got an idea of how to go about researching and documenting rock art sites, especially with the current use of digital image processing. It must be said that rock art is still seen somewhat as being on the fringes of traditional (pit and trench) archaeology, partly because earlier researchers tended to be focused on making (mostly inaccurate or unsubstantiated) interpretations about the rock art, and also partly because rock paintings and engravings are so notoriously hard to analyse as an archaeological material.

These days, a primary concern is preserving, protecting and recording such rock art in the most non-invasive way possible. There is much emphasis on using accurate recording techniques, as well as working with the traditional custodians wherever possible. Also, technology has improved quite a bit, allowing researchers to analyse paintings on a microscopic level, as well as using digital image processing to retouch and restore paintings on a digital canvas.

George and James holding the ranging poles in an attempt at photogrammetry
George and James holding the ranging poles in an attempt at photogrammetry
Shell and bone fragments recovered from the very-disturbed surface of the rock shelter
Shell and bone fragments recovered from the very-disturbed surface of the rock shelter

I felt particularly fortunate that the field trip conducted at my research site – it’s not every day that you have some of the world’s foremost authorities on rock art giving you lots of helpful suggestions and insights on how to go about your research.

World Rock Art: Landscapes and Cultures was held on 23-27 Nov. There’s a plan to conduct a longer, more-intensive course next year, but I shall leave it at that for the moment until details are firmed up. Until then, watch this space!

Related Books:
Introduction to Rock Art Research
The Cambridge Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art (Cambridge Illustrated Histories)
The Figured Landscapes of Rock-Art: Looking at Pictures in Place
World Rock Art (Conservation and Cultural Heritage Series)
Handbook of Rock Art Research
Introduction to Rock Art Research

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

6 thoughts on “Scenes from the World Rock Art course in KL”

  1. Hi Noel

    nice 2 have met you. when u going back 2 d site? with scaffoldings? I’d like to get an opportunity to take some shots perpendicular to the surface and hope to clamber aboard your work platform if you can spare me a few minutes when you are ndone with your days work 🙂 my shots gave me more than what i saw with my naked eye 🙂 there were some distinct drawings in grey beneath the brown coloured pictographs!

  2. Hi Soon Tatt, glad you enjoyed the site. Yes, the images that can be seen with the digital eye are quite spectacular indeed! unfortunately, I won’t be able to let anyone up the scaffolding for safety reasons, but you’re welcome to come visit when i’m there (i won’t publish my fieldwork dates here, so please send me an email!)

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