Paperback / softback
July 1, 2018
193 color illus., 7 color illus.
10.00 Inches (US)
9.00 Inches (US)
2.5 Pounds (US)
$34.95 USD, £26.99 GBP
v2.1 Reference

Early Rock Art of the American West

The Geometric Enigma


The earliest rock art - in the Americas as elsewhere - is geometric or abstract. Until Early Rock Art in the American West, however, no book-length study has been devoted to the deep antiquity and amazing range of geometrics and the fascinating questions that arise from their ubiquity and variety. Why did they precede representational marks? What is known about their origins and functions? Why and how did humans begin to make marks, and what does this practice tell us about the early human mind?

With some two hundred striking color images and discussions of chronology, dating, sites, and styles, this pioneering investigation of abstract geometrics on stone (as well as bone, ivory, and shell) explores its wide-ranging subject from the perspectives of ethology, evolutionary biology, cognitive archaeology, and the psychology of artmaking. The authors' unique approach instills a greater respect for a largely unknown and underappreciated form of paleoart, suggesting that before humans became Homo symbolicus or even Homo religiosus, they were mark-makers - Homo aestheticus.

About the Authors

Ekkehart Malotki is professor emeritus of languages at Northern Arizona University. He is the author of The Rock Art of Arizona: Art for Life's Sake and Stone Chisel and Yucca Brush: Colorado Plateau Rock Art. Ellen Dissanayake is an independent scholar, author, and lecturer. She is the author of Art and Intimacy: How the Arts Began; Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why; and What Is Art For?


"Here, finally, is a book that presents the remarkable first paleoart of North America comprehensively and in all its glory. Malotki's marvelous ability to capture rock art photographically has been noted before as being without equal, and this book is no exception. . . . But what makes this volume so precious is the most propitious combination of Malotki's encyclopedic knowledge of the Southwest's rock art with Dissanayake's sophisticated understanding of the nature of art-like production."—Robert Bednarik, Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture

"Drawing on the insights of ethology, cognitive archaeology, evolutionary biology, and the psychology of art and art-making, the authors succeed in building a brilliant, substantive case for the antiquity of the early geometric enigmas that span the American West, and for the psychology behind their creation. . . . Essential. All readers."—Choice

"In this fascinating volume, linguist Ekkehart Malotki and scholar Ellen Dissanayake parse images created up to 15,000 years ago by Palaeoamericans from Arizona to Idaho, speculating about their origins and functions. Alongside Malotki's stunning photographs of some 200 examples, the authors recontextualize the relics as products of ritualistic activity ('artification') rather than symbolic artworks."—Nature


"Definitely the best book on the subject of rock art ever written. Full of fascinating images and ideas, it tackles hard questions and discusses them in a balanced, objective manner."—Desmond Morris, author of The Biology of Art and The Naked Ape

"It is the hardest thing in the world to escape the grip of our own prejudices. Early Rock Art is important because it challenges our modern obsession with explicit symbols and stories and aims to free our theories of art from the iron grip of literate culture. I applaud the authors' efforts to dig deeper, to find the ancient roots of our aesthetic sensibilities."—Merlin Donald, emeritus professor of psychology at Queen's University and author of Origins of the Modern Mind

"Presents new ideas on the origin and importance of art to all human cultures and shows that the neglected geometric rock art of the American West has an intriguing and essential story to tell."—Paul Tacon, Chair in Rock Art Research, Griffiths University, Australia

"There is no previous book on this type of rock art—usually it is given only cursory treatment, largely because geometric imagery defies conventional approaches to interpretation. Malotki and Dissanayake address what we know and what we can know about early geometric rock art."—James D. Keyser, author of Indian Rock Art of the Columbia Plateau

"Malotki and Dissanayake's intriguing concept of 'artification' gives researchers another tool to use when examining ancient rock art. The photos alone warrant purchasing this book."—D. Clark Wernecke, executive director, Gault School of Archaeological Research

"In this welcome book a long-neglected rock art tradition is examined at length. The work is so wide-ranging that any reader will also learn about many important anthropological concepts. Last but certainly not least, splendid photographs accompany the texts throughout."—Jean Clottes, author of What Is Paleolithic Art?

"A fascinating and thought-provoking volume that explores the enigma of geometric rock art in the American West with great insight and authority. Lavishly illustrated with Malotki's incredible photography, this work is as much a feast for the eyes as for the mind."—Ben Watson, paleoart specialist

"A tribute to the artistic and intellectual achievements of Paleoamericans. Scholarly and innovative, sophisticated yet accessible, and with a wealth of breathtaking pictures."—Tilman Lenssen-Erz, African Archaeology, Institute for Prehistoric Archaeology, University of Koln

"Malotki's fascinating photographs and Dissanayake's pathbreaking ideas make this book a must for all research on American rock art and the roots of human creativity."—Christian Zuechner, director emeritus, Institute of Prehistory and Early History, University of Erlangen-Nurnberg

9780295743615 : early-rock-art-of-the-american-west-malotki-dissanayake
Paperback / softback
312 Pages
$34.95 USD

Other Titles by Ellen Dissanayake

What Is Art For?

Ellen Dissanayake
Sep 2015 - University of Washington Press
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$25.00 USD - Electronic book text

Art and Intimacy

Ellen Dissanayake
Jul 2015 - University of Washington Press
$25.00 USD - Paperback / softback
$99.00 USD - Hardback

Homo Aestheticus

Ellen Dissanayake
Oct 1995 - University of Washington Press
$25.00 USD - Paperback / softback

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