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Barbara Oosterwijk

Demonstrator (Ptt)

Demonstrator (Ptt) in the Department of Archaeology



2009 - 2012 Research MA (Hons) Archaeology, University of Amsterdam

2010 Native American Religion and Belief, vision quest and rock art, Montana State University

2005 - 2009 BA Archaeology, University of Amsterdam

2008 Volcanology and Old Nordic Religion and Belief

Research Topic

Embodied art and placemaking: defining the pre-landscape world of Neanderthal art


Hand and finger marks (HFM’s) occur worldwide on the walls of caves and natural rock outcrops, most notably in France and Spain. They define the earliest, non-figurative phase of human art. Notably, HFM’s can be distinguished from later Palaeolithic art because they form an extension of the human body. As such, HFMs can be characterized, innovatively, as embodied art; a new scientific concept in archaeology. This research will for the first time address Neanderthal rock art, from a genuinely multidisciplinary perspective that aims to provide insight into marks that literally embody the connection between people, human bodies and the landscape.

Newly-available methods for dating Palaeolithic art, and evolving multidisciplinary collaboration between archaeologists and visual psychologists, is radically changing our understanding of the emergence of art. It now seems clear that a long period of non-figurative markings preceded the ‘extension’ of figurative art. Before 40.000 years ago, Neanderthals began to extend body ornamentation to hard surfaces, in the form of hand stencils and finger dots and lines (Hoffmann et al. in press). Little attention has been paid to such body markings, and formal research is almost completely lacking. I aim to remedy this imbalance.

I will undertake a systematic quantification and classification of HFMs and PFMs in spatial, topographic and temporal contexts in order to address three objectives:

The role of embodied art in placemaking
Fieldwork in El Castillo, La Garma (Cantabria) and Ardales (Malaga) caves - where HFMs/PFMs are abundant, will be used to assess form, location and accessibility of body art in modeled light conditions. A comparative database (SDI) will facilitate use of statistical exploration, and existing GIS methods will be modified to examine the distribution of sites with embodied art (site biographies) across regions. These will enable detailed exploration of the placing of the art, visually, and by feel (palpation) with the topography of the cave (sensu Pettitt et al. 2014).

Perception of embodied art
What does the above reveal about how difficult/easy it was to process body art in caves, and what does this reveal about its nature? Methods from visual psychology will be used to explore how position and light influence the perception of cave art.

Long-term significance of embodied art
Exactly how did HFMs/PFMs contribute to the definition of Neanderthal ritual space? Did their nature/context change over time: did they emerge as part of a bodily exploration of cave surfaces, later to be exapted as ‘signs’? Could they therefore be regarded as an evolving form of writing?


AHRC Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership (NBDTP) Scholarship

Research interests

  • Rock Art
  • Cave Art
  • Palaeolithic Archaeology
  • Geomythology
  • Ancient Religion & Belief
  • Perception of art