If enthusiasm can be heard, it fairly hummed through the SHUMLA campus Book House and Pavilion Thursday afternoon, Dec. 1, as the first French/U.S. Mini-Conference on Rock Art came to a gratifying conclusion. Organizers and participants alike were effusive in their praise.
A glance at the five-day agenda (Nov. 28 - Dec. 2) only suggests that the presentations were as distinctive as the participants were diverse. Attention of the dozen scientists from France, Australia and the United States was riveted, for example, on Genevieve Pinçon, PhD, archeology research engineer in the French Ministry of Culture and Communications, presenting startling conclusions and beautiful photographs of 40,000-year-old cave carvings in the middle-western region of her country.
Australian researcher Dr. Jo McDonald presents to conference participants in SHUMLA's Book House. Photograph by Bill Sontag.
Australian archeologist Jo McDonald, PhD, currently a visiting scholar at University of California, Berkeley, reported on research challenges, such as unrestrained mining and poorly developed tourism, in two different research contexts. With results from the Dampier Archipelago, a heavily industrialized zone on the west coast of her country, McDonald stunned the scientists with her documentation of 3,500 motifs in 12.4 acres of intensive survey and recording. The Dampier Archipelago has been described as "one of the densest rock art provinces in the world."
SHUMLA Executive Director Dr. Carolyn Boyd introduces French, Australian and American researchers to Panther Cave. Photograph by Dave Gage.
SHUMLA Executive Director Carolyn Boyd, PhD, introduced the group to the sprawling Lower Pecos archeological region and her current research into narratives depicted in more than 250 known rock art sites. Boyd and SHUMLA Research Board Chairman Elton Prewitt guided the dozen visitors to three major rock art sites: Panther Cave, White Shaman and Painted Shelter, describing detailed methodologies developed to document image characteristics in unprecedented detail.
Philippe Walter, PhD, is research director, Center for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France, located in the famed Louvre Museum, Paris. During the conference's wrap-up session, Thursday, Walter told the group he sees success on the horizon by blending all participants' expertise as a team. "Then we can have a total project." At dinner that night in the SHUMLA campus pavilion, Walter added, "Now we can create something new, a project on which to collaborate. We have to find the best case and the best place, without constraints, to develop such interdisciplinary research."
SHUMLA Board President Elton Prewitt, NSF Archaeology and Archaeometry Program Director Dr. John Yellen and Dr. Meg Conkey discuss pictographs at Painted Shelter. Photograph by Dave Gage.
The French-U.S. Mini-Conference portends future collaboration among participating nations, according to National Science Foundation Archeology Program Director John Yellen, PhD. "This is the first step in showing complementarity of archeology between France and the United States," Yellen said at the conclusion of presentations.
The Mini-Conference was supported in part by an $18,000 National Science Foundation grant, as well transportation arrangements from Europe by Consul General of France Frédéric Bontems, Houston consulate. According to Yellen, the French National Center of Scientific Research provided funding amounting to 10,000 Euros ($13,400 U.S.). SHUMLA's investment included lodging accommodations, conference meeting sites, transportation to field sites, and staff support. Sumptuous food preparations were arranged by head cook Donna Mueller, particularly appreciated by the participants who slept at night in a horseshoe arrangement of ten tents about 100 yards from the heated buildings.
Mini-Conference moderator Meg Conkey, PhD, University of California, Berkeley, assessed the overall success of the efforts: "In many ways the conference was much more successful than I could have imagined because the ambiance (to use a French word) was so supportive, and so charged with intellectual curiosity about the work of others and how it could be used, adapted and/or advanced for the study of rock art." She added, "There were no singular 'big men' nor a single way of looking at the research. Everyone was genuinely interested in what others brought to the conference ... If I do say so, the schedule that had us balance each day with presentations at SHUMLA, and visiting sites off campus, really gave the conference some 'glue' and stimulation. That's why having it at Shumla was so key."
Researchers visit the White Shaman site. Photograph by Dave Gage.
Boyd observed, "On Thursday afternoon during our wrap-up session, there was total agreement that we must move forward with a collaborative project between the US and France. We are currently exploring the possibility of working together as a team--drawing from everyone's specific areas of expertise, to create a research design or program for a rock art site here in the Lower Pecos, one in France, and one in Australia. The potential of such collaboration would be magnificent."
Conkey concurs with Boyd and all the participants who voiced consensus to continue. "So, what might come from this? Well, everyone is anxious to perhaps collaborate together on an interpretation of some 'new'(not yet researched or studied well) sites -- to bring our different perspectives and methods to bear and to work on them collaboratively."