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date: 16 April 2021

Abstract and Keywords

The human ability to represent concepts through image-making seems pivotal for enabling the formation of complex cultures. This chapter is concerned with the important but permeable boundaries between and around the categories of ‘art’ and ‘writing’. The writing:art/sign:symbol distinction has been fundamental to the location of the survey points forming the boundaries between archaeology and its siblings, e.g. philology, classics and ancient history, and to some extent anthropology. Contemporary notions of art and writing are contrasted with those of past societies and how image-bearing objects differ from other kinds of material culture. The question of when a drawing of something becomes part of a writing system and the types of literacy required to understand linguistic signs are also considered. Sociological and anthropological approaches to art and contemporary theories of visual culture are evaluated for the ways in which these can contribute to archaeological discourse on sign and symbol as a branch of material culture studies.

Keywords: art, writing, sign, symbol, visual culture, materiality, practice theory

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