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Hand stencils and communal history: A case study from Auwim, East Sepik, Papua New Guinea

  • Tsang, Roxanne
  • Katuk, Sebastien
  • May, Sally
  • Taçon, Paul S.C.
  • Ricaut, François‐xavier
  • Leavesley, Matthew
Publication Date
Mar 20, 2023
DOI: 10.1002/arco.5287
OAI: oai:HAL:hal-04051891v1
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Hand stencils directly represent modern humans in landscape settings around the world. Yet their social and cultural contexts are often overlooked due to the lack of ethnography associated with the artwork. This paper explores the hand stencils from Kundumbue and Pundimbung rock art sites, situated in the traditional boundaries of the Auwim people in the East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea. Combining archaeological rock art analysis with ethnographic knowledge, we demonstrate that the hand stencils are a priority in each clan's place-making practices, around which they construct the community's social narratives. Rock shelters and their rock art also show a form of communal history that is evoked through their production in contemporary settings, in addition to having been a form of esoteric magic in the past. We conclude that hand stencils can have multiple meanings over time and across space as a widespread cultural marker. However, aspects of the identities of individuals, groups and communities who created the now static hand imagery, remain in place.

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