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  • KIBO—Le serment gravé: Essai de synthèse sur les pétroglyphes calédoniens
  • Yann-Pierre Montelle
KIBO—Le serment gravé: Essai de synthèse sur les pétroglyphes calédoniens. Jean Monnin and Christophe Sand, eds. Les Cahiers de l'Archéologie en Nouvelle-Calédonie 16, 2004.

It is common sense that "digging a hole"1 on a surface like the face of a boulder guarantees the permanence of a message written in stone—a perennial memory. In a certain [End Page 123] way, this is what the authors of this remarkable book have accomplished. Their recording campaigns and sophisticated synthesizing have resulted in the production of a work that is here to stay, firmly anchored in the pantheon of seminal works in rock art research. This book, I predict, will become a reference book for rock art students. My humble recommendation would be to translate this work into English.

Chapter 1 dissects the "hermeneutic" abuses perpetuated under colonial agendas and/or misguided scholarship. From this chapter, we learn that writing about alterity (otherness) is a complicated process in which the writer needs to remain shielded from the political and racial a priori of the time. Recontextualizing the voice of the author within the ideological currents of the time is a very effective process to relativize the erroneous statements and racial declamations that might offend the potential reader.

It is interesting to realize that until recently, the Kanaks were given no history and were assumed to have been a late wave of incoming population with no affiliation whatsoever with the archaeological records. The authors have made a good case against this racial prejudice by showing that absence of evidence does not equate to evidence of absence. In their justified approach, the waves of colonialization in the last few centuries have resulted in a traumatic collapse of internal knowledge.

Archaeological evidence from Lapita potsherds to land tenure would indicate that, contrary to common belief, the Kanaks are the direct descendants of the first settlers c. 3,000 years ago,2 and they undoubtedly started the practice of writing messages on the stones. The authors, however, are well aware that it might take more than a book to bring down the rooted erroneous beliefs that the Kanaks are the perpetuators of a cultural regression brought about by a lack of oral tradition, suffer from an obvious lack of aesthetic concerns and technological knowledge, and ultimately display a total lack of interest in regard to the petroglyphs.3 By the end of the chapter, the authors have succeeded in resituating the evidence in a more empirical framework and minimizing the effects of these erroneous apriorities.

In chapter 2, the reader is invited to enter into the crux of the synthesis with an archaeological inventory of the known petroglyphs in New Caledonia. After defining their terms4 and setting up the "workspace" and methodologies, the authors provide 67 pages of systematic mapping and plotting for all identified petroglyphs. For each region, a local map is provided that helps situate the sites. Perhaps a larger map showing the full extent of these areas would have enhanced the reader's appreciation for the overall geographical configuration, which is thoroughly discussed further on in chapter 5 (see pages 203 to 205).

Chapter 3 is dedicated to the typology of the known petroglyphs. The authors have opted for a typology based on the analysis of the shapes of recurring motifs. The results are 40 divisions that are rigid enough to present categories but flexible enough to provide a suitable ground for subtle variations within given categories. The danger with categorizing is that it can end up being an exercise in futility (tiré par les cheveux), due primarily to the fact that each element of the categories often presents variations that defy categorization. But here the authors have established a taxonomy that survives trivialization. It operates within a system of classification that uses a precise yet generic typology. Table 3.8 (p. 174) offers an interesting synthesis of the authors' effort. Categories 1, 3, 4, and 5 are the most represented. These are the spirals, the cross ("enveloped" crosses), the ellipses (with axial segment), and...