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Reviewed by:
  • Rock Carvings in Hong Kong by William Meacham
  • Christopher Davis
Rock Carvings in Hong Kong. William Meacham. Hong Kong: Meacham Publications, 2009. 168pp. ISBN 978-9-881-73242-2.

Very little is known internationally about the rock art traditions of Southeast Asia, and even less about the rock art specific to the coastal shores of Hong Kong. The majority of the rock art sites discussed by Meacham are located on the islands of Hong Kong in the South China Sea. However, he also includes other known sites in the surrounding region, including those that have been recorded in Taiwan. The catalogue of regional sites makes this book useful to any researcher of rock art worldwide who would like to compare the archaeological contexts and thematic elements in this region to work that has been done elsewhere on cultural practices of rock art and their expression of ideas about local environments and the supernatural. Dual language texts in English and Chinese are accompanied by beautiful photographs, illustrating nearly every other page.

All of the rock art images are petroglyphs, although some of the walls where they appear also seem to be stained with red, orange, yellow, purple, or brownish hues. Some stains are polychromatic in adjacent vertical or diagonal bands or spots, and at times the stains appear to be strongly weathered. However, no discussion of the stains (e.g., whether they were artificially applied to the surface of the rock, or if they occur naturally as lichen growth on the surface, or if they are natural hues in the rock matrix) is provided. The petroglyphs are typically referred to as carvings, indicating the author’s belief that abrading the surface with a harder engraver material produced them, although “pitting” designs are discussed as having been formed either naturally or through pecking (p. 84). A few motif terms are used, such as “cup-like hollows” to refer to cupules, and “game-boards” to refer to multichambered geometric patterns to which the author applies a functional analogy from a modern cultural practice of drawing a checkerboard on a surface to play a game. Meacham also attempts to assign the petroglyphs to particular chronological styles based on the presence of any combination of three broad motif categories: geometric, zoomorphic, or emblematic motifs. The challenge of categorizing is due in part to several petroglyphs that begin with one design and continue into another (e.g., blending a zoomorphic design into a geometric pattern along a single engraved line). Other general descriptive terms used by Meacham include: curvilinear, rectilinear, pits, grooves, and swirls. The last term does not appear to differentiate between the continuous spirals or the S-shaped spirals that can be visibly distinguished in the photographs. All rock art images are displayed in either black-and-white or color photographs, and one image is a digital artistic rendition.

At the beginning of the book, Meacham informs the reader that the majority of these photos were taken during the 1970s. He does not provide the reader with specfic reasons for the delay in publication and impetus for self-publication here, although they may be implied in his remarks in the appendix [End Page 371] wherein he unleashes frustration with the Antiquities Advisory Board of the Hong Kong and Macau governments for botched attempts to conserve Hong Kong’s rock carvings. He brings attention to the follies of their installed drainage systems, concrete platforms, Perspex encasements, cement blocks, latex molds, and chemical surface treatments, which he suggests were actually detrimental to the preservation of the petroglyphs. These recent conservation efforts also prevent scholars from taking unobstructed photographs of the petroglyphs today. Meacham notes the potential degrading effects these well-meaning but misguided attempts to protect the petroglyphs have not only on the art itself but also on the natural landscape, although he attempts to be even-handed by noting criticisms of his own methods in the 1970s (i.e., highlighting the carvings with chalk to enhance visibility). However, Meacham does not offer any specific alternative methods to preserve the rock art sites, instead suggesting the government should “consult specialists” on the matter.

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