Canterbury rock art recognised

Professor Jean Clottes investigating rock art at Craigmore. Photo by Dr Yann-Pierre Montelle

Professor Jean Clottes investigating rock art at Craigmore. Photo by Dr Yann-Pierre Montelle

Renowned French archaeologist and cave art authority, Professor Jean Clottes, is keen to put Māori rock art on the international stage and create international opportunities for a young Ngāi Tahu researcher.

Professor Clottes, who works as a rock art expert for UNESCO, spent two weeks visiting Māori rock art sites in both the North and South Islands last year and was impressed by what he saw.

Dr Clottes has worked extensively in the Chauvet Cave in France, which was recently made famous by Wener Herzog’s movie, ”Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” and on seeing the Opihi Taniwha – the first rock art site he visited here he could say little more than ‘Oh wow!’

Dr Clottes had had little knowledge of Māori rock art before arriving in New Zealand and after visiting 30 South Canterbury sites, he was hugely impressed.

“I had read some papers but really, I knew very little about Māori rock art and that’s the best way. It’s much better to be exposed to the art with the people who know it. What strikes me most is the originality. You never have two forms of rock art (around the world) that are the same.”

Throughout his tour of New Zealand, Dr Clottes met with New Zealand researchers specialising in archaeology and explored Māori rock art sites in both islands. For much of his trip, he was accompanied by Christchurch-based French archaeologist, Dr Yann-Pierre Montellle, of Canterbury University, who has also studied rock art for many years.

Dr Montelle says Professor Clottes “has the mana to put Māori rock art on the international map.” Professor Clottes, who edits the International Newsletter on Rock Art, has already proposed that he use an image of Māori rock art on the three 2014 issues of the French/English publication, which is distributed in 108 countries.

Jean Clottes and Brian Allingham (SIMRAP). Photo by Yann-Pierre Montelle.

Jean Clottes and Brian Allingham (SIMRAP). Photo by Yann-Pierre Montelle.

Dr Montelle says that by coming here and seeing the complexities and the richness of Māori rock art, Dr Clottes has “given credential to future studies”.
“His mana will ripple around the world and the consequences for Māori rock art will be very positive.”

The key issue facing Māori rock art is its continued preservation. Te Ana Ngāi Tahu Rock Arts Centre curator, Amanda Symon, says that the main thing learned from Dr Clottes’ visit was that recording the art (as Ngai Tahu has been doing through the South Island Māori Rock Art Project for 20 years) is crucial, as the conservation of the sites is incredibly complex, and requires a lot of resources and expertise (that we currently lack in New Zealand).

“It was great to have our efforts affirmed by a man of his stature in the rock art world. From the perspective of our Te Ana guides, Jean’s visit provided a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the place of our rock art in a world context, and gave a real boost in pride and confidence in their work,” she says.

Amanda says she hopes the professor’s visit will raise the profile of Maori rock art on both the world stage (which opens doors in terms of international sources of funding and expertise), and locally / nationally, which she says helps to affirm the significance and value of these taonga in the eyes of local landowners, and those people and organisations involved in their protection and management.

You can find out more about Canterbury Māori rock art by visiting the Te Anma Rock Art Centre in Timaru.