The Mind in the Vulva: Androcentric Interpretations of Prehistoric Imagery

Summer 2013

Nada Hosking : Anthropology, History of Art

Mentor: Lisa Maher, Anthropology

Research related to prehistoric “image-making” is constructed around a patriarchal scientific tradition of discourse. In 2007, archaeologists once more imposed “vulva” symbolism on an abstract engraving on a rock at Abri Castanet, perpetuating the assumption that Upper Palaeolithic societies perceived the world through a similar cultural screen to our own. Using the so-called vulva engravings as an example, my project asks: How can contemporary patriarchal values that have been dominating the interpretation of pre-historic imagery be re-evaluated? My project culminates in a senior honors thesis that aims at re-examining the dominant narrative imposed on Upper Palaeolithic engravings, and sparking alternative interpretations that would take our archaeological mind out of the vulva.

"I am sincerely honored to have been selected as a recipient of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, as it enables me to follow my passion and immerse myself in the study of images from the Paleolithic period. This fellowship also gives me the opportunity to get a feel for the art in person while visiting prehistory museums, and relevant Upper Palaeolothic sites in France. I’m most grateful to my formal and informal advisors in both fields of anthropology and history of art, who have been very generous with their time, and are committed to helping me succeed. I also would like to thank the SURF donors for their support, and for making it possible for me to experience firsthand independent research, which will allow me to gain invaluable skills that I will take with me into graduate school."