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New approaches to visual imagery and monumentality in late prehistoric Europe

Computer screen showing a terrain model with site distribution points


This cluster of projects, carried out by Dr Marta Díaz-Guardamino in collaboration with colleagues from the UK, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Netherlands, Poland, and the USA, investigates the materiality and context of prehistoric art and monumentality in late prehistoric Europe (Neolithic- Bronze Age). The projects combine innovative theories (e.g. New Materialism, Globalisation) with state-of-the-art scientific techniques (e.g. digital imaging, XRF spectrometry, isotopic analysis) and multiscale frameworks of analysis to expand the capacity of visual imagery and stone monuments to inform us about key aspects of past social life. 

One strand of research is centered on visual imagery and monuments as key sources for the study of past social identities (and inequalities) and landscapes, and connectivity and cultural interaction, including the mobility of materials, people, and knowledge across late prehistoric Europe. A second related strand focuses on image-making, examining the agency of materials, techniques used in making images, skills and creativity, and the forging of communities of practice in prehistoric Europe. These projects involve extensive museum work to digitally record decorated artefacts and monuments, as well as fieldwork at various monument find-spots in western Iberia in order to understand their context.

Ancestral images in Iberian landscapes

This project (2011-2013) investigated the roles of prehistoric sculptures in the making of political landscapes in late prehistoric Iberia. New approaches to the study of prehistoric sculpture were developed, including the application of novel digital technologies and non-invasive fieldwork for improved contextualization. This was demonstrated, amongst others, through the multidisciplinary study of the ‘warrior’ stela of Mirasiviene  (Seville) and its landscape context. PI: Dr Marta Díaz-Guardamino. Funding: Spanish Government (Plan Nacional de I+D+i 2008-2011). 

Making a mark: Imagery and process in Neolithic Britain and Ireland

This project (2014-2016) carried out a holistic analysis of decorated artefacts from the British and Irish Neolithic. Dr Marta Díaz-Guardamino was Research Associate to Prof. Andrew Meirion Jones (University of Southampton, UK), PI of the project. She studied collections held in museums from across Britain and Ireland, applying digital imaging methods (RTI, SfM) and digital microscopy to record and examine the techniques used in making motifs across a range of Neolithic media (antler, chalk and other lithologies). Key outputs of this project were the creation of high quality digital datasets and the improvement of methodologies for the investigation of portable art manufacture. The project was funded by the Leverhulme Trust (RPG-2014–193).

Nature, Society and Monumentality: High resolution archaeological research of the megalithic landscapes of Antequera (Málaga, Spain)

Within this project (2014–2017), Dr Marta Díaz-Guardamino coordinated a multidisciplinary study of Almargen, a persistent place of great strategic significance in late prehistoric southern Iberia, and the involvement in multi-scale connections of the communities attached to it. PI: Leonardo García Sanjuán (University of Seville, Spain). Funding: National R&D Plan of the Spanish Government (HAR2013-45149-P).

Corporeal engagements with clay: The Neolithic figurines of Koutroulou Magoula (Greece)

The project (2015–2016), led by Prof. Yannis Hamilakis (currently at Brown University, USA), aimed to conduct a systematic study of the clay figurines recovered from Koutroulou Magoula, a Middle Neolithic site (5800-5300 BC) located in central Greece. Dr Marta Díaz-Guardamino applied digital imaging methods (RTI, multispectral imaging) to a large sample of figurines to explore the sensorial affordances and affective potential of clay figurines. The project was funded by the British Academy/Leverhulme (SG131343).

Promoting digital solutions to rock and cave art research

Dr Marta Díaz-Guardamino was Co-PI, with Prof. Alistair Pike (University of Southampton, UK), of this project (2015), which aimed to assess the utility of RTI and multispectral imaging to analyse superimposition, texture and topography of rock art panels, and to enhance motifs that are no longer clearly visible. We worked in two UNESCO World Heritage sites (Côa Valley in Portugal and El Castillo cave in Spain). Outputs included the creation of high quality datasets, the transfer of technical skills to other researchers, the development of an improved set of methodologies for the investigation of rock art sites, the celebration of a workshop for imaging, rock/cave art, and heritage specialists, and the general public at the Altamira Museum (Sept. 2015). Funding: British Academy/Leverhulme (SG132924).

Bodies of Stone: Stelae and statue-menhirs in the region of Alto Tâmega and Barroso (North of Portugal)

This project (2016-2019) aims to reconstitute the biographies of prehistoric stelae and statue-menhirs from northern Portugal through fieldwork and the detailed analysis of the sculptures’ surfaces through digital techniques. Co-PI: Dr Marta Díaz-Guardamino. Funding: Universities of Southampton, Cardiff, and Durham (UK). Direção-Geral do Património Cultural (PIPA 16/2016).

Rock Art, Words and Warriors: Rock art and maritime interaction in Atlantic Europe

Multidisciplinary research (2019-2022) investigating Late Bronze Age maritime connections in Atlantic Europe, particularly between Iberia and Scandinavia, through the analysis of rock art and the circulation of metals (copper). The work entails the application of state of the art digital technologies and archaeological science techniques, and the production of Open Access datasets. Dr Marta Díaz-Guardamino coordinates and undertakes fieldwork and outputs related to Iberia. PI: Prof. Johan Ling (University of Gothenburg, Sweden). Funding: Swedish Research Council (Ref. 2018-01387)Swedish Research Council (Ref. 2018-01387).


(various funders, as stated for each project):

Major UK collaborators

International collaborators  


Split image; on the right a GPS survey underway in the field; on the left a satellite image overlaid with site distribution data