Grant S. McCall 1996
This is the result of a good deal of research that went into a paper I presented to my institution, the John Burroughs School. During the research, I became aware of a great many faults in the study of rock art. This was not the subject of the paper I presented, nor does the paper I presented resemble very closely this piece. While I am very harsh toward these faults, I wish that folk not take it personally. This is a personal view of Rupestrian Archeology, intended to initiate discourse and debate. Only through argument does one see the faults in his own ideas, and I am aware of many faults with mine. So please, do not be offended by my argument. If you find fault with my argument, bring it to my attention. Now, on with the text.
The study of rock art is a subject that can easily fade from a pure science to a field of quackery. This has one simple reason: there is so little hard, factual, non-circumstantial evidence concerning any rock art that one is pushed to guessing. In nearly every case around the world, there is no way to ask the artist what he intended by his work, what ceremonies revolved around it (or vice-versa), and what significance rock art had to his or her community. A researcher is very hard pressed to keep his own prejudices out of his interpretation because of this void of evidence. Unfortunately for the field of rock art research, people have not always resisted this temptation. As I have pointed out before, the most eminent researcher of his era, Abbe Brueil, was once so convinced that Greeks or Phoenicians were the people behind the rock art of southern Africa that he turned a reasonably normal San rock painting into the "White Lady." The "White Lady" was neither white nor a lady, but Brueil needed evidence that the paintings were of Mediterranean origin, and that was the closest thing (albeit not that close, really). Thus, it is easy to understand why the study of rock art has been seen as a field of idiots.
If rock art is a field that forces scholars to become such idiots, why study it then? If, after almost a century of research, we have discovered almost nothing giving us insight into the significance of rock art, why persist? This has a complicated answer. I will propose in this paper that rock art is the destruction of a barrier. The barrier that I originally intended was the barrier between the spirit world and this world. However, I have come to realize that rock art is the destruction of another barrier. This barrier is between the long forgotten and unimaginable world of the hunter-gatherer and our world of high comfort and technology. Rock art gives us a window directly into the mind of an artist who lived a way of life so far removed from ours that one can no longer fathom it, and a way of life that our species evolved originally to fill. Rock art is a resource that, if approached properly, will give us vast insight directly into this mode of existence that has been unspeakably important to mankind. It behooves us to study it.
Rock art, which shows itself to be a legitimate field of study daily, suffers from a lack of proper organization. To this day, I know of no true department of Rock Art Research at any university. There are merely research units. Full departments dedicated to the study of rock art would bring about great advancement, certainly. Yet, no university would dedicate a full department to a field of idiocy such as rock art. There is a prejudice which runs deep to this day that must be overcome.
Also, one finds quickly that decent theories are accepted with great difficulty by the rock art illuminati. I will propose in this paper that the rock art was the work of spiritual leaders cum doctors known as shamans. This idea has been argued very strongly since the sixties and has earned a degree of acceptance in most circles. Yet, I witnessed a lecture at the St. Louis Art Museum recently, given by a Dr. Freeman from the University of Chicago, in which the idea of shamanism was thrashed brutally. Dr. Freeman charged the shamanism theory with the same charges that I have laid upon Abbe Brueil.(1) (It is worthy of note that Dr. Freeman came closer to proving the shamanism theory than he did his own.) It is hard to imagine that a theory as vital to the foundation of rock art research as shamanism could still struggle to gain any acceptance.
Furthermore, there is no unity between researchers on different continents. Each continent seems to have its own set of theories about the cause and interpretation of rock art. For instance, in southern Africa, shamanism is the accepted theory, while a few remain skeptical. In Europe, shamanism is accepted by a few, and rejected by a similar number still favoring sympathetic magic or simple narrative explanations. In America, there many who are willing to associate shamanism with some of the rock art, but they find other explanations more plausible for the majority of rock art. This brings me to the final pillar of the argument that I will present. Rock art everywhere across the globe shares more than a medium. The imagery and themes are startlingly similar. There is little rock art which can thematically be identified with a geographic area. For instance, where does the rock art of southern Africa cease to be southern African and become eastern African? Where does the eastern African rock art become northern African? Where does the northern African become Spanish? Where does the Spanish become French? French, Mediterranean? Mediterranean, Middle Eastern? Middle Eastern, Indian? Indian, Chinese? Chinese, Siberian? Siberian, North American? North American, Middle American? Middle American, South American? The pattern should be visible by now. There are few hard boundaries in rock art stylism. Whereas, I think one could find definite stylistic boundaries for Greek vase painting as opposed to contemporary Chinese pottery, or Italian Renaissance sculpture as opposed to contemporary West African sculpture. Rock art themes are practically constant throughout the world, while techniques and styles on a larger level are extremely similar as well. I therefore assert that rock art is something of a reflex common to all mankind. I think one must assume that all artists had similar motives.
These were my basic desires in addressing rock art in terms of the entire planet. There is no real difference in the basic practices responsible for rock art around the world. This is a bold statement, but one I intend to argue.
Before I present my theory, it is necessary to present the opposing theories. It is necessary because my theory does not fit in all cases, and it is imperfect. The other theories, correct or incorrect, often explain instances of rock art more easily, which is not to say better, but certainly with a lesser degree of abstractness. Thus I cannot rule them out in all cases, and I will go as far as to say that they are correct in certain cases. Furthermore, by examining the opposing theories, one may better see their flaws, how they are inadequate, and how another theory is more adequate.
There are a few themes in the rock art that help a viewer to understand it. The list of themes to be presented is not all-inclusive. These themes are presented because they particularly shed light on the rock art. Much of the rock art is very explainable through common sense. This art would seem not to be a problem to the interpreter. However, much of the rock art is composed of geometric forms, such as circles, spirals, crosses, gridirons, zigzags, and the like, which are seemingly beyond comprehension of today's viewer. These are referred to as "entopic" phenomena. In addition, there are many instances of surreal situations being presented. These include depicting an animal in x-ray form, i.e. shown without flesh, only bones. There are upside down animals. Most importantly, there are anthropomorphic figures, combining features of human and animal. Also, there are many examples of superimposition, where an artist has put his image on top of another depiction. These themes are crucial to the interpretation of the rock art.
These concentric circles are an excellent example of entoptic phenomena. These particular circle are from North America, but extremely similar circles can be observed on any continent.
This is probably the most famous example of x-ray style art. It comes from Siberia. More x-ray images will be presented later.
These eland are depicted at several attitudes, with no relationship to the ground. This image comes from Tynindini, South Africa. Photograph by A.R. Willcox.
This image from Les Trois Freres cave in Europes represents a wonderful therianthrope.
The longest held idea (I say "idea" for it is not as formal as a theory) is that all rock art is a factual narrative of notable experiences. This idea dictates that early man wanted decoration for his dwelling, and, in a fashion similar to the stuccoes of Italy, early man depicted entertaining things on his wall. This has rock art practically as a mnemonic device.
This idea makes good logical sense.(2) The depictions of hunting scenes are merely good hunts worthy of remembering. The fighting scenes are memorable battles. The occurrences of game are tasty meals the early hunter happened across. The dances depicted were particularly enjoyable social events. In the cases of rock art traditions coming in contact with Western people, there are depictions of covered wagons or ships. All of these such depictions are explained easily with a narrative method, and that accounts for this idea's most seductive aspects.
There are more puzzling images however. The upside-down animals were perhaps symbols for dead animals, or game driven off of a cliff. The anthropomorphic figures were perhaps men in masks. The x-ray things were just that-- a hunter-gatherer must have seen the inside of things on a regular basis. These are more abstract explanations, but still somewhat sensible. Then there are puzzling geometric forms, or entopic phenomena. Perhaps these things are symbols that are long forgotten and unable to be understood today. Perhaps they are just doodles. There are no sensible interpretations of these forms using narrative ideas.
The narrative idea explains a good deal of the rock art straight away. The idea comes up a little short when considering many ideas, such as upside-down animals. They require more far fetched explanations. Then there is the entopic phenomena which lacks an explanation entirely with the narrative idea. I believe the concept of ruthless documentation of one's existence to be a semi-modern western phenomenon. Things such as the entopics and superimposed images tend suggest that the rock art is not so mnemonic, nor is it meant to be read from left to right.
However, the narrative idea is very convincing on the surface. Scholars gravitate to it because it fits ideas we follow today. We can imagine ourselves recording notable happenings in such a manner, and we do so regularly. That makes the idea very hard for us to shake. It appeals to us because we can intuitively understand it.
A competing, and slightly more abstract, theory is sympathetic magic. Sympathetic magic involves the early hunter attempting to bring about his desires by depicting them on the rock. This idea is clearly visible in much of the modern media, in the cases of sporting events and the like.
This theory interprets game animals and hunting scenes as the success that hunter wished to bring about. Most followers of this theory do not carry it as far as to say that the depiction of a dance scene is intended to bring about a good dance. The theory falls short in many of the same respects that the narrative idea does, such as the entopic phenomena, and other abstract forms. It borrows from the narrative often to explain things beyond the bounds of the sympathetic magic.
The theory basically arose for the interpretation of European cave paintings, in which there is an emphasis on game animals, and hunting scenes. Some researchers then applied it elsewhere,(3) but it makes the most sense in the European theater.
Where hunting scenes are to be found in great number, sympathetic magic makes a good deal of intuitive sense, and it is easily comprehensible to modern folk. As I maintain, however, though the content of the art on different continents may not be the same, the practice the artist was involved in was. I doubt that artists in Europe created their art with sympathetic magic in mind, while North American artists had in mind something different.
There are numerous other theories particular to certain sites. For instance, many of the entopic depictions have been interpreted as astronomical charts. Some rock art has become so abstracted, even in the depiction of naturally occurring figures, that some have been prompted to interpret certain rock art as a symbolic language. In the deserts of Israel, there are petroglyphs that have even been associated with the Exodus of the Old Testament. Individual theories unique to a site oftentimes pop up, and they usually make a degree of sense in context. I still maintain that there is a universal thread between most of the sites on the planet.
Most of the theories emerging would be quite reasonable if it were not for the idea that the site-specific theory was not able to explain the broad phenomena of rock art. It is therefore necessary to prove my assertion about the lack of hard boundaries between styles any themes.
There are no hard boundaries of a thematic nature. I am probably the first to state this outright, but I am not the first to have thought it. This idea has been traditionally dealt with by a theory calling for the "diffusion" of the rock art industry. (4) This theory usually has rock art beginning in the caves of Europe and diffusing south into Africa, and East into Asia, Australia, and the Americas. The idea is often defended with the notion that the European art predates the other cultures, and the dates approach modern the further one gets from Europe. Recent discoveries have put into question whether Europe indeed predates the rock art of other regions. I put little stock in the diffusion theory as it stands. I think that the phenomenon responsible for rock art is a necessary cog to all hunter-gatherers. It is, on an over-simplified level, similar to mankind's common need to communicate with speech. Perhaps rock art technology and stylistic tendencies do diffuse (and even then technology and style move up and down the chain, not merely down). This is a nauseating Euro-centric theory with only a minor degree of truth. However, the basic idea behind it is important.
Examples of thematic similarities between continents are easily found. For instance, the x-ray style figures are found in Europe, northern Africa (I believe in southern Africa as well, but I have no proof), Asia, Australia, and the Americas. The x-ray theme is not a broad idea. It is very specific, as themes go. Such an abstract theme being common to so many vastly different cultures is fascinating and difficult to fathom. It is believed that there must be some specific idea or practice to account for a theme that one would consider so obscure.(5)
These images, from top to bottom, from southern France, Norway, Siberia, and New Zealand. The first image is particularly interesting, because it carries the x-ray metaphor on two level. It depicts bones, and it was done on a bone itself.
A more general example of a universal theme is the entopic phenomena. Entopic images are common to all rock art cultures. One wonders what meaning could be common to all rock art cultures in these very puzzling images. Since the forms are identical throughout the world, it seems doubtful that entirely different practices produced them.
I think that it is very likely that cultures sharing the same hunter-gatherer way of life are driven by the same reasons to create rock art. This is not simply to say that all hunter-gatherers are bound to make extremely similar rock art merely by virtue of being hunter-gatherers. However, the concerns of hunter-gatherers across the globe are very similar. Intuitively, hunter-gatherers must find and seize food. Hence the availability of game is important. Disease would be a monstrous handicap to a culture without medical means of cure. The health of a culture's region would dictate the health of the people there. Therefore, correct amounts of precipitation would be extremely important. Because of these needs, most hunter-gatherer religions are fairly alike, revolving around these happenings. I think that most rock art is derived from this somewhat universal practice of religion.
This image from the Sahara clearly depicts a shaman attracting game -in this case an ostrich- onto his clans hunting ground.
Almost all hunter-gatherer peoples follow the practice known as shamanism. Spencer L. Rogers makes the claim that almost all societies, hunter-gatherer or not, still have shamans. (6) He claims that even the words "wizard" and "witch" were Anglo-Saxon terms for shamans.
It is not my purpose to define every aspect of shamanism, and such an idea would be worthy of several volumes unto itself. However, I will describe shamanism briefly. Shamanism involves a sort of priest or witch-doctor called a shaman attempting to manipulate the circumstances out of natural control. A shaman would accomplish these goals by descending into a trance, in some areas caused by extended periods of dancing, deprivation of food and water, exposure to extreme heat, or hallucinogens. During this trance, a shaman experiences a dream-like state very similar to those described by LSD users, and the shaman thinks of himself as descending into the spirit world. In the spirit world, a shaman might attempt to do such things as heal the sick, bring or dismiss rain, or attract game. Clearly, having some control of these random variables for a hunter-gatherer would be very important, and I think this is why shamanism is common to all hunter-gatherers.
This action of affecting the random aspects of life during a trance serves several purposes. In the case of curing sickness, the shaman alters the subconscious state of the patient by entering the trance and "curing" the illness. The shaman, in a sense, tricks the patient into thinking he has been cured. Considering the recent emphasis placed on psychosomatic disorder, and psychological healing of physiological problems in modern medicine, a shaman could be relatively effective in this manner of treatment.(7) One cannot defend the specific effectiveness of the shaman in his other desires in the same manner. A shaman certainly would not be able to alter the weather, or attract game during a trance. However, he might be able to soothe his clan, anxious over these factors. For hunter-gatherers to be effective, it is important to have a clear mind, not clouded by such anxiety. So in relieving the worries of his clan, the shaman is also effective.
The visions seen during a trance must certainly be very complicated and difficult to accurately explain. However, a shaman's value lies in his ability to alter the subconscious state of his people. This is, in my opinion, the basic reason for the existence of rock art. The shaman uses rock art to express the visions of his trance. The most eminent scholar of shamanism, Andreas Lommel, has argued that expressing visions from a trance is the root of all art.(8)
The idea of shamanism fits my first criterion. Shamanism was, and, in many cases, still is a phenomenon common to all hunter-gatherers on all continents.(9) Hence, if rock art is associated with shamanism, this would explain the occurrence of rock art everywhere on the globe. One can assume that shamans had similar sets of goals for the entering of the trance. This would explain the similarity in themes between regions.
J.D. Lewis-Williams was one of the first proponents of the theory of shamanism in rock art.(10) Lewis-Williams studied for a long time the rock art of the Drakensberg in South Africa, known to be the work of relatively recent San tribes or Bushmen. When he looked into the rock art of Tanzania, Lewis-Williams saw that it was practically the same as the rock art of the Drakensberg. He reckoned that there was a "pan-San cognitive system." On this basis, he showed copies of this rock art to remaining tribes of San who were not rock artists. The San immediately recognized the depictions as being the product of a shamanistic ceremony. This ceremony is usually referred to a "trance dance," and it involves shamans dancing in order to enter the afore-described trance, and thereby experience the characteristic religious visions. When Lewis-Williams applied this shamanistic practice to the rock art of southern Africa, he found that it fit extremely well, and this can be counted as one of the few major breakthroughs in the field of rock art research.
Rather than simply argue for a "pan-San" cognitive system, I have chosen to argue for a "pan-human" cognitive system. I am obviously not arguing that all rock art was the work of San tribesmen. One who is anal could probably find (though it would be extremely difficult) slight differences between the rock art done by San, and the rock art done by other ethnic backgrounds. However, the modern San represent a way of life in which shamanism is the key intellectual condition. Ethnographic differences have only limited effects on rock art. The key to rock art is the practice of shamanism common to the earliest artists of Europe, and the modern San of Africa.
It is useful, on some level, to try to separate the rock art of ethnographic groups, and approach the rock art from the point of view of that ethnographic group. Clearly, this was absolutely key in the breakthrough of Dr. Lewis-Williams. There has to be a degree of regionality to the research. I mean not to argue that all rock art can be interpreted in exactly the same way. There are clearly regional idiosyncrasies. I merely argue rock art is the product of the same basic practice.
One of the themes common to all rock art is the entopic phenomenon. Lewis-Williams realized quickly that the entopic depictions in southern African rock art were the result of neuro-psychological phenomena experienced in the early stages of a shamanic trance. To explain further, in the early stages of a trance, a shaman sees geometric forms very similar to the ones found in rock art. So Lewis-Williams reasoned that the entopic depictions were the result of the trance dance.
Furthermore, there were clear depictions of the trance dance itself. Lewis-Williams found figures with blood pouring from their noses, as is characteristic of one entering the trance. This shed light on figures of animals with such blood flowing from their snout. In trances, shamans often transform themselves into various kinds of animals. This explained remarkably the depictions of man-animal combinations, therianthropes. Shamans often attempt to bring rain by killing what is known as a "rain bull." A "rain bull" is a mythical creature that combines the features of several different animals (usually bovids). When one kills the rain bull, it bleeds, and the blood becomes rain. Many depictions of this were immediately visible. Hence, almost all southern African rock art became explicable by the trance dance.
Lewis-Williams also noticed similarities (mainly the entopic phenomena) between the rock art of southern Africa and that of Europe. Thus he surmised that shamanism was also practiced by the European rock artists. Indeed, there are entopic forms to be found around the world. Indeed, almost if not all of these trance-induced forms are common to all regions.
Even the petroglygh displayed on this logo is a trance-induced form. Notice the lines emerging from the figure's head. Those are probably lines indicating the feeling of the spirit leaving the body often felt during a trance.
I am basically a researcher of African rock art. That is my first field. However, being a resident and citizen of America, I have little contact with African rock art. So, I began to study the rock art of the rest of the world, mainly America. When I came into contact with other regions' rock art, I naturally assumed that theories similar to that of J.D. Lewis-Williams were the norm for them as well. I made this natural assumption because I saw the very same themes in American rock art that I did in southern Africa. It never occurred to me that any different idea could possibly explain them. When I heard of the leading theories, however, I realized that shamanism was not among them.
Most researchers of American rock art tended to favor a more narrative theory of interpretation. The largest part of rock art was perceived to serve a mnemonic function. Some people continued this thought by claiming to find astronomical symbols in the entopic phenomena. Some claimed that there was even a symbolic language present. Some claimed that many of the more complicated items were clan symbols, perhaps denoting boundaries. Many saw the depictions of therianthropes as mythical creatures. A few explained some of the American rock art with sympathetic magic. Most researchers (of those who even acknowledge the shamanism theory at all) give shamanism only a minor role in the interpretations of American rock art.
I was nearly ready to give up my notion that shamanism was responsible for the rock art of America until I happened across a work by the renowned researcher Ken Hedges. Hedges explained many of the motifs of rock art with shamanism in exactly the same way that I would have.(11) It confirmed my notion as not merely an idiosyncratic neurosis.
The entopic phenomena are explained in the same manner presented before. The therianthropes, including the mythical "Thunderbird," are easily explained by shamans transforming into other creatures. In addition, there are numerous depictions of men being lead about by animals. This is explained by a tradition common to many Native American tribes known as a spirit guide. Once in a trance, a shaman is met and led about by spirit guides in animal form. The phenomena of superimposition, which was not satisfactorily explained with any other theory, is explained very well with shamanism. Shamans often encounter feelings of movement and transparency during the trance, and superimposition is a metaphor for this feeling. Shamanism also explained the x-ray images which were mentioned earlier. During a trance, a shaman often sees himself or another creature mutilated in a cycle of death and rebirth. This often includes seeing nothing left of mutilated thing but its bones.
This is a remarkable example of a "Thunderbird" Alamackee County, Iowa. It seems likely that the depictions of such birds are metaphors for the sensation of flight common to trancing shamans.
The x-ray images caught my attention, then. For the x-ray motif is common to all rock art cultures except southern Africa. Ignoring its absence in southern Africa for the moment, the x-ray motif's appearance on such a broad scale implies shamanism in every regions. The renowned scholar of world mythology, Joseph Campbell interprets the x-ray theme to even prove the existence of shamanism across the globe.(12)
This thought was supported when I heard of a certain Australian practice. Shamans of the Aranda tribe who have received their avocation are called upon to, in a dream state, to go to the mouth of a cave where they are killed. Their internal organs are then removed and a whole new set is installed. These new organs, along with an assortment of magic stones, revive the shaman. The shaman is then free to pursue the training he needs to be a shaman. I believe this to be basically the practice behind the x-ray images. Obviously, there would be regional and temporal variations on this, but the basic idea is there.
Therianthropes are present in all rock art traditions, as I've stated before. They are extremely visible in most painted caves of Europe. One of the more famous examples of therianthropic phenomena occurs at the cave of Les Trois Freres. Perhaps the most famous therianthrope in all rock art occurs here. The figure shares clearly the features of bison and human, and plays a musical bow. I interpret this as a shaman transformed or transforming into a bison in an attempt to attract the game depicted around it.
This figure shown earlier is clearly a shaman for one reason beside its anthropomorphic nature. This is the musical bow it is carrying, which would be standard equipment for a trancing shaman, especially if the trance is achieved using musical means, as it is amongst the San.
A less famous but more interesting example of therianthropic display occurs at several European caves, but most wonderfully at Altamira. Hanging from the ceiling and protruding from the floor are "masks" or natural rock surfaces enhanced by the artist to have physical features. These masks appear quite menacing when lit from below by a torch, as the ancient artists must have. The masks have been carved out slightly and painted over a bit in order to become more realistic. Some of the masks depict humans, and some of the masks depict bison. What is truly amazing, however, is that many of the masks share the features of both human and and bison, and, I understand, as the light is moved from one angle to the next, the human features become less obvious and the bison features become more salient.(13) Thus the figure appears to transform from a man into a bison. I am dumbfounded by such a complicated method of communicating the changing of a shaman from human to bison. It is intellectually astounding.
This pictue of a mask from Altamira does not do the phenomenon justice. The modern lighting does not show all levels of the metaphor.
I've seen several "rain animals" in my brief exposure to European rock art. I've also noticed several in Asia as well. I believe Australia to have been governed by a different, yet still shamanistic, ceremony involving rain spirits in more human form called "Wondjina." The fact remains that the phenomena of rain animals occur in most regions.
For instance, at Altamira again, there is an interesting depiction. In Altamira, we have people entering trances and becoming bison. In one panel there is a deer painted disproportionately large to the juxtaposed bison. As I showed earlier, shamans at Altamira seem to transform into bison. Thus, it would appear that the artists in bison form during a trance confronted the rain-bull, in the form of a huge deer. This may not be convincing enough, but there is more. There are several cryptic figures scratched into the surface around huge deer. Dr. Freeman, whom I mentioned earlier, claimed that the figures were paying homage to the deer. (14) It seems, rather, that they were killing the rain-bull, in a less complicated metaphor.
. This image from Les Trois Freres depicts very clearly a rain animal. This interpretation is reasonable because of the many wounds and blood flowing from the animal's snout.
These elements have led me to believe that a great deal of the rock art of the world was inspired by practices of shamanism. I think that it is quite remarkable that humans over such vast expanses of space and time by our standards should share such similar religious practices.
I now resort to a small hunch of mine. Dr. Lewis-Williams in a recent article has argued that even the paints in certain panels have significance, or perhaps even potency.(14) Having examined the use of natural rock formations for different effects by the rock artists, he suggested that the rock is merely a "veil" between this world and the spirit world, and that rock art is the destruction of this veil. In many cultures, the shaman in his trance passes through the rock into the spirit world, and to communicate what had happened in the trance, the shaman depicts what had happened on the other side on the rock. I bought into this theory completely for southern Africa. It fit perfectly. I then came across several accounts of rituals that fit this hypothesis marvelously in both America and Australia. The Hupa of America have a concept of spirits responsible for precipitation that live in the rock, and are known as "Mi." In addition, several contemporary shamans have acknowledged that the rock art is a marker for where a shaman could enter the rock. This fascinated me intensely. The Australian concept of the Wondjina is very similar to the Hupa idea of the Mi. The veil idea fits these concepts very well. Initially, I was skeptical of this theory's accuracy concerning the rock art of Europe. For instance, how is it possible that a shaman could enter one of the masks? That is clearly not the case with the masks and other more three-dimensional art. I pondered it for a bit and realized that the effect of rock art under the veil hypothesis is not so much the entering, but the depiction of the spirit world after entry. The masks are clearly intended to give the effect of looking out. Perhaps the masks are intended to give the idea to the viewer that there are shamans in the rock looking out. The masks are similar to other so-called en face rock art which, though two-dimensional, achieve the same effect. I still remain a bit skeptical of this veil hypothesis. However, I find it absolutely intriguing, and, though much reeks of quackery, there is a decent amount of evidence for it.
This en face lion from the Sahara is probably a representation of shaman in lion form during a trance, and it shows the same signs as the masks from Altamira.
I am not entirely certain that rock art on all continents serves as a destruction of the veil between this world and the spirit world. However, I am certain that most rock art on all continents was inspired by shamanism. I do not intend to say that all rock art is produced by shamanism. There is rock art in America which is certainly representative of Katchinas. Katchina dancers are traditional dancers that imitate certain deities in order to evoke their power. This is not a particularly shamanistic, or in any case, not a trance-like ceremony. In the Alps, Andrea Arca has researched many depictions of what he claims are topographic charts, and that interpretation seems quite sensible.(15) In South Africa, there are many depictions of European ships and covered wagons which, although even this has been questioned, I doubt very highly were the product of shamanism. Not all rock art everywhere is shamanistic, I will admit, but the great majority is . I think that this has been proved very well.
This is an example of a "topograghic" engraving. Vite, Valcamonica, Italy (Footsteps of Man tracing).
This is a representation of a Katchina, without any relationship to a trance. this has been adequately proved to me by the modern tradition of Katchina dancers among the American Indians. It is also interesting to note the detail of the facial features, which occurs often with depictions of Katchinas.
I think that the single most annoying problem is that shamanism still struggles to gain universal exceptance, even with the mountain of evidence for it. So, let us go forward finally and accept this theory. It is time that we become able to look beyond our Western ideas of linear, left-to-right media, and open our mind to an older way of interpreting the world.
I spoke in the beginning of the ridicule placed upon the field of rupestrian archeology over the ages, and I indicated that it was not all together unwarranted. If I have engaged in the quackery that has so haunted this field, I apologize. However, if there is a way of defending myself, it certainly is to say that I am an amateur. I am a weekend archeologist. The lack of solid data to support my thesis is due simply to the fact that I have neither the time nor the resources to do the field work necessary. I can merely visit a site from time to time, read the studies of others, and pull my own ideas out of the air.
This is the case for most rock art researchers. One of the greatest researchers, and the kindest man in the rock art community before his tragic murder several years ago, A.R. Willcox, served in the South African Air Force for several decades before igniting his interest in rock art in retirement. Without the work done by Willcox, I doubt very highly that the level of knowledge about rock art today would exist. Willcox never really supported the shamanism theory, but the scientific nature of his research has been invaluable to researchers across the globe, including those arguing for shamanism. It is doubtful that the accepted theory of shamanism would ever have been arrived at in South Africa without him. This he accomplished as a strict amateur, which is an amazing accomplishment.
Willcox himself has pointed out, as have I, that there is no department at any university of Rock Art Research. (If I am wrong, I apologize, but I doubt that I am.) I know of no undergraduate degree in Rock Art Research. (Again, correct me if I am wrong.) There are no resources for the serious scientific study of rock art.
Rock art presents not merely a chance to shop through prehistoric wallpaper, but it provides an opportunity to peer deep into the minds of people more ancient and more basic than any historical record allows. Furthermore, rock art provides a chance to examine the most basic mode of existence common to all people's ancestors: the hunter-gatherer. And, even deeper, it gives a window into the very souls of these vanished people.
What is marvelous is that rock art shows us that, at the root, that we are not so different from one another after all. We are all descended from hunter-gatherers, who shared not only the same means of sustenance, but also startlingly similar cultural and proto-religious practices. This similarity is reflected by the thematic similarity between the rock art on all continents. This alone warrants more study than it receives today, and this is the true wonder of rock art.
(A note on the notes-- In many cases, I have cited only one work at the beginning of the paragraph. The work cited at the front should be considered for the remainder of the points in the paragraph.)
(1) James Freeman, Lecture at St. Louis Art Museum, 1996.
(2) Campbell Grant, The Rock Art of the North American Indians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983) 13-14.
(3) Grant, 35. Campbell Grant, in the work cited previously, makes the argument for sympathetic magic very well.
(4) Joseph Campbell, Historical Atlas of World Mythologies, Vol. 2: The Way of the Animal Powers, (New York: Harper and Row, 1988.) 131.
(5) Campbell, 131-135.
(6) Spencer L. Rogers, The Shaman (Springfield: Charlotte C. Thomas, 1982) x.
(7) Rogers, 3-7.
(8) Andreas Lommel, Shamanism: the Beginnings of Art (New York: McGraw Hill Press, 1967).
(9) Campbell, x-xx.
(10) J.D. Lewis-Williams, and Dowson, T.A., "The Signs of the Times: Entoptic Phenomena in Upper Paleolithic Art," Current Anthropology, 29 (3), 201-45. and
J.D. Lewis-Williams, "Beyond Style ans Portrait: A Comparison of Tanzanian and South African Rock Art." Vossen, R. and Keuthmann, K., eds. Contemporary Studies on Khoisan, Part 2. (Hamburg: Helmut Buske, 1987) 347-372. and
J.D. Lewis-Williams and Dowson, T.A., Images of Power (Johannesburg: Southern Book Publishers, 1989).
(11) Ken Hedges, "The Shamanic Origins of Rock Art," Ancient Images on Stone, Ed. Joanne van Tilburg (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983) 46-59.
(12) Campbell, 131-135.
(14) J.D. Lewis-Williams and Dowson, T.A., "Through the Veil: San Rock Paintings and the Rock Face," South African Archeological Bulletin, 45 (151), 5-16.
(15) Andrea Arca, "Topographic Engravings of the Alps, Part 4," Tracce 6
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