Cave art

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Cave art – European Paleolithic painted and engraved rock art imagery, especially in the caves of France (such as Lascaux) and Spain (such as Altamira), has been interpreted as evidence of “art for art’s sake,” hunting magic, totemism, structuralism—and shamanism. The latter idea has received revived attention since the late 1980s. Demorest Davenport and Michael Jochim (1988) argued the avian characteristics of the bird-topped “staff” and the simple human stick figure in the Lascaux “shaft scene” might be interpreted as an example of a shaman engaging with and perhaps transforming into a bird spirit helper. In the same year, two South African scholars (David Lewis-Williams and Thomas Dowson), working on Southern African Bushman (San) rock art, proposed a neuropsychological model for interpreting geometric forms in European cave art as entoptic phenomena, as well as for interpreting iconic forms as evidence of shamanistic visions and experiences. Lewis-Williams and Dowson’s model has been controversial, but while some critics remain “shamanaphobic” (e.g., Bahn 1997, 1998; Solomon 2000; Kehoe 2000), the vast majority of specialists concur that at least a significant proportion of cave art imagery—and similarly that in some other rock art traditions—is likely to be derived from the altered states of consciousness associated with shamanism.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007


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