Dowson, Thomas A.

Dowson, Thomas A. – South African archaeologist and rock art researcher. Dowson initially drew attention to enigmatic geometric imagery in Southern African rock art traditions and later, with David Lewis-Williams, proposed a neuropsychological model for the shamanistic interpretation of this and other rock art traditions. In his work on the Southern African material and European cave art, Dowson has foregrounded the sociopolitical contexts of individual shamans as artists and developed a shamanistic approach composed of three “elements of shamanism”: shamans are agents who alter consciousness; these altered states of consciousness are accepted as ritual practices by the agent’s community; and knowledge concerning altered consciousness is controlled in effecting certain socially sanctioned practices. These elements offer a line of approach that dispenses with “shamanism” as a metanarrative in order to embrace cultural diversity, specificity, and nuance—crucial especially when examining shamanistic rock art which, critics have suggested, appears to make all rock art “the same.” Dowson has most recently advocated animism as an interpretative tool enabling a refining of the shamanistic approach to rock art. He is also known for his writing on queer archaeologies and other indigenous or prehistoric visual culture, including the art of Benin.


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


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