Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Shamanism in Paleolithic Art

The earliest discoveries of magnificent panoramic murals featuring enigmatic animals in
deep caves of the Pyrenees sparked vigorous controversy and skepticism. Were these
caves really ancient? Then carbon dating became available and archaeologists placed these
paintings from as early as 32,000 BC causing more speculation. The identification of anthropomorphic figures interacting with the animals, in rare cases, as shamans was the most exasperating and bewildering conclusion of all for many scientists and most of the general public.

While an American archaeologist will show you “a shaman’s
pipe” or a shaman’s rattle, how willing might he or she be to discuss
the existence of shamans in Paleolithic art in Europe? This may not be a fair question for many obvious reasons. It is even difficult for scientific Europeans with closer, if not easier, access to these spectacular caves. How
believable is it, that humans, just like us, the Cro-Magnon, crawled into caves to paint the
animals that they hunted? However, many texts happily label figures dressed as animals, or
humans “shape-shifting” into bison, deer or lions, as shaman or sorcerers. Some suggest that
these are acting as figures in a myth.

Who are these experts and what are their theories leading them to their identification of the figures
as shamans? They are archaeologists, anthropologists, psychologists, neurologists, art historians, ethnologists, poets, philosophers, artists and movie producers.

They do not all share the same exact ideas, but the different interpretations
of the shaman, and how they are obtained, is fascinating in itself.

Deb will provide an overview of the views of Jean Clottes, the retired
French Ministry of Culture Director, Erich Newmann, a Jungian psychologist, Alexander
Marshack, a researcher with the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (at
Harvard) and David Lewis-Williams, neurologist and rock art researcher.

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