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The Shamans of Prehistory Hardcover – October 1, 1998


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Harry N. Abrams Publishers; 1st edition (October 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0810941821
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810941823
  • Product Dimensions: 10.8 x 0.8 x 12.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #514,078 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Since the first report of cave art (at Altamira in 1879), attempts have been made to explain the purpose of the mysterious drawings. Art for art's sake; totemism; hunting, destructive, or fertility magic; and modern structuralist theories have all been proposed. Clottes (The Cave Beneath the Sea: Paleolithic Images at Cosquer, LJ 4/1/96) and Lewis-Williams (cognitive archaeology, Univ. of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg) propose a new theory emphasizing the shamanic aspects of Paleolithic cave paintings. After an unavoidably technical chapter providing the basics of shamanism, the authors examine Paleolithic paintings from across France and Spain, noting the use of animal figures, composite figures combining both human and animal characteristics, and geometric designs that are all common elements of shamanism. The bulk of the book is both fascinating and thought-provoking, and while it is not likely to be the last word on the subject, it is an important contribution to the field. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.?Mary Morgan Smith, Northland P.L., Pittsburgh
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The most obvious question about cave art is why is it there, and Clottes, a prehistoric rock art expert associated with the French ministry of culture, and Lewis-Williams, a South African professor of cognitive archaeology, propose an elegant answer in this beautifully illustrated volume. They begin by documenting the universality of certain cave art images, then suggest that these paintings are shamanic in nature. They make their case in a fresh and lucid discussion of the methods shamans use to achieve altered states of consciousness in order to get in touch with the spiritual realm, then, shifting to a neuropsychological perspective, characterize the types of hallucinations experienced at the three main stages of trance: geometric shapes, objects of religious or emotional significance, and visions of animals, monsters, and people. The three sets of visions are depicted gracefully on cave walls deep beneath the surface of the earth, the perfect setting for a journey to another world. This is a handsome and quietly thrilling solution to an old and essential mystery. Donna Seaman

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Dianne Foster HALL OF FAME on August 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Many `experts' have attempted to interpret the Paleolithic images and forms found in underground passages and caves such as Lascaux, Altamira, and Chauvet. Known as Franco-Cantabrian, because 95 percent of cave art in the world lies in Southern France or the Iberian Peninsula, these works rank among the most mysterious. What were the artists thinking??
In THE SHAMANS OF PREHISTORY, Jean Clottes and David Lewis-Williams put forth their interpretation of the meaning of Paleolithic cave art. Clottes is currently investigating Chauvet and Lewis Williams is a professor of cognitive archeology affiliated with the University of Whitwatersrand in South Africa.

During the last Ice Age, Paleolithic humans gathered in the warmer parts of the European continent in what is today southern France and northern Portugal and Spain, along with large numbers of animals including horses, bison, deer, aurochs, and others. For some reason, these humans felt compelled to depict some of these animals in "parietal" or cave art. The discovery of this art has launched much speculation.
Early on, experts suggested that the cave art was "art for art's sake" (posited by anti-church scientists who could not accept any religious connection). Most recently, experts in Structuralism have suggested binary patterns underlie the meaning of the art, but these patterns are so general as to be unhelpful.
The most persistent interpretation of the art during the past 100 years has been that it was created in conjunction with sympathetic magic rituals used to increase the size of herds of animals hunters stalked. But this interpretation has many flaws. For one thing, the area surrounding the caves was brimming with game at the time the art was created.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Orville B. Jenkins VINE VOICE on December 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover
A summary of the extensive cave drawings and artifacts of prehistory into modern times, from cultures around the world. With beautiful color plates, Clottes and Lewis-Williams analyze and propose a unified and universal worldview of Shamanism common even today among concrete-relational societies around the world.

Of special interest are the San caves and open-air paintings across Southern Africa. The authors discuss and compare features from the very well-documented European sites, and the similar sites from Asia, with some comments on South American cultures.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Debra Mervant on December 3, 2013
Format: Paperback
I am currently reading this book.. in French, without the illustrations, unfortunately.
Readers interested in this subject might want to know that in 2001, an enlarged edition of this book (without the illustrations) appeared in French, which encompasses critical reception to it, and the controversy that it elicited in the scientific world.
The authors have taken the trouble to present the controversy, try to understand it, and reply to it.
We have thus a relatively detailed presentation of scientific debate in the making.
Anyone interested in questions about the nature of science, its relation to religious belief, the nature of scientific... dogma, and orthodoxy will find this book important for questions of methodology.
Not easy work to crack the nut of so many tangled problems, but well worth the effort.
Suspense... will this sequel be translated into English ?
It SHOULD be...
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