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Published inthe Cambridge ArchaeologicalJournal

Volume 13 Number 2 October 2003


The Mind in the Cave:

Consciousness and the Origins of Art

David Lewis-Williams, E.Thomas Lawson,

Knut Helskog, David S.Whitley & Paul Mellars

McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research CAMBRIDGE

University of Cambridge UNIVERSITY PRESS
Review Feature

The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art by David Lewis-Williams.
London: Thames and Hudson, 2002. ISBN 0-500-05117-8 hardback 18.95 & US$29.95;
320 pp., 66 figs., 29 colour plates.

David Lewis-Williams is well-known in rock-art circles as the

author of a series of articles drawing on ethnographicmaterial
and shamanism (notably connected with the San rock art of
southern Africa) to gain new insights into the Palaeolithic
cave art of western Europe. Some 15 years ago, with Thomas
Dowson, he proposed that Palaeolithicart owed its inspiration
at least in part to trance experiences (altered states of con-
sciousness) associated with shamanistic practices. Since that
article appeared, the shamanistic hypothesis has both been
widely adoptedand developed in the study of different rock-art |
traditions,and has become the subject of lively and sometimes . .
heated controversy.
In the present volume, Lewis-Williams takes the argu-
ment further, and combines the shamanistic hypothesis with
an interpretationof the development of human consciousness.
He thus enters another contentious area of archaeologicalde-
bate, seeking to understandwest European cave art in the context of (and as a marker of)
the new intellectualcapacities of anatomicallymodern humans. Radiocarbon datesfor the
earliest west European cave art now place it contemporary with the demise of the
Neanderthals around 30,000 years ago, and cave art, along with carved or decorated
portable items, appears to announce the arrivaland denote the success of modern humans
in this region. Lewis-Williams argues that such cave art would have been beyond the
capabilitiesof Neanderthals,and that this kind of artisticability is unique to anatomically
modern humans. Furthermore, he concludes that the development of the new ability
cannot have been the product of hundreds of thousands of years of gradual hominid
evolution, but must have arisen much more abruptly, within the novel neurological
structure of anatomically modern humans.
The Mind in the Cave is thus the product of two hypotheses, both of them
contentious - the shamanistic interpretationof west European Upper Palaeolithiccave
art, and the cognitive separationof modern humans and Neanderthals. But is it as simple
as that? Was cave art the hallmark of a new cognitive ability and social consciousness that
were beyond the reach of previous hominids? And is shamanism an outgrowthof the hard-
wired structure of the modern human brain? We begin this Review Feature with a brief
summary by David Lewis-Williams of the book's principal arguments. There follows a
series of comments addressing both the meaning of the west European cave art, and its
wider relevancefor the understandingof the Neanderthal/modernhuman transition.
Cambridge ArchaeologicalJournal13:2, 263-79 2003 McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
DOI: 10.1017/S0959774303000155 Printed in the United Kingdom.
Review Feature

Overview marize all that is in the book: 85,000 words into 2000
simply will not go. I therefore omit discussion of the
historical circumstances of the discovery, rejection,
David Lewis-Williams and acceptance of Upper Palaeolithic art, methodol-
ogy (e.g. the inappropriate notion of proof, and my
The art historian Max Raphael believed that the Homo insistence that one does not have to explain every-
sapiens communities of the west European Upper thing in order to explain something), and important
Palaeolithic were 'history-making peoples par excel- components of the art (e.g. mobile art, alfresco art,
lence; they were in the throes of a continuous process different techniques, distribution of images in caves,
of transformation' (Raphael 1945, 3). His book Pre- and associated activities). Instead, I emphasize a few
historic Cave Paintings was an inchoate attempt to key issues that relate to the efflorescence of image-
put his kind of Marxist historical theory into exem- making during the Transition.
plified form. True, much of it reads like high-sound-
ing mumbo-jumbo. Nevertheless, it is a pity that More than intelligence
today commentators focus on his obvious failings
and the ideas that Annette Laming-Emperaire and Today, researchers tend to develop arguments based
Andre Leroi-Gourhan later developed. They ignore on human intelligence. They believe that, through
the broader theory that underlies his thought. the millennia, hominids gradually became brighter
and smarter until, with Homo sapiens, they were like
'History-making peoples par excellence' us. I do not underestimate the role of intelligence in
human evolution, but the phrase 'like us' is a give-
Since the 1930s and 1940s, when Raphael was writ- away. It carries with it a comparatively recently de-
ing, researchers have accumulated abundant evi- veloped value system: we value rationality and see
dence to support his insight. Compared with the Western technologically informed life as a product
preceding Middle Palaeolithic, a great deal happened of it. We go on to assume that all previous 'ad-
in the Upper Palaeolithic, events that cannot be ex- vances', from the making of handaxes onward, were
plained simply by environmental changes. Real, the results of improving intelligence.
thinking people were doing things: they were not But rationality is only part of the human brain/
mere pawns moved across an ecological chequer- mind. There is also consciousness. Intelligence and
board by forces entirely beyond their control. This consciousness clearly go hand-in-hand, but they are
notion underlies The Mind in the Cave. It is an at- not identical. Most importantly, what are commonly
tempt to account for the comparatively swift flower- - and vaguely - called 'altered states of conscious-
ing of what we today call 'art' during the west ness' are not a discrete condition that befalls certain
European Middle to Upper Palaeolithic Transition rather odd people. The ways in which the brain is
in terms of people making their own history. Image- neurologically structured and the ways in which it
making was not a consequence of an inherent 'aes- functions electro-chemically suggest that we should
thetic sense', an adaptive drive to make things special. think of consciousness as a comprehensive spectrum
Rather, aesthetics has always been an historically with 'alert' and 'autistic' ends. At the alert end there
situated, socially-contingent construct; it developed is waking, problem-oriented thought during which
in various historically-contingent ways after people we respond appropriately to our environment. This
started making images. Moreover, representational state grades into day-dreaming, a condition in which
image-making was sui generis; it did not evolve out our thoughts are more inwardly directed and in
of a vaguely conceived twentieth-century notion of which we are less aware of our environment. From
humankind's innate 'spiritual' proclivities towards day-dreaming, there is a slide into hypnagogic states
beauty and 'specialness'. In contrast to that view, I - half awake, half sleeping. Sometimes people ex-
argue that, during the Transition, cosmology, im- perience hypnagogic hallucinations: they wake up
age-making, religion, and developing social distinc- believing they have heard someone speak or knock
tions were hardly distinguishable from one another. on a door. Then we move into REM sleep, during
What are today seen as 'art' and 'religion' were, during which we dream. Finally, we pass into deep 'uncon-
the Transition and probably much of the Upper Palaeo- scious' sleep. All people everywhere necessarily ex-
lithic, part and parcel of social discrimination. In perience the whole spectrum; it is simply a product
other words, people were making their own history. of the way in which the brain functions. We have
In this short overview I do not attempt to sum- every reason to believe that the anatomically fully

The Mind in the Cave

modern Homo sapiens populations of the Upper strued, experiences that notions of a tiered cosmos
Palaeolithic also experienced the whole spectrum. develop. As subjects approach the start of the inten-
Again necessarily, communities must come to sified trajectory they experience a vortex, they feel
terms with the whole spectrum, though individuals sucked into a tunnel with, often, a bright light at the
may contest the received view. People everywhere end. From this vortex they emerge into a realm of
divide the spectrum up into the sort of (but not hallucination with its own rules of causality. At this
always the same) sections I have noted, and they point, they experience two kinds of sensations. On
place different values on those sections. It is, for the one hand, they feel that they are rising up, be-
example, hard to imagine a community that does coming weightless, floating. On the other, they feel
not collectively know about dreams and entertain the constrictions of the vortex hemming them in,
some understanding about what causes them and darkness, and difficulty in breathing. Virtually uni-
their significance. Because of our present-day West- versally, the first condition is interpreted as flying or
ern emphasis on acute, alert intelligence, we (rightly) visiting a realm above the sky, the second as passing
dismiss any suggestion that dreams are the voices of underground to a subterranean realm. Here, I be-
gods or spirits urging us to adopt certain courses of lieve, we have an explanation as to why communi-
action. But that is not true of all communities; nor ties all over the world believe in (actually highly
was it true of the West in medieval times. improbable) spiritual realms above and below the
To the normally experienced spectrum we must level on which they live. But the mind and the body
add an intensified trajectory. At more or less the that it inhabits are on the central, mundane level. As
hypnagogic point it branches off into stages of hallu- a result, the spirit realms are believed to be simulta-
cinations, each becoming 'deeper' and more vivid. neously transcendent and immanent.
At the 'deep' end of the intensified spectrum people
experience visual, auditory, somatic, olfactory, and Two species of Homo
gustatory hallucinations; they see monsters and ani-
mals, experience terrifying or blissful states, feel So far, I have considered only Homo sapiens. Accept-
themselves being dismembered, or suffer other bi- ing the replacement hypothesis, I believe that the
zarre conditions. The intensified trajectory is set in first Aurignacian Homo sapiens communities to enter
train by many different factors. These include inges- western Europe lived side by side with Homo
tion of psychotropic substances, sensory depriva- neanderthalensisgroups for some millennia before the
tion, pain, rhythmic and auditory driving, and anatomically archaic Neanderthals died out. Much
pathological states, such as temporal lobe epilepsy and debate surrounds the events of this time. For our present
schizophrenia. Not everyone in a population experi- purposes, I focus on what the Neanderthals borrowed
ences this trajectory, but everyone has the potential to from their new neighbours and what they did not.
do so because the human nervous system is so wired. First, it appears that some Neanderthals of the
Even as the normal spectrum has to be social- Chatelperronian technocomplex learned lithic blade
ized and accommodated, so too does the intensified technologies, though they did not adopt the full
spectrum. Some communities place great emphasis Aurignacian toolkit with its diversity of raw materi-
on the deeply autistic, hallucinatory end, and many als. We may assume that the Neanderthals used the
people strive to reach it. In other communities the new artefacts - blades, end-scrapers, burins - for,
'deep' end is socially demarcated and reserved for a by and large, the same purposes as the Aurignacians
few special people, the seers - those who can 'see'. did. They also seem to have acquired personal orna-
Ordinary people know more or less what the seers ments from the Aurignacians, whether by stealth,
are talking about when they describe their halluci- barter or imitation. But it is highly unlikely that
nations because they experience similar states in their these objects signified exactly the same social sta-
own dreams. They may believe their dreams to be tuses as they did in Aurignacian communities. If, as
ephemeral glimpses of the spirit realm that the seers most researchers would agree, Neanderthal society
claim to visit. They may even, on occasion, enter was structured differently and, by and large, was
upon the intensified trajectory and verify its exist- unable to adopt fully the more complex hunting
ence. Because it is not open to everyone, the intensified strategies practised by the Aurignacians, Aurignacian
trajectory provides an instrument that can be used social distinctions would have been meaningless to
for social discrimination. It does so in all religions. the Neanderthals. In some sense, they were imitat-
I argue that it is out of these universal, ing the Aurignacians, not duplicating their behaviour.
neurologically created, yet always culturally con- Similar observations apply to the vexed matter

Review Feature

of Neanderthal burials. If the west European Nean- A pre-existing symbolic vocabulary

derthals did begin to bury some of their dead, they There never was a time when Upper Palaeolithic
did so without the often elaborate grave goods that people made images of whatever caught their fancy,
occur in numerous Homo sapiens graves. They had a a time when individuals produced a wide, unre-
different social structure and different concepts of stricted repertoire of pictures and carvings - a com-
death. Then, whatever we may believe about certain prehensive range of animal and bird species, trees,
extremely rare Neanderthal and pre-Neanderthal ar- snakes, faces, moons, and so forth. The earliest
tefacts, they did not make images. Aurignacian images (mobile art from southern Ger-
many and parietal images in Chauvet Cave) encom-
How do we explain this situation? pass a major slice of the same bestiary as the much
later Magdalenian imagery (principally, bison,
Two types of consciousness horses, aurochs, felines, deer) though the propor-
There is a vast literature on consciousness and cog- tions of one species to another (and, in some meas-
nitive evolution in general. To cut a long story short, ure, probably the symbolic associations attached to
and by no means rejecting all this work, I accept them) varied through the millennia of the Upper
Gerald Edelman's notion of primary and higher-or- Palaeolithic. There must therefore have been a so-
der consciousness, lucidly presented in his book cially accepted set of zoomorphic mental images be-
Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: on the Matter of the Mind fore people began to make representational images
(1994). Inadequately summarizing his neurological of them.
account, I outline both types. In western Europe, certain conditions, possibly
Edelman aptly speaks of primary conscious- intensified by the proximity of Neanderthals with a
ness as the 'remembered present'. Certain animals form of primary consciousness that did not permit
have it to varying degrees. They are aware of their them to comprehend mental images and spiritual
environment and can form mental images in the states, made it appropriate for the Aurignacians to
present, but they have no sense of a person with a manifest their already-existing mental symbology. I
past and a future. They can learn certain tasks, but argue that, because these zoomorphic mental im-
they have no long-term memory. As a result, they ages were experienced most vividly by people at the
can at best have only a form of proto-language that autistic end of the intensified trajectory, they were
lacks notions of past and future, and they cannot projected onto surfaces, as such hallucinations in-
remember and socialize (reach consensus about) deed are, where they seemed to float free from any
dreams and visions. By contrast, higher-order con- environmental context; such projected imagery has
sciousness, possessed by only Homo sapiens, permits been likened to a slide or film show. The surfaces
a socially constructed self, complex language, recog- included cave and shelter walls, floors, stalagmites,
nition of one's own acts and emotions, and long- stalactites, and ceilings.
term storage of symbolic relations. Higher-order People thus did not (by intelligence alone) 'in-
consciousness enables Homo sapiens people to remem- vent' images. The environment of at least some peo-
ber and to socialize their dreams and visions, and, ple (the seers) was already invested with images - a
ultimately, to conceive of spirits, spirit realms, and set of socially agreed-on symbolic animals. All that
life after death - and before birth. was needed were social conditions that made it ad-
I argue that Neanderthals probably possessed a vantageous for the seers and their communities to
form of primary consciousness, and Upper Palaeo- 'recreate' those evanescent images, and thereby to
lithic Homo sapiens had higher-order consciousness. gain control over them and to demonstrate to others
This hypothesis explains why Neanderthals bor- their contact with spiritual realms. In doing so, they
rowed only the things they did, but not others, from entrenched a form of cross-cutting social discrimina-
their Homo sapiens neighbours. Neanderthals were tion that was independent of age, sex and physical
locked into the present. They were congenital atheists. strength. Complex society as we know it was thus
Current evidence suggests that Homo sapiens being born.
acquired their advanced neurological wiring (what
Edelman calls reentrant circuits) in Africa. This neu- Cosmology, religion, image-making, and social
rology enabled them to assemble modern behav- discrimination
iours piecemeal and, possibly, spasmodically. They
thus brought higher-order consciousness and mod- Even as they divided up the spectrum of conscious-
ern behaviour with them to western Europe. ness, Upper Palaeolithic people divided up the caves

The Mind in the Cave

into 'activity areas'. In these areas, different groups Cave that Upper Palaeolithic art is the work of al-
of people were permitted to perform different kinds tered states of consciousness typical of shamanistic
of rituals and to make different kinds of images. experience. In adopting this approach to these mag-
Some activities involved large groups and the mak- nificent productions of Upper Palaeolithic human
ing of communal images (as in the capacious Hall of creativity, David Lewis-Williams continues a tradi-
the Bulls, Lascaux), others were solitary (as in the tion of psychological investigation into religious be-
small Diverticule des F6lins, also in Lascaux). There haviour instituted by William James in his classic
was therefore a dialectic between, on the one hand, the The Varieties of Religious Experience (1997 [1902]). In
hugely diverse geomorphological shapes of the caves his attempt to explain the emergence, persistence
and, on the other, a number of internally interacting and value of religious ideas and practices, James
elements: shifting human consciousness, cosmology, made the methodological decision to focus upon the
social distinctions, religion, and image-making. very special feelings that a select class of individu-
Entering the caves was, I suggest, virtually in- als, whom he regarded as religious geniuses, under-
distinguishable from entering the mental vortex that went in special circumstances.
led to the underworld. In that underworld, some (not While James's approach proved influential
all) people sought, by sight, touch and (hallucinatory among those psychologists who had a scientific in-
and humanly produced) sound, members of a com- terest in religion, he failed to exert a great deal of
monly accepted set of spirit animals that would give influence on scholars in the social sciences and the
them 'spiritual' power and its concomitant, a form humanities, because his approach was considered
of historically contingent political power. As they too individualistic and failed to explain a great deal
painted and engraved, they constructed a multi-sen- of historical and socio-cul tural phenomena at the
sory underworld that was a template for social dis- level of analysis that these scholars expected. James's
crimination, one that could be controlled and failure to make a dent in the social sciences and the
manipulated by individuals and groups: only certain humanities was both unfortunate and instructive. It
people were allowed into certain places to experi- was unfortunate because it encouraged scholars in
ence appropriate segments of the full spectrum of hu- the social sciences and humanities to continue their
man consciousness and to perform specified, socially attempts at explaining religious phenomena with-
discriminating activities, one of which was image- out reference to psychological and biological discov-
making. People were consciously making their own eries, and to perpetuate the Durkheimian notion of
conflictual, fractious societies, their own history. the autonomy of social facts. It was instructive be-
cause there were some social scientists and human-
David Lewis-Williams ists who were willing to listen to the claim that
Rock Art Research Unit psychological and biological factors were to be taken
University of the Witwatersrand into consideration as long as there promised to be a
Johannesburg socio-cultural payoff. The Mind in the Cave provides
Private Bag 3 such a pay-off by showing how an understanding of
WITS 2050 altered states of consciousness provided by neuro-
South Africa science can explain cultural productions such as the
Email: cave and rock art of the Upper Palaeolithic period.
What is particularly exciting about Lewis-Williams's
work is that it bridges the gap between the social
and the psychological and behavioural sciences. In
Bridging the Gap between this regard his work stands alongside that of the
Cognitive Neuroscience and Archaeology cognitive archaeologist Steven Mithen which also
steps across the divide.
Today, because of the cognitive science revolu-
E. Thomas Lawson tion, some of us operating within the social scientific
tradition are much more sympathetic to examining
Building both upon acute observation motivated by and theorizing about the psychological foundations
significant theoretical expertise and sophisticated in- of cultural forms. Lewis-Williams has made a funda-
formation from neuroscience about how the mind/ mental contribution to this type of explanation. This
brain acts and responds in extraordinary situations, does not mean, however, that David Lewis-Williams
David Lewis-Williams argues in his The Mind In the is home free but he has demonstrated both the plau-

Review Feature

sibility and the applicability of a theory informed by those who had not undergone the highly extraordi-
cognitive neuroscience. nary experiences of the 'religious geniuses'?
So Lewis-Williams has convinced me that the Such ordinary folk are not missing from Lewis-
instigation of the cave art he analyzes so brilliantly Williams analysis, but their responses to the images
and with such a keen eye is the consequence of the are not accounted for by his theory. Perhaps this
extraordinary experiences that the makers of the art point would not be of great importance were it not
had undergone whether these experiences were the for Lewis-Williams's aim also, by virtue of his theory
result of sensory deprivation, fasting, drugs, fren- to account for the complex relationships between
zied dancing, or other vigorous bodily movements. individual and society throughout history. For ex-
His close attention to the details of the works of art ample, he talks about particularly adept individuals
as well as to their physical context has made sense of who demonstrate an ability to manipulate to their
recurring features not only in Europe but also in own advantage the larger group because of their
Africa and North America, for example the entoptic knowledge of the resources and rules of the social
phenomena apparent, but easily missed by the non- system (p. 271). The cognitive resources typical of
discerning eye, in the works of art under examination. the group must be taken into consideration. What
What problems remain? I wish to argue that makes them susceptible to the visionary claims of
while Lewis-Williams has explained the production the leaders? Adverting to 'socialization' as an an-
of the works of art, he has not explained their recep- swer will not be enough because we already know
tion. The vast majority of people across cultures and too much about the cognitive constraints on the pro-
throughout history eagerly and willingly entertain duction and reception of religious concepts.
religious ideas and engage in religious practices, such Even the person undergoing initiation in the
as participating in rituals, for example of initiation. cave (not the producer of the art) does not necessar-
They have never had 'religious experiences', how- ily have to experience any of Lewis-Williams's three
ever, and have never undergone altered states of stages to be awed and even terrified in the dimly lit
consciousness. As James himself showed, these are cave by the image either of charging bison or strange
the experiences of the few rather than the many. It is geometric imagery. As several cognitive scientists of
this fact that has led the rapidly developing cogni- religion have been able to demonstrate, it is rather
tive science of religion to examine the possibility natural for human beings to respond to representa-
that such ideas and the artefacts and practices they tions of the 'supernatural'. What these scientists of
inform are the consequence of our very ordinary, religion have discovered is that it does not take much
garden variety cognitive processes. This point has to be responsive to ideas about gods, spirits, and
been made in different ways by Pascal Boyer in his other worlds. The ease with which human beings of
Religion Explained: the Evolutionary Origins of Reli- all cultures think about and talk about agents with
gious Thought, by Scott Atran in his In Gods We Trust: special, minimally counter-intuitive qualities has
the Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, and by Robert been repeatedly demonstrated in recent experimen-
McCauley and myself in our Bringing Ritual to Mind: tal work.
the Psychological Foundations of Cultural Forms. We What is absolutely clear, however, is that with
make these claims not to deny the fruitfulness of the publication of The Mind in the Cave we have a
explaining some phenomena such as Upper Palaeo- better understanding of how it comes about that so
lithic cave art by appealing to highly specialized long ago there were some people who were inspired
neurological processes triggered under very special to produce not only great works of art by any stand-
conditions, but because the broader picture requires ard but marvellous representations of imagined
additional, and perhaps more fundamental, accounts worlds populated by imagined beings. Even when
of the representation, acquisition and transmission the many did not hear the inner voices of the few
of religious ideas. For example, David Lewis- they were sensitive enough to respond to those who
Williams argues that the works of art are the work of had developed special ways of hearing these sounds.
a specialized class of people known as shamans. His
account certainly grants us a plausible, and in fact E. Thomas Lawson
convincing, explanation of the experiences which Western Michigan University
made such art possible. But his account does not 222 Moore Hall
explain why this art captured the imagination of Kalamazoo, MI 49008
those who in the same context had not had such USA
experiences. What made these images compelling to Email:

The Mind in the Cave

Seeking Answers (Out of the Caves) it is the maker of the art who, for some reason or
other, selects what to depict. Population size in the
Upper Palaeolithic is bound to have been relatively
Knut Helskog small and perhaps the variety of totems was not as
large as in the much later ethnographic record.
The Mind in the Cave is a culmination of David Lewis- Lewis-Williams applies part of the ethnographic
Williams's ideas about Palaeolithic cave art, previ- record to enlighten his understanding of the choices
ously expressed in numerous articles and books. It people made in prehistoric hunting and gathering
reads like a detective novel where page jumping is societies. I agree that analogies are a powerful source
not advisable if one wants to understand the answer of enlightening examples in seeking answers when
at the end. The answer to one argument becomes the general patterned tendencies, rather than direct
basis for the next in a careful chain of questions and analogies, are recognized. But the population change
arguments, on a steady path towards altered states from Neanderthals to Homno sapiens is unique, espe-
of consciousness and shamanism, power and social cially if the neurological makeup of Neanderthals
and political control. The book is not as much based was different from that of Homo sapiens. Hence, the
upon the rigid empirical analysis of data as on care- existing ethnographic information on hunting and
fully constructed arguments, and the view that it gathering societies is even less useful for understand-
must be possible to understand why Homo sapiens ing the life of the Neanderthals. The neurological
and not Neanderthals made images on walls in caves, model Lewis-Williams presents is therefore a valu-
why the depictions were made, some of their many able addition for those seeking explanations for the
meanings, and the status/position gained by those advent of the Palaeolithic cave art and differences
who controlled meaning in rituals and in social and between the Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. Lewis-
political interaction in and between societies. Williams argues that the consciousness produced by
Most researchers today would agree with Lewis- the neurological structure of the brain of Homo sapi-
Williams's arguments that the depictions in the caves ens enables them to remember and entertain mental
are not art for art's sake. But I am not willing totally imagery from a range of states of consciousness (see
to reject the idea of sympathetic magic, or that to- p. 92 for a six-points list). He uses this to explain
tems were represented in the caves, as Lewis- why they made cave art and not the Neanderthals
Williams does, simply because both are important in (whose neurological structure and associated men-
hunter-gatherer cultures. In my own work (Helskog tal imagery were closely linked to motor skills). This
1999) on Arctic rock art, some surfaces are land- is, in the best scientific tradition, testable in the sense
scapes supporting composite-depicted narratives. To that if (rock) art found in caves can be associated
transfer this argument to the surfaces inside the caves, with Neanderthals, the hypothesis is falsified. The
these might be more than membranes, but instead proposed neurological dichotomy stands or falls with
denote landscapes or environments in which myths the altered states of consciousness and shamanism
are narrated in rituals. The places to which animals argument; if other reasons for making the art can be
were ritually lured might be represented on the walls demonstrated, then the proposed dichotomy falls.
inside the caves, although they are physically at quite Clearly the road ahead is paved for many an inter-
different places. I am not happy with the idea of esting discussion.
hunting magic, however, but more comfortable with Furthermore, Lewis-Williams suggests that
the concept of communication between humans and Homo sapiens, who expanded into Europe from Af-
spirits (other than humans) that for example allows rica, had the mental potential for imaging the art but
animals to be captured, eaten and regenerated, peo- it was not before the 'right social circumstances' -
ple to be cured, and so on. Similarly, the belief in 'social conflict, stress and discrimination' - in west-
ancestral descent from animals, birds or plants is a ern Europe that triggered the making of the art. If
fairly general phenomenon in the ethnographic this were the case, a closer look at African rock art
record, and it is, therefore, possible that totems have needs to be undertaken, and in theory it should be
long been important in explaining ancestry and in found to predate that of Europe. After all, there is no
distinguishing self from others. No matter the argu- reason why the right circumstances should have pre-
ments to the contrary, even if shamanism were in- vailed only in a very limited area of western Europe.
volved, there is no reason that totems might not also Africa should become a centre for future research.
be represented in narratives depicted or associated The images in the cave are argued to represent
with the art. After all, as Lewis-Williams points out, a selection of motifs chosen by a shaman from an

Review Feature

altered states of consciousness experience. This may was underground). Certainly, this is more the feel-
indeed be so according to the arguments presented, ing I personally had when visiting deep caves; into
if the images produced in altered states of conscious- the darkness with the shadows created by the lamps,
ness were the same 15,000-30,000 years ago as at the the cold, the humidity, the smells, the enclosed envi-
present. They could also, however, be images cho- ronment, the fear of the unknown (watching me),
sen from life in the known environment including and being trapped - a mixture of cultural and neu-
the cosmic world of which spirits were a part, with- rological reaction. So, instead of spirits living behind
out being connected to an altered state of conscious- the walls, they could be in the caves themselves, and
ness experience. If, for example, the images were the images of spirits were already on the walls, to be
associated with beliefs, rituals and associated narra- outlined in rituals rather than added. If so, the topo-
tives, certain rules might have to be followed in graphic features of the cave walls were not used to
selecting what to depict or not to depict. The selec- emphasize features, but were parts of the images
tivity of the images indicates as much. In north Eura- themselves to start with, in a landscape that was
sian ethnography, the other worlds where spirits and already there. Entering the deep caves might mean
the dead lived were modelled after the world in which breaking through the membrane, rather than navi-
people live. This again means that the images are a gating along the membrane as suggested. The mak-
selective 'mirror' of life in the human environment, ers and users of the art could have seen physical
and might not be freely chosen to shape the makers' or entry into the subterranean passages, as Lewis-
users' own position in society. Perhaps there was not Williams suggests, as equivalent to psychic entry
much freedom in selecting images or attributing into deep altered states of consciousness (p. 252), or,
meanings. But, of course, leaders of rituals likely had alternatively, into different realms of the world of
the possibility to negotiate or manipulate the rules of the spirits. Not all caves are deep and dark with
selection, and assign meanings to some extent. subterranean passageways. The Late Palaeolithic
The caves in which the art is found served as caves in the southern Urals or the Holocene caves of
living and ritual areas through long periods of times, northern Norway indicate variation in how caves
extending over thousand of years. Owing to the lack (and shelters) were perceived and used. I realize, of
of finer chronological control the majority of the course, the difference between the contexts of
images are seen as separate entities. Compositions Palaeolithic and Holocene art, but perhaps our un-
appear to be relatively rare, although when images derstanding of Holocene rock art can be an addi-
are added to a panel they become composite, as in tional 'analogy' or basis for understanding the much
the inner sanctum of Les Trois Freres. It appears older art of the Palaeolithic.
difficult to separate images from the caves into I feel that Lewis-Williams navigates rather nar-
chronological groups, yet a better chronological con- rowly on the issue of shamanic interpretations and
trol might shed light on the frequency with which explanations, although he does discuss other op-
images were depicted and used through time. My tions. Central to this interpretation are the concepts
work (Helskog 1989) on the 4000-year chronology of of a divided universe and communication with the
the hunter-gatherer rock carvings at Alta in arctic spirits therein. If the art was part of shamanistic or
Norway shows that so-called stage 1 entoptics are other forms of ritual communication, paintings as
all early. There are distinct typological changes well as engravings should be expected to be found
though time, which again indicate some form of at other entrance points between these worlds. Why
changing selectivity contemporaneous with other only in the caves? Were there places outside the
changes in the archaeological record. It is interesting caves oriented for example towards spiritual life in
to note that in some areas of the world, clear morpho- the upper worlds, those in the sky? Clearly the life
* logical changes are seen in the images - some might that appeared in the sky night and day would not
call these changes in style - through time and space, have gone unnoticed. Such art outside the caves
which again indicate that some makers (as well as would be difficult to find as its chances of survival
users) did not freely choose form or content. Though are small compared with that in the caves, but the
Lewis-Williams stresses the cultural selectivity of discovery of Palaeolithic images outside the caves
makers and users, I feel he might be giving them more might strengthen the argument for a divided uni-
freedom than they might actually have had. verse (upper, middle and lower worlds), and possi-
Moving into the deep caves - walking or crawl- bly the argument for shamanism. In essence, more
ing as at Les Trois Freres - might have been like (Palaeolithic?) engravings such as those in the Coa
moving into and inside the realm of death (if that Valley in Portugal need to be searched for.

The Mind in the Cave

In Lewis-Williams's mind, rock art is more about question of the origin of human consciousness. It
individual social and political power and control also concerns itself with archaeological method, in
than communication between people and spirits. The this case through careful attention to the philosophy
ethnographic sources in the circumpolar region in- of science. And then, true to its contention that art is
dicate certainly that this is a part of their signifi- socially situated in human contestation, it concludes
cance, but I judge the role that the shaman played in with a case study of the 'Wounded Man' motif of the
maintaining the 'health' of the society and its mem- Quercy, illustrating the importance of art and ritual
bers to be more important than bolstering his or her in the construction of local histories. The result is a
own position. Lewis-Williams's view, I feel, implies masterpiece of analysis, inference and interpretation;
that a shaman is the leader, which is not necessarily indeed, one that has very few equals in our existing
the case. That a shaman's position depends on per- archaeological literature.
forming well does not necessarily mean that he or A work of this scope and importance naturally
she can control individuals who have gained status raises a series of subsidiary issues. One of these is
by other skills, and prevent serious negative reac- the relationship between the appearance of west Eu-
tion when not performing well. ropean shamanism at the Middle to Upper Palaeo-
Lastly, I have always wondered why Lewis- lithic Transition and processes and events in the rest
Williams has not paid more attention to the colour of the world. As Lewis-Williams acknowledges, the
coding of the paintings, in the Palaeolithic images as regional phenomenon he documents is only one of a
well in those in South Africa. Colours must certainly variety of the potential manifestations and outcomes
have had a meaning. Might this be only a repetition of the development of human consciousness; or, put
of a shaman's vision, or was it an arbitrary choice by another way, the appearance of west European
the maker to be interpreted at will by the users? Palaeolithic shamanism was not necessarily mirrored
Some day we may be better able to understand throughout the then (humanly) colonized world, nor
the differences between the Neanderthals and Homo is the form of this shamanism precisely paralleled by
sapiens and why images in dark caves were made, ethnographically-known cases. I know, for example,
what they meant and what significance they might of no Native American society that created the kind
have had in forming and maintaining social and of composed, corporate shamanistic art seen in the
political roles. There are still no exact answers, and entry areas of the Palaeolithic caves. This suggests
might never be such, and perhaps the time has come that the social context and perhaps the structure of
to extend the search outside the caves, and to other these Palaeolithic societies may also have differed
places than the caves of France. None the less, in The from historical Native American hunter-gatherer so-
Mind in the Cave David Lewis-Williams presents cieties in important (but as yet unidentified) ways.
thoughtful and well-formulated hypotheses and rea- There is, however, empirical evidence for
soned arguments, suggesting answers which are Palaeolithic-age shamanism in southern Africa
bound to have an impact on the discussion in years to (Lewis-Williams 1984) as well as for shamanism dur-
come. This is truly a challenging and enjoyable book. ing the terminal Pleistocene in North America (Whit-
ley et al. 1999), using 'shamanism' here in its general
Knut Helskog sense. But there currently are also important chrono-
Tromso University Museum logical and geographical lacunae, including broad
9037 Tromso regions of Eurasia, and not all of these appear to be a
Norway function of missing data. One of the most interesting
Email: lacunae is central Asia and Siberia, where shaman-
ism does not seem to first appear until the middle
Holocene (Whitley in press). Despite the fact that
this region is widely considered the cradle of sha-
Minding the Past manism and, especially, the source for New World
shamanism (given shared traits in these two areas),
this empirical conundrum has led Andrzej Rozwa-
David S. Whitley dowski and me to investigate evidence for the alter-
native hypothesis: the possibility of an American
Lewis-Williams's latest book, The Mind in the Cave, origin for so-called Asiatic shamanism. This possi-
addresses the origin of image-making but only by bility notwithstanding, Winkelman's (1986; 1992)
considering first (and plausibly solving) the related cross-cultural analyses point to the conclusion that

Review Feature

the historical distribution of shamanism is only partly quisition of a spirit helper. Zigmond (1981, 68), for
explained by diffusion, with certain regional mani- example, wrote that:
festations then the result of autochthonous processes. Younger people, to procure dreams [i.e., visionary
The appearance of western European shamanism at experiences], walked through a growth of nettles
the Transition appears to be a case in point in the pressing them against the bared chest causing se-
sense that it was both dependent upon the evolution vere lacerations.
of human consciousness and may have developed
independently of the outcome of this same cognitive Whether intensive exposure to stinging nettles can
evolution in other areas of Eurasia and other parts of cause hallucinations is unclear. I have previously
the world. assumed that it could, but perhaps the ritual use of
Lewis-Williams emphasizes the relevance of this plant was analogical rather than causal; i.e. it
social context and human agency in understanding mimicked the effects of, rather than helped induce,
Palaeolithic shamanism and the art that it engen- trance. In this sense its ritual associations would be
dered, using the pierced or 'wounded' human fig- similar to the use of the bull-roarer, flute and rattle
ures from the Cougnac and Pech-Merle caves as - ritual musical instruments that simulated the au-
examples. Two comments are relevant in this re- ditory hallucinations sometimes associated with al-
gard. The first concerns the common somatosensory tered states of consciousness. Regardless of its
hallucination that informs these motifs: the feeling potential psychotropic effects, however, the ceremo-
of stabbing or stinging that can accompany entry nial use of nettles provides another cross-cultural
into an altered state of consciousness. There are two link between altered states of consciousness and the
ethnographic examples from Native California, not physical hallucination that Lewis-Williams identi-
mentioned by Lewis-Williams, that further illustrate fies in the art at the two French caves.
the importance of this reaction. One is from north- The second comment on Lewis-Williams' dis-
ernmost California where, among the Yurok, Karok, cussion of human agency, social contestation and
Shasta and others, the spirits received by the sha- local histories concerns the wider archaeological im-
man during trance were transliterated into English plications of the empirical example that he identifies
as 'pains', referring to the piercing sensation that can at these Quercy sites. Almost certainly, there are
accompany the altered state. Speaking of a prospec- additional reflections of this social process in the
tive Shasta shaman, for example, Kroeber (1925,301) larger archaeological record from this same region,
recorded that: as well as other examples of (structurally) similar
Catastrophic dreams also soon asserted themselves, processes and events at other sites, regions and time
and after a time swarms of yellowjackets were seen. periods. In this sense the interpretation of art and
This last type of dream was regarded as a conclu- social process that he proposes is, in fact, potentially
sive proof of impending shamanistic power, the verifiable in the 'dirt' archaeological record: observ-
insects being interpreted as spirits . . . About this able empirical changes in one kind of evidence should
period, also, it was customary for the prospective correlate with observable changes in other types of
shaman to be addressed by a voice and to see a evidence. And, just as a full understanding of these
spirit aim an arrow at her heart while he com-
manded her to sing... She at once fell down in a processes cannot be inferred from the art alone, so
senseless seizure in which she remained for some too is the dirt archaeological record inadequate on
time... After this the spirit reappeared and warned its own to paint a full picture of west European
her that he would shoot her with his 'pain;' if she Palaeolithic society.
were strong enough to bear the pain in her body The relevance of this point partly derives from
she would be his friend. As the pain entered her the fact that one value of a new hypothesis or inter-
she again fell in a catalepsy... pretation is its ability to foster new insights and
A second Native California example of the relevance open new avenues of research. What Lewis-Williams
of this somatosensory effect involves the ritual use proposes in the Quercy example does just that. It can
of stinging nettles (Urtica holosericea). In south-cen- be seen as a model upon which a much deeper and
tral and southern California this plant was used for richer understanding of Palaeolithic Franco-Canta-
medicinal purposes because of its putative connec- brian prehistory can be based, achieved through a
tion with supernatural potency. It was also adminis- closer interdigitation of the art and artefactual records.
tered topically in puberty initiations, the primary One of the most important implications of The
purpose of which was to expose initiates to the su- Mind in the Cave is its underlying sub-text, and this
pernatural world of trance and to assist in their ac- concerns the ultimate definition of our discipline. As

The Mind in the Cave

Lewis-Williams's book reminds us, archaeology is which the cave art appeared, and I will focus my
the study of the human past, broadly defined. Pre- comments mainly on these aspects of his book.
dominantly this involves analyses of material cul- First, it is good to see his clarification of some
tural remains. But much archaeological research of the slightly tedious semantic confusions which
equally requires analysis of historical linguistics, ge- have surfaced in the recent literature over the notion
netics, palaeoclimate, and so on, just as Lewis- of the 'Human Revolution' (e.g. McBrearty & Brooks
Williams' study involves neuropsychology and a 2000). As Lewis-Williams points out, those of us who
concern with cognition - a fact that belies the fre- have used this term have always made it clear that
quent contention that 'archaeology is the science of we were applying this specifically in a European
material culture'. Material cultural remains com- context, to characterize the radical shift in behav-
monly constitute much of our empirical data, but to ioural patterns over the period of the conventional
confuse our data (material artefacts) with our disci- Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition. But of course
plinary topic of interest (the human past) is akin to in this case one is comparing essentially a 'before
claiming that epidemiology, to cite one parallel ex- and after scenario', evidently connected closely with
ample, is the science of bacteria and germs. the demographic replacement of Neanderthal by ana-
As archaeologists, we study material culture tomically and genetically modem human populations
because we are interested in understanding human (Mellars 1996). While there was no suggestion that
society and culture, and (now that behaviourism is this 'revolution' occurred directly in situ in Europe,
dead) these necessarily implicate the human brain- the fine-grained archaeological records from Europe
mind. While Lewis-Williams is certainly not the first still provide by far the best archaeological data base
to raise the issue, The Mind in the Cave is a major for documenting the radical nature of these behav-
advance in our understanding of human cognitive ioural contrasts between characteristically 'archaic'
prehistory, about which all archaeology ultimately (i.e. Neanderthal) and fully 'modern' populations -
revolves. As a case in point, the origin of human for which the origins must be sought outside Europe
consciousness may seem, at first glance, the least and most probably in Africa. If one adopts an explic-
likely of archaeological topics. The Mind in the Cave itly evolutionary perspective then one would of
suggests that it may be the most appropriate. course expect these innovations to occur in a much
more gradual, piecemeal pattern in the archaeologi-
David S. Whitley cal records of Africa than in those of Europe - which
ICOMOS-CAR is exactly what the archaeological evidence suggests
447 Third Street (McBrearty & Brooks 2000; Deacon 2000; Mellars
Fillmore CA 93015 2002). Whether one chooses to describe what hap-
USA pened in Africa as a 'revolution' depends entirely on
Email: semantics - i.e. whether one defines a revolution
primarily in terms of its consequences, or by the
speed with which it occurred (Bar-Yosef 1998).
Nor of course is there any suggestion that the
full 'package' of Upper Palaeolithic behaviour (in a
Symbolism, Meaning and the European sense) dispersed wholesale with the dis-
Neanderthal Mind persal of anatomically modern populations from Af-
rica - via Asia - to Europe. As Lewis-Williams
points out, there are many aspects of the 'Upper
Paul Mellars Palaeolithic package' which are unique to Europe
(e.g. many features of bone and antler technology,
David Lewis-Williams has written a brilliant, crea- the early appearance of representational cave art,
tive and highly readable account of what is surely and the extraordinary human and animal figurines
one of the most remarkable developments in prehis- from central Europe) and others which are no doubt
tory - the emergence of the spectacular cave art of unique to Africa. Even so, the broad similarities
the European Upper Palaeolithic. I will leave it to should not be played down. The archaeological evi-
other commentators to analyze some of the specific dence from Africa still shows a much earlier appear-
features of his interpretations of the character and ance of explicitly 'symbolic' representation (best
meaning of the art itself. My own interests lie prima- represented by the Blombos engravings: Henshilwood
rily in the wider cultural and evolutionary context in et al. 2002), typically Upper Palaeolithic end scraper

Review Feature

and burin forms, extensively shaped bone artefacts groups, together with precisely the same associated
and equally explicit 'imposed form' in stone tool cognitive capacities. Lewis-Williams's answer to
manufacture than can be documented in the archaeo- these questions is emphatically 'no', for the reasons
logical records of the European Upper Palaeolithic he discusses at great lengths. As he points out, to
(McBrearty & Brooks 2000; Mellars 2002). To ignore assume that similar items of material culture in two
these well-documented similarities between the later different societies necessarily carried precisely the
MSA archaeological evidence from Africa and the same meanings in cultural and cognitive terms would
various expressions of early Upper Palaeolithic cul- be not simply logically unfounded, but positively
ture in Europe would be to take a strangely blinkered bad anthropology - as numerous anthropological
view of the archaeological evidence as a whole. and ethnographic studies of material culture have
A second critically important feature of Lewis- documented.
Williams's book - probably the most valuable of all The question of exactly what significance the
in my view - is his insistence on the inherent com- production of grooved and perforated animal-tooth
plexity of what have often been loosely grouped pendants did have among some of the final Neander-
together under the headings of 'art' and 'ornamenta- thal groups in western Europe raises a range of in-
tion' (or 'visual symbolism' in an even broader char- triguing issues. In the case of the extraordinary
acterization) - which as he points out can potentially proliferation of personal ornaments associated with
reflect a wide variety of both cultural meanings and the earliest stages of the Aurignacian in Europe (in
even underlying cognitive capacities. The whole of the form of perforated animal teeth, perforated sea
his study is based on the premise that the capacity to shells, and a wide variety of carefully sculptured
produce 'representational' images of elements in the 'bead' forms of mammoth ivory, serpentine etc.) it is
natural world (such as animals or human figures) is generally assumed that the wearing of ornaments
fundamentally different from the capacity to deco- was carrying some explicit social message, in terms
rate the body, or to wear personal ornamentation, of the precise social roles (such as age, gender, status
and in his (more controversial) view reflects a hard- or kinship relationships) of the individuals within
wired change in the capacity of the human brain to the societies involved (White 1993; Mellars 1996;
conceptualize these two- or three-dimensional im- Gamble 1999). But to extrapolate this meaning auto-
ages and transfer them to the walls of caves or the matically across the modern human/Neanderthal
modelling of human or animal statuettes. In his view divide would be patently unwarranted, for all the
modem humans possessed these new neurological reasons which Lewis-Williams so clearly points out.
capacities (through the emergence of what he refers The alternative (as discussed in more detail else-
to as 'higher order consciousness') whereas earlier where) is that the wearing of animal-tooth orna-
archaic populations - such as the European ments among the late Neanderthal groups could have
Neanderthals - did not. been stimulated directly by contacts with the intru-
The whole of this discussion of course has a sive anatomically modern populations, and acted
critical bearing on the patterns of interaction be- primarily as a new dimension of social or personal
tween Neanderthal and anatomically modern display within the context of the Neanderthal socie-
populations in Europe, and in particular on how we ties themselves (Mellars 1999). Expressed in Dar-
interpret the demonstrable capacity of some late Ne- winian terms,
anderthal groups to reproduce some of the distinc- in a contracting, competitive, late Neanderthal
tive features of early Upper Palaeolithic technology world, it may have been precisely the ability to
such as shaped bone tools and (more significantly) copy the habits or appearance of the new, intrusive
grooved or perforated animal-tooth ornaments. Re- groups which conveyed increased personal or so-
gardless of whether these elements were simply 'cop- cial prestige, or evwm improved mating success,
ied' from the new, modem human proto-types or (in within the local or regional groups. If this were the
case, then this could have had a critical impact on
my view much less likely) invented independently
the evolutionary survival strategies of the final Ne-
and spontaneously by the final Neanderthals them- anderthal groups (Mellars 1999, 350).
selves (Mellars 1999; 2000; d'Errico et al. 1998; ), the
crux of the issue is whether the capacity to produce In any event, it should be recalled that the occur-
and reproduce these objects implies that the arte- rence of these pendants is at present securely docu-
facts carried exactly the same cultural meanings in mented from at most two or three late Neanderthal
the late Neanderthal and anatomically modern sites in western and central France (most notably

The Mind in the Cave

Arcy-sur-Cure and Quinqay), all of which are almost adaptive and selective pressures may have lay be-
certainly contemporaneous with the presence of early hind it. A large part of the problem here lies in the
Aurignacian communities either in France itself or belief that this fundamental neurological transition
in the immediately adjacent parts of northern Spain can only be described and understood in terms of
and southern Germany (Mellars 2000; White 2001; 'orders of consciousness' - perhaps not the most
Conard & Bolus 2003). sharply defined or clearly understood concept in
However we view this situation, two things are neuropsychology, and in Lewis-Williams's view not
clear: first, that some degree of exchange of material to be confused with normal concepts of 'intelligence'.
culture between the local Neanderthal and expand- Nevertheless the fundamental assumption is that,
ing anatomically modern populations is not merely however we choose to conceive the notion of 'higher
plausible but entirely predictable in anthropological order consciousness', this new cognitive capacity
terms; and, second, that it would be entirely un- emerged as a direct product of the biological evolu-
founded to assume that some degree of exchange or tion from archaic to fully modern humans, and
'acculturation' of items such as personal ornamenta- brought with it equally radical changes in both the
tion between the two populations carried with it complexity and structure of language, and the asso-
exactly the same implications for the social structure ciated patterns of social organization and extended
and organization of the two groups, or identical pat- (i.e. long-distance) kinship relationships that we see
terns of cognition and mentality. so clearly in the archaeological records of the Upper
Whether the Neanderthals and other species of Palaeolithic (Mellars 1996; Gamble 1999).
'archaic' hominids did have radically different pat- This is stimulating stuff, and will no doubt gen-
terns of cognition and 'intelligence' (in the widest erate lively debate in the future literature - espe-
sense) from those of modem humans remains of cially from those who believe that any suggestion of
course the 64,000-dollar question in modern human 'inferior' or even 'different' mental capacities in pre-
origins research, and it is here no doubt that Lewis- modem human populations is in some way border-
Williams's book will remain controversial. His dis- ing on the politically incorrect (e.g. Zilhao 2001). The
cussion in general is somewhat dismissive of irrationality of the latter view of course is self evi-
conventional approaches to the 'evolutionary psy- dent: not only would it effectively deny the possibil-
chology' of human development - with their at- ity of significant changes in mental capacities during
tendant use of comparative primate studies, mental the later stages of human evolution but it would
pathologies, and child developmental patterns etc. equally ignore all of the accumulating evidence that
as potential models for specific aspects of human the evolutionary trajectories of the European
cognitive and neurological evolution. No doubt some Neanderthals and the emerging African 'modern'
of the other commentators will have strong views on populations are likely to have been separate over a
these things. But at the end of the day his entire period of at least 400-500,000 years - i.e. cumula-
analysis of the origins of art depends on the prime tively almost a million years of potentially divergent
assumption that pre-anatomically modern popu- evolution between the two lineages (Krings et al.
lations lacked something in their cognitive equipment 1999; Beerli & Edwards 2002). In my own view, the
which prevented them from either experiencing the question of whether the European Neanderthals did
kind of altered-state images experienced by fully have significantly different cognitive capacities from
modem humans, or at least remembering these ex- those of modern humans still remains an issue for
periences and the associated images after the trance- further investigation, rather than an a priori premise
like states were over. He leaves no doubt that he to be assumed. But Lewis-Williams's penetrating
regards this contrast as being hard-wired in the analysis of the emergence and character of Upper
neurological structure of the brain (e.g. pp. 92-3) and Palaeolithic art is an important step in that direction.
therefore a direct product (presumably) of normal
biological evolutionary processes (though again their Paul Mellars
are certain slightly barbed references to 'Darwinian' University of Cambridge
approaches to human behavioural development in Department of Archaeology
general). What is lacking from Lewis-Williams's Downing Street
analysis is any discussion of exactly when and how Cambridge
this radical evolutionary transformation occurred (? CB2 3DZ
involving one mutation or several) and exactly what UK

Review Feature

Reply to accept what the seers tell them, often in charged

emotional circumstances. In any event, hallucina-
tions are, in numerous societies, not 'highly extraor-
J. David Lewis-Williams dinary'; they are part of daily life and are frequently
Busy and successful researchers seldom have time to The next point is crucial. Not everyone is gulled
review others' work. I am therefore grateful to those by the seers. In some societies, there are those who
who have commented so thoughtfully on The Mind challenge the seers's revelations and (some of) the
in the Cave, and so generously. Their remarks raise
rules that they try to impose, but within the general
both specific and general issues. framework of belief. These dissidents are able to
Most of the specifics are of the Oliver Twist assert their independence without wishing to over-
variety. Thomas Lawson would like to know more
throw the entire religious system. By contrast, other
about the 'reception' of west European Upper societies - post-Enlightenment, post-Darwin West-
Palaeolithic images. Knut Helskog would like more ern society is the prime example - offer an alterna-
about the chronology of images, the significance of tive cosmology that does not require any belief
alfresco art, and colour symbolism. Paul Mellars, whatsoever in supernatural entities. We now know
who provides an authoritative summary of the prin- that the 'rather natural' human propensity to believe
cipal features of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic (to us) manifestly absurd beliefs about spirits is cre-
Transition, wants more on 'exactly when and how ated by the electro-chemical functioning of the hu-
this radical evolutionary transformation occurred'. man brain, a functioning that is, given the right
He believes that Africa holds the answers. David
intellectual circumstances, not ineluctable.
Whitley, too, asks for more about what happened in Beliefs about spiritual things do, of course, take
the rest of the world. A point that I make in the book many forms. Helskog therefore wonders why I do
is that one does not have to explain everything in not pay more attention to sympathetic magic (he
order to explain something. So my response to these discounts hunting magic), mythical narratives, and
requests is to take my place in the line behind the totemism. Let us take each in turn.
angelic young mendicant. I did not write about most Strictly speaking, sympathetic magic is founded
of these issues because I do not know the answers.
on 'sympathy' between an image and a real animal
An exception is perhaps the fascinating matter or person; what is done to the image will, it is be-
that Lawson raises. Why do ordinary people, he asks, lieved, happen to the real creature. I believe that
who have never experienced an altered state of con- underground image-making was a more complex
sciousness, believe what the seers tell them about process. Less strictly, I agree with Helskog that sub-
spirits and other realms? 'What made these images terranean interaction between people and spirits,
compelling to those who had not undergone the
such as a Lord of the Animals, may have been be-
highly extraordinary experiences of the "religious lieved to lead to the release of animals to hunters
geniuses"?' He answers his own question by saying, (but only those species depicted, which, we know,
'As several cognitive scientists of religion have been do not proportionately reflect the image-makers's
able to demonstrate, it is rather natural for human diet?). What we need to ask is: What was the concep-
beings to respond to representations of the "super- tual framework for such beliefs and for, specifically,
natural" ... It does not take much to be responsive
underground image-making? Here, I respond that a
to ideas about gods, spirits, and other worlds.' I tiered cosmos is the answer. Transitions, both psy-
respond: What does 'rather natural' mean? What is chic and physical, between cosmological levels may
the 'not... much' that belief in spirits takes? sometimes have been related to hunting, though,
I tried to answer this question in the book by overall, hunting magic (however it may be conceived)
pointing out that deeply altered and fully hallucina- was not the principal motivation behind the making
tory states of consciousness are only part of a con- of images (Ucko & Rosenfeld 1967, 123-5).
tinuum, or spectrum, of mental conditions. Everyone Without any recorded myths it is hard to find
has experienced profound, enveloping reveries, hyp- something to say about Upper Palaeolithic mythol-
nagogic hallucinations, and dreams. Moreover, many ogy that goes beyond naive assertions about the im-
people have found bliss in the mental introversion portance of myth in all kinds of societies. In southern
of meditation and prayer. It is these conditions that Africa, we are more fortunate: we have verbatim
provide 'ordinary' people with glimpses of 'other transcriptions of nineteenth-century /Xam San
realms' and mental states and that predispose them myths. I have analyzed two of these in detail (Lewis-

The Mind in the Cave

Williams 1996; 1997a, reprinted in Lewis-Williams which there were spirit animals and beings, possibly
2002, 73-94). This work led me to realize that San including some of the dead. Be that as it may, 'death'
shamanistic myths are studded with metaphors of is a socially and historically situated construct; we
transition that also appear in their rock art, but the cannot assume that Upper Palaeolithic people
'vocabulary' of the art is by no means the same as thought about death as modern Westerners do.
that of myth (Lewis-Williams & Pearce in press). Moreover, Helskog questions whether spirit ani-
Accordingly, I wrote in The Mind in the Cave: 'Rather, mals and beings were only behind the rock walls.
the metaphors and images that lay at the heart of That some images of animals appear to be emerging
Lascaux shamanism and that structured the people's from behind the 'membrane' of the walls does not
thinking were expressed in different contexts - myth preclude their numinous, invisible presence every-
and art, and probably in dance and music as well' where in the chambers and passages that thread
(pp. 265-6). Upper Palaeolithic images did not merely their way through the chthonic realms. We must not
'illustrate' myths. Subterranean image-making was be too precise and dogmatic about such points; Up-
an autonomous practice. Nevertheless, amongst their per Palaeolithic people themselves were probably
multifarious experiences, shamans sometimes visit more flexible in their beliefs - within certain pa-
the supernatural realm of myth and meet mythic rameters.
personages, and therein lies a link (not the only one) Just how we try to understand Upper Palaeolithic
between myth and shamanism - and a warning belief in an underworld visited by shamans is one of
that we should not, as some researchers do, oppose the general issues that all commentators raise. This
'shamanism' and 'mythology' as two incompatible point takes us to what I think is the heart of discus-
categories of interpretations. sions about such elusive matters as Upper Palaeolithic
If 'myth' is difficult to define, 'totemism' is an image-making. Often one reads that a writer has not
even more slippery word, as Claude Levi-Strauss 'proved' his or her point. Proof is an inappropriate
long ago showed (1969). The possibility of some sort and meaningless concept in such discussions. I ven-
of totemism in the Upper Palaeolithic was suggested ture to suggest that nothing of interest in archaeol-
at the beginning of the twentieth century by Salomon ogy is ever 'proved', though arguments may be
Reinach. More recently, Robert Layton has addressed strong enough to warrant acceptance. That is why it
the issue. He sees totemism and shamanism as 'two is boring to present readers with supposedly de-
opposed ways of appropriating motifs from the vo- scriptive but actually tendentious chapters of 'data',
cabulary of a cultural tradition' (Layton 2000, 179). and then to 'analyze' or 'interpret' those data (within
He concludes: 'The distribution of animal motifs in the framework that led to their selection in the first
Upper Palaeolithic caves.. . tends towards the sha- place). That is also why, in Helskog's phrase, I cast
manistic pattern . . . (a limited number of species my discussion in the form of 'a careful chain of ques-
favoured, but all found at a high proportion of sites)', tions and arguments' - though I prefer the meta-
though he expresses reservations. He continues: 'On phor of a multi-strand cable - and presented relevant
balance, however, this tends to support Clottes and data along the way (Wylie 1989). Method (the form
Lewis-Williams' interpretation of the [subterranean] of argument employed to reach a conclusion) is per-
animal art' (Layton 2000, 182-3; second parenthesis haps the central issue demanding attention in Upper
added). I cannot entirely agree with Layton's method, Palaeolithic image-making research.
and I argue that there are far better reasons for sup- One of the evidential strands on which I draw
posing that Upper Palaeolithic cave art was essen- is ethnography, and Whitley shows how, in a spirit
tially associated with shamanistic trans-cosmological of co-operation, researchers can edge closer to an
travel rather than totemism (cf. Ucko & Rosenfeld understanding of what was happening in the Upper
1967, 120-30). That is why The Mind in the Cave fo- Palaeolithic caves. He provides further examples of
cuses on shamanism. the sensations of piercing that are widely reported
Helskog speaks of the subterranean level of that as part of shamanistic experience (pp. 270-84; Lewis-
cosmos as a 'realm of death'. I do not experience the Williams 1997b). Here we have to walk a tightrope
'necrological reaction' that he 'personally had when between homogenizing shamanism world wide and
visiting deep caves', but I of course accept that the paying so much attention to differences between
dead were probably associated with the underworld. shamanisms that we cannot see the wood. That there
Most of what he says about the topographic features should be differences comes as no surprise. What are
of the caves is indeed what I too argue. The caves led surprising are the similarities between shamanisms
both physically and mentally into an underworld in that have no connections with one another.

Review Feature

These similarities, never absolutely identical but sapiens? If so, what was the nature of that difference?
always culturally situated and understood, are, I The Mind in the Cave emphasizes the importance of
argue, explained by the wiring of the human brain. different kinds of consciousness (rather than simply
That being so, we have a bridge to the Upper Palaeo- degrees of intelligence) and shows that it is differ-
lithic, a point that Mellars realizes may provoke dis- ences in consciousness that explain some of the prin-
cussion, but which I see as virtually indisputable: cipal features of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic
what the Neanderthals borrowed and what they did transition. In answering some - by no means all -
not borrow from Aurignacians suggest a different of the questions about that period, I hope that the
form of consciousness and thus (perhaps subtly but book will contribute to a diminution in, not an esca-
none the less highly significant) a different wiring of lation of, controversy and that it will encourage a
the brain. The shamanisms that must have come and tighter research focus in some areas of enquiry.
gone during the long Upper Palaeolithic period and
their expressions are our field of study. References
Continuing in a positive vein, Whitley points
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our research with evidence from 'dirt' archaeology
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The Mind in the Cave: 'The archaeological evidence appearance of modern humans and timing of cul-
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