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Seeing AND

Knowing uNDerstANDiNG roCk Art

with AND without ethNoGrAphy

edited by
Geoffrey BluNDell
Christopher ChippiNDAle
BeNjAmiN smith
Seeing AND
Knowing UNDerstANDiNg rock Art
with AND withoUt ethNogrAphy
this is the third volume in the Rock Art Research institute Monograph Series

other titles in the series:

People of the Eland (2009) – patricia Vinnicombe
The Eland’s People (2009) – edited by peter Mitchell and Benjamin smith
Seeing AND
Knowing UNDerstANDiNg rock Art
with AND withoUt ethNogrAphy

edited by
geoffrey BlUNDell
christopher chippiNDAle
BeNjAMiN sMith
Published in South Africa by

Wits University Press

1 Jan Smuts Avenue
South Africa

Published edition copyright © Wits University Press 2010

Compilation copyright © Edition editors 2010
Chapter copyright © Individual contributers 2010

First published 2010

The publishers gratefully acknowledge financial support for this publication from the Rock Art Research Institute,
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

All royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to the Rock Art Endowment Fund of the Rock Art Research Institute.

ISBN 978 1 86814 513 3

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form
or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the written permission of the
publisher, except in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act, Act 98 of 1978.

Edited by Lee Smith

Cover design by Hothouse South Africa
Layout and design by Hothouse South Africa
Printed and bound by Ultra Litho (Pty) Limited
this volume is dedicated to David lewis-williams
Contributors xi

Acronyms xiii

Chapter 1 Rock art with and without ethnography 1

geoffrey BlUNDell, christopher chippiNDAle AND BeNjAMiN sMith
The Lewis-Williams revolution: Studying rock art in southern Africa and beyond 1
The dual ethnographic-neuropsychological approach: The classic style of study in the classic area 2
Extending beyond the classic style of study in the classic area 3
From South Africa to the world, from informed methods to formal methods 5
Understanding rock art: Informed methods, formal methods, and the uniformitarian issues 5
This book 6

Chapter 2 Flashes of brilliance: San rock paintings of heaven’s things 11

Heavenly bodies, human imaginations 11
Heaven on earth in Africa 14
Stellar sites in South Africa 18
Age determinations 26
Potency, astral travel and agency 26
Future horizons 30

Chapter 3 Snake and veil: the rock engravings of driekopseiland, northern Cape, 37
South Africa
DAViD Morris
Driekopseiland 37
Who, and why? Stow’s account 38
Bushman or Korana – and other preoccupations 39
What, and how old? 40
Towards an archaeological context 42
Towards meaning 43
Driekopseiland landscape and history 48

Chapter 4 Cups and saucers: A preliminary investigation of the rock carvings of 55

tsodilo Hills, northern botswana
Nick wAlker
Tsodilo Hills 56
The carvings 57
Local beliefs 62
Antiquity 63
Meaning 66
Conclusions 68
Chapter 5 Art and authorship in southern African rock art: examining the Limpopo-Shashe 75
Confluence Area
eDwArD B. eAstwooD, geoffrey BlUNDell AND BeNjAMiN sMith
Rock art and regionality 75
The study area, its environs, and rock art traditions 76
Towards understanding the historical context 82
Evidence from excavation 82
Evidence from archaeo-linguistic studies and historical sources 84
Evidence from the rock art 87
Implications 90

Chapter 6 Archaeology, ethnography, and rock art: A modern-day study from tanzania 99
iMogeNe l. liM
Tanzania: Rock art and ethnography 99
Location, location, location 100
Sandawe praxis: Iyari 102
Metaphors for fertility: Objects and colour 107
Rain-calling 109
Archaeology and ethnography in rock art studies: Lessons from the Sandawe 111

Chapter 7 Art and belief: the ever-changing and the never-changing in the Far west 117
DAViD s. whitley
Ethnography and North American rock art 118
Beyond the tyranny of the ethnographic record 123
The conservatism of culture 124
The essentialist challenge 126
Situating cultural stability and change 126
Making supernatural power personal: The emergence of Numic bands and headmen 127
Long-term uses of summarising symbols 127
Elaborating symbols: Where power becomes personal 127
Conservatism versus change 129

Chapter 8 Crow indian elk love-medicine and rock art in Montana and wyoming 139
lAwreNce l. loeNDorf
Love-magic and the American elk 139
Elk images at rock art sites in Montana and Wyoming 141
Summary 145

Chapter 9 Layer by layer: Precision and accuracy in rock art recording and dating 149
johANNes loUBser
Background: Informed and formal approaches in conjunction 149
El Ratón and its rock paintings 150
People of the Sierra de San Francisco 151
Recording methods and techniques 153
Relative stratigraphy and dating at El Ratón 156
Provisional sequence at El Ratón and some implications for interpretation 163
Placement and depiction of motifs in El Ratón 164

seeiNg AND kNowiNg

Chapter 10 From the tyranny of the figures to the interrelationship between myths, 169
rock art and their surfaces
kNUt helskog
The tyranny 170
Choosing the surface 172
The panels 175
Understanding the elk 181
Conclusion 184

Chapter 11 Composite creatures in european Palaeolithic art 189

jeAN clottes
Identifying composite creatures 189
Man–beast 190
Beast–man 192
Humans and animals 195

Chapter 12 thinking strings: on theory, shifts and conceptual issues in the study of 199
Palaeolithic art
MArgAret w. coNkey
After a founding text 199
On theory and theorising 201
Shifts in and for the study of Palaeolithic art 203
Intellectual shifts and new perspectives 203
Thinking strings: Some different conceptual directions 205
Are there ‘conclusions’? 209

Chapter 13 Rock art without ethnography? A history of attitude to rock art and landscape 215
at Frøysjøen, western norway
eVA wAlDerhAUg
Rock art and ethnography 215
Rock art of western Norway and western Mozambique 216
‘Pre-contact’ natural history and ethnohistory at Frøysjøen 220
The ‘post-contact’ period: A grand discovery, and its aftermath 222
Frøysjøen ‘ethnography’ and the making of the hunting-magic explanation 224
After hunting magic: The past in the present 227
Romancing a mountain: Folklore and myth at Frøysjøen 228
In the footsteps of Gjessing until paths divide: A brief return to southern Africa 230
The value of present-day ethnographies and ethnohistory 232

Chapter 14 ‘Meaning cannot rest or stay the same’ 241

pAtriciA ViNNicoMBe
‘What is the meaning of your work?’ 241
Fluidity of oral tradition 242
Images are real 243
A seamless unity 244
Mimesis 245
Access to power 245
Structure 246

Chapter 15 Manica rock art in contemporary society 251
tore sætersDAl
Studying rock art in Manica Province, Mozambique 251
The geography of Manica 251
The rock art of Manica 252
Manica Valley 252
Art in the Guidingue area 254
Archaeological excavations 257
Shona history and ethnohistory 258
Discussion: Art then and art now 262

Chapter 16 oral tradition, ethnography, and the practice of north American archaeology 269
jUlie e. frANcis AND lAwreNce l. loeNDorf
The changing shape of North American archaeology 269
Rock art and the ‘new archaeology’ 270
Rock art and the ‘newer archaeology’ 271
Examples: Ethnography, oral tradition and understanding 271
Integration of ethnographic information and traditional archaeological data: Implications for archaeology 276

Chapter 17 beyond rock art: Archaeological interpretation and the shamanic frame 281
Neil price
Introduction: Southern African rock art research, in southern Africa and elsewhere 281
Diversity and definition in a shamanic archaeology 282
Shamanism: The big question 283
The antiquity of shamanism 284
Shamanism and the indigenous voice 286
Archaeological interpretation and the shamanic frame 286

List of figures 290

List of tables 296

List of publications by david Lewis-williams 297

index 305

seeiNg AND kNowiNg

geoffrey blundell imogene L. Lim
Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Department of Anthropology, Vancouver Island
Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, PO WITS 2050, University, formerly Malaspina University-College.
South Africa 900 Fifth Street, Nanaimo, BC, V9R 5S5 Canada
geoff@origins.org.za Imogene.Lim@viu.ca

Christopher Chippindale Lawrence L. Loendorf

Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology & Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
Anthropology, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 llloendorf@yahoo.com
3DZ, England; Rock Art Research Institute,
University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3,PO Johannes Loubser
WITS 2050 Gauteng, South Africa; School of Stratum Unlimited, LLC, 10011 Carrington Lane,
Archaeology & Anthropology, Australian National Alpharetta, GA 30022, USA
University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia Rock Art Research Institute, University of the
cc43@cam.ac.uk Witwatersrand, South Africa
Jean Clottes
11 rue du Fourcat, 09000 Foix, France david Morris
j.clottes@wanadoo.fr McGregor Museum, PO Box 316, Kimberley,
Northern Cape 8300, South Africa
Margaret w. Conkey dmorris@museumsnc.co.za
Archaeological Research Facility and Department of
Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, Sven ouzman
CA. USA 94720-3710 Department of Anthropology and Archaeology,
Conkey@sscl.berkeley.edu University of Pretoria, Tswane 0002, South Africa
edward b. eastwood
Ed Eastwood passed away during the preparation of neil Price
this volume. The editors pay tribute to an archaeol- Department of Archaeology, University of Aberdeen,
ogist who made an exceptional contribution to the St. Mary's, Elphinstone Road, Aberdeen AB24 3UF,
field of rock art studies. Scotland
Julie e. Francis
1403 Curtis Street, Laramie WY 82070, USA tore Saetersdal
julie.francis@dot.state.wy.us Director, Nile Basin Research Programme,
University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway
Knut Helskog Tore.Satersdal@uni.no
Department of Cultural Sciences, Tromsø
University Museum, 9037 Tromsø, Norway benjamin Smith
Knut.helskog@uit.no Rock Art Research Institute, University of the
Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, PO WITS 2050,
South Africa

contributors xi
Patricia Vinnicombe nick walker
Patricia Vinnicombe passed away during the prepara- 8 Andrew Joss Street, Mossel Bay, 6506,
tion of this volume. The editors pay tribute to an South Africa
archaeologist who made an exceptional contribution nwalke@telkomsa.net
the field of rock art studies.
david S. whitley
eva walderhaug ASM Affiliates, Tehachapi CA, USA
National Directorate for Cultural Heritage huitli53@gmail.com
PO Box 8196 Dep., 0034 Oslo, Norway

xii seeiNg AND kNowiNg

AMisUD Amigos de sudcalifornia
AMs Accelerator Mass spectrometry
Bp Before present
gci getty conservation institute
lsA later stone Age
MsA Middle stone Age
lscA limpopo-shashe confluence Area

contents xiii
Figure 1.1 In the field, 1996: David Lewis-Williams (right) with Jean Clottes (left) in front of the main panel, with its famous frieze
of eland at Game Pass Shelter in the Drakensberg.

xiv SeeInG AnD KnOWInG


Rock art with and

without ethnography
geoFFrey BLundeLL, ChrisTopher ChippindaLe and Benjamin smiTh
(rock art research institute, university of the witwatersrand, south africa)

The Lewis-wiLLiams revoLuTion: rejected and replaced with approaches based on San
studying rock art in southern africa and beyond cognition and ethnohistory – concerns which con-
tinue to be strong in the region and are increasingly
The overall theme and structure of this book serve to influential outside it. In particular, studies of the
explore how best we study rock art when there exist meanings of San rock art have received wide notice.
ethnographic or ethnohistoric bases of insight, and This is more than a local or a regional concern. For
how we study rock art when there do not appear to a century – ever since the unexpected discoveries of Ice
be ethnographic or ethnohistoric bases of insight – in Age rock art in its deep caves astonished Europe –
short, how we understand and learn from rock art researchers have found rock art difficult. Striking
with and without ethnography. We are not aware of though it often is in its aesthetic force, it has been hard
an exact precedent for this, although the way archae- to date and hard to make sense of within conventional
ologists work best with and without ethnography is a archaeological frameworks. So observant, so well done,
perpetual issue of the discipline. so accomplished, it must have meant something in
The ten years between 1967 and 1977 were, we ancient times – but what? In South Africa, David
can now see, a revolutionary period in southern Lewis-Williams has accurately called the well-meaning
African rock art research. In those years the older, and unhappy approaches that resulted ‘gaze and guess’
colonial approaches to studying San rock art were (Lewis-Williams & Dowson 2000). Guesses have come

and gone in passing fashions over the decades as African example as a beacon in that darkness of gloom
archaeologists have struggled with rock art – from which sees the meaning of rock art as unknowable,
totemism to sympathetic magic to aesthetic self-enjoy- and therefore the whole enterprise of studying it as
ment to daily narrative to structuralism, back to permanently stuck. If meaning can be known in South
totemism (Jones 1967) and so on – in a way that gives Africa and is known, then perhaps it can be and
no confidence that the present fashion will be more should be known elsewhere? Perhaps the particular
than a passing phase, or even that knowledge accumu- approaches that seemed to work in South Africa could
lates, building and extending from stage to stage. Ideas work in other places: what, for example, if the great
seem just to flit about, one sometimes popular and one many volumes of ethnography for the American West,
sometimes not, within much the same level of neces- diligently published many decades ago and now lan-
sary ignorance. An influential textbook published in guishing on the library shelves, actually preserved eth-
England at the start of that transforming South African nohistoric records pertinent to rock art, records which
decade, Peter Ucko and Andrée Rosenfeld’s Palaeolithic could offer a route to insight as the Bleek and Lloyd
Cave Art (1967), surveyed those various ideas about (1911) records do for the San? What if the knowledge
European rock art’s meaning which had been or then of Native Americans today, and their own reactions
were variously in vogue. It showed well how many and to rock art, gave clues to ancient meanings just as the
fatal were their weaknesses, but that textbook was ret- knowledge and ritual of San people today, people who
icent when it came to recommending where a better do not themselves paint rock art, gave insight into the
way forward might be found. An influential commen- southern African images? What if the iconographic
tator today insists that the meaning of ancient art must elements recognised as distinctive in South Africa had
always be unknowable: ‘gaze and guess’ is the best we parallels in the American West? And what if, even
can do, and since guesses make no useful knowledge, where the specifics of the South African example
we do best just to gaze. seemed less easy to follow, the success of the enter-
It is largely through the work of David Lewis- prise encouraged the potential optimist to believe that
Williams and his colleagues at this time that San rock by seeing the rock art in the right kinds of ways, what-
art has come to be understood so well, as a complex ever those might be in any one region, actual research
symbolic and metaphoric representation of San reli- progress might be made in areas of research where
gious beliefs and practices. As chapters in this volume glum pessimism was the habit?
acknowledge, seminal to this enterprise was Lewis- Rock art research is not a confined business. In par-
Williams’ PhD thesis, ‘Believing and Seeing: An allel with developing research in South Africa, there
Interpretation of Symbolic Meanings in Southern San has been much activity and important new work in
Rock Paintings’. Completed in 1977 and then pub- other regions. Sometimes, especially in Australia with
lished by Academic Press, London, in 1981, Believing its astonishingly rich insights from ethnographic
and Seeing was a landmark because it employed San records and contemporary Aboriginal knowledge (e.g.
ethnography in order to tease out the semantic spec- Layton 1992; Chaloupka 1993; Doring 2000), this
trum of key San symbols, first within their ritual life, has paralleled advances in South Africa. And, after too
then within their rock art in two areas within the long a period when rock art research in North America
Drakensberg Mountains. Believing and Seeing is fre- has been marginal, it is rapidly advancing there.
quently remembered now as the work which persua-
sively argued that Drakensberg San rock art is
essentially shamanistic in nature. It actually did some- The duaL eThnographiC-neuro -
thing rather different in identifying San rock art as psyChoLogiCaL approaCh: The classic
referring to the multiplicity of San rituals, of which style of study in the classic area
the central shamanic curing dance was only one.
In this book dedicated to David, we mention his It was in the later 1980s that South African interpre-
key role but not those of others in any detail, some of tations of San art began to concentrate on shamanism.
whom are themselves contributors to this book. There were two reasons for this. First, as researchers
Instead, we point to the importance of the South studied imagery farther and farther afield, both within

2 SeeInG AnD KnOWInG

the Drakensberg and beyond, it became apparent that insight from that record be applied as one moves away
very few images could be convincingly related to in space and in time from the specific source? The
other ritual aspects of San life; yet many evidently con- accounts of what the Spanish conquistadores encoun-
cerned their shamanic beliefs and practices. Second, tered as they stormed through the Andes give direct
researchers became aware of the neuropsychological insight into the Inca realm at a certain place and time
research pertaining to imagery experienced in altered (and under a certain circumstance), but then: for what
states of consciousness. This gave them a further distance in time, in space, might those insights apply
interpretative tool for understanding the many bizarre before that separation means the insights weaken or
images in the art that, at first glance, might not appear fail or – if still depended on – mislead?
directly explicable by ethnography. The original bases for ethnographic insight into San
Over the course of the last two decades, this dual rock art were the few direct references to painting, and
ethnographic-neuropsychological approach has the voluminous reporting of San knowledge of all
achieved wide acceptance as the most productive way kinds that was recorded over the decades, especially
of analysing San rock art: it has become the ‘classic’ the Bleek and Lloyd collection compiled in the 1870s,
approach. That the classic approach continues to yield plus the ethnographic report and anthropological
productive results is well demonstrated by Sven analyses concerning San people in the Kalahari Desert
Ouzman’s contribution to this volume (chapter 2). in very recent years (for an overview, see Barnard
He draws on ethnographic material from both 19th- 1992). The strong consistency found between these
and 20th-century San to explore the intriguing pos- various sources (Lewis-Williams & Biesele 1978) was
sibility that certain celestial events were recorded in itself grounds for thinking that San knowledge was
San art. In contrast to the many discussions of fairly stable over space and time. But there clearly
‘ancient astronomy’, he does not argue that the must, at some distance, be a limit: this consistency can-
images acted as a calendar; instead, he shows how the not extend indefinitely in space or in time.
San perceived these celestial phenomena in a more Southern African rock art, like rock art of most
symbolic manner. kinds and in most regions, is difficult to date.
Evident in chapter 2 is how the classic approach Developing relative chronologies is problematic
constructs an expanding body of knowledge. Like all because superposition sequences have been shown to
systems of meaning, San rock art has strong consis- be an active product of meaning construction rather
tencies and recurrences. Once the sense of one aspect than a passive record of changes through time (Lewis-
has been grasped, that insight in turn makes possible Williams 1974); along with this, a small number of
inferences about others. Thirty years since the classic absolute dates means that we do not yet clearly under-
approach began to reach a stable procedure, it is pos- stand change in the art even at a specific location or
sible to look at a unique rock painting, at a defined within a small region. This is the common story for
group of figures not previously treated together, at a rock art everywhere in the world. Since the rock art
panel scrutinised more than once before, and to is not clearly placed in time, an approach is encour-
advance our insight into each of them as these chap- aged – or is even inescapable – which does not centre
ters successively do. on change in time. One can envisage that, if a strongly
structured chronology does emerge, our knowledge
of San rock art will be enriched by some grasp of how
exTending Beyond The CLassiC (and then perhaps of why) it has changed.
sTyLe oF sTudy in The CLassiC area The ‘classic’ approach was influenced more by
social anthropological theory, particularly the sym-
Although Ouzman’s chapter clearly demonstrates the bolic anthropology of Victor Turner, than by the cul-
continued value of San rock art research approached ture change that archaeologists in southern Africa and
in this way, two aspects of the classic approach also the rest of the world concentrated on in the 1970s.
place limitations on what it can say. All studies that This sort of anthropological thinking was, indeed,
work out from a basis in historical or ethnohistoric criticised by historians for playing down the impor-
records face issues of time and space. How far can tance of temporal change – almost suspending a

Rock art with and without ethnography 3

particular people as if fixed in time. Nevertheless, the attempted to interpret southern Africa’s vast body of
classic approach does not dodge or dismiss the idea rock engravings alongside the paintings. Only in the
of change in the art. The suspension of chronology early 1990s – some 15 years after the initial revolution
in the classic efforts led to a broad-based interpreta- – did the first major study of rock engravings to use
tive framework. In its most fundamental formulation ethnographic and neuropsychological evidence appear
it follows then, given the sources available to us, that (Dowson 1992; subsequently e.g. Morris &
we can say with varying confidence – depending on Beaumont 1994; Ouzman 1996); and the engraved
the particular image and on the available ethnographic tradition remains an understudied component of
and neurological evidence – that at some point in time southern Africa’s rock art heritage.
and for some San people, at least, the image is likely Chapters 3 to 6 push out in these research direc-
to have carried this and/or that meaning. The image tions beyond the classic approach, extending applica-
may also have had other meanings, or those meanings tion of the ethnographic evidence. Both David Morris
may have changed through time. What those other and Nicholas Walker look at engravings rather than at
meanings were and how they changed are matters also paintings. Morris (chapter 3) takes a classic approach
to be demonstrated. to interpreting rock engravings at Driekopseiland, the
Closely related to these issues of separation in time extraordinary and famous site to which there is
is the second limitation of the classic approach – how specific reference in ethnohistoric accounts from the
it will deal with distance and separation in physical 1870s. Walker (chapter 4) extends ethnographic-
space. Moving out from the original study area in the based work to cupules – the little hollows pecked on
Drakensberg Mountains of south-east South Africa and to surfaces that are found in a score of African coun-
Lesotho, can a similar interpretative framework be fairly tries and, in startlingly similar forms, in archaic
applied to other rock art images in widely scattered Australia amongst other places – with a study from
regions in southernmost and in less southernmost the Tsodilo Hills, northern Botswana, a move also in
Africa? If it can be, then how far in space can it go? space from the classic study area.
Zimbabwe? Namibia? To the Zambezi? Beyond and up Chapters 5 and 6 move decidedly north in space
into East Africa? Is it fanciful or absurd to remember from the classic area. Edward Eastwood, Geoff
the richness of that other great zone of African rock Blundell and Benjamin Smith (chapter 5) consider the
art, in the Sahara? Using the established tools of art of the central Limpopo Basin, the ‘Kalahari fringe’,
ethnography and neuropsychology developed in the showing how it differs considerably from the paint-
classic approach, more and more painted images could ings of the Drakensberg – the area of focus of the clas-
be and have been interpreted as shamanic in nature. (A sic approach – and how the rock art of different
case is even being made that hunter-gatherer rock art peoples is found there. Imogene Lim (chapter 6)
in the generality – wherever it is in place and time – explores the use of ethnography in East Africa in
will relate to shamanic experience [Pearson 2002].) Of studying rock art of the Sandawe, a click-speaking
course these efforts, in allowing researchers to see people in Tanzania who are apparently not otherwise
meaningful similarities in the art across space, masked related to the Khoe-San people of South Africa.
variation and divergence, since regional differences These new research interests have opened and will
were subordinated to broad-based general meanings. open a number of interesting and important ques-
Today, most southern African researchers would tions, some of which can be answered while others
acknowledge that the classic approach as such can only remain elusive. Also to be further developed – and
be applied to rock art south of the Zambezi River, and here the remaining 11 chapters in this volume are rel-
there only to San rock art; the other regional traditions, evant – are studies in other rock art regions of the
such as the southern African herder and farmer rock world where variation and constancy can be observed
arts, require a different approach. and explored across distances both in space and in
There was another separation to be bridged also, time, alongside those few regions such as tropical
in the techniques of the rock art. While acknowledg- north Australia, where we have a reasonably clear pic-
ing that it was part of the same system of shamanic ture already (see e.g. Chaloupka 1993). A first-rate
beliefs and practices, the classic approach rarely recent example is the definition and disentangling of

4 SeeInG AnD KnOWInG

the diverse and varied art styles and traditions of the regions. David Whitley (chapter 7) and Lawrence
North American Great Plains in fine new studies – of Loendorf (chapter 8) draw on rich ethnographic mate-
the broad region by Keyser and Klassen’s Plains rial to offer interpretations of North American rock
Indian Rock Art (2001), and of an area within it by art which echo, in their development of informed
Francis and Loendorf’s Ancient Visions: Petroglyphs methods, the South African experience. Jannie
and Pictographs of the Wind River and Bighorn Loubser (chapter 9), working in Mexico, uses the
Country, Wyoming and Montana (2002). This will stratigraphic analytical technique of Harris matrices
open opportunities to look for, and perhaps to find, alongside ethnographic material in his analysis of rock
some repeated patterns across very separate regional paintings in Baja California. Knut Helskog (chapter
traditions, and so begin to build a general model for 10), working in northernmost Europe, an area where
how rock art varies in space and in time. the relationship between the ethnographic record and
the rock art is not yet well understood, investigates
Scandinavian rock engravings; he shows how a com-
From souTh aFriCa To The worLd, bination of ethnographic material and a formal
From inFormed meThods To approach can produce convincing interpretations.
FormaL meThods

A standard and natural feature of archaeological work undersTanding roCk arT: informed
is its regional focus: the starting point of systematic methods, formal methods, and the
knowledge is the material evidence in a geographically uniformita rian issues
bounded unit. But alongside that is interest in com-
mon themes which unite scattered areas, and in com- The application of matching approaches to problems
mon research approaches which – once developed or so broadly separated takes us to the issues sometimes
proven in one region – are ready to address matching thought of as being to do with ‘systematics’ but in
problems elsewhere. More than most topics within truth better and correctly called uniformitarian issues.3
archaeology, rock art has been studied too much Archaeologists trying to make sense of the past do so
within a regional framework. Despite the isolation of by placing it in some relation to the present – for it is
South Africa in the apartheid era,1 and the barrier of only the present to which we have any direct access
distance that separates southern Africa from parts of and of which we can have direct knowledge. As soon
the world that are seen as central, a distinctive element as we say of some ancient thing, “This is an artefact”
in David’s work and in that of those who have learnt or “This is a rock painting”, we make an observation
from him either follows the methodology established reporting what happened in the past by the parallel of
by the classic approach in southern Africa and applies that material object with what we know of the present.
it elsewhere or, in a less specific way, jumps the So all issues of archaeological understanding have to
regional barrier.2 In North America and elsewhere, do with what the Victorians called ‘uniformitarianism’
rich ethnographic contexts offer new and powerful and its central paradox: we can understand and make
insights into the rock art – once the pertinence is sense of the past by its sameness, to the extent that it
acknowledged of the ethnohistoric records and of matches what we observe in the present, but a main
contemporary indigenous understandings. reason we are interested in the past, especially the
In other places, however, sparse records or the non- remote and other past, is that it shows or may show
existence of ethnographic records make interpretative great or fundamental difference.
exercises far more difficult. There we must turn more Applying methods developed in one region or for
from the ‘informed methods’ which ethnographic one type of material or with a certain source of social
insight offers towards the ‘formal methods’, those that knowledge to other regions or materials or social con-
deal with the material evidence to be found in the texts raises important questions of this uniformitarian
images themselves and their archaeological contexts kind – some of them about how we understand
(Taçon & Chippindale 1998). Chapters 7, 8, 9 and meaning in the art, about the social role of the images,
10 move outside southern Africa to varied other and about how we look at the images themselves.

Rock art with and without ethnography 5

In the next chapters a series of key theoretical issues special character of the rock art evidence. The con-
relating to uniformitarianism are investigated. Jean cluding chapter by Neil Price (chapter 17) returns to
Clottes (chapter 11) shows how understandings and the issue of change in time and across space and con-
insights from southern African work changed the way siders the extent to which we can use the recent
in which European researchers looked at Upper ethnographies of shamanism in our studies of ancient
Palaeolithic images, as it showed them the large signif- rock art. The questions he poses and the answers he
icance of aspects not thought consequential. Meg provides lie at the core of the methodological issues
Conkey (chapter 12), also working on the Upper addressed in this volume and speak to the global rel-
Palaeolithic, surveys the various theoretical approaches evance of the research of David Lewis-Williams.
that have been employed over the decades to interpret
the imagery and put forward some ‘thinking strings’
that might enrich how we think about the art and how This Book
we might better understand it. More recent in time are
the later prehistoric rock engravings from Scandinavia, This book itself, of course, is subject to the transform-
part of the Neolithic and later regional tradition of rock ing process which changes all human things. We have
art in Europe whose meaning seems even harder to infer entitled it Seeing and Knowing in echo of David’s
than that of the much older Palaeolithic caves. Centring Believing and Seeing of some 30 years ago – we say
on a celebrated site in western Norway, Eva Walderhaug ‘seeing’ again because looking at rock art is, and will
Sætersdal (chapter 13) links study and understanding always be, central, and then what is seen when human
on that cold and rainy coast to study and understanding eyes and minds look; we say ‘knowing’ in recognition
in southern Africa, in search of ways to make better that, by his work and by his example, we now know a
sense of that most intractable northern imagery. little more than we knew before. Even so, as David
Patricia Vinnicombe was one of the architects of the would be the first to say, we still know only very little.
original rock art revolution in southern Africa. She died This volume is dedicated to David Lewis-Williams,
in March 2003 after submitting a chapter for publica- and the prompt to its writing was David’s retirement
tion in this volume. Her People of the Eland (1976) is from his professorship at the University of the
the twin to David’s Believing and Seeing. Astonishingly, Witwatersrand (‘Wits’, as many of us know it). His has
they worked at much the same time in close-by regions, been a limited retirement. He has had no more teach-
yet largely independently of each other. While David ing duties, nor obligations to open those brown
remained in southern Africa, Vinnicombe moved in envelopes from central university bureaucracy. Instead,
1977 to Australia, where Aboriginal people still paint at last, he has been able again to concentrate on
and carve the rocks. In chapter 14 she brings her research and writing, and on the more agreeable role
Australian experience to a consideration of how San of acting as mentor and guide to younger students in
rock art is perceived and thought about. the Rock Art Research Institute. Important publica-
The final three chapters deal with change and its tions chase each other off his desk: a new volume of
consequences: the changing social milieu of the rock San tales from the Bleek and Lloyd records, Stories
artists, the relationship of their descendants and rela- that Float from Afar: Ancient /Xam San Folklore
tions in a contemporary world to the art, and the role (Lewis-Williams 2000); the best-selling analytical syn-
of the images in a changing world. Tore Sætersdal thesis of the meaning of European cave art, The Mind
(chapter 15) looks at perceptions of rock art in in the Cave: Exploring Consciousness and Prehistoric
Manica Province, Mozambique. His research concen- Art (Lewis-Williams 2002b); a book of his major
trates on people who have no recognisably direct rela- papers, not just compiled into a single volume but also
tionship by continuous cultural descent with the rock re-thought and integrated into a new ‘reader’ of his
art but who nevertheless regard the art as important. ideas, A Cosmos in Stone: Interpreting Religion and
Julie Francis and Lawrence Loendorf (chapter 16) Society Through Rock Art (Lewis-Williams 2002a);
explore the changing shape of North American Images of Mystery: Rock Art of the Drakensberg (Lewis-
archaeology, seeing how it has and has not used the Williams 2003), wonderfully illustrated with many
potential of oral tradition, of ethnography, and the photographs and his first book in years once more to

6 SeeInG AnD KnOWInG

Figure 1.2 At the celebratory conference, Goudrivier Farm, Waterberg, northern Province, 23 April 2000.
Standing, from left: Jannie Loubser, Marcus Peters, Jeremy Hollmann, David Pearce, neil Price, Knut Helskog, Siyakha Mguni,
Christopher Chippindale, David Lewis-Williams, Ghilraen Laue, Tore Sætersdal, neil Lee, Peter Ammann, Gabriel Tlhapi, Sven Ouzman,
Paul den Hoed, Julie Francis, Sam Challis. Seated or kneeling, from left: Geoff Blundell, Larry Loendorf, Ben Smith, Azizo Fonseca,
Imogene Lim, Janette Deacon, Patty Bass, Justine Olofsson, Claire Dean, Joanné de Jongh, Pat Vinnicombe, Meg Conkey.

consider the rock art of the Drakensberg; sage tricks into early farming and then Christian times (Lewis-
of the trade set out for students in Building an Essay: Williams & Pearce 2005; Lewis-Williams 2010) – to
A Practical Guide for Students (Lewis-Williams mention just the recent full-length books.
2004); San Spirituality: Roots, Expressions and Social On the occasion of David’s retirement, a celebra-
Consequences (Lewis-Williams & Pearce 2004), which tory conference was held at Goudrivier Farm in the
provides a synthesis of research into 70 000+ years of Waterberg, on 21–24 April 2000 (Figure 1.2). It was
art-marking in southern Africa; and his most recent a thrilling occasion, celebratory in its looking forward
books, Inside the Neolithic Mind and Conceiving God, more than backward, another beginning rather than
which continue the Mind in the Cave story, following an end. Most of the chapters in this book were given
the history of European cosmology and symbolism in a first form at that meeting, and have been revised

Rock art with and without ethnography 7

and enlarged for publication. Some were added by step forward in that central research theme in which
colleagues unable to attend. In another, less-pressed, David has himself moved so far: how to understand
age, this volume would be a Festschrift, a book of and learn from the meaning of rock art when there is,
essays which in a spirit of comradely homage would and when there is not, pertinent ethnography.
celebrate an honoured and senior colleague in diverse As editors of this book, we thank the contributors
ways. This volume is more focused, however, with a for the good-humoured and efficient way in which
tight theme uniting its contributions, in the hope that they worked with us and for their patience with an
its chapters together will make and mark another useful overly extended editorial process.

Figure 1.3 David Lewis-Williams tracing at ezeljagdspoort, the site of one of his famous early ethnographically informed
interpretations of San Rock Art.

8 SeeInG AnD KnOWInG

Notes Lewis-Williams, J.D. 2000. Stories that Float from Afar:
Ancient /Xam San Folklore. Cape Town: David Philip.
1 Institutions such as David’s university, Wits in Johan-
Lewis-Williams, J.D. 2002a. A Cosmos in Stone: Interpreting
nesburg, which honourably defended their values of racial
Religion and Society Through Rock Art. Walnut Creek
equality against the impositions of apartheid, suffered
(CA): AltaMira.
with the rest from the isolation of South Africa and the
Lewis-Williams, J.D. 2002b. The Mind in the Cave:
opprobrium for all things South African in those years.
Exploring Consciousness and Prehistoric Art. London:
2 Starting with David and Thomas Dowson’s landmark
Thames & Hudson.
paper (1988), and subsequently, for example, Clottes and
Lewis-Williams, J.D. 2003. Images of Mystery: Rock Art of
Lewis-Williams (1997 in French, 1998 in English) and
the Drakensberg. Cape Town: Double Storey.
Lewis-Williams (2002b).
Lewis-Williams, J.D. 2004. Building an Essay: A Practical
3 As with so many other central concerns, David has writ-
Guide for Students. Cape Town: New Africa Books.
ten accurately and originally about this – see for example
Lewis-Williams, J.D. 2010. Conceiving God: The Cognitive
Lewis-Williams (1991).
Origin and Evolution of Religion. London: Thames &
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Rock art with and without ethnography 9