Prehistoric Cave Paintings and Shamanism

Kimberley Rock Art

Ever since I was a kid I was always fascinated by things such as the sky, the stars, and humans. As I grew up and went to high school, I developed a keen interest in ancient civilizations. As I kept growing, I kept researching and my interests kept expanding.  One of these research interests is shamanism, which is slowly coming into the limelight, as we are living in a very interesting time, where people are turning more to eastern practices- meditation, yoga, reiki, you name it. We are also starting to question the mainstream news, studies and medicines, and whatnot. 

There is a definite shift of perspective, and this is accelerating when passionate researchers like Graham Hancock are challenging the mainstream view, for instance, the dating period of the Sphinx, which is thought to be about 2500 BC by the mainstream, but in his best-selling book ‘Fingerprints of the Gods’, Hancock stated the date to be 10,500 BC based on his intensive research work.

There are many instances where new studies are showing a whole new picture of our history. In one of his presentations, Graham Hancock pointed out that mainstream academics viewed our ancestors as pretty ‘dull and stuck with their stone tools for millions of years. Not until 40,000 years ago, our history witness the creative side of our ancestors through cave paintings in France, such as Chauvet cave, or the Cave Trois-Frères where we could see human-like figures- ‘man-bison’ or the ‘sorcerer’. To archaeologist David Lewis Williams, these ‘cave artists’ were actually shamans of the hunter-gatherer societies, who were in an ‘altered state of consciousness, or ‘outside of time’ as the late anthropologist Michael Harner termed it. 

Chauvet Cave Painting
image: Thomas T

Indeed these ‘uncivilized caveman’ (as mainstream portrayed them) had their culture of their own. This can be explained by a recent discovery in a place 93 km away from the north of Madrid, where a series of small fires were discovered within a dolomite hillside. At that ancient site, six teeth of a Neanderthal toddler, horns, and a rhino skull were found nearby. The director of the Regional Archaeological Museum of Madrid, Enrique Baquedano has suggested that the Neanderthals might have used that place specifically to mourn and remember the dead.

What’s more fascinating is the fact that paintings at the Cave of La Pasiega, Maltravieso Cave, and Ardales Cave of the Iberian Peninsula were set to be more than 64,000 years ago through Uranium-thorium dating. Interestingly, the Cave of La Pasiega consisted of paintings of horses, ibexes, bison, anthropomorphic petroglyphs, and geometric patterns. These geometric patterns and the anthropomorphic petroglyphs can also be found on the rock art of the Kimberley region of north-western Australia, dating to 16,000 years ago according to geochronologist Dr. Kira Westaway from Macquarie University.

Ubir Aboriginal Rock Art Site, Kakadu National Park
image: BRJ INC
Cave painting-Australian Aboriginal
image: John Benwell

These incredible cave arts tell us that the Paleolithic artists were expressing themselves by telling perhaps important stories. Archaeologists Jean Clottes and David Lewis-Williams suggested that these ancient artists were in a dream state or ecstatic trance that might have been due to fasting, dancing, or psychedelic drugs. The painted scenes, for instance at the Kimberley caves involve mystical elements such as the Wandjina (cloud and rain spirits) and geometric patterns depicting shamanism. 

The practice of shamanism is prevalent among the indigenous people, including Native Americans, Ainu, Buryats (Siberia), and Sámi (northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Murmansk Oblast of Russia). This practice is based on animism, indigenous tribes believe that natural objects like plants, animals, and rocks possess a spirit. 

The origin of the word Shaman has probably taken from the Manchu-Tungus word šaman, which means “one who knows”. Though many indigenous cultures have their appropriate word of a shaman (healer or medicine man), for instance, the Inuit shaman is called Angakok, the Mongolian shaman is a Boo, and the American Sioux called their shaman as Heyoka.

Tuvan Shaman- Mongolia
image: David Baxendale

Today many people are seeking alternative ways of healing, which not only cure them physically but also psychologically and emotionally. This has led to hordes of tourists heading to the Amazon to participate in an ayahuasca (a psychedelic brew ) ceremony to cleanse their being. And many ‘plastic shamans’ (charlatans) are benefiting from this ‘industry’. There have been cases where people die since they didn’t follow the regimen before taking ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is (normally) made up of two plants-ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and ‘Chacruna’ (Psychotria Viridis) which contains the psychedelic drug dimethyltryptamine (DMT)-a naturally-occurring psychedelic which is also found endogenously in the human body. 

Ayahuasca brew and Shamanism
image: Jonah Huggins

Though there are many plastic shamans out there, yet you can still find some genuine shamans, who are true healers, and knowledgeable helpers, who have spent an enormous amount of time in the forest. The shaman has a vast knowledge about medicinal plants, dreams, spirits, and dimensional beings. 

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