Pearson brings a cogent, well-argued case for the understanding of much prehistoric art as shamanistic practice. Using the theoretical premises of cognitive archaeology and a careful examination of rock art worldwide, Pearson is able to dismiss other theories of why ancient peoples produced art_totemism, art-for-art's sake, structuralism, hunting magic. Then examining both ethnographic and neuropsychological evidence, he makes a strong case for the use of shamanistic ritual and hallucinogenic substances as the genesis of much prehistoric art. Bolstered with examples from contemporary cultures and archaeological sites around the world, Pearson's thesis should be of interest not only to archaeologists, but art historians, psychologists, cultural anthropologist, and the general public.
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James L. Pearson has a Ph.D. in archaeology from University of California, Santa Barbara. He became an archaeologist after a long career as a business executive and is now working toward bringing archaeology to the general public.Review:
This is an eminently useful book in a much wider sense. It sees rock art not merely as a side alley...of archaeology but as an attractive and varied path to more general debate of archaeological theory and methodology. The clarity with which [Pearson] sets out his review of the literature, the persistent misunderstandings, and even the abuse to which some writers appear dedicated is timely and necessary if researchers are to move closer to what he calls "Archaeology's final frontier"―ancient beliefs and meanings. (J.D. Lewis-Williams, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa Journal of Anthropological Research, Vol 59, 2003)
Pearson usefully thinks in terms of a continuous range from less towards more 'processual' and 'post-processual' positions... he stresses the research value of rock art, for these are ancient images which seem directly to express what it was that existed and seemed to be important in their world as ancient peoples knew it to be...Pearson presents his partisan view briefly and well, with verve and conviction. (Christopher Chippendale, Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Cambridge Archaeological Journal)
In this very well written account, James Pearson discusses the major trends in archaeological thought that made [a] revolution in the interpretation of prehistoric art possible. His thoughtful discussion of the many pros and cons of various competing theories regarding the origins of Paleolithic cave art is both interesting and insightful. (Danny A. Brass National Spedeological Society News)
[Pearson's] thoughtful discussion of the many pros and cons of various competing theories regarding the origins of Paleolithic cave art are both interesting and insightful. (Nebraska History)
Pearson's book is a solid introductory text suitable for anyone who understands the fluid nature of research at an early stage. (Canadian Journal of Archaeology)
The time is long overdue for a step back from the basic data, for a synthesis of what we know, and do not know, about the role of shamanism, hallucinogenic drugs, and altered states of consciousness as part of a cognitive approach to archaeology. Jim Pearson now provides us with such an overview. He gives us a valuable critical synthesis of theoretical approaches to cognitive archaeology and reminds us that a large part of the archaeological record results from human cognition.This is an important book that should be on every aspiring archaeologist's bookshelf. (Brian Fagan, (University of California, Santa Barbara))
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