Book Review: Cave Paintings and the Human Spirit

Few would argue the ancient paintings, engravings and sculptures found throughout the world and most notably in places like Chauvet Cave, in France are less then stunning pieces of art created by people with a genuine understanding of their subjects and materials. Yet the reasons for creating these magnificent panels in a cavern’s darkest recesses or high on a rock face remain a topic of conjecture. Whitley presents the augment that rather then the generally accepted theory that the artwork was meant to invoke a connection between hunter and prey; it was an important part of shamanistic ritual. Analysis of the nature of shamanism including their role in society and a possible link with bipolar disorder make for interesting reading although hard evidence is understandably thin.

Additionally, Whitley also devotes a large portion of the book to Ronald Dorn’s controversial rock vanish dating techniques that resulted in a number of lawsuits and caused considerable uproar throughout the archeological community. Dating technique reliability becomes vitally important when attempting to protect sites from the pressures of development.

An acknowledged expert on cave paintings and rock art, Whitley has presented some interesting observations into the origins and nature of religion and creativity. These include the nature of trance, whether induced by ingesting plants, fasting or other means, having predictable effects on the nervous system which effects how one perceives their surroundings. This insightful book may not be well received within the scientific community but Whitley raises several valid points that deserve careful consideration and further analysis.



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