There are images carved into or painted on rock – a perspectiv e of a village seen from the height of a nearby hill, a single line depicting a woman's back bent over a child – that have altered sarath's perceptions of his world (Ondaatje 2000: 156).
INTRODUCTION: southern african rock art research, in southern africa and elsewhere
Let us take as our subject the archaeological enquiry into the prehistoric mind, considering all its aspects, including ancient cognition, spirituality, symbolic storage and many others. If we review the work that has been undertaken over the last 20 years or so then it is clear that one particular framework of interpretation has become increasingly prominent: the study of shamanism.
Although this has embraced a variety of fields from portable material culture to monumental architecture, it is primarily through research into rock art that a shamanic focus has become well known in archaeology (see for example the numerous references to shamanism in Whitley ). In particular, this is a development that has arisen from the work undertaken by David Lewis-Williams and his colleagues in southern Africa.
In the context of the present volume it would be superfluous to summarise this research in detail, but for the benefit of readers perhaps coming fresh to this subject it is worth considering the sheer extent to which these perspectives have broken through in archaeological interpretation. Building on the platform earlier established by scholars such as Patricia Vinnicombe (e.g. 1975, 1976) and not least David himself in his classic Believing and Seeing (1981), from the early 1980s onwards it is possible to trace a conti - nuously developing tradition in southern African rock art studies, encompassing several parallel strands of enquiry in a unified study of shamanic belief systems. These include the fundamental research into entoptic phenomena, dreams, transformation and spirit animals (e.g. Lewis-Williams 1987, 1988a, 1988b, 1992, 1995, 2001a; Lewis-Williams & Dowson 1989), and the crucial concept of the rock surface as a membrane between the worlds (Lewis-Williams & Dowson 1990), subsequently developed into a unitary thesis of San spirituality (Lewis-Williams 2001b, 2002a; Lewis- Williams & Pearce 2004).